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I have come to realize that the Achilles heel of the literal approach to Genesis 1 resides in Day 2, when God creates the firmament by separating the waters below from the waters above. I had always been puzzled by this passage in my YEC days, concluding that the firmament was just the sky and that the waters above were the clouds or water vapor. Ironically, this approach fails (in my mind) because it is not a literal reading of the chapter. Consider the following two points:

  1. God creates the firmament as a separation between the waters below from the waters above. It is not the water vapor above, nor is there any indication that the water changes into vapor. It is the waters above. In the original state of creation, there was only one body of water, and now there are two. I am told that the ancients of the Middle East believed that this is just what there was above the dome of the sky–a body of water that accounted for the heavens’ blue color. (Recall also that in the Revelation, God sits with an ocean at his feet.) How is it possible that the waters can be separated into two? Why, you need a separator, of course! Which is why the firmament must be interpreted as something solid, not mere air, for how could air lift up the waters and hold them back?
  2. In Day 4 (verse 14-15), God creates the luminaries and places them in the firmament. Now if the waters above are read as the water vapor of our atmosphere and if the firmament is simply the sky or the air, then it follows that the sun, moon, and stars are located in our atmosphere.

I just finished reading the Enuma Elish for the first time. As has been said before, the main point of contact between it and Genesis 1 is the primordial ocean, represented by the goddess Tiamat. (Tiamat and the Hebrew word tehom are etymologically related, coming from a common source word.) When the Babylonian god Marduk defeats her in battle, he splits her body into two and builds the sky from one half and the earth from the other. Likewise, Genesis 1 presents God moving over the surface of the waters and in Day 2, separating the waters below from the waters above, thus creating the firmament. What I found particularly interesting is the following passage from the fourth tablet of the Enuma Elish:

137  [Marduk] split her open like a mussel (?) into two (parts);

138  Half of her he set in place and formed the sky (therewith) as a roof.

139  He fixed the crossbar (and) posted guards;

140  He commanded them not to let her waters escape. (emphasis mine, translation from Alexander Heidel’s The Babylonian Genesis)

It is pretty clear here that the Babylonian conception of the sky consists of something solid holding back the waters above. Half of Tiamat’s corpse has been made into the sky, but Marduk has to make sure to keep the waters of her body in place, and therefore, he creates some sort of crossbar and posts guards. The passage presents us with one example of this early conception of the universe.

Many Christians will find it troubling that this is reflected in the first chapter of the Bible, but for me, it gives the Genesis account a much richer meaning. Seeing it as an interaction with the surrounding myths, even as a counter to them, gives a much more powerful message of truth than a literal step-by-step account of the process of creation. (Gordon J. Glover’s book Beyond the Firmament does a good job reflecting on just what that message is.) It also makes much better sense of Day 2.

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