Tag Archives: in the beginning

The committee of gods met once again. They decided to make something.

“It’s been a long time,” they said.

It’s something they do every once in a while, or every once in an aeon. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. They began again.

They made a person, two arms, two legs, hands and feet, and as an afterthought, a head.

But something wasn’t satisfying about this new thing they made. Or rather, the new thing wasn’t satisfied. It sat in the middle of nothing, nowhere to put its feet. Nowhere to look, nothing to hear. Nothing to eat.

Then they decided this thing was not enough, so teased the creation into two, pulling here and there until there were separate beings. The pulling distorted their bodies here and there, making one with wider hips, and leaving something pulled long and dangly between the other’s legs.

Half of them thought this was just fine; the other half recognized that even that now there were two things, they had no context. They just sort of floated there.

So, the committee decided they would have to work harder. They built a cube for the beings, with four walls, ceiling and floor, so they had somewhere to put their feet, and something to look at. There was a window in one wall, and a door in the wall opposite.

But, still, there was nothing outside the window to see, and nothing to eat. The room just floated in space, no up, no down, no sideways.

The gods hardly noticed this detail, but they did decide to provide something to look at out the window, So, the committee approved a motion to make some animals and some plants. This seemed to work well, so they made more and more of both.

The problem seemed to be that although the plants and beasts gave the people something outside the window to look at, and, if they had figured out how, something to eat, there was still something inchoate about this new creation.

“The last one didn’t work out quite right,” the committee agreed, “so we need to think this one out more thoroughly.” A motion for further study was passed and a subcommittee formed.

Having the beasts float aimlessly through nothingness gave them nothing to stand on, and while a floating cow might pass some floating grass and grab a bite, it was hardly working out efficiently.

“I think they need somewhere to stand,” said the chairman.

“I second the motion,” said the CEO (actually, in heavenly terms, the DEO), who was the first goddess hired for the post.

And so, they decided to make a world. It seems obvious to us, but when it’s all brand new, you don’t always spot the simplest things. So, they made a world.

There were problems, however. The first world was flat, which made a large plain for the animals to graze upon, but also meant that, without something to support the flat earth, it could easily tilt and dump its cargo back into the emptiness. So, they rested the disc of the earth on the back of an elephant. But with only one as a pivot in the center, the world still wobbled. So, they made four elephants, one at each 90 degrees of the clock-circle of the disc. Oh, the problems — the elephants were then given a very large turtle to stand upon. You know the metaphysical problem here, and yes, it was turtles all the way down.

Next, the committee decided to separate the dry land from the waters. This led to a cock-up, because with the earth being flat and all, the water just poured off the edges, leaving the earth with nothing to drink.

“Perhaps if we put a ring around the edge,” said one.

“Like a dike or a dam,” said the CEO.

So they took some of the dry earth and built a circular berm around the perimeter of the thing they had made. They refilled the seas and took a long look at what they had made. It looked good, so far. Good for a day’s work.

“We’ll convene again tomorrow.”

The next day, they looked at what they had made.

“But, it is all rather dark, isn’t it?” So they put a light up above the earth. They didn’t quite think this one through, though. The center of the earth was closer to the light than the edges, like a chandelier over a table, and so, the center began to whither and burn up.

“We’ve got the geometry all wrong,” said the DEO.

“Wait, I know,” said the gruff head of the Board, shifting a cigar in his mouth, “We’ve got the geometry all wrong.”

“That’s what I said. Oh, never mind.”

So, they took the earth and balled it up like a tablecloth headed for the laundry, and created a globe. To keep everything from falling off, they put a great graviton at its center, and made everything cling to the surface of the ball.

“That seems to be working,” they said. “But what do we do with this lamp? And how do we keep it from burning the part of the earth closest to it?”

“I know. Let’s make the ball spin, so no part is always facing the light.”


But someone accidentally bumped the ball and sent it rolling away.

“Put some of that gravity in the light, too.” And so the rolling, spinning ball started to revolve around the light. It made a pretty sort of machine that delighted the board members.

The problem now was, that the man and woman, in the room on the planet buzzing around the sun sat in the middle of nowhere, a simple toy for the gods, like the giant pecking bird that dipped its beak into the water they made some aeons ago, or the hanging steel balls that knocked each other back and forth. That was Vulcan’s idea, and they ultimately decided it was utterly useless.

So, they began to pack the emptiness. If one ball was good, a handful of others must be better. Toss in some smaller rocks, like chocolate sprinkles, and let them wander around the big light.

They saw it was good and knocked off for the day. The next two days were the weekend, so the office was dark.

But come Monday, they began to dot the emptiness with more lights, enough to make a galaxy. That was fun, so they made more galaxies, making sure to load them all up with the magic gravity. This was exhausting, so they took the next day off, too.

Come Wednesday, it began to dawn on them that the operational manual for this new cosmos they had built was getting rather long, like a Congressional budget bill. There were rather a lot of rules governing how everything functioned. While it seemed to be running like a top, they worried that if anything went wrong, they might not be able to fix it.

“I remember when I had a VW,” said Phaethon. “I could fix anything wrong with a hammer and a screwdriver. This is all getting out of hand. I miss the good old days.”

Well, things did start going wrong. The first man developed an enlarged prostate; the woman eventually had to have a hysterectomy. The gods had to admit, they had rather botched the design of the human nether parts.

One of the planets they made sideswiped the earth and ripped off a chunk.

“Hey, we’ve got a moon. Why didn’t we think of that ourselves?”

Gravity got out of hand, too. Chunks began falling into each other, sometimes so much detritus that it all collapsed into a dark hole.

“Hey, we’ve created black,” said one of the gods.

“We had that before we started,” reminded the DEO.

“Oh, yeah.”

The whole thing began wobbling, like an elephant on a beach ball that had lost its balance and next thing you know, it seized up. No amount of grease could get it unstuck. Then, it began collapsing, faster and faster, until it shrunk into a singularity — an infinitesimal dot, like the one you used to see when you turned off the TV. Then, boink, it was gone.

“Damn it,” said the god at the far end of the conference table. “Why can’t we ever get this right?”

“I blame the Titans,” said Jupiter. “The previous administration should have addressed these issues more forthrightly.”

“The shareholders will not be happy,” said Neptune. “I believe we need a change at the top. I move that the DEO resign.”

She resisted this suggestion, saying it was all a design flaw.

“We started at the wrong end,” she said. “We went about it all backwards.”

“I have an idea,” offered a nervous intern, afraid to speak up in such august company. “Perhaps next time, in the beginning, we should start by creating the heavens and the earth. The rest should fall into place.”

The gods looked at each other, gave a passing thought and in one voice responded, “Nah.”

Dore chaos
My friend Stuart sent me a letter:

You can learn a great deal from a springer spaniel. For instance:

Total order and total chaos are the same thing. Identical. Not a dime’s worth of difference. And neither is very helpful.

Think of it in terms of the Linnean metaphor. I’ll get to the spaniel in a moment.

At one end of the spectrum is chaos, a totality that is unordered, a cosmic goo. This is not the current chaos of the eponymous theory, which is merely a complexity beyond calculation, but rather the mythic chaos out of which the gods either create the cosmos, or arrive unannounced from it like Aphrodite from the sea. It has no edges, no smell, no shape, no parts, no color, no anything. Inchoate muddle. john martin chaos

So, in the beginning was the word: Or rather, our ability to organize this chaos through language. The universe exists without form and void. Then we begin the naming of parts to help us understand the welter.

And so, god created the heaven and earth, dividing the parts. And this division of parts is in essence what the Creation is all about. Ouroboros

Of course, the incessant need to divide and name is only a metaphor, but it will help us understand the conundrum of order in the universe, and how the ouroboros of Creation begins and ends at the same place, no matter which direction we go in: The law of entropy and the law of increasing order both have the same final destination.

When we look at the world around us, we immediately split what we see into two camps: That which is living and that which isn’t. It helps us understand the world we live in and we make many of our biggest decisions on this basis: Ethics, for instance. We have no problem splitting a rock in half with a hammer, but would feel rather evil doing the same to a dog.

But the living things fall into two large camps, also: Animal and vegetable (again, I’m simplifying. I haven’t forgotten the bacteria, but we can ignore them for the sake of the metaphor).

Some of us have a problem eating animals but not eating vegetables. So, again, our ethical world depends on how we sort out the chaos.

Let’s take the animals and subdivide them, the way Carl von Linne did, into classes, orders, families, phyla, genera and species.

Each level makes our divisions less inclusive, more discriminatory.

Let’s take the dog, for instance. It is classified as a chordate, which means it has a central nervous system stretched out into a spinal chord. This is different from, say, a starfish or a nematode. But there are many chordates, so, if we want to differentiate a dog from a shark, we have to look to its class. It is a mammal. That makes it distinct from birds and fish.

But there are lots of mammals, too. Some of them eat other animals; we call them carnivores. A dog is a carnivore.

Notice how each level of nomenclature narrows our definition down to a smaller and smaller group of initiates. When we had only living and non-living, there were only two groups; with each level, we add dozens, hundreds and then thousands of other groups disincluded in our catalog.

The order carnivora is one of many orders in the class of mammalia, which is one of many in the phylum chordata, which in turn is one of many in the kingdom animalia.

The order separates our subject, but lets us see in relief that it is just one constellation in the heavens populated by many other constellations.

The same poor pup is in the family canidae, which includes all the dog-like animals, from fox to coyote to jackal. Among them, it is in the genus Canis, and species lupus, which makes it brother with the wolf.

But our wolf is a friendly one, as long as you aren’t the postman. So, now we call it Canis lupus familiaris, or the family dog. And our particularization of the beast means we are conversely aware of all of creation — each in its own genus and species — that makes up the non-dog, and each of them is like the billions and billions of stars that make up the many constellations in the night sky.

Yet, this isn’t far enough. For the dog I’m thinking of isn’t just a dog, but a spaniel, which is a type of dog which isn’t a poodle and isn’t a terrier. It is a dog with “a long silky coat and drooping ears.”

Each time we subclassify, we are adding to the order we impose on existence, and each classification adds to the proliferation of categories just as it reduces the members inside each class.

So, there are also different kinds of spaniels. The dog I’m thinking of is a springer spaniel, which come in two forms, with a brown-and-white coat and a black-and-white coat.

My brother’s dog is a brown-coated springer spaniel named Sylvie. She is getting old now, and her backside — very much like humans — is getting broader.

And now, by classifying things to the level of the individual, we have as many categories as there are things in the universe, which is effectively the same as nothing being categorized: It is all primordial goo and might as well not be cataloged: Total order and total chaos are the same thing. QED.


I’ve always been interested in the way things translate from one language to another. Of course, that also means from one culture to another, and, as in the case of Bible translation, from one era to another. Time changes, language metamorphoses, and our world-views alter with our understanding of the world around us.

There is no question that the most powerful translation of Genesis can be found in the King James version, but words that meant one thing in the era of Shakespeare may very well mean something different now. And the verse forms of ancient Hebrew are different from our expectations of poetry, now.

So, I’ve always wondered, what does the original Hebrew mean in the Torah? Is there a way to make a translation that hews closely to the original meaning, the tribal meaning of the language?

I’ve gone through several interlinear translations, several translations in clear text, and lots and lots of footnotes to come up with something that gives me as close as I can tell, what the original Creation story meant in its Hebrew iteration, uninflected by several millennia of religious interpretation, sectarian wars and violence, pogroms and anathemae.

In the interests of disclosure, I should admit up front that I have no stake in this game: I am not a believer (when asked, I usually say I have no religion, I’m not even an atheist), so I’m not trying to persuade anyone that the Bible is true, or not true, or that this or that dogma is the “true” one. This is just my attempt to understand what metaphors and language was used in the ancient Middle East as they slowly came to terms with what would become their religion.

Believe me, I don’t claim this is a good translation of the first Creation story in Genesis. But it is a defensible one.

King James is still the king, but its rather archaic feeling — which, of course, was not archaic when it was written — has unfortunately become the default diction and rhetoric of belief. (So much that Joseph Smith’s “Book of Mormon” is written in a botched imitation of the sound of KJV, albeit with lousy grammar and many gross lexical misunderstandings).

There are many points in the Hebrew text where scholars either disagree, or throw up their hands and say, “We just don’t know what is being said here.” They give it their best guess, like the bit about the stars being created for calendar use. The original Hebrew is obscure.

Anyway, here’s my version:

Genesis, the beginning

When it all started up, and the gods were arranging the sky and the ground,

When the earth was emptiness with darkness over the ocean,

the wind of the gods hung over the face of the water

The gods said:

“Let there be light,” and light happened.

And the gods said, “We did a good job.”

the gods split up the light and the dark,

calling the light “Day,” and the dark, “Night.”

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — One Day.

The gods said:

“Let there be a bowl over the water and let it split up water from water.”

The gods made the bowl

and separated the water that was below the bowl

from the water that was above the bowl.

It Was.

The gods called the bowl, “Sky.”

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — Two Days.

The gods said:

“Let the water under the sky be brought together in one place

and let the dry land be seen.”

It Was.

The gods called the dry part “Ground,” and the collected waters they called “Sea.”

The gods saw the craftsmanship was good.

The gods said:

“Let the ground sprout with growing sprouts —

plants that seed-forth seeds, fruits trees that fruit, according to their type.”

It Was.

The ground grew growing sprouts, seeding plants seeding seed plants, fruiting fruit trees.

The gods recognized they were well made.

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — Three Days.

The gods said:

“Let there be lamps in the bowl of the sky to split up the day from the night, that they may be signs (Hebrew “difficult”) for a calendar, and let them be lamps in the bowl of the sky to provide light on the ground.”

It Was.

The gods made two big lamps:

The bigger lamp for ruling the day; the smaller lamp for ruling the night.

And the stars.

The gods placed them in the bowl of the sky to provide light on the ground and to rule the day and the night.

The gods liked what they saw.

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — Four Days.

The gods said:

“Let the water swarm with a swarm of beings, and let the birds fly across the bowl of the sky.”

The gods created huge sea serpents and all the crawly things that crawl about, with which the water swarmed, after their type, and all the birds, after their type.

And the gods saw they looked good.

And the gods blessed them, saying:

“Grow fruit and be many and fill the water of the seas and let the birds be many.”

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — Five Days.

The gods said:

“Let the ground bear creatures in types, herd-animals, crawling things, wild things of the earth, all divided by type.”

It Was.

The gods made the wild things of the earth, divided by type, and the herd animals, divided by type, and the crawling things in the dirt, divided by type.

The gods saw it was working out well.

The gods said:

“Let us make people in our shape, looking like us.

Let them rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, all the earth, all the crawling things that crawl on the ground.”

So the gods made people in their shape, so they looked like the gods,

male and female, the gods created them.

The gods blessed them and said to them:

“Grow fruit and be many and fill up the earth and conquer it. Have rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky and all the crawly things that crawl on the ground.”

The gods said:

“Here, we give you all the seeding plants that seed that are on the face of the earth, all the trees in which fruits fruit. For you they will be for eating. And also for all the living things of the earth — all the birds of the sky and the crawly things that crawl about on the ground — all green plants for eating.”

It Was.

Then the gods looked at all they had done with exceeding satisfaction.

There was a sunset; there was a sunrise — Six Days.

So, everything was finished — sky and earth, with all their entourages.

The gods had finished, on the seventh day, the work they had done

Then they stopped on the seventh day, all the work they had done.

The gods gave the seventh day their blessing and made it sacred, for on that day, they stopped working on all that they had done.

This is how it all began, the sky and the earth and all history.