A Brief Survey of Creation in Genesis in 2nd Temple Judaism (3 – Seven Days)

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

The Seven Days

Jubliees

When archeologists discovered Jubilees at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the dating and reception of this book – considered canonical only in the Ethiopian Church – changed. It could be dated to the late third century, early second century, Palestine. It bares a close resemblance to the books of Enoch and is steep in Jewish apocalyptic thought. It is heavily fragmented, but there are two chapters in this book which we will examine for our brief survey.

Starting with chapter two, we find that the author takes the first day as the very beginning of everything, and that all of Creation rests upon the Sabbath. Further, the author expounds upon the second act on Creation as found in Genesis two.

In the first chapter, the author is said to be taught by the angel Gabriel concerning the things pertaining to the creation of the world. On the first day, God made everything, included the ‘uppermost heavens’ and even the angels which minister to me, ending with the creation of the deep. The author follows the pattern of Genesis one, ending with the Sabbath:

this (day) also was blessed by God and was sanctified, and the Sabbath was designated as (day of) rest, and as a type of the seventh period and of the end of sinners (JUB 2:24)

Much like previous works, and one which we will examine later, the number seven receives significance in interpretation not reflected in Scripture.

Moving into chapter three the author expounds, generally along a numerically interpretation, of the creation of Adam and Eve. In verse one, the author united Adam to the male and female made on the fifth day, which follows a standard biblical path. Then, he proceeds to build upon the length of time from Creation for each act of Adam, ending with Adam’s transgression which is placed at the seventh year while the expulsion from the Garden occurred one year later, during the eighth year of Creation, on the tenth day of May.

Immediately, we know that the author of Jubilees, and thus his community, understood Genesis One without theological content, his use of numbers may hearken to something else. Jubilees goes so far as to declare the dates according to the great calendars of the world at that time the events of Genesis two and three.

Philo

Philo would have been a contemporary of the Apostles. He was from the city of Alexandria, and was a philosopher in the Greek tradition who attempted to harmonize Judaism with the ancient philosophers, to a much greater extent than what was seen in Aristobulus. He mostly speaks to the current debate involving the interpretation of Genesis one, and beyond. He is very much within the Alexandrian tradition of allegory, which invaded Christianity with Clement of Alexandria and Origen. While holding to the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures, Philo almost refuses a literalism as we would think it. In a fragmented, and ironically titled, Quaestiones in Genesim, Philo allows the literal sense, but then allegorizes it:

What is the meaning of the expression, “And the Lord shut him in, closing the doors of the ark?” . 19. Since we have said that the structure of the human body is symbolically indicated by the ark, we must take notice, also, that on the outside this body is enclosed by a hard and dense skin, to be a covering to all its parts; for nature has made this as a sort of coat, to prevent either cold or heat from being able to do man injury. The literal meaning of the expression is plain enough, for the door of the ark is carefully shut by divine virtue for the sake of security, lest the water should enter in at any part, as it was to be tossed about by the waves for an entire year. (Qge 2:19)

He is often critical of literalism as the final destination of biblical interpretation, calling those who believe in such things ‘simplistic.

“And God cast a deep trance upon Adam, and sent him to sleep; and he took one of his ribs,” and so on. The literal statement conveyed in these words is a fabulous one; for how can any one believe that a woman was made of a rib of a man, or, in short, that any human being was made out of another? And what hindered God, as he had made man out of the earth, from making woman in the same manner? For the Creator was the same, and the material was almost interminable, from which every distinctive quality whatever was made. And why, when there were so many parts of a man, did not God make the woman out of some other part rather than out of one of his ribs? Again, of which rib did he make her? And this question would hold even if we were to say, that he had only spoken of two ribs; but in truth he has not specified their number. Was it then the right rib, or the left rib? (Leg 2:19)

As therefore it is impossible for any one to escape from the whole of the creation of God, how can it be anything but still more impossible to escape from the Creator and Ruler himself? Let no one therefore too easily receiving these words in their obvious and literal acceptation without examination, affix his own simplicity and folly to the law; but let him rather consider what is here enigmatically intimated by figurative expressions, and so understand the truth. (Pot 1:155)

And yet, as I said before, what sin had he committed? But they, who are accustomed to explain the formal, and literal, and obvious interpretations of the laws have perhaps considered this by themselves; but we, being guided by right reason, as it suggest itself to us, will interpret it according to the explanation which is ready to hand, having just made this necessary preface. (SOB 1:33)

The aforesaid emigrations, if one is to be guided by the literal expressions of the scripture, were performed by a wise man; but if we look to the laws of allegory, by a soul devoted to virtue and busied in the search after the true God. (ABR 1:68)

It is not a small thing to say that Philo thought highly of himself and all those who could ‘obey the laws of allegory’ in spiritualizing the Scriptures. Usually, this was done to align Scripture with Greek philosophical thought, as was repeated centuries later first by Justin and then by the School in Alexandria. While Philo stood with other pious Jews of his day in believing in the literal truth of the Scriptures, he didn’t see that as something not insurmountable in aligning the Hebrew text with allegory. With this foundation, we examine some of Philo’s examination of the week of Creation:

Is it not a most beautiful recommendation, and one most admirably adapted to the perfecting of, and leading man to, every virtue, and above all to piety? The commandment, in effect says: Always imitate God; let that one period of seven days in which God created the world, be to you a complete example of the way in which you are to obey the law, and an all-sufficient model for your actions. Moreover, the seventh day is also an example from which you may learn the propriety of studying philosophy; as on that day, it is said, God beheld the works which he had made; so that you also may yourself contemplate the works of nature, and all the separate circumstances which contribute towards happiness.

Let us not pass by such a model of the most excellent ways of life, the practical and the contemplative; but let us always keep our eyes fixed upon it, and stamp a visible image and representation of it on our own minds, making our mortal nature resemble, as far as possible, his immortal one, in respect of saying and doing what is proper. And in what sense it is said that the world was made by God in six days, who never wants time at all to make anything, has been already explained in other passages where we have treated of allegories. (DEC 1:100-101)

Philo is only interested in applying the Creation account to the individual life. By centering our life around the Creation, the Philosopher says, we can live a good life. Of course, it seems that a ‘good life’ is one spent studying philosophy and obeying the laws of allegory:

And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (Opi 1:3)

Note his reliance upon the number seven, which like other accounts of the time, involved a fair amount of numerology in the study of Scripture:

Among the things then which are perceptible only by intellect, the number seven is proved to be the only thing free from motion and accident; but among things perceptible by the external senses, it displays a great and comprehensive power, contributing to the improvement of all terrestrial things, and affecting even the periodical changes of the moon. And in what manner it does this, we must consider. The number seven when compounded of numbers beginning with the unit, makes eight-and-twenty, a perfect number, and one equalised in its parts. And the number so produced, is calculated to reproduce the revolutions of the moon, bringing her back to the point from which she first began to increase in a manner perceptible by the external senses, and to which she returns by waning. For she increases from her first crescent-shaped figure, to that of a half circle in seven days; and in seven more, she becomes a full orb; and then again she turns back, retracing the same path, like a runner of the diaulos, receding from an orb full of light, to a half circle again in seven days, and lastly, in an equal number she diminishes from a half circle to the form of a crescent; and thus the number before mentioned is completed. (Opi 1:101)

Starting in verse 12 of De Opificion Mundi, Philo sets out to explain why Creation was arranged as it was:

And he says that the world was made in six days, not because the Creator stood in need of a length of time (for it is natural that God should do everything at once, not merely by uttering a command, but by even thinking of it); but because the things created required arrangement; and number is akin to arrangement; and, of all numbers, six is, by the laws of nature, the most productive: for of all the numbers, from the unit upwards, it is the first perfect one, being made equal to its parts, and being made complete by them; the number three being half of it, and the number two a third of it, and the unit a sixth of it, and, so to say, it is formed so as to be both male and female, and is made up of the power of both natures; for in existing things the odd number is the male, and the even number is the female; accordingly, of odd numbers the first is the number three, and of even numbers the first is two, and the two numbers multiplied together make six. (Opi 1:13)

Further down, he explains that God created Creation, or perhaps the Creation account, as a representation of the elder creation:

for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation without a good model, and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which was not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect, when he had determined to create this visible world, previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect, in order that so using an incorporeal model formed as far as possible on the image of God, he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect. (Opi 1:16)

He examines then, the very first line in the Hebrew bible:

But if the beginning spoken of by Moses is not to be looked upon as spoken of according to time, then it may be natural to suppose that it is the beginning according to number that is indicated; so that, “In the beginning he created,” is equivalent to “first of all he created the heaven;” for it is natural in reality that that should have been the first object created, being both the best of all created things, and being also made of the purest substance, because it was destined to be the most holy abode of the visible Gods who are perceptible by the external senses; for if the Creator had made everything at the same moment, still those things which were created in beauty would no less have had a regular arrangement, for there is no such thing as beauty in disorder. But order is a due consequence and connection of things precedent and subsequent, if not in the completion of a work, at all events in the intention of the maker; for it is owing to order that they become accurately defined and stationary, and free from confusion. (Opi 1:27-28)

Taking into what might have been either philosophy or science at the time, he applies Genesis 1.1 as the beginning of the creation story, not necessarily the beginning of Creation. This was not the extent of Philo’s speculation on when Genesis 1.1 would have taken place,

and after that he concludes his account in these words, “This is the book of the generation of heaven and of earth when they were made, on the day in which God made the heaven and the earth; and these things were done in the first day, so that the seventh day is referred to the unit which is the first day and the beginning of the whole. I have dwelt at length on this topic, with the object of showing more plainly the opinion which Cain thought it right to build up like a city (POS 1:65)

On the same passage (which would be Genesis 2.4), Philo offers this:

Why does Moses, revolving and considering the creation of the world, say: “This is the book of the generation of heaven and earth, when they were created?” . 1. The expression, “when they were created,” indicates as it seems an indeterminate time not accurately described. But this argument will confute those authors who calculate a certain number of years reduced to one, from the time when it is possible that the world may have been created. And again, the expression: “This is the book of the generation,” is as it were indicative of the book as it follows, which contains an account of the creation of the world; in which it is intimated that what has been related about the creation of (Qge 1:1)

It is clear that Philo, while taking the Scriptures as true, applies the laws of allegory to them in such a way as to confer upon then more spiritual, and thus palatable meanings to his audience.

Conclusions –

This is only meant as a brief survey, covering a rather short period of time during the 2nd Temple Period. The authors, I believe, took the Creation account literal, even Philo, but applied either Messianism or Apocalypticism to the context, while authors like Philo applied the more refined Greek philosophy. There is little evidence of Genesis One being taken as ‘face-value;’ however, it was used as a theological precept upon which to build other ideas. Further, the ancient writers were accustomed to adding details to the text which were not there.

I see a dichotomy here, in that the more ‘educated’ such as Philo and Aristobulus preferred to align Genesis One with Greek ‘science’ while the more religious, who treated the text as literal and valuable in and of itself, use the text in, well, a religious manner. Further, I note that the fact that these books were accepted by their intended communities, if not more, that those communities had little to no problem with the interpretive styles of the authors, although Philo may not have had a real community to receive his work.


It is hardly surprising that with the insistence on the Sabbath that we have seen, the Pharisees were as angry with Christ when He seemingly broke it.

Gabriel is a side character in 2nd Enoch 24

Both Clement of Alexandria and Origen would agree with Philo, in that some could received mystical, hidden meanings of Scripture while others, the simple, could only see a plain sense.

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