Interpretation of the Time Frame

Interpretation of the Time Frame

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One obvious difficulty with the Biblical Genesis picture must have struck quite a few thinkers over the ages, although they don’t seem to perturb some current apologists for literalism. As early as in the fourth century, Gregory of Nyasa wondered how any “man of sense would believe there could have been” any day at all before the sun was (allegedly) created on the fourth day.

Developments in modern science, especially in astrophysics and cosmology invoke billions of years rather than just a Babylonian week for bringing the world to its current phase of stellar and galactic multitude. It is difficult to reconcile this with the time-periods in the Biblical narrative, unless one is willing to make drastic compromises and suitable scale changes. Many thoughtful theologians have done precisely that, although here again, some have stretched their theory and imagination a bit much. Thus, for example, one author has no hesitation in declaring: “With the insights of Einstein, we have discovered in the six days of Genesis the billions of years during which the universe developed.”

To solve the puzzle that a day is a terrestrial unit which has no cosmic significance whatever, and that according to the Book of Genesis “evening and the morning were the second day,” waters, land and the Earth appeared after this, and that “God made two great lights” (the sun and the moon) after He had made the earth, Schroeder explained in his The Science of God that the Biblical day in the first Book does not refer to the terrestrial unit of time. And he goes on to give a new interpretation: “The description of time in the Bible is divided two categories: the first six days and all the time thereafter.” In this interpretation, humankind began one fine day with Adam and Eve who lived for more than a century. Indeed, if he can take inspiration from the yuga concept of the Hindu world (1 day for Brahma is equivalent to 4.2 billion earth-years, one can reconcile the one-week creation with current cosmological time scales.

However, not all scholars in the Judeo-Christian tradition applaud and accept such ingenious transformations to concord with the latest findings of Big Bang cosmology. Henry M. Morris, for one, appropriately reminds of the fourth of the Ten Commandments where one is asked to observe the Sabbath explicitly on the seventh day. Surely, the Lord was not thinking of eons when He commanded this. Efforts to twist and turn ancient utterances, of no matter what tradition, in order to bring them in harmony with the latest harvests of current groping on the age of the cosmos are bound to cut awkward figures, if critically examined. In a sense, those who hold steadfast to books they regard as infallible, even in the face of blatant contradictions with well established facts, are better off in their secure convictions than those who erect pseudo-logical frameworks to sustain worldviews that are no longer sustainable.

Aside from the Bible, there were other esoteric writings on Creation by mystical scholars as early as in the first century C.E. One of them, called Sefer Yezira, of unknown authorship is reported to have a joint authorship: God and Abraham. Its thesis was that the world had been created on the basis of ten basic principles. But the truly wise expressed the view that ultimately all of this was mystery, and that the few who are privy to it ought not to be sharing it with all and sundry. The authors of this work clearly understood that such sharing will prompt questions as well as answers which would be dissected with the logical razor and found unsatisfactory, raising doubts in the minds of the masses who generally accept vague assertions without probing into their rational consistency.

We may note in passing that medieval schoolmen, upon discovering Neo-Platonism, exerted similar efforts to reconcile this with Biblical cosmology, and were no less successful. They spoke of transcendent God having an immanent aspect, of supernatural beings like cherubim and seraphim and angel and archangels connecting God and Man, somewhat as modern physics pictures virtual field bosons bonding fundamental physical entities. From a historical humanistic perspective one would say that it is not unlikely that the authors of the Book of Genesis, extraordinarily brilliant and awakened intellects that they were, would, if confronted with the data of current science, choose to present a revised edition of their work.