A Post-Barthian Attempt at Genesis 1: vv 3–5

Recap: Barth got a lot right about his approach to Genesis, even as he got a few important things wrong in a morally-prescriptivist fashion that resembled the "orders theologies" he was trying to subvert. Barth's limitations involved his inability or unwillingness to get past certain culturally-conditioned presuppositions. As, frequently, do ours! But the approach through Sachkritik and literary hermeneutics is solid and will teach, not to mention preach. And it can be improved upon, or at least done with the tools we have today in order to produce responsible words of God and humanity. (And we'll see if I actually get there!)

In the first two verses, we had the singular created nothing, the abyssal deep of the təhom, which God defined in order to make everything else, and with respect to which God's active intention is gentle. While the "heavens" and the "earth" had been framed proleptically, neither had yet been made. The only surface was the edge of the great void, and everything was dark. And none of it was bad! But the darkness is about to diversify, and gain structure.

Genesis 1:3–5
wayo'mer 'elohīm yəhī 'or
wayəhī 'or
wayarə' 'elohīm et-ha'or ki-ṭob
wayabədel 'elohīm bēn ha'or ubēn haḥošek
wayiqra' 'elohīm la'or yom wəlaḥošek qara' layəlā
wayəhī `ereb wayəhī boqer yom 'eḥad

"And God said, 'Would that there were light.'
And there was light
and God saw that the light was good
and God distinguished between the light and the darkness
and God gave the name "day" to the light, and to the darkness, "night"
and there was evening and dawning: one day."

Call and Response

The jussive of hayah is a bit different from a simple imperative. God does not demand that light exist. Jussives are like hortatory subjunctives in Greek—which is what "let there be" would translate in Greek if the LXX hadn't gone for the imperative γενηθητω. (The Vulgate, on the other hand, chose the present active subjunctive fiat, "it should become" or "there should come to be.") Instead of commands, these are understood as requests, frequently the polite way to ask someone to do something—but they are for that reason requests. God doesn't make light, in other words. God calls for light, and is answered with light. Where does the light come from? From nothing, sure, but we already have a nothing, so it's not like it comes from nowhere.

God wishes for light, muses aloud that there might be light here, and the creature lights up in response. Not entirely, as though the whole void became light instead of darkness, but there was light now and not only darkness. And God liked this. God saw the light, literal transitive direct object marker, and in seeing the light also observed that it was good. What God asked for, the creature provided, manifesting a good thing in response to God's request. This is how the Creator–creature relationship is supposed to work!

Still No Bad Things

So now there exist both light and darkness, and we know God thinks the light the creature has provided is good. And God is about to separate these two things, which is the base meaning of badal. But there are no privatives here. There are no ablatives. Nothing is separated from anything else. God does not separate ha'or min-haḥošek. Light is not separated from darkness because darkness is worse than light, or in any way objectively bad. Light is not given a better or higher place than darkness.

Instead, these are treated as equals, and distinguished relative to one another. A separation is made between them, so that the one is not the other, and they are set into a permanent cycle of alternation. So the creature has made light in response to God's request, and now God defines the relationship between this light and the darkness, and gives them names: "day" and "night." God then orders them so that they fade between one another: there is "evening" and "morning," light fading and darkness dawning, light dawning and darkness fading. We might think this is silly, as darkness can't dawn, but as yet there are no sources involved—just two things, trading off.

And in this cycle there is not merely "day" as a state of it being light, but "a day," defined in cyclical terms. It's also possible to suggest that from the distinction it has become possible to think "one" as much as "day," since before this diversification and differentiation and definition and structuring there had not been any reason to call anything "one" as opposed to two or more. And so also there is time, now, where there had not been. Things can be counted, and those things progress.

So now we have the still-internally-undifferentiated abyssal deep, with its single surface and God hovering gently over it, but now the nascent universe has time, as structured in cycles of light and dark. And it is good. But it won't remain internally undifferentiated for long, as God is about to open the chasm through which the abyss will become two definite regions.


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