Reprinted with permission from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).
The ancient Babylonian myth (or foundational story) that strongly resembles Genesis I has one great dissimilarity from it: in that myth, creation begins with a murder. The goddess Tiamat–cognate to our word t’hom (watery chaos, 1:2)–is slain by the hero-god Marduk; and the universe is carved out of her body. Violence there is inextricable from the process of creation.In Genesis 1, however, creation entails no destruction. Even the primal watery abyss is not completely obliterated but lingers at the bottom of the sea to reappear in many a psalm or story. The drawing of distinctions and boundaries that marks both accounts is in Genesis I peaceful and harmonious.
God distinguishes elements of the original watery chaos by drawing boundaries between them and naming them: light and darkness, day and night. Created elements are not simple oppositions. They are both distinct and akin. Juxtaposed verses emphasize the parallels between elements. There are waters above and waters below. Between them stretch a solid expanse of earth and a solid expanse of firmament. The earth brings forth grasses and trees. The sky is strewn with lights. The sea and the air bring forth swarms of living things, schools of fish, flocks of birds, clouds of insects. The earth births its many creatures, joyously productive, mirroring the water and the air. The creation of humankind continues these dual themes of distinction and similarity. Not one but two words underline the likeness between adam (the earthling) and its Maker. Humankind bears the tzelem (image) and d’mut (resemblance) of the divine Creator, although in contrast to God’s oneness, they are several. They are also distinguished from one another: zahar (which means “male” but is also a word related to “remember”), the bearer of the male member, and n’kevah (which means “female” but is also a word related to “piercing”), the pierced one. In Genesis 3 the two will become a hierarchy, but in Genesis 1, they are presented as equals. Both bear the divine image and semblance, both are adjured to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and tame it, and hold sway … over all the earth” (1:28).