A Brief Survey of Creation in Genesis in 2nd Temple Judaism (2 – Creation)

This is a three part series. (here, here and here)

Creation:

2nd Baruch 29, Enoch 60, Behemoth and the Leviathan:

In 2nd Baruch 29, we find that the End, which is signaled with the arrival of the Messiah, if not contained in the arrival of the Messiah, is connected to the Creation[1]:

And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be for food for all that are left. (2BA 29:3-4)

In this, we find that two sea monsters were created. We find the Behemoth mentioned in Job 40.15-24 as a symbol of untamable freedom. Equally in Job, we find the Leviathan mentioned: Job 3.8 and 41.1-34. Further, we find this latter sea monster in the psalms: Psalm 74.14 and Psalm 104.24-26. But, in Isaiah, it takes a different use:

In that day the LORD will take his terrible, swift sword and punish Leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent. He will kill the dragon of the sea. (Isa 27:1 NLT)

As in Psalm 74, Isaiah sees the Leviathan as something to be destroyed. So too the Psalmist:

You rule the oceans. You subdue their storm-tossed waves. You crushed the great sea monster. You scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. (Psa 89:9-10 NLT)

We know that by the 12th century, the legend of the Behemoth and the Leviathan had grown in the Jewish mind cumulating in Rashi’s comment[2] which mirrored Baruch’s and the Akdamut which brought the tragedy to life[3].

But, 12 to 13 centuries before the finalization of the Jewish legend, the authors of 2nd Baruch 4th Esdras was using communal tradition in their writings.

Then didst thou preserve two living creatures ; the name of the one thou didst call Behemoth and the name of the other thou didst call Leviathan. And thou didst separate the one from the other; for the seventh part , where the water was gathered together, was unable to hold them (both). And thou didst give Behemoth one of the parts which had been dried up on the third day to dwell in, (that namely) where are a thousand hills: but unto Leviathan thou gavest the seventh part, namely the moist: and thou hast reserved them to be devoured by whom thou wilt and when. (4ES 6:49-52)

The connection to the dry places is also found in Psalm 74. By the time the tradition of the two monsters developed for Enoch, it had become a recognizable tell of chaos and conflict which was formalized centuries later:

And on that day were two monsters parted, a female monster named Leviathan, to dwell in the abysses of the ocean over the fountains of the waters. But the male is named Behemoth, who occupied with his breast a waste wilderness named Duidain, on the east of the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created. (1EN 60:7-8)

I note the similarity between the Duidain and the Harab in Sumerian mythology. The harab is a wasteland existing before Creation, much like the picture established in Genesis 2. (Miller 1994: 155-56) For this author, like Baruch before him, the monsters represent judgment upon the unrighteous:

And the angel of peace who was with me said to me: ‘These two monsters, prepared conformably to the greatness of God, shall feed when the punishment of the Lord of Spirits shall rest upon them, it shall rest in order that the punishment of the Lord of Spirits may not come, in vain, and it shall slay the children with their mothers and the children with their fathers. Afterwards the judgement shall take place according to His mercy and His patience.’ (1EN 60:24-25)

The authors of the various works considered the Creation account to be, at the very least, literal although they filled in the gaps, so to speak. We know that the sea monsters of Genesis 1.21 is later expounded upon and named, but they compare to several other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths[4], such as the Loten in either the Ugaritic or Tiamat in the Babylonian tale[5]. I note the similarity between the Duidain and the Harab in Sumerian mythology. The harab is a wasteland existing before Creation, much like the picture established in Genesis 2[6]. The authors are taking what is found in Sacred Text, which for them, the Torah would be unquestionable, and expounding upon it mythologically, soteriologically, and as we have seen in 2nd Baruch, eschatologically.  For these authors, Genesis is taken as a supporting story, and not yet explored for any theological or ontological purpose.

2nd Enoch 24-30

And the Lord summoned me, and said to me: Enoch, sit down on my left with Gabriel.’ And I bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to me: Enoch, beloved, all thou seest, all things that are standing finished I tell to thee even before the very beginning, all that I created from non-being, and visible things from invisible.

Hear, Enoch, and take in these my words, for not to My angels have I told my secret, and I have not told them their rise, nor my endless realm, nor have they understood my creating, which I tell thee to-day. For before all things were visible, I alone used to go about in the invisible things, like the sun from east to west, and from west to east. But even the sun has peace in itself, while I found no peace, because I was creating all things, and I conceived the thought of placing foundations, and of creating visible creation.  (2EN 24:1-5 OTP)

So begins 2nd Enoch’s foray into interpreting Creation and does so by advocating a creation ex nihilo. We find something which would be unsettling to many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) today, an interpretation of ages for the First Day. In chapters 25-28, God is seen as describing to Enoch the creation of the foundation of creation, the heavens and the earth. Yet, God doesn’t do it in days, but ages:

And he came undone, and a great light came out. And I [was] in the midst of the great light, and as there is born light from light, there came forth a great age, and showed all creation, which I had thought to create. (2nd Enoch 25.3)

And I said: ‘Be opened, Archas, and let there be born from thee,’ and he came undone, an age came forth, very great and very dark, bearing (2nd Enoch 26.2)

‘Adiol’ in the first age would give birth to the light and it seems, but more than that, Adiol became a light to the Throne as well as become a foundation of everything above. (Imagine the cosmology here.) Then, Archas is another age, which becomes the foundation for everything beneath. Mirroring other ANE myths, we have two beings, perhaps the Behemoth and the Leviathan, which are recycled, so to speak, to great the heavens and the earth. Only in chapter 27 do we come to the familiar Creation account of Genesis one:

And I separated between light and between darkness, that is to say in the midst of the water hither and thither, and I said to the light, that it should be the day, and to the darkness, that it should be the night, and there was evening and there was morning the first day. (2nd Enoch 27.4)

Chapter 28 is a puzzle to me, especially the last verse, in which God seems to place Himself among the created of that day:

And then I made firm the heavenly circle, and [made] that the lower water which is under heaven collect itself together, into one whole, and that the chaos become dry, and it became so. Out of the waves I created rock hard and big, and from the rock I piled up the dry, and the dry I called earth, and the midst of the earth I called abyss, that is to say the bottomless, I collected the sea in one place and bound I together with a yoke. And I said to the sea: ‘Behold I give thee [thy] eternal limits, and thou shalt not break loose from thy component parts.’ Thus I made fast the firmament.

This day I called me the first-created.

It is possible, then, that Enoch sees God as only becoming God over something (speculating here) now that something material had been formed[7].

Reading the next few chapters, we are to understand that Enoch sees the Genesis account as something very literal, albeit, he again adds more detail to it. It is not until the eight day which we find that Enoch adds a purpose to the six days of Creation:

And I appointed the eighth day also, that the eighth day should be the first-created after my work, and that [the first seven] revolve in the form of the seventh thousand, and that at the beginning of the eighth thousand there should be a time of not-counting, endless, with neither years nor months nor weeks nor days nor hours….

For I created all forces, and there is none that resisteth me or that does not subject himself to me. For all subject themselves to my monarchy, and labour for my sole rule. Give them the books of the handwriting, and they will read [them] and will know me for the creator of all things, and will understand how there is no other God but me. (2nd Enoch 33.1-2; 7-8)

The purpose of the Creation account for 2nd Enoch is to show that only God is Creator, or perhaps that the Creator is the only God (which is an often repeated theological idea). However, he does add that ages existed in which the heavens were created first and then the earth (although cosmologically, we find it is still consistent with the ancient Hebrews). For 2nd Enoch, the ages are combined with the first day. Then, in the end, the whole scheme is centered numerically to represent and eschatological ideal of 6000 years, with a seventh millennium for rest. (This idea is found among many of the early Church Fathers.).

4th Maccabbes, Seven Brothers, Seven Days –

O most holy seven, brothers in harmony! For just as the seven days of creation move in choral dance around religion, so these youths, forming a chorus, encircled the sevenfold fear of tortures and dissolved it. (4Ma 14:7-8 RSV)

In the fourth book of the Maccabees, the unknown writer tells a story of a woman who watched as her seven sons went to the torture racks (crosses?) because of the Jewish religion. As a matter of fact, these few chapters are devoted to the love of the Jewish religion, so it is not surprising to find the creation account mentioned in this light. It is rather poetic, however, what is displayed here. Here, the display is that the Jewish religion is the center of Creation. There is little to be gleaned here, except to say that the writer saw the Creation account, at the very least, as something religious in nature.

Assumption of Moses –

So saith the Lord of the world. For He hath created the world on behalf of His people.

But He was not pleased to manifest this purpose of creation from the foundation of the world, in order that the Gentiles might thereby be convicted, yea to their own humiliation might by (their) arguments convict one another.  (ASM 1:11-13)

The Assumption of Moses is a Jewish work dated from perhaps a century before Christ. It is recognized that it bears a connection to the Epistle of Jude when that work deals with the dispute between Michael and the devil over the body of Moses; however, here we find a connection to our present undertaking. In this first chapter, Moses is detailing to Joshua his last will. In doing so ‘Moses’ declares that the world, and the creation, is solely because of the Jewish people. This is, of course, the Messianic hope – that justice would be restored, and Creation brought to its original purpose – for the Jewish people[8].

The author of the Assumption of Moses clearly sees Moses as the author of Genesis, and that the Creation account was a special revelation meant only for the Jewish people. The revelatory nature of the account could convict and humiliate unbelievers who had to be prevented, I suppose, until it was the Jewish people had been called from Egypt and given the God’s Law.

Accordingly He designed and devised me, and He prepared me before the foundation of the world, that I should be the mediator of His covenant. (ASM 1:14 OTP)

Moses is given a messianic view here, but more than that, it tells us why the Creation account was withheld from everything else – it was for Moses to deliver.

Zadok –

At the close of the first century b.c., a party of Reformers sprung up, and in the name of a famor high priest, Zadok, composed a work ‘in good Hebrew.’[9]

But the fundamental principle of the creation is ‘Male and Female created He them.’ And they who went into the Ark, ‘Two and two went into the Ark.’ (ZAD 7:2 OTP)

Nothing much else is said concerning Creation in Zadok (only fragments of the entire remain) and here, what is said is scant in of itself. The only goal we can glean is a stand against polygamy:

The builders of the wall who walk after law–the law it is which talks, of which He said: Assuredly they shall talk–are caught [[by two]] by fornication in taking two wives during their lifetime. (ZAD 7:1 OTP)

The Letter of Aristeas –

There is little in the apocryphal letter which might concern the interpretation of Genesis, but there are a few gems:

When we asked why, since there is but one form of creation[10], some animals are regarded as unclean for eating, and others unclean even to the touch (for though the law is scrupulous on most points, it is specially scrupulous on such matters as these) he began his reply as follows: (ARI 1:129)

The author is relating a story in which, as is easily seen, a question arose of the Jews concerning the separation of clean and unclean. The author goes on to provide a Mosaic answer concerning ritual purity. There cannot be much gleaned from this portion.  Later, however, creation is one again made into a point:

And Menedemus, the philosopher of Eretria, said: “True, O King. For since the universe is managed by providence and since we rightly perceive that man is the creation of God, it follows that all power and beauty of speech proceed from God.” (ARI 1:201)

We can see that the speaker here saw that humanity was a creation of God, and indeed, everything else. Later, during a question and answer period, we arrive at a theological point:

Having signified his approval, (the king) said to another: “What is the true mark of piety?” And he said: “To perceive that God constantly works in the Universe and knows all things, and no man who acts unjustly and works wickedness can escape His notice. As God is the benefactor of the whole world, so you, too, must imitate Him and be void of offence.” (ARI 1:210 OPE)

Aristobulus

Fragments from a work of Aristobulus survive, but in them, we can find some interpretive gleanings. Aristobulus was a Jew living about the third or second century before Christ, most likely in Alexandria. He writes:

Then, after some intervening words, he goes on, saying, “One must take the divine ‘voice’, not as a spoken word, but as the construction of deeds, just as Moses has spoken to us throughout the Law of the entire creation of the world as [being] the words of God. For he constantly [?consistently] says at each point, ‘And God spoke, and it happened.’

And it seems to me that Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, after examining everything have followed after [the Lawgiver] when they claim to hear the voice of God in their observance of the universe’s construction, which has been created and is continually sustained by God. In addition, in poems dedicated by him to the Sacred Word, Orpheus lays out [his teaching] concerning [the fact that] all things are governed by the divine power, that they have beginnings, and that God is over all. And he speaks in this manner: (ARB 4:1-2 OPE)

The writer is moving to compare Greek philosophy with that of the Hebrew religion, starting as others did after him, with the voice of God. It is pretty clear that the writer assumes the historical fact of creation happened, but measures it by Greek thought in a very theological and philosophical way, aligning the ‘voice of God’ with that of the Greek poets.


[1] We can find the same ‘thought’ in Revelation 22, in which everything is restored to Pre-Fall status, with humanity returning to the same Garden atmosphere in which it began.

[2] “According to legend this refers to the Leviathan and its mate. God created a male and female Leviathan, then killed the female and salted it for the righteous, for if the Leviathans were to procreate the world could not stand before them.” (Genesis 1.21)

[3] “…The sport with the Leviathan and the ox (Behemoth)…When they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both].” Thus, “from the beautiful skin of the Leviathan, God will construct canopies to shelter the righteous, who will eat the meat of the Behemoth [ox] and the Leviathan amid great joy and merriment, at a huge banquet that will be given for them.” Artscroll siddur, p. 719) Some rabbinic commentators declare these poems and addition as allegories for the conflict.

[4] It is worth noting M.J. Geller has researched the extent of influence which Babylon had on 2nd Temple Judaism: “The Influence of Ancient Mesopotamia on Hellenistic Judaism,” 1:43-54.

[5] Oddly enough, the Axtecs have a creation story which involves the Cipactli, a sea monster.

[6] (Miller 1994: 155-56)

[7] This is even a common thought among some fundamentalists who see a distinction between the use of God and Lord in Genesis.

[8] See 10.1

[9] Charles

[10] It is interesting to note that strain of thought, however, concerning why if God created everything, some things were clean and come unclean: After a brief interval, while I was offering up an earnest prayer to God that He would so dispose the mind of the king that all the captives might be set at liberty — for the human race, being the creation of God, is swayed and influenced by Him. Therefore with many divers prayers I called upon Him who rules the heart that the king might be constrained to grant my request. (ARI 1:17 OPE)

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,124 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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13 thoughts on “A Brief Survey of Creation in Genesis in 2nd Temple Judaism (2 – Creation)

  1. The Behemoth/Leviathan issue is fascinating, and I find equally fascinating the blind insistence by some of my creationist brethren that Leviathan must be a dinosaur. They cite the description in Job, and then they refer to Psalm 104:24-26 as proof that the Leviathan dinosaur must have lived in the time of David.

    Of course, Psalms 74:14 is ignored: “Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.”

    • I think we have to understand the order/chaos motif in the ANE, Mitchell, which is where the ‘seas’ come in.

      I have heard that dinosaur myth myself, but don’t buy it.

      • I agree about the order-chaos motif, not only because it feeds into our appreciation for Biblical history, but also because the making of order out of chaos is an enduring part of what God’s been up to since the beginning of time (whatever that looked light). Indeed, it’s even an encouragement to us today when we see chaos in the world, because regardless of our eschatological views, all the chaos out here is, in God’s final plan, one way or another turned into a more perfect order, and we all get the pleasure of playing along in that journey. The order-chaos principle is one of the things that makes Christianity great.

        • Amen, Mitchell. This is, to me, one of the finer theological points. We find the same thing in Psalms, although on a personal level, and with Christ, who brought God’s order into Sin’s Chaos with the New Creation.

          • And the earth was formless and void and darkness . . .

            And God said, Let there be light

            and then he spent time (an all-powerful God took time! that’s a startling thing.) ordering everything. And whether we’re evolutionists, progressive creationists, or yec’s, there’s no denying that we serve a God who took chaos and creatively fashioned it into order. And he does it with us too. And that’s awesome.

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