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Although the story of the creation of the world is the first story that appears in the Torah, it was one of the later additions to the body of scripture, added after the Jewish people had returned home from their exile in Babylon. After nearly 50 years, the Babylonian kingdom had fallen to Cyrus of Persia, who reversed the Babylonian practice of keeping occupied nations under control by disrupting societies and exiling their leaders. Cyrus allowed local people to govern their own societies and engage in their own religious practices. He not only permitted the Jews to return to their homeland in 538 BCE, he assisted them with the rebuilding of the Temple.
Two or three generations had come and gone since the religious and civic leaders of the Jewish people had been exiled and their way of life and religious practices disrupted. Those who returned to their ancient homeland (not all did), faced the challenge of articulating what it meant to be Jewish and establishing laws and observances which would bring order to their society. For this, they turned to their own ancient texts, traditions, and stories, as well as to religious stories that they had encountered and added to their own during the time of the exile in Babylon.
In this post-exile time, interpreting the text supplanted prophecy as a way to understand how to live in accordance with the Jewish covenant with God. A revision of the Hebrew scriptures was undertaken: some stories were added and some stories were augmented with additional material. The Priestly Revision of the Bible was intended to make the Israelite religion more religious and less political. After all, the theory that Yahweh guaranteed the political fortunes of Israel and Judah had been disproven by events. The revisions tended to focus attention on the priesthood, rather than the Kings or the prophets. Religious practices were brought to the foreground. For example, it is thought that the simple story of manna from heaven was revised to make sure it did not show the Hebrews collecting bread on the Sabbath. Genealogies, dates, and inventories were added to the biblical stories. Careful descriptions of the first Temple's furnishings were added.
In the Creation story told in this workshop, one of two distinct accounts of creation found in the book of Genesis, God is no longer the particular God of a particular people, but is rather the creator of all of the earth and sky, and of humanity itself. It is an extraordinary text in both its poetic beauty and its theology. This text tells us that we are indeed kin, one to another and to all of creation. It also provides the scriptural basis for the central Jewish practice of keeping the Sabbath.
Note: Text interpretation was in at its height during the period between the third century BCE and the first century CE. Jesus of Nazareth, who lived during the first century CE, alluded frequently to Jewish scriptures and was a participant in the rich interpretive tradition of the time.
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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.
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