Sunday, 22 February 2009


"Creation" by Claus Westermann: A Review
This book sets out to explore the background to the Creation stories of the Bible, and explains how they are meant to be understood.
The introduction to the book deals with how the narratives came to be written, and Westermann shows us that: "the first eleven chapters of the Bible were not composed as a literary work in the same way as Paul's letters in the New Testament.. The written draft is rather the end product of a long history of formation."
Westermann explains how a careful study of the early chapters of the book of Genesis reveals two distinct creation stories: (a) Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 to chapter 2, verse 4; (b) Genesis chapter 2, verse 4 to chapter 3 verse 24. A particular clear feature marking these as distinct is the fact that the order of events described is quite different in each narrative.
The first narrative is a great poem of joy in the beauty and goodness of creation, and praise in their Creator. Westermann mentions that the Hebrew word "tob" which is translated by "good" in this narrative, has a broader meaning, and also includes our word "beautiful".
Westermann also comments on a distinctive feature of the first narrative - "the procession of the days of work into a day of rest." He remarks that this is to teach us a lesson: "The work which has been laid upon man is not his goal. His goal is the eternal rest which has been suggested in the rest of the seventh day."
With the second narrative, we come to "the creation and limits of man." Here is the story of the temptation of man by the serpent; it is a story which contains a central paradox: "God himself has created the being which leads man to disobedience."
Although some commentators have tried to explain this away, Westermann warns us that to do so is to misunderstand the text. We must simply accept that "the origin of evil cannot be explained."
This is a fascinating book, with many arguments and insights. Westermann shows how Genesis can be understood even when it is not treated as historical fact. He regards it as myth, and points out the value of such myths as presenting universal truths which could not be portrayed otherwise.
It is hoped that such a book will help the reader not to neglect the Creation stories in the book of Genesis. All too often, these have been brought into a false conflict with the scientific picture of how the world was made. But this conflict arose relatively late in the Church's history, when the texts were interpreted by theologians whose perspective was so distorted by rationalism that they could not see that there could be other truths apart from scientific ones; naturally, such a procedure brought discredit upon the texts, because they should never have been understood as giving historical truth in the first place. Instead, they should have been understood along the lines of parables - stories which reveal truth, but which it would be most improper to treat as historically true. This is not a new discovery. As long ago as the 5th century A.D., St Augustine remarked that the Creation stories should not be understood as historical chronicle of events; this was because, he says, they were not written that way - they were "written after the manner of a popular poet."

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