A Brief Survey of Creation in Genesis in 2nd Temple Judaism (1 – Intro)

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


The debate over a literal interpretation of the Creation account as found in Genesis One is nothing new, and has been debated throughout the centuries when those who hold to the traditions espoused in Genesis met with scientific fact. While in the past, there was little evidence of an old earth, adapting and changing species or theories on migration, land bridges, and ice ages/global warmings, there was speculation on the theological and speculative nature of the Creation account. The Jewish Philosophers, building upon the Genesis account, didn’t abandon it in favor of Greek science and philosophy; instead using their heritage to counter the great schools of thought at that time, much as their forefathers would have used it to defend Israel against the histories and myths of foreign gods and their religion from encroaching upon the Jews of generations past.

This article is not intended to be a thesis of any sort, nor a defense of a contextual approach to the interpretation of Genesis One. Instead, this is only an exercise to showcase several motifs in Second Temple Jewish thought. It was during this time that a unique theology was developed, one only hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures but exploding throughout the Christian writings. From the time of Malachi to Matthew, while many perceived God to be silent, the Jewish nation and their religious leaders hardly were. It was during this time in which the Second Temple was rebuilt and renovated under Herod, but was without the sacred objects of the First, or Solomonic, Temple. The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Oil, and the Manna Pot was missing from the rituals of the Second Temple. As time moved on, the Jewish nation gained independence under the Maccabees. This brief experiment in a non-Davidic kingdom ended with Roman incursion and the loss of all sovereignty; however, it was during this time of absence and self-determination that the Wisdom Tradition of the Jewish people developed.

Beginning in Proverbs, perhaps Job, the Wisdom Tradition developed into what would later be Wisdom Christology. Wisdom was seen as an off shoot, or emanation, of God, divine personification of the mind and will of God which acted and interacted with Creation on His behalf. Sirach, Baruch, and the deuterocanoical Soloman Corpus especially explored this tradition which would find itself manifested in John’s Prologue most noticeably, but also in the words of Christ who declared Himself God’s Wisdom, a theme later picked up by the Apostle Paul. While these books were being written and circulated, a different religious tract was being developed – the Apocalyptic.

Most noticeably developed in the New Testament’s Revelation, the Qumran community was developed eschatologically, while the non-canonical Esdras’ explored the End Times with the books of Enoch coming into full fruition. Enoch and the book of Jubilees sought to expand certain themes hinted at in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the Son of Man theme in Ezekiel, taking upon themselves the pseudonymous names found in the historical texts as a sign of authority. These books as well would contribute to the New Testament thought.

With a mighty host of works written during this time, we can expect to find a wide range of motivations, worldviews, and interpretative methods. It is not my intention to explore much of this, but to give a survey of how certain authors interpreted and perhaps used the Creation account as a means to an end. We will look at a few deuterocanonical books, Philo, and a range of pseudepigraphical writings as we survey Genesis One in a time in which the Jewish world was being overrun by foreign empires, religions and science while being wholly fractured along religious lines.

Compare Wisdom 7.26 and Hebrews 1.3

Including the Psalms, Wisdom, and Odes

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