1 Here a definition of myth is useful. A myth is a story that is not literally true but which contains a truth. In this case the various writers were trying to communicate the idea that a Divine Being was responsible for the existence of our universe and humanity itself.
2 The first man is created from dust in the ground and the breath of God breathed into his nostrils. He is then placed in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it. It was also man’s job to name everything in the garden. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so he made a helper suitable for him. He created woman and the passage leaps to the idea that this is why man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife as one flesh. The main message at this point seems to be one of stewardship.
3 It is interesting to explore the similarities between the creation stories in the Enuma Elish of the Babylonians and that of Genesis. For example, the Enuma Elish is written on seven tablets and the creation in Genesis is completed in seven days; water is divided into upper and lower vaults; man is created on the sixth tablet and on the sixth day. However, there are important differences: the Babylonians were a polytheistic nation and Genesis is clear that everything in creation is brought about by the fiat of one God.
4 While there is no one gnostic philosophy, there is a general gnostic view on the material world. Gnostics believed that our world, meaning the material cosmos, was brought about through a primordial error on the part of some supra-cosmic divine being, often called Sophia or Logos. Out of this comes the view that all material things are evil, and many early Christian writers, such as Augustine and Irenaeus, need to be read in the context of responding to these beliefs.
5 This philosophy is often known as radical dualism. It is a combination of elements of doctrines brought together by the prophet Mani, which include Buddhism, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. It also includes doctrines of cosmic conflict between light and darkness, and the evilness of matter. Matter is intrinsically evil and the mind is intrinsically good.
6 Augustine was a Manichaean for 9 years and this clearly influenced his views on religion and the cosmos. It is in reacting against these philosophies that we begin to see a change in understanding the message of the writers of Genesis. If all material is evil then it cannot have been used by God to form the universe. God creates ex nihilo, out of nothing, and hence Augustine can go on to argue that everything God made was good and that evil is a privation of that good.
7 The key part of Genesis for this answer is right at the beginning where the text says: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’ The implication is that the Jewish writers are not saying that God created ex nihilo.
8‘…human artificer, forming one body from another, according to the discretion of his mind, which can in some way invest with such a form, as it seeth in itself by its inward eye. And whence should he be able to do this, unless Thou hast made that mind? and he invests with a form what already existed…For what is, but because Thou art? Therefore Thou spokest, and they were made, and in Thy Word Thou madest them.’
The middle of this paragraph can be found in Augustine’s Confessions, chapter 11:7:5. The key is to note the idea that God spoke and things came into being, not that God manipulated pre-existent material.
9 The council says: ‘God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporeal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporeal, angelic and mundane, and finally human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body.’ It is clear from this and other statements that, by the thirteenth century, the Christian Church firmly believed in creatio ex nihilo.
10 Augustine took a literal approach to the stories in Genesis, and the free decision that Adam and Eve made to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought suffering upon humankind. Hence everything God created was good, and evil is the result of God’s giving us free will.
11 For the writers of the Jewish Scriptures, God was a daily reality who was fully involved in the lives of his chosen people. They had no question as to the existence of God: they were more interested in questions of what their God was like. Aristotle on the other hand believed in a god with the attribute of perfection and as such contemplates on himself as perfection. Hence this god cannot interact with the world or humanity.
12 As the idea of God as craftsman permeates the Jewish Scriptures, you could look into a number of books. For example, look at the imagery of a potter and his clay in the prophet Jeremiah. Alternatively, you could make use of several passages in Genesis.
13 This description of God demonstrates that being made into God’s people includes a refining process that may well be painful and may indicate that the relationship with God is one that develops over a lifetime. You can link this idea with the Genesis description that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Some philosophers will argue that, while you are born in the image of God, a process of overcoming obstacles, or suffering, is needed to become his likeness.