And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.  And it was so.  And God called the expanse Heaven. - GENESIS 1:6-8

I adore the world of Middle Earth, but on the rare occasions that I venture into The Silmarillion I pass through the first chapter pretty quickly.  Its topic is the “music” of the dieties in the void of preexistence, and how divine singing created hills and waters soon to be peopled with mortal creatures.  It’s an elegant idea.  It strips our reality down to some of its most basic elements: light, dark, water, earth, plants, animals.  This is the kind of storytelling that some people could revel in as they let their imaginations run freely through a new, perfect, solitary universe.

I’m not quite that kind of person.  What I most look forward to in The Silmarillion is reading about the first elves and men and dwarves, and their foibles and errors and migrations within terrestrial creation.  What I look forward to in Genesis is the exile of humanity from its perfect, wilderness birthplace and the personalities that emerge as humankind perpetuates its own, less idyllic version of creation: the creation of human civilization.

The most excited I felt during the first two chapters of Genesis was when the Tigris and Euphrates were named as two of the four rivers that branch off from the river that runs out of Eden.  I don’t think I was excited just because I recognize Tigris and Euphrates as the names of actual rivers in the real world.  As I indicated, I am a fan of high fantasy, and I don’t need stories to take place in this world in order to enjoy them.  But perhaps, for me, the Tigris and Euphrates occupy an ideal in-between state between reality and imagination.  I’ve never been to Mesopotamia, and I would need some time and luck to locate the Tigris or the Euphrates on a map.  I think their appearance in the text appeals to me because of what they represent in my mind: ancient and distance places, the dawn of civilization, the exoticism of the near East.  I have a feeling the Old Testament will provide more than a few of these Indiana Jones sensations as I get further along.

That’s not to say that the creation story was uninteresting.  The passage I quoted at the top of this post prompted some reflection and puzzlement.  Are there now two separate waters (worlds?) that we cannot travel between because to do so we would need to traverse heaven?  Surely that can’t be what it’s saying, can it?  I didn’t spend very long pondering it, but it struck me as a prime example of world-building.  We’re dealing with big concepts like earth, water, and heaven, and we’re using these giant concepts as landmarks on a mental map of a universe, a planet, and a garden.  It’s a tricky geographic and cosmological balancing act, but I’m content to leave it to the consideration of others and move on to more corporeal matters.

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Tags: Genesis, Silmarillion, Tolkien, fantasy, review, waters, world-building

Comment by archaeopteryx on June 26, 2012 at 7:45pm

You must trust, Kyle, that I have no intention of discrediting you, only of suggesting you do a little more in-depth research before reaching whatever conclusions you choose to hold.

You commented in your first post, "In my research, I have never encountered any indigenous peoples who have held similar attitudes.  This attitude only seems to be held by agriculturalists and only those with cultural ties to the Fertile Crescent."

I suggest you research the pygmies of the Ituri forest in the heart of Africa, a people who had no connection with the society of Mesopotamia. You may find more on this at: http://tinyurl.com/3nuno2g

Comment by David Conrad on June 27, 2012 at 7:47pm

That's a lot more comments than I expected -- thanks all!  I don't mind admitting that I haven't done much background research on this material, and that what I'm going for with my reviews is something a lot more simplistic (and easier, and more enjoyable in my opinion), but this has been interesting.  I can't say I picked up on any manipulative, conspiratorial overtones in Genesis 1-2.  As I said, this portion seemed to me like classic world-building, subsequent rewrites notwithstanding.  On the other hand, Moses's actions in Leviticus (I've already written reviews through Numbers, and will post them here a little at a time) frequently reminded me of manipulative religious leaders, even cult leaders.  Not that I wrote about that; personally, I have to stay mostly positive or else I'll never have the energy to get through this thing, and I think it's worth getting through it.

I do, though, get the feeling (and again, I've done no research to back this up) that Moses was based on an actual person.  I'll try to remember to touch on that in the comments when I post my Exodus and Leviticus reviews, and give archaeopteryx a chance to argue the converse.

Comment by archaeopteryx on June 27, 2012 at 7:59pm

Of that, my friend, you can rest assured --

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