The most quoted sentence of the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain is the line:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I will submit that the penning of this line would not have been possible had not the first Chapter in Genesis been penned millennia earlier. On its own, we have been blunted on the revolutionary, subversive nature of this first chapter in Genesis because, frankly, for at least 200 years, the revolution has been successful. However, the "self-evident" nature of these propositions was anything but and would be any but had Genesis not been written. The writers knew this, even if they desired Him to go away as a good Deist god should, when then made the foundation of their revolutionary document "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God." In their time period, the only God that would have fit the bill was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of Moses and of Jesus.
In other words, the God of the Declaration of Independence has to be the God of Genesis. No other god of the pluralistic faiths would have even been in the running. Not even for Thomas Jefferson.
In a previous post, I noted that I thought the first chapter of Genesis was mythology. That would only be half of what I was getting at, however. Genesis is not just mythology, but revolutionary mythology. It is subversive mythology that specifically targets the mythology of the empire-supporting, tyranny-producing, slave-subjecting Egyptians. The Egyptian (and later Babylonian) mythologies were not just nice stories told around a campfire at night. They were stories that supported the assumptions of the Pharaoh and King as the only mediator between the gods and the earth; it supported the image of the ruler as child to the gods, as the very image of god to his subject people. It supported the picture of the Gods as capricious, dangerous, and fairly unconcerned about the havoc they created on the earth.
Your only chance was to rely upon the king or pharaoh as the semi-divine son of those same gods to keep them placated or at least on your side over half the time. In return, you owed that ruler your total obedience and unquestioning commitment (not to mention your flocks, homes, daughters, and wives if the ruler so desired them). The pagan mythologies of the time supported the rule of tyranny.
Not so Genesis. Though also a mythology, it took those same familiar (to them) stories and mythologies of the Egyptians (and later the Babyonians) and twisted them to destroy the very tyranny the original versions supported. The very foundational assumptions of the empires of the earth were cast aside and overthrown in the campfires of the Hebrews.
Subversion to empire is at the heart of the first Chapter of Genesis. It lays the foundation for the resistance to empire that runs throughout the rest of the book. A brief review of the chapter easily supports this assertion.
In the beginning God created the skies and the land. And the land was formless and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Note that the sky and the land are not divine or even semi-divine. They are not independent sources of life and fertility, but are dependant upon the Hebrew God for their very existence. Indeed, without the Hebrew God, these very foundational sources of life would be "formless and void." They would be cast in darkness. Yet the Spirit of God hovers over this formlessness like a mother bird watching her nest. Despite its formlessness, it remains a focal point of concern (not capriciousness) for this Hebrew God, even before He begins to transform it. Its worth is intrinsic to, and dependant upon this same God.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Before God works, he needs some light to do it. Even here, this Hebrew God depends not even on the normal sources of light, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Instead, he speaks and light appears, independent of these assumed divinities of the pagan nations. This Hebrew God want light and light appears. Period. In this, these verses obviously are not meant to be a scientific commentary but a subversive, stellar-demeaning story.
And God said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse: and it was so. And God called the expanse the skies. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
In the Babylonian and pagan mythologies, the earth is generally created from a titanic battle between the gods. In it, one of the gods is killed and his body is separated into the land, seas, and skies. Here God just speaks and the dividing happens. No titanic battle. No blood, guts, and gore. Just a word and it happens. This is not only a commanding, reliable god, this God of the Hebrews, but a peaceful one as well.
And God said, Let the waters under the skies or heavens be gathered together to one place, and let the dry [ ground ] appear: and it was so. And God called the dry [ground ] land; and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the land sprout grass, herbs yielding seed, [ and ] fruit-trees bearing fruit after their kind, in which is the seed, on the land: and it was so. And the land produced grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, in which is the seed, after their kind: and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
The Hebrew God does not need placating to make the ground fruitful. Instead, He makes it an intrinsic part of the soil itself. The land sprouts seed because it wants to and the Hebrew God "lets it." All is part of the "good" (not capricious) creation of the God of the Hebrews.
And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the skies to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for festivals, and for days and years: and let them be for lights in the expanse of the skies to give light on the land: and it was so. And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the skies to give light on the land, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
For most cultures, the sun, moon, and stars are divinities ruling from the skies and reflecting the rulership of the King or Pharaoh on the earth. They are dangerous deities who must be placated or they will not bring light, fertility, and the controlled flow of the water on the earth. To the Hebrews, these same entities do not even deserve a name. They are simply given a function and named according to that function. They are the greater light (the sun) and the lesser light (the moon). They do "rule" their respective areas of day and night, but only in funneling as a channel of the light that God had already created independent of their efforts. Even worse, they were to serve men (who were not even created yet), marking out time and signaling festivals. Men did not serve them.
And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of creatures that have life, and let birds fly above the land or earth in the open expanse of the skies. And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the land. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
And the Hebrew God continues his pagan-deity bashing, intolerant fellow that He is. The sea-monsters (dragons) are not monsters that threaten the gods, but are the creation of this God. The birds of the skies and fish of the seas are there because God wills it. Their fertility is there as a gift given them rather than a separate entity to be begged and pleaded for. All of creation, rather than a titanic battlefield of the gods, is a good creation of a blessing God. The fruitful land and its occupants are the result of the planned, blessed, good, creative activity of the commanding, blessing, good Hebrew God.
And yet the best (and most liberating, subversive) verses are to follow…