THE CANTICLE OF CREATION
"The first creation account is structured primarily as a poetic hymn. It may have been sung or recited at a covenant renewal ceremony or perhaps during the Israelite New Year’s festival in the autumn. This was a sacred time when the people gathered to celebrate nature’s fresh beginning, as on the first day of creation when everything was pristine, before evil and suffering entered the world. A priest or cantor might have chanted each verse of the hymn and a chorus of singers or cantors responded with the refrain: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The entire account is a dramatic depiction of the perfect world God called forth out of the abyss of chaos. It could be set to the music of the harp or psalter (a triangular stringed instrument akin to a zither), or danced to rhythmic drumbeats. The language is solemn, imagistic, evocative, deliberately repetitive to provide lyrical balance, and theologically astute, all at once.
The hymn of creation extols the harmony and interweaving functionality of everything in the cosmos as well as the Creator’s eternal peace and rest, symbolized by the evocation of the Sabbath on the seventh day. The style and images bear a strong resemblance to the ancient Babylonian account of creation, Enuma Elish, including its structure, with seven days of creation, as well as an act of self-praise by the deity, a familiar theme in Sumerian literature. The deity derives glory not only from the material creation, but from the way the cosmos functions. Everything works. Nothing is out of order. And to the ancient Near Eastern peoples, cosmic functionality, signified by the Egyptian concept of Ma’at (truth, order, justice, law, morality, and harmony of all the elements), was of paramount importance
However, the greatest achievement of the canticle of creation is the theological clarity with which the poet borrowed elements of polytheistic creation myths, demythologized them, and then reshaped them into a vibrant monotheistic doctrine. In this account, God alone, not a congress of many gods, is the sole Creator of all that exists. God speaks with absolute authority, not after consultation with other deities. God needs no other gods to help in creating, naming, separating, and assigning functions to everything in the universe. Furthermore, God creates out of perfect goodness, not as the result of a primeval war between personified powers of good and evil. All that is created issues from eternal wisdom, the divine plan for perfect order, not through sorcery, magic, or trickery. Thus, all matter is good and has prescribed functions.
According to biblical theology, human beings are created in God’s own image and given the highest place of honor, with direct responsibility for the preservation of creation. They are also blessed, like the animals, with the power of procreation. They are not made to be mere slaves of the greedy gods of the ancient world, performing the hard labor of maintaining the earth, all the while keeping the temple idols clothed, fed, and pacified. In fact, human beings are so highly valued in this creation account that they are given the divine gift of the Sabbath, to join in the perfect rest of their Creator. With consummate skill, the canticle writer composed a song of adoration, praise, and gratitude to the one and only God of Israel, with a subtext of longing for the earth and its people to be made perfect once again, as they were originally created."
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