The priestly account of creation is pure literary brilliance—not because of what the text reveals, but because of what it doesn’t reveal. Who hasn’t seen a good movie that is intently captivating because of what the actors aren’t saying? Who hasn’t read an intriguing novel that stuffs more information between the lines, than the lines actually tell?
I think we can agree that unrevealed information exists in all literary forms. It doesn’t need to be intentionally hidden material. The unrevealed is just less obvious communication. Such is the case with Genesis 1! Unfortunately, we debate all of the wrong issues regarding this account because we don’t or can’t see the unrevealed.
I assert that our eyes are veiled to something truly important in this text. Therefore, I’d like to offer the following morsels of insight that will hopefully whet people’s appetite to dig deeper into the unrevealed aspects of this ancient story.
Why is Genesis 1 so tightly structured and well ordered?
The text follows the color order of the visible spectrum of light—the rainbow. Who knew, right? It’s true. The rainbow is unrevealed, yet completely present in Genesis 1. The writers established a creation story based on seven colors—violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and purple. So the color order of the rainbow actually structures the text! The sky is blue, the vegetation is green, the sun is yellow, etc.
(Purple is an extra-spectral color that is visible in the rainbow but not part of the spectrum itself. It is a combination of light at the beginning and end of the spectrum. Also, for those who insist that the color, indigo, must be included—it is—but indigo cannot be distinguished, by the naked eye, as a separate color band. Indigo is a tiny, tiny band of blue light that kisses violet light! If Newton were alive today, he would happily agree.)
What inspired the priestly writers?
Using the colors of the rainbow as a foundation for their story, the priestly writers were able to claim an image of light that hadn’t been hijacked by surrounding cultures as popular objects of polytheistic worship. The sun and moon had already been claimed as favored gods, and the stars held the mysteries of everything predictable! The inspiration behind Genesis 1 wasn’t an issue of surrounding cultures defining the people of Israel. The high priests were monotheistic spiritual leaders who stubbornly refused to be defined by other cultures! Make no mistake about it! Anger towards that which people detest can provide much fuel for inspiration! Polytheism provided the fuel!
What motivated the priestly writers to add a prequel to the older, more colloquial story that became Genesis 2?
The older creation story, featuring Adam and Eve, did not provide the people of Israel with an eternal connection to the Creator of light and time. It didn’t give Israel a sense of her own beginning—a starting point from which the people of Israel could claim their place in history.
Moreover, the science of horology was in full swing when sacred text was inspired, but the measurement of time had not yet been perfected by any culture. People were trying to record their histories with no reliable historical lens through which to understand the passage of time. While everyone was honing their clocks and calendars, the science of horology and the worship of celestial gods enjoyed a cozy, intermingled relationship. That’s just the way it was.
However, those within the ranks of the Jerusalem priesthood would have been troubled by the intermingling of faith and the science of horology. How ironic is that? They would have wanted the people of Israel to embrace a relationship with one supreme God, Elohim—the Creator of light and time itself. If Israel’s God was the Creator of light and time, then the lesser sun and moon god/governments would be subject to Elohim’s authority!
There it is! The motive! Israel must worship a God that trumps all other gods! And that’s how the story plays out when following the color order of the spectrum. The greater and lesser lights are created by Elohim on the fourth day, with yellow light! Hence, the spiritual motivation behind Genesis 1 was to guide the people of Israel away from polytheism in their worship practices! Ancient near-eastern creation myths, and their cosmological views, while strangely different from our own understanding of the universe, had little to no impact on the spiritual purpose of this text. Again, these were people who stubbornly refused to be defined by their surrounding cultures!
Additionally, why did the priestly writers create a second account of the flood narrative—a story of re-creation? Why wasn’t the older flood story sufficient?
The older flood story did not include the covenant of the rainbow. It would have been important to the priestly writers that Israel have a permanent connection to an image of light that would carry them through the passage of time—from beginning to end! The flood narrative was the perfect story into which the image of a rainbow could be revealed after it finally rained. (See below)
And lastly, does a connection exist between Genesis 1 and the priestly embellishments in the flood narrative?
Yes! The presence of the rainbow is the connection. The rainbow bridges the story of creation to the story of re-creation! The priestly writers could not reveal the image of the rainbow in Genesis 1 because, according to the older creation story, “. . . no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth . . .” Genesis 2:5 NIV.
That’s the problem with prequels that are written after an older story has already been developed. The priestly writers could employ the colors of the rainbow as a story-telling tool in Genesis 1, but the actual image of the rainbow couldn’t be revealed until after the flood. Sheer literary brilliance! And there’s so-o-o-o-o much more that the rainbow reveals in Genesis 1!
Thoughts along the way,
Carol Wimmer is the author of the acclaimed poem When I say I am a Christian, and three books entitled: The Net—An Organizational Vision for the Church of Tomorrow; The Clock—A Timekeeping Tool for the Church of Tomorrow; and The Key—A Spiritual Language for the Church of Tomorrow