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—Biblical Data:

A theory concerning the origin ("begetting") of the world; the mythological or ante-scientific view, as preserved in the traditions, oral or written, and the folk-poetry of primitive and ancient peoples.

Curiosity concerning the origin of the visible universe and the manner and order in which the various forms of life came into being, manifested itself at a comparatively early period. Cosmogonies are, therefore, found among nearly all races, and form a large part of their mythologies, preserved as tribal or national traditions. Old as they are, they reflect climatic and cultural conditions of various localities; and these differences, often unharmonized, appear in the later literary and religious versions. The original cosmogonies are spontaneous productions of folk-fancy, and are therefore unsystematic, forming as a rule only a chapter in the theogonies or genealogies of the gods. Systematization is a sign that primitive notions have been subjected to treatment in the interest of a certain theology or advanced religious consciousness. By those who ascribe to the Hebrew mind the same process of development and to Hebrew literature the same manner of growth as are observed among other peoples, the cosmogony—or, to be more exact, the cosmogonies—of the Bible must be viewed and analyzed according to the light derived from comparison with similar conceits among non-Hebrews. By analogy, then, with other ancient peoples, the form in which the Hebrew cosmogony presents itself in the Bible is not the original. The literary documents are later than the material incorporated. They exhibit the influences of a developed theology as well as the effect of a blending of different accounts that are at variance with one another in their radical versions.

Early Hebrew Cosmogony.

The comparatively late date of the literary documents—according to the critical schools—has misled most of the modern commentators into the assumption that the early Hebrews were without cosmogonies. Rénan's denial to the Semites of the mythopeic faculty seemed thus to be borne out by the results of Pentateuchal analysis and of literary criticism of the other Biblical books. This inference, however, can not be maintained (see Gunkel, "Schöpfung und Chaos"; idem, "Genesis"). The Hebrews must have had the same impulse toward speculation on the origin of things as had other groups of men; and as this impulse manifests itself always at a very early period in the evolution of mind (the tribal or national consciousness), one is safe in the a priori ascription to the Hebrews of the production and possession of cosmogonic legends at a very remote epoch. This conclusion from analogy is corroborated by the study of the literary documents bearing on this point. Gunkel (l.c.) has demonstrated that the cosmogonic accounts or allusions thereto (technical archaic terms, like "tohu wabohu"; the use of words in an unusual sense, for instance V04p280001.jpg; and mythological personifications, like Rahab) display easily discernible signs of incorporated old material (Gen. i., ii.; Job xxvi. 12, xl. 25, xli. 26; Ps. xl. 5, lxxiv. 12-19, lxxxvii. 4, lxxxix. 10; Isa. xxvii. 1, li. 9). That Gen. i. belongs to the later strata of the Pentateuch (P) is conceded by all except those scholars that reject higher criticism altogether. Dillmann, for instance, and Delitzsch (in the last edition of his commentary) do not hesitate to assign it to the Priestly Code, though they would have it be pre-exilic. It certainly has the appearance of a systematic presentation, but nevertheless it is not a free invention.

It has long been recognized that Biblical cosmogony bears certain similarities to that of other peoples; e.g., the Phenicians (who speak of πνεῦμα and dark χαός originally existent; through their union, πόθος ["desire"], μότ ["primordial mud"] is generated; but of this μότ come the egg, etc. [for other versions see Damascius, "De Primis Principiis," p. 125]; the wife of the first man is Βαθυ [=V04p280002.jpg]), or the Egyptians (who spoke of primeval water ["nun"] and the primeval egg [see Dillmann, Commentary on Genesis, p. 5, and De la Saussaye, "Religions-geschichte," 2d ed., i. 146 et seq.]). The notion of the primeval egg seems to be a universal one (see Dillmann, l.c. p. 4; "Laws of Manu," i. 5 et seq.).

Babylonian Cosmogony.

Strikingly similar to the Biblical cosmogony is that of the Babylonians (Friedrich Delitzsch, "Babylonischer Weltschöpfungsepos"; Jensen, "Kosmologie der Babylonier," pp. 263-364; Zimmern, in Gunkel, "Schöpfung und Chaos," pp. 401 et seq.; Schrader, "K. B." vi.). Its birthplace is betrayed by its reflection of the climatic conditions of Babylonia. In winter, floods and darkness prevail. With the advent of spring the waters "divide" and are "subjugated" through the power of the winds that blow. Applying to primeval days this yearly phenomenon of the conquest of the flood and darkness, the Babylonian fancy assumes as self-existent in the beginning the great expanse of water (and unlit darkness).

Babylonian Accounts.

The former is conceived of as a monstrous dragon, Tiamat (= V04p280003.jpg), which, in the epitome given by Berosus, is represented as the "primeval woman," with whom Bel cohabits, splitting her into two halves, one of which becomes the earth and the other the sky, in characteristic reflection of Babylon's climate, and of the spring sun piercing the waters at the end of the winter's rainy season. Stories about Tiamat have been found as far back as the fourth millennium B.C. The narrative, as recovered from the tablets, begins by recording that "long since, when above the heaven had not been named, and earth was also without name [i.e., non-existent] there was only primeval ocean-flood." This is personified as a male (Apsu) and a female (Tiamat). The gods, which had not yet arisen, were then made: Tiamat was their mother. Hatred of the new-born light causes her to rebel against the higher deities. Some of the gods side with her, and to aid her in her fight she produces huge monsters. Marduk offers to punish her, on condition that the supreme rule over heaven and earth be accordedhim after the victory. He rides to the combat in his war-chariot, and, meeting Tiamat, kills her by forcing open her mouth, which he fills with the hurricane that cuts her in two from within, and puts her crew in chains. He then divides her car-cass: out of one part he makes heaven; out of the other, earth. The following is the order in which Creation is said to have been successively called forth by Marduk: (1) the heaven; (2) the heavenly bodies; (3) the earth; (4) the plants; (5) the animals; (6) man.

It is plain that not only in Gen. i., but in other Biblical cosmogonic descriptions (notably in Ps. civ. 5-9; also in Job xxxviii. 10; Ps. xxxiii. 6, lxv. 8; Prov. viii: 29; Jer. v. 22, xxxi. 35; the Prayer of Manasses), traits and incidents abound that suggest this Babylonian myth. In the main, four theories have been advanced to account for this: (1) Both the Babylonian and the Hebrew are varied versions of an originally common Semitic tradition. (2) The Hebrews carried an originally Babylonian tradition with them when emigrating from Ur-Kasdim. (3) They adopted the Babylonian epos during the Babylonian captivity. (4) This tradition, originally Babylonian, as the background shows, had long before the Hebrew conquest of Palestine been carried to Canaan through the then universal domination of Babylon; and the Hebrews gradually appropriated it in the course of their own political and religious development. This last theory (Gunkel's) is the most plausible. Gen. i. marks the final adaptation and recasting under the influence of theological ideas (i.e., monotheism; six days for work and the seventh day for rest). As now found in Gen. i., it seems to be a composite of two, if not more, ancient myths. Besides those Babylonian elements indicated above, it contains reminiscences of another Babylonian tradition of a primitive (golden) age without bloodshed (vegetarianism), and recalls notions of non-Babylonian cycles ("the egg idea" in the brooding of the V04p281001.jpg, the Phenician V04p281002.jpg).

Earlier Versions.

The allusions to this ancient (Babylonian) cosmogony are really much fresher and fuller in mythological conceits in the other passages quoted above. These, then, represent a cosmogony anterior to the reconstruction on monotheistic lines now incorporated in Genesis. In them the Dragon myth ("Tiamat," "Rahab") is of frequent recurrence; but while it points to a cosmogonic source, it may in some cases (Job xxvi. 13, for instance) have sprung from a natural celestial phenomenon such as an eclipse. So also in eschatological descriptions and apocalyptic visions these incidents of the old tradition recur (Ps. xviii., lxxvii., xciii. 3 et seq.; Nahum. i.; Hab. iii.). See Dragon; Leviathan.

On the other hand, the Bible has preserved cosmogonies, or reminiscences of them, that are not of Babylonian origin. Gen. ii. 4 et seq., belonging, according to critics, to the Jahvistic source, starts with dry earth, and makes the sprouting of vegetation depend on man's previous creation; that is, on his labor. This exhibits Palestinian coloring. The dry, parched, waterless soil without rain is taken from a Palestinian landscape (see, however, Cheyne in "Encyc. Bibl." i. 949). Again, Ps. xc. 2 speaks of the time before the birth of the mountains and the parturition of earth and world. In Job xxxviii. it is said that God laid the foundations of the earth "when the morning stars sang together," and all the "sons of God" broke forth in glee. In Ps. xxiv. 2 there is a reference to the mystery involved in God's grounding the earth on the waters so that it can not be moved. These are not mere poetic explications of Gen. i. They are derived from other cosmogonic cycles, which a tone time may even have included, as among all other ancient peoples, a theogony (notice the "sons of God"; see Gunkel, "Genesis," p. 119).

The value of the cosmogony of Genesis lies in its monotheistic emphasis. Though the plural "Elohim," the words "let us make," and the view of man being "the image of God" reflect polytheistic and mythological conceptions of a previous stage, the stress is laid on the thought that one God made the all by His will, and made it "good." The Sabbath—originally not a part of the Babylonian epos—is the crowning glory of this cosmogony, notwithstanding the strong anthropomorphism of the concept that the Creator Himself rested. The attempt to establish a concordance between Genesis and geology seems to do an injustice to science and religion both. The ancient Hebrews had a very imperfect conception of the structure of the universe. Gen. i. was not written to be a scientific treatise. It was to impress and to express the twin-doctrine of God's creative omnipotence and of man's dignity as being destined on earth to be a creator himself.

With the Babylonians, the Hebrews believed that in the beginning, before earth and heaven had been separated ("created," V04p281003.jpg), there were primeval ocean ("tehom," always without the article) and darkness (V04p281004.jpg). From this the "word of God" (compare such passages as, God "roars" [V04p281005.jpg], Ps. xviii. 16; civ. 7) called forth light. He divided the waters: the upper waters he shut up in heaven, and on the lower He established the earth. In older descriptions the combat against the tehom is related with more details. Tehom (also Rahab) has helpers, the V04p281006.jpg and the Leviathan, Behemot, the "Naḥash Bariaḥ." The following is the order of Creation as given in Gen. 1.: (1) the heaven; (2) the earth; (3) the plants; (4) the celestial bodies; (5) the animals; (6) man. The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.

  • Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit;
  • Idem, Genesis;
  • Holzinger, Genesis, pp. 17 et seq.;
  • Jensen, Kosmologie der Babylonier.
K.E. G. H.—In Post-Biblical Literature:

Cosmogony, or the theory concerning the origin of the universe, began with pagan systems which recognized no Creator, and was therefore viewed with mistrust in rabbinical circles. For this reason it was taught in strictest privacy: "The creation lore is not to be taught before more than one disciple" (Ḥag. ii. 1; see Cabala). Even the oldest schools, the Hillelites and Shammaites, differed on the question whetherthe heavens (Gen. i. 1) or the earth (Gen. ii. 4) was created first, the Shammaites deciding that the heavens were created first, the Hillelites maintaining the contrary contention. The Hillelites, referring to Amos ix. 6, argued: "No architect, in building a house, begins with the upper story"; the Shammaites replied with reference to Isa. lxvi. 1: "No artificer makes the footstool first and then the throne." This difference of view was readjusted afterward by R. Simeon b. Yoḥai, who said, referring to Isa. xlviii. 13, that heaven and earth were created simultaneously, the former being put upon the latter as the cover upon the pot (Ḥag. 12a; Yer. Ḥag. ii. 1; Gen. R. i. and xii.; Pirḳe R. El. xviii.). The Shammaites seem to represent the older view, shared also by the Alexandrians (V04p282001.jpg, Tan. 32a; compare Bacher, "Agada der Tannaiten," i. 17 et seq.).

Probably connected with this difference of opinion is the controversy between R. Eliezer and R. Joshua regarding the origin of earth and sea, Joshua, with reference to Job xxxvii. 6, xxxvi. 28, claiming a cosmic or celestial origin for them; Eliezer, with reference to Ps. cxlviii. 4 et seq., Gen. ii. 6, a mere terrestrial one (compare Gen. R. xii., xiii.; Yoma 54b; Bacher, l.c. i. 135, 173 et seq.). The principal concern of cosmogony was with the primal elements and their mode of composition; and in dealing with the question, the Gnostics resorted to both mythological and philosophical speculation, while Scripture treated it from the standpoint of theology (see Gnosticism).

The Primal Elements.

In the third century Rab, basing his speculation on Gen. i. 1-5, spoke of ten primal elements created on the first day: heaven and earth, Tohu and Bohu, light and darkness, wind and water, night and day (the last as time-measures); and of ten creative potencies: wisdom and understanding, knowledge and strength, rebuke and might, righteousness and judgment, mercy and loving-kindness, with reference to Prov. iii. 19, 20; Ps. lxv. 7 (6); Job xxvi. 11; Ps. lxxxix. 15 (14); xxv. 6 (5). Of these potencies he explained rebuke as the restraining power or the limitation exerted by God when the world (earth) and the sea expanded in all directions after He had turned the primal elements like the warp and woof of the weaver's loom (Ḥag. 12a). The older schools, however, spoke of only six, four, or two primal elements, and also of fewer potencies. When R. Joshua ben Hananiah was asked by the emperor Hadrian how God made the world, he answered: "He took the six elements and led them like weaver's threads in six directions: four horizontal and two vertical" (Gen. R. x.). To Gamaliel II. a philosopher said: "Your God is a great artist, but He found fine pigments to use as colors for his painting: Tohu and Bohu, darkness and wind, water and the abyss"; whereupon Gamaliel replied: "All these six God Himself created, as is shown by Isa. xxxiv. 11 (Hebrew, "Ḳaw tohu we-abne bohu."), xlv. 7; Ps. cxlviii. 4 et seq.; Amos iv. 13; Prov. viii. 24 (compare Gen. R. i.; Bacher, l.c. i. 86, note 4). These six elements are compared by R. Levi (Gen. R. i.) with the six things required for every structure: water, earth, wood, stone, iron, and the measuring-line. An old Baraita gives, with reference to Isa. xxxiv. 11, a deeper insight into Jewish or gnostic cosmogony: Tohu is the green circle ("ḳaw") which surrounds the cosmos, and from which darkness emanated, according to Ps. xviii. 12 (11); and Bohu is the foundation of the primal mire or chaos ("abne mefulamot" = Πηλωμα; see Lev. W. B. T., s.v.V04p282002.jpg) sunk into the abyss, whence the water issues forth (Ḥag. 12a). Here Tohu and Bohu are actually the two primal elements out of which the other two, darkness and water, respectively emanated. Wind is taken by R. Jose (Ḥag. 12b; compare Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77a, and Bacher, l.c. ii. 186) to be a potency emanating from God's arm, whereas heaven is explained as a composite of primal fire and water (V04p282003.jpg; Ḥag. 12a). According to Pirḳe R. El. iii. (compare Yer. Ḥg. ib.) the earth was created from the snow from under God's throne, which, when cast upon the primeval water, turned into a solid mass (Job xxxvii. 6; compare Ex. R. xiii., where V04p282004.jpg ["dust"] is probably a corruption of V04p282005.jpg ["snow"]). Fire and snow are taken as primal elements also in Gen. R. x.

Whether light was the first created thing (compare IV Esdras vi. 40) or not is a matter of dispute between R. Judah and R. Nehemiah. Samuel bar Naḥman said: God wrapped Himself in light as in a garment and its radiance lit up the universe; that is, light is not created, but is eternally a part of God (Gen. R. iii., based upon Ps. civ. 2). From that light heaven also emanated, according to Pirḳe R. El. ib. It must be further noted that Pirḳe R. El. has only eight of Rab's ten elements, night and day being added by some one else; and instead of Rab's ten creative potencies there are only three: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge (compare Tan., Wayaḳhel, 6, ed. Buber; Midr. Teh. to Ps. l. 1). So are Yalda Bahut (= Βυθός) and Ḥokmuta (= Ḥokmah) fundamental in the various gnostic cosmogonies, the rest evolving in pairs (see Gnosticism). In Ex. R. three primal elements, water, fire, and wind or breath ("mayim," "esh," "ruaḥ"), are mentioned, begetting respectively three potencies, darkness, light, and wisdom.

Better than these scattered Midrashic fragments does the Slavonic Book of Enoch (xxiv.-xxx.) disclose the secrets of Ma'ase Bereshit, which God Himself revealed to Enoch, though "not known even to the angels":

The Upper and the Lower World.

Out of the regions of the deep God caused a fiery stone, Adoil ("Ariel" = "fire of God" [?]), to rise; out of this broke light, and forth came the great upper world revealing the whole creation of God's design. Of it God made His own throne, and above it rose the light which became the foundation of all celestial things (compare Pes. 54a; Ned. 39b; Gen. R. i.; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxxi.; "Kisse ha-Kabod," after Ps. xciii. 2 and Prov. viii. 22, LXX.: "When He established His throne upon the winds"). Then God laid the foundation of the world of darkness below by calling into existence a firm, heavy, and red substance called "Arkhas" (= V04p282006.jpg, the lowest part of the abyss; see "Seder Rabba di Bereshit" in Wertheimer's "Batte Midrashot," l. 15, 18: certainly not V04p282007.jpg, as Charles thinks), and after it was divided there issued forth a very dark world bearing the creation of all things below; there was nothing beneath the darkness.

Out of the mixture of light and darkness a thick substance came forth; this was the water which was spread in both directions above the darkness below and below the light above, and thus were the seven circles of heaven created like crystal, moist and dry; that is, like glass and ice (compare "a sea of glass,"Rev. iv. 6, xv. 2; "and the pure marble stones that seem like water," Ḥag. 14b; compare Joël, "Blicke in die Religionsgeschichte," i. 163 et seq.).

Out of the waves of the water below, which were turned into stones, the earth was formed on the second day of Creation, and the myriads of angels and all the heavenly hosts were created out of the lightning which flashed forth from the flery stone as God gazed upon it (compare Pesiḳ. i. 3a: "The firmament is made of water, and the stars and angels of fire," and Cant. R. iii. 11: "The firmament is made of hoarfrost [Ezek. i. 22, "crystal"], and the Hayot of fire").

Charles ("Book of the Secrets of Enoch," 1896, p. 32) and Bousset ("Religion des Judenthums," 1903, p. 470) find in this cosmogony traces of Egypto-Orphic influence; but a comparison with the Babylonian—that is, the Mandæan—cosmogony, with its upper world of light and lower world of darkness (see Brand, "Mandæische Religion," 1889, pp. 41-44), is no less in place. Remarkable is the cosmogonic view of Abbahu (Gen. R. iii.): "God created worlds after worlds, and destroyed them until He found the one which He pronounced as good."

Midrash Konen.

The Baraita on Tohu and Bohu, Ḥag. 12a, and on wind or breath, Ḥag. 12b, quoted above, formed undoubtedly part of an ancient Midrash, Ma'asch Bereshit, of which the Midrash Konen preserved essential parts (Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 23-39; Introduction, xiii.). It is based on Prov. iii. 19, and the Torah being identified with the creative wisdom (compare Gen. R. i.), the sacred names or letters are made potencies of creation. The Midrash shows how, by the aid of three names, water, light, and fire were created; how, by the mixing of these, the heavens and the clouds of glory and all the celestial hosts were made; and, how from a lump of snow from under the Throne of Glory, the earth was formed and the foundation-stone of the world laid upon the water. The celestial orbs were made of fire; the water animals, including the leviathan, out of light and water; the birds, including the ziz or simurg, out of these elements mixed with mud; the terrestrial beasts, including the behemoth, out of water, earth, and light. The Midrash Ma'ase Bereshit, which is attached to Midrash Konen (Jellinek, "B. H." pp. 32 et seq.), forms also part of the Seder Rabba di Bereshit, published in Wertheimer's "Batte Midrashot" (i. 1-31), and presents the entire cosmogonic and cosmological system of the Rabbis (or Essenes, as is shown by the apotheosis of the Sabbath, pp. 7-8). Part of this cosmology—that is, the description of the upper and lower worlds and all their parts in their topographical relations—is found also in Pirḳe R. El. (iii.-ix.).

Sefer Yezirah.

Another and altogether different cosmogonic system is presented in the geonic work "Sefer Yezirah." Here letters and numbers, as in the New Pythagorean system, but scientifically arranged, are creative principles, and the three primal elements of the rabbis, fire, water, and light (V04p283001.jpg) are, by the change of one vowel, transformed into fire, water, and air (V04p283002.jpg = the Greek ἀὴρ), the Spirit of God (Gen. i. 2) taking the place of the former "wisdom" as the creative power (see Sefer YeẒirah). For the cosmogony of the cabalists, based chiefly upon the idea of a primal and endless light, and a primordial "point" expanding into the Ten Sefirot, and upon Abbahu's view, quoted above, of worlds ever created and destroyed by the Creator, See Cabala; Emanation; Sefirot.

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