Genesis 1

God Makes the World

The Heavens

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The word “heavens” (Heb. shamayim) is used three ways in the Hebrew Bible. It refers to God’s abode (Isa 66:1; Eccl 5:2); to the starry universe (Ps 8:3); or to the atmosphere (Ps 104:12). In this context, heavens and earth seem to constitute a merism, denoting all of creation. This painting by James Tissot is a somewhat abstract representation of the initial stages of creation. This image comes from the Jewish Museum and is in the public domain.

Primordial Waters

And darkness was over the surface of the deep (Genesis 1:2).

This faience bowl from the early 18th dynasty was photographed at the Brooklyn Museum. This description comes from the museum website: “In ancient Egyptian origin myths, dark blue and black were colors of the primordial waters that the Egyptians called nun, or nonexistence. Faience bowls, popular in the New Kingdom, were often decorated with motifs that evoked marshland, recalling the waters of nun. The square in the center of this bowl is a pond from which lotus buds and flowers grow. The lotus blossoms symbolize life emerging from the waters of nonexistence.”

Seeding Plants

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants bearing seed and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them” (Genesis 1:11).

Two sorts of vegetation are named in this verse. The first is plants that produce edible seeds. The phrase could be literally translated “plants seeding seeds” (Heb. esev mazriya zera’). This group would have included plants such as wheat, barley, beans, lentils, and corn. Shown here is a wheat field on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Hippos.

Stars for Seasons

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of heaven, to divide the day from the night. Let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14).

This instrument, made of wood and ebony, is carved with the names of the Egyptian king Tutankhamun and his father, Amenhotep III. It was used, along with a plumb-bob to ensure the vertical angle, to determine the precise moment when a given star crossed the observer’s meridian. By keeping careful records, the Egyptians were able to predict when a star would cross a meridian, which allowed the heavens to be used as a giant calendar for keeping track of festivals.

Celestial Sphere

He made the stars also (Genesis 1:16).

This silver object is the earliest known example of a spherical representation of the heavens. The various stars and constellations are not represented with words or language, but with pictorial figures that symbolize them. This sphere comes from eastern Turkey (circa 200 BC) and was photographed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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