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Traditional Narratives of Creation

“It is God Who has created the heavens, the earth and all that is between them in six eons, then firmly established Himself on the Throne of Authority..”(Qur’an;32:4). “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,”(Exodus;20:11), “..the heavens and the earth were once one entity, then We split them asunder? And We have created every living thing from water..”(Qur’an;21:30);“… Allah created the heavens and the earth and all that lies between them for a just reason and for a specified time..”(Qur’an;30:8).“And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, in play.”(Qur’an;44:38);“We shall surely test your steadfastness with fear and famine, with loss of property, life and produce. Give good news to those who endure with patience.” (Qur’an;2:155).

Introduction:

Man has always been inquisitive about the origin and creation of universe to which earth is just a small part. The whole cosmic system of matter and energy is called universe. Its main constituents are the galaxies, within which are stars and stellar groupings and nebulae. Earth’s Sun is one star among the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. All atoms, subatomic particles, and everything they compose are also part of the universe. The universe is governed by four fundamental forces: the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force, and gravitation. The term creation refers to the beginning of things, whether by the will and act of a transcendent being, by emanation from some ultimate source, or in any other way. The fact remains that even with advancement in science and technology the scientists have not yet been able to resolve the mystery of Creation. Scientists have however proposed a number of theories about the origin and structure of the universe, the most prominent theories are; the ‘Big Bang’, ‘Expanding Universe’ and ‘Steady-State Theory’. While even the expanse of universe still remains a mystery, the thinkers and theologians have also evolved their own concepts and doctrine of creation of universe based on their imagination, knowledge and superstition. This resulted in evolution of many myths in different cultures but, their theories still remain speculative. While most of Creation myths do not stand the scientific test, however the Revelations given to messengers of God, specially mentioned in Qur’an, the last scripture, stand up to the known scientific hypothesis of creation. Doctrines of creation are philosophical and theological elaborations of the primal traditional narratives of creation (myths) within a religious community. The term myth here refers to the imaginative expression in narrative form of what is experienced or apprehended as basic reality. The story of creation is the symbolic narrative of the beginning of the world as understood by a particular community. The later doctrines of creation are interpretations of this myth in light of the subsequent history and needs of the community. Thus, for example, all theology and thought concerning creation in the Abrahamic rooted faiths are based on the Revealed narrative of creation in the biblical book of Genesis and the last book of guidance, the Qur’an.

Common Myths of Creation & Narratives:

The traditional narratives of creation (or myths) refer to the process through which the world is centered and given a definite form within the whole of reality. The cosmogonic (origin of the world) myth is the myth par excellence. In this sense, the myth is akin to philosophy, but, unlike philosophy, it is constituted by a system of symbols; and because it is the basis for any subsequent cultural thought, it contains rational and nonrational forms. There is an order and structure to the myth, but this order and structure is not to be confused with rational, philosophical order and structure. The myth possesses its own distinctive kind of order. The cosmogonic myth tells the story of the creation of the world, it is never simply etiological, for it deals with the ultimate origin of all things. The cosmogonic myth thus has a pervasive structure; its expression in the form of philosophical and theological thought is only one dimension of its function as a model for cultural life. According to the Self Emergence myth:  The creation seems to emerge through its own inner power from under the earth. In this genre of myth, the created order emerges gradually in continuous stages. It is similar to a birth or metamorphosis of the world from its embryonic state to maturity. The symbolism of the earth or a part of the earth as a repository of all potential form is prominent in this type of myth. In some myths of this type (e.g., the Navajo myth of emergence), the movement from a lower stage to a higher one is initiated by some fault of the people who live under the earth, but these faults are only the parallels of an automatic upper movement in the earth itself. Closely related to the same type of narrative is the myth that states that the world is created as the progeny of a primordial mother and father, called ‘World Parents’. The mother and father are symbols of earth and sky, respectively. In myths of this kind, the world parents generally appear at a late stage of the creation process; chaos in some way exists before the coming into being of the world parents. According to ‘Cosmic Egg’ tradition, the creation deity begins the act of creation by placing two embryonic sets of twins in an egg. In each set of twins is a male and female; during the maturation process they are together thus forming androgynous beings. In a Tahitian myth, the creator deity himself lives alone in a shell. After breaking out of the shell, he creates his counterpart, and together they undertake the work of creation. A Japanese creation narrative likens the primordial chaos to an egg containing the germs of creation. In the Hindu tradition the creation of the world is symbolized in the Chandogya Upanisad by the breaking of an egg, and the universe is referred to as an egg in other sources. The Buddhists speak of the transcending of ordinary existence, the realization of a new mode of being, as breaking the shell of the egg. Similar references to creation through the symbol of the egg are found in the Orphic texts of the Greeks and in Chinese myths. The egg is a symbol of the totality from which all creation comes. It is like a womb containing the seeds of creation. Within the egg are the possibilities of a perfect creation (i.e., the creation of androgynous beings). The egg, in addition to being the beginning of life, is equally a symbol of procreation, rebirth, and new life. In a version of the Dogon, one of the twins returns to the egg in order to resuscitate the other.

The myths of ‘Earth Divers’ have two important elements: Firstly, the theme of the cosmogonic water representing the undifferentiated waters that are present before the earth has been created. Secondly, there is an animal who plunges into the water to secure a portion of earth. The importance of the animal is that the creature agent is a prehuman species. This version of the myth is probably the oldest version of this genre. This basic structure of the earth-diver myth has been modified in central Europe in myths that relate the story of the primordial waters, God, and the devil. In these versions of the earth-diver myth, the devil appears as God’s companion in the creation of the world. The devil becomes the diver sent by God to bring earth from the bottom of the waters. In most versions of this myth, God does not appear to be omniscient or omnipotent, often depending on the knowledge of the devil for certain details regarding the creative act, details that he learns through tricks he plays upon the devil. In still different versions of this myth, the relationship between God and the devil moves from companionship to antagonism; they become adversaries, though they remain as co-creators of the world. The fact that the devil has had a part in the creation of the world is one way of explaining the origin and persistence of evil in the world. Mircea Eliade, a noted 20th-century historian of religions, has pointed to another theme in certain Romanian versions of this myth. After God has instructed the devil to dive to the bottom of the waters and bring up the earth, the devil obeys, diving several times before he is able to bring up and hold on to a small portion of earth. After the creation of the world from this small portion of earth, God sinks into a profound sleep. This sleep is a sign of mental exhaustion, for only the devil and a bee know the solution to certain details of the creation, and God must, with the help of the bee, trick the devil into giving him this vital information. God’s sleep, according to Eliade, is a sign of his passivity and disinterest in the world after it has been created, and it harks back to certain archaic myths in which the supreme deity retires from the world after its creation, becoming disinterested and passive in the relationship to his work.

Creation by the ‘Supreme Creator’ is a popular doctrine among many cultures, specially among the Abrahamic faiths in its own distinct way. Though the precise nature and characteristics of the supreme creator deity may differ from culture to culture, a specific and pervasive structure of this type of deity can be discerned. The six main characteristics tend to be common: Firstly; He is all wise and all powerful. The world comes into being because of His wisdom, and He is able to actualize the world because of his power. Secondly; The deity exists alone prior to the creation of the world. There is no being or thing prior to His existence. No explanation can therefore be given of His existence, before which one confronts the ultimate mystery. Thirdly; The mode of creation is conscious, deliberate, and orderly. This again is an aspect of the Creator’s wisdom and power. The creation comes about because the deity seems to have a definite plan in mind and does not create on a trial-and-error basis. In Genesis, for example, particular parts of the world are created seriatim; in an Egyptian myth, Kheper, the creator deity, says, “I planned in my heart,” and in a Maori myth the creator deity proceeds from inactivity to increasing stages of activity. Fourthly; The creation of the world is simultaneously an expression of the freedom and purpose of the deity. His mode of creation defines the pattern and purpose of all aspects of the creation, though the deity is not bound by his creation. His relationship to the created order after the creation is again an aspect of his freedom. Fifthly; In several creation myths of this type, the creator deity removes himself from the world after it has been created. After the creation the deity goes away and only appears again when a catastrophe threatens the created order. Sixthly; The supreme creator deity is often a ‘sky god’, and the deity in this form is an instance of the religious valuation of the symbolism of the sky. In creation myths of the above type, the creation itself or the intent of the creator deity is to create a perfect world, paradise. Before the end of the creative act or sometime soon after the end of creation, the created order or the intent of the creator deity is thwarted by some fault of one of the creatures. There is thus a rupture in the creation narrative. In some traditions this rupture is the cause of the departure of the deity from creation.

In Greek philosophy and theology, ‘Logos’ is used to stands for the divine reason that orders the cosmos and gives it form and meaning. The Greek word ‘logos’ means;  “word,” “reason,” “plan”. The concept is found in the writings of Heracleitus (540-480BC) and in Persian, Indian, and Egyptian philosophical and theological systems as well. In the cosmology of Heracleitus, fire forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe: he called the world order an “ever-living fire kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures,” and he extended fire’s manifestations to include the ether in the upper atmosphere. The persistence of unity despite change is illustrated by his famous analogy of the river: “Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and ever different waters flow down.” Plato later took Heracleitus to mean that all things are in constant flux, regardless of how they appear to the senses. Later, the Stoics defined the ‘logos’ as an active, rational and spiritual principle that permeated all reality. The Greek-speaking Jewish philosopher, Judaeus Philo of Alexandria (15 BC-45 CE), taught that the ‘logos’ was the intermediary between God and the cosmos, being both the agent between God and the cosmos, being both the agent of creation and the agent through which the human mind can comprehend God.  The writings of Philo were preserved and cherished by the Church, and provided the inspiration for a sophisticated Christian philosophical theology. He departed from Platonic thought regarding the ‘logos’ (Word) and called it “the first-begotten Son of God”. Hence in Christian theology, ‘Logos’ is used to describe the role of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) as the principle of God active in the creation and ordering of the cosmos and in the revelation of the divine plan of salvation. The divinity of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is claimed from interpretation of verses from Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the ‘Word’, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…” (John;1:1&14).  It is to be kept in view that, these statements were not made by Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), nor were they attributed to him by the author of the Gospel according to John. Consequently, these verses do not constitute evidence for Jesus’ divinity, especially considering the doubts held by Christian scholars about the Fourth Gospel. The Greek term used by the anonymous author of the Fourth Gospel for “word” is ‘logos’. In doing so, the author identifies Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) with the pagan ‘logos’ of Greek philosophy, who was the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning. The identification of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) with the ‘logos’, was further developed in the early Church as a result of attempts made by early Christian theologians and apologists to express the Christian faith in terms that would be intelligible to the Hellenistic world.  Moreover, it was to impress their hearers with the view that Christianity was superior to, or heir to, all that was best in pagan philosophy. Thus, in their apologies and polemical works, the early Christian Fathers stated that Christ was the preexistent ‘logos’. The Greek word for ‘God’ used in the phrase “and the Word was with God,” is the definite form ‘hotheos’, meaning ‘The God’.  However, in the second phrase “and the Word was God”, the Greek word used for ‘God’ is the indefinite form ‘tontheos’, which means ‘a god’. Consequently, John;1:1, should more accurately be translated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Therefore, if the Word was a ‘god’ in the literal sense, it would mean that there were two Gods and not one. However, in Biblical language, the term ‘god’ is used metaphorically to indicate power. For example, Paul referred to the devil as “god” in 2nd Corinthians;4:4. Moses is also referred to as “god” (messenger) in Exodus;7:1. Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) has also been clearly mentioned as a man and messenger of God: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know”(Acts;2:22).

Miraculous birth of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) through ‘Word from God’ has been mentioned in Qur’an: “When the angels said “O Mary! God gives you the good news through a Word from Him (kalimah min -hu) that you will be given a son: his name will be Messiah, (Jesus Christ) the son of Mary…”(Qur’an;3:45); “She said: “O my Lord! how shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?”  He said: “Even so: Allah creates what He Wills; whenever He decides to do anything, He only says (word) it to ‘Be’ and it is!.”(Qur’an;3:47). Similarly, the act of creation is also mentioned in Bible: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”(Genisis;1:3); “And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven”(Genisis;1:20). Hence the Word from God implies ‘order of creation’ by God through His ‘word’ or ‘Command’ or ‘announcement’. It is also mentioned in Qur’an: “..The Christ Jesus, son of Mary, was but God’s Apostle – (the fulfillment of) His promise  which He had conveyed (kalimah, “word”) unto Mary – and a soul created by Him….”(Qur’an;4:171); “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: when He decrees a matter, He saith to it: “Be,” and it is.(Qur’an;2:117.); “And Our command is but a single (Act),- like the twinkling of an eye.”(Qur’an;54:50). The word or command of God can not be equated with God as the Revelations to the messengers are words of God but not God. Thus the ‘Word’ is of God, it is His but not Him. If Mr. X says ‘pen’, the word ‘pen’ is the word by  Mr. X but ‘pen’ is not Mr. X himself !

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