Genesis Metaphorically: How It Is and Isn’t

Image result for genesis paintings
God’s creation of Adam, by Michelangelo

This post was inspired by the great Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain, and is now a member of the British Parliament. Four or five years ago, I had the honor of watching Sacks discuss religion, politics, and a handful of other topics at a panel in Palo Alto. After the discussions had ended, the panel turned to the audience for a question and answer session. Small slips of paper were distributed around the crowd, and I quickly raised my hand for one. Thinking of him as the chief authority on Judaism in the world, I nervously jotted down the question that had irked me since I had first read the Old Testament. The panel began to wind down, and the moderator of the panel said proudly, This question was written by a child! As I fought to cool my flushing cheeks, she continued: “How could it be that God created the entire world, with its millions of animals and plants, in seven days?” 

The honorable Rabbi scoffed and did not hesitate in his answer. He said: (and I’m paraphrasing) “He didn’t! The creationist story is metaphorical; God could not have possibly created the world in seven days, especially since he hadn’t created the sun until the fourth day. 

It was at that moment that I became a completely secular Jew. I could not believe that a text could be legitimately believed when one part was to be metaphorical and the other not. I was taught what metaphors were in fourth grade, and there seemed to be nothing at all metaphorical about the Book of Genesis! 

But I read the story again and there is something magical about it, reading it simply as a story of the divine. God making something from nothing, making everything the way that it should be, and gently creating the balanced and beautiful world we live in. It is a wonderful story, deserving of the many paintings great artists have devoted to it. Perhaps there is something metaphorical about it after all, a narrative on balance and order.

2 thoughts on “Genesis Metaphorically: How It Is and Isn’t”

  1. Dear Zaky,

    I love the way you think.
    I agree with you on your understanding of the world.
    Bravo,my darling!!!!!
    Love you even more…
    (sorry if my English is not “perfect”),but you understand me anyway).

  2. Interesting perspective! Love it! To me, the Old Testament is a comprehensive overview of human nature in a form of unfolding of relationships to the creator who is the original source of life as well as to each other. Each story is a metaphor with a deeper meaning. Another aspect of the the Creation story is that it brings into focus what any creative cycle includes: beginning, process (with meaning, harmony, emotional charge, glory) and the end (a temporary nature of all). I feel no matter what you create in life – a simple meal, a career, a family, a work of art – in the hands of a true creator, the cycle will be the same and that is what fills a creative act with a lot of meaning.

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