See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
The above verse from Isaiah along with a few others lead some rabbis to believe that our earth wasn’t the first God had created. This Jewish thought is expressed explicitly in the Zohar (14th century writings of Jewish mystical thought). Continue reading
In the Second Book of Enoch (a.k.a. The Book of the Secrets of Enoch or Slavonic Enoch) God reveals to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, the secrets of creation. At one point God explains to Enoch how he created the higher foundations of the cosmos using light from the belly an invisible being called Adoil and the lower foundations using the darkness that comes out of an invisible being called Arkhas – both of whom release their designated element under the command of God. Continue reading
Because Adam is lonely and lacks a helper as his partner, Yahweh puts him to sleep and makes a woman out of his rib (Gen. 2:21-23). Again we return to a story of the deities Enki and Ninsikila/Ninhursaga, starting with Enki’s attempt to win the love of his great granddaughter, Uttu; he does so by finding a gardener to help him grow all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Upon accepting Enki’s gift, Enki takes her by force until Ninhursaga arrives – removing Enki’s semen from Uttu’s body and planting it in the ground where eight plants then grow. Later, Enki comes across the plants and asks his page Isimu if he should eat them to “find out their nature.” Isimu says he will name each one and give it to Enki to eat. Doing so he becomes pregnant, but suffers great for being unable to give birth as a male. Ninhursaga decides to help by placing him in her vulva and gives birth to eight deities, each of which is created from a different part of Enki’s body. As you may have already guessed, one is from his rib:
what part of you hurts you!”
“My ribs hurt me!”
She gave birth to Ninti out of it. 
In the second chapter of Genesis we read how God establishes a celestial garden in Eden and places man there to till and cultivate it. The motif of a once heavenly paradise is prevalent in the ancient world and was more than likely borrowed by the Israelites from the preceding cultures of Near East. Evidence of this is in the word eden itself, which is Sumerian in origin and to whom it meant “plain.” the Sumerians occupied the Tigris-Euphrates valley no later than 3000 BCE
The oldest parallel to the biblical image of Eden is a land called Dilmun, often identified with modern Bahrain. We are given details about this country from a number of Sumerian texts, including the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as Enki and Ninsikila/Ninhursaga. In these narratives we read how Dilmun is a place located “in the garden of the sun…at the mouth of the rivers”, where disease and pain are nonexistent, people do not grow old, and animals do not kill. In Gilgamesh Utnapishtim (the Babylonian Noah) is placed there after the flood to live forever. In other mythological inscriptions we read how the god Enki along with his wife were placed there to institute “a sinless age of complete happiness”: Continue reading
It may surprise some to learn that Genesis is not the oldest recorded creation account; prior to the Israelite people and the writing of Genesis were other cultures in the ancient near east with their own cosmological narratives concerning the origin of the universe. Take the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish. What’s fascinating about this creation account is that despite predating Genesis by at least 1000 years, it contains many similar mythical elements – showing that the authors of Genesis were directly or indirectly influenced by it. This should come as no surprise as the Israelites were exiled to Babylon (597-538 BC) and would have undoubtedly been exposed to their religious traditions.
Below are four of the major similarities between the two cosmologies. Citations to Enuma Elish are used in accordance with this translation (which I’ve added highlights to). 
Fast-forward to Genesis 3-4 →
Jump to Context and Scholarly Notes
Jump to Parallels and Deleted Scenes
A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
And we’re off! But already I have questions. For instance, what was God doing before he created the heavens and the earth? In St. Augustine’s day the running joke was that “he was preparing hell for those who ponder into [such] mysteries.”
It should be noted that these informal reviews are meant to supplement a reading of the Bible itself, which I highly encourage for a fuller understanding. You can access the designated chapter online (NRSV) by clicking the number above.
Here’s what God’s calendar looks like for the week:
- Day 1: Heavens, earth, light, day, night
- Day 2: Sky, water above the sky, water below the sky, heaven
- Day 3: Earth, seas, vegetation, seed-bearing plants, fruit trees
- Day 4: Sun, moon, stars
- Day 5: Creepy Birds and Sea-monsters
- Day 6: Creepy beasts, Man
- Day 7: Siesta
Let’s do a quick run through of important periods in the Bible’s long history of composition and translation. Or just check out this incredibly exciting flowchart.
For information on when the individual books of the Bible were written:
Also check out these interactive timelines focusing on more specific areas of biblical history.
Papyrus scrolls (c. 10th century BCE)
In its earliest stages, the books of the Hebrew Bible were individually written and copied onto papyrus, paperlike sheets made from the papyrus plant, and then rolled around a small wooden stick to form a scroll. The manufacture of papyrus scrolls probably originated among the Egyptians in 3000 BCE. The Bible makes references to Papyrus a number of times (e.g. Isa. 18:2; Job 8:11, 9:26). Over the centuries these scrolls were slowly accumulated among the Hebrew communities until an anthology of scripture is largely recognized by the second century BCE.
Parchment (c. 200 BCE)
Due to its better durability, papyrus was gradually replaced by parchment beginning in 200 BCE, formed from the tanned hides of calves. The change wasn’t sudden as shown in the Dead Sea manuscripts (3rd century BCE–1st century CE), our earliest surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible which were written on both papyrus and parchment. In about the 4th century CE, parchment had pretty much displaced papyrus, which is why the vast majority of ancient New Testament manuscripts that we have today come to us on this material.
The Gospel writers according to Church tradition: St. John with his eagle on Patmos, St. Matthew with his angel, St. Mark with his lion and St. Luke with his ox (16th century manuscript)
Of the 29 texts that make up the New Testament, most had their authorship attributed to the disciples of Jesus, or at least their immediate followers. As with the Old Testament this is often apparent simply from the title of each work; according to tradition, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the letters of 1st and 2nd Peter were supposedly written by the apostle Peter, etc. However, also like the Old Testament these attributions have been determined false by most biblical scholars and, as I’m about to argue, should be classified as forgeries in certain cases. The exceptions are a number of letters by the apostle Paul plus, arguably, the Book of Revelation by an author named John (though highly unlikely to be apostle John). Continue reading
From The Bible with Sources Revealed by Richard Elliot Friedman, p. 27-30
J, the Yawhist source
E, the Elohist source
D, the Deuteronomist source
P, the Priestly source
- Creation. Gen 1:1-2:3 (P) and Gen 2:4b-25 (J).
- Genealogy from Adam. Gen 4:17-26 (J) and 5:1-28,30-32 (Book of Records).
- The Flood (click here for an interactive view). Gen 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 7, 10, 12, 16b-20, 22-23; 8:2b-3a, 6, 8-12, 13b, 20-22 (J) and 6:9-22; 7:8-9, 11, 13-16a, 21, 24; 8:1 – 2a, 3b – 5, 7, 13a, 14 – 19; 9:1- 17 (P).
- Genealogy from Shem. Gen 10:21-31 (J and P) and 11:10-2 (Book of Records).
- Abraham’s migration. Gen 12:1-43 (J) and 12:4b – 5 (P).
- Wife/sister. Gen 12:10-20 (J) and 20:1-18 (E) and 2 6 : 6 – 1 4 (J). (Triplet)
- Abraham and Lot separate. Gen 13 : 5 , 7 – 11a, 12b – 14 (J) and 13:6, 11b – 12 a (P).
- The Abrahamic covenant. Gen 15 (J, E, and R) and 17 (P).
- Hagar and Ishmael. Gen 16:1-2,4-14 (J) and 16:3,15-16 (P) and 21:8-19 (E). (Triplet)
- Prophecy of Isaac’s birth. Gen 17:16-19 (P) and 18:10-14 (J). Continue reading
Whether you see the Bible as the word of God or not, one cannot ignore the fact that it has human fingerprints all over it. After all, it didn’t fall from heaven in the format commonly found today, as convenient as that would have been. It is worth emphasizing again then that the Bible is not a single book but rather many books; an anthology, each with its own author, each with its own historical and theological context.
Different authors have different points of view. You can’t just say, “I believe in the Bible.” ― Scholar Bart Ehrman
Furthermore, these writings weren’t sewn together as an official anthology until many years after its composition – hundreds of years in most cases. Indeed, while the oldest contents of the Old Testament are believed to have originated as early as the 12th century BCE (beginning as oral tradition), it isn’t until 200 BCE that we find clear evidence for a Biblical canon taking shape. Given the unique makeup of the Bible, then, as more than one book, perhaps it is best to not stick with one question. Let’s focus first on the authorship of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, and lastly when each group of texts were canonized as scripture. Continue reading