Sunday, January 6, 2008

Genesis: The Untold Story



A Refreshing Look at Our Owner's Manual

By Lisa Aiken & Ira Michaels

First Edition MMVII

Copyright © MMVII by Lisa Aiken and Ira Michaels

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Searching for spirituality?

Like many Jews, the last place you'd probably look is Genesis. Creation, Adam and Eve, The Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood—these stories may seem uneducated and childish. It's hard to sift fact from fraud in more than 2,000 years of efforts by the Greeks through 21st-century scientists to discredit the Bible. And muddying the waters of truth are "great" religions that rely on mistranslated Biblical passages to bolster their doctrines.

It's a jungle out there. Yet our hearts sense that somewhere in the world is a source of truth and timeless wisdom that seems to lie just beyond our grasp.

If we were to write a Bible today, how would we want it to speak to us? We would want it to tell us about God and how we can connect to Him. It would appeal to our rational, mystical, and emotional selves. We would expect it to explain why there is evil and suffering in the world. This Bible would inform us how to get the most out of life and what that life's purpose is. And of course it would help us find comfort and direction in our times of challenge and disappointment.

We already have this very Bible: The Five Books of Moses.1 Known to Jews as the Torah ("teaching"), it has done for the Jewish people for 3,300 years what we modern people want a Bible to do today. However, some of us may have misplaced the tools that help us access this great wisdom. The first step in regaining our tools may be to learn how we lost them in the first place.

* * *

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment movement swept across Europe. Its premise was that people didn't need religion. Scientific understanding and human logic would lead to true knowledge, peace, and social progress. For the Jews specifically, getting civil rights and secular education and assimilating into the surrounding Gentile culture became sought-after goals.2 In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Napoleon granted political equality to the Jews in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Jews were allowed to have basic rights previously denied them as long as they agreed to renounce foreign allegiance and vow allegiance to the French empire. Many French Jews raced to abandon their ties to the Land of Israel and Jewish nationalism to become French citizens. Across Western Europe, Jews who believed that traditional Judaism was outmoded and an obstacle to their social and economic advancement left the faith. More than 250,000 Jews in Central Europe alone converted to Christianity in the 19th century.3

Although Napoleon was defeated in Russia, he brought the ideas of the French Revolution—the belief that secular education, human reason, and the abandonment of religion would bring a better world—to Poland and Russia.4 Eastern European Jews in the 19th century wanted to escape from unrelenting poverty and frequent pogroms. Some believed that they could escape anti-Semitism and gain acceptance by the Czar by subscribing to a "Jewish culture" that was devoid of Jewish religious observances and beliefs. These secular Jews largely gave up their connection with their traditional knowledge and way of life, stopped studying the Torah, and stopped passing on the Torah's traditions and wisdom to successive generations.5

In 19th-century Germany, Abraham Geiger invented Reform Judaism in an attempt to adapt the ancient Jewish faith to an "enlightened" world. He believed that Jews should completely reject all institutions of traditional Judaism as well as Talmudic Judaism.6 The first Reform temple opened in Germany in 1810 and innovated German songs, sermons, prayers, a choir with men and women, and a host of other changes in the traditional Jewish prayer services and setting. German Jews largely turned their backs on the noisy and "unenlightened" traditional synagogue in favor of these new Reform temples, or they flocked to the orderly Lutheran church.7

In 1819, some "intellectual" German Jews founded the Wissenschaft des Judentum school. Using secular "scholarship," they sought to deny the Divine authorship of the Bible and create a modern form of Judaism that would gain them acceptance by the non-Jewish world.8

In the 1870s, Julius Wellhausen, an anti-Semitic Protestant theologian,9 began a movement of "Higher Biblical Criticism." His view of the Torah as a man-made concoction spread to universities in Western Europe and America. Its general premises are espoused in popular books and are used to teach university students about the Jewish Bible today.10 His perspective attacks the divine origins of the Torah and dismisses it by "proving" that the Torah consists of four separate documents written by different authors at different times that were "doctored" by priestly canonizers during the Second Temple era. He claimed that these authors did this to perpetuate the "lie" that Moses authored the Torah and that the Jews had a central place of worship in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Wellhausen insisted that there never was a Tabernacle, nor was there a revelation of the Torah at Sinai to the Jewish people, and that Moses, if he existed, believed in a local thunder or mountain god. In summation, Wellhausen delegitimized the Jews' religion, their history, and their traditional ways of understanding the Torah by claiming that the Torah was a complete forgery and not a written account of God's words to Moses and the Jewish people.11

Because of these events, most people only have shallow and literal understandings of Torah stories stripped of their deeper meaning. Although these distorted teachings have a strong voice, they have robbed Jews and the world of the great value to be found in the Five Books of Moses.

Just as our knowledge of school subjects becomes more sophisticated as we grow older, so must our understanding of the Bible. The Torah is grasped differently when we are 60 years old than when we are 6. Genesis: The Untold Story revisits the stories in Genesis—illuminated by traditional Jewish commentaries, history, science, and psychology—to present a logical and mature view of God and His plan for us.

These stories can then be used just as they were originally intended: to inform our lives as we change and grow wiser. The result is a relevant guide to living in the modern world.


  1. These books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Some people refer to all 24 books of the Jewish canon as the Torah, although they are more accurately called by the acronym Tanach (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim)—the Five Books of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. The term Torah can also refer to the Five Books of Moses plus their explication by the Oral Law. When this book refers to the Torah, it means the Five Books of Moses unless otherwise indicated.
  2. Wein, Berel. Triumph of Survival. Shaar Press, Brooklyn, 1990, pp. 43-44.
  3. Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. Harper and Row, New York, 1987, p. 312.
  4. Wein, Berel, Triumph of Survival, Shaar Press, Brooklyn, 1990, p. 76.
  5. Ibid., pp. 152-172 for a detailed description of those times.
  6. Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. Harper and Row, New York, 1987, p. 334.
  7. By the mid-19th century, Reform leaders argued that "Berlin is our Jerusalem." Samuel Holdheim, who headed the Reform congregation in Berlin, maintained that Jews should not circumcise their sons, use Hebrew, or mention Zion, Jerusalem, or Israel in their prayers, blow the shofar on the New Year, believe in a Messiah, or wear a head covering or prayer shawl while praying; and he changed the Sabbath day to the Christian Sunday. Reform Jews described themselves as "Germans of the Mosaic persuasion," but not as Jews. See Berel Wein, Triumph of Survival, Shaar Press, Brooklyn, 1990, p. 53.
  8. The society disintegrated when its members converted to Christianity. Wein, Berel. Triumph of Survival, p. 55.
  9. Like nearly all Christians of the time, the proponents of "Higher Biblical Criticism" believed in the moral superiority of Christianity to Judaism, and they used their scholarly works to illustrate this. Wellhausen, for example, likened Judaism in late antiquity to a dead tree. He said of the Biblical Book of Chronicles, "Like ivy it overspreads the dead trunk with extraneous life, blending old and new in a strange combination. . . . [I]n the process it is twisted and perverted." Excerpted from Terry Gross, "'How to Read the Bible' Through History," Fresh Air from WHYY, NPR radio, January 30, 2006.
  10. Wellhausen was not the first to attack belief in the Divine authorship of the Torah, but he succeeded in popularizing his beliefs. Benedictus de Spinoza, an apostate British Jew, did so in the 17th century. Jean Astruc (1684-1766), a French physician, is considered the real founder of classical Bible Criticism. Karl Graf (1815-1869) was a German Protestant Bible scholar on whose work Wellhausen founded his theory. Wellhausen's forerunners were Karl Ilgen (1763-1834), a German Protestant philologist; Wilhelm Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849); and Wilhelm Vatke (1806-1882). Vatke laid the foundation for Wellhausen's critique, and the latter admitted that he was indebted to Vatke "for the most and the best" of his own work. Ironically, Vatke later retracted his conclusions, undermining many theories that Wellhausen later published! For a brilliant discussion of the origins and progression of Higher Biblical Criticism, see Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, "Of Silence and Speech," 1995, reprinted on "Bible Criticism and its Counterarguments,"
  11. In cases where Wellhausen needed to change the plain meaning of a Hebrew word to fit into this theory, he offered "conjectural emendation." The fact that thousands of verses contradicted his theory never disturbed him. He contended that a master forger or interpolator had anticipated Wellhausen's theory and consequently inserted passages and changed verses in bits and pieces, as was necessary, so as to refute it. Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, "Of Silence and Speech," 1995, reprinted on "Bible Criticism and its Counterarguments,"

Preface: The Jewish Toolbox

Here are some of the tools we will use to gain a fuller appreciation of the Torah stories:

Reconnecting to the Oral Law

Our first tool is our national treasure-trove of stories, explanations, and legacies—some dating as far back as Moses—known as our Oral Law, so named because this information was to be kept in its fluid state and not written down. When Christians burned the Talmud in the Middle Ages, it was our connection to our Oral Law that they were trying to destroy. Let's understand how the Oral Law relates to Genesis.

Until a few centuries ago, Jews were so familiar with Judaism that even children understood the written Torah, or Written Law, as the "Cliff Notes" of the Jews' history and of the laws by which they lived. For example, although the Torah tells us to keep the Sabbath, nowhere do the Five Books of Moses mention doing so by lighting Sabbath candles, saying a prayer over wine, or eating loaves of bread known as challah. It is the Oral Law that tells us how to follow the cryptic commandment "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Many other examples, such as definitions for mezuzah (words of the Torah written on parchment and placed on doorposts) and tefillin (black boxes containing Torah verses written on parchment that Jewish men place on their arms and heads every morning) are given short shrift in the written Torah but are explained at length in the vast Oral Law.

Jews of prior generations also knew and understood the Torah's allusions to traditions about its deepest meanings and how to apply its laws to life events. Many of these traditions and elaborations were given to Moses when he received the written Torah on Mount Sinai. Over time, legal judgments and interpretations by the Jewish nation's top judges and Torah interpreters joined the original oral transmission.

Moses taught both Written and Oral Law to the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert. Jews continued to pass down the written Torah and its growing body of Oral Law via parents and extended family, priests, and teachers from one generation to the next, as noted in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) and other Jewish sources. Fearing a disruption of the oral transmission due to persecution, the Jews wrote down the Oral Law (in Hebrew) as the Mishnah by the year 200. As the Mishnah was adapted to new situations and required elaboration, new material plus older laws and stories (aggadah) that were not originally included in the Mishnah were recorded (in Aramaic) as the Gemarra by the year 500. The Talmud consists of the Mishnah and its explanation and the Gemarra. For the past 1500 years, additional explanations and determinations of how to apply Talmudic law to daily life have been added by famous and learned Jewish scholars.

Today, some 80 generations later, our Oral Law still informs us of how we can best understand ourselves and how our Creator wants us to live.

Understanding PaRDeS

The second set of tools is called PaRDeS, the initials of the four main ways of understanding the Torah. They are as follows:

  1. literal meaning of the text (peshat);
  2. veiled textual hints that convey important ideas (remez);
  3. symbolic stories that teach us (derash); and
  4. mystical concepts (sod).

These four levels of commentary are often printed alongside traditional Hebrew versions of the Bible as well as in other, well-known books by outstanding and learned Torah commentators. Whenever we encounter poorly written verses, such as redundancies, inconsistencies, or ideas that don't make sense, we can use these red flags to key us into additional lessons to be learned via one or more of these four methods of interpretation. Ultimately, all of these lessons have some moral or spiritual relevance to our lives. We will draw on this treasury throughout this book.

Returning to Hebrew

Reading the Torah in the original ancient Hebrew is far superior to reading a translation. In translation, syntax, grammar, and accuracy may be lost, and many layers of meaning underlying the choice of words and even the shapes of letters will elude us. If reading Shakespeare in Chinese just isn't Shakespeare, how much more is this true of a book with a Divine Author!

Genesis: The Untold Story translates many Biblical verses literally to show why some verses invite or require elaboration or interpretation—and what we can learn from them. We include insights from several traditional Bible commentaries, Rashi (an acronym for Rabbeinu Shlomo Yitchaki) being the most prominent. This brilliant medieval French rabbi (and vintner) elucidated the Biblical text's literal meaning as well as referenced appropriate metaphorical stories (midrash) to explain hidden ideas in the verses.

Dispelling Distortion

Unfortunately, much of what we think we know today of the Hebrew Bible is based on mistranslations from the original Hebrew,1 misinformation, and deliberate distortions of the Torah's ideas by other religions. For example, secularists lacking extensive traditional Torah knowledge take the Bible's many anthropomorphisms (describing God as having human attributes) literally and insist that the early Jews thought that God had human emotions. Yet traditional Jews at an early age are taught that God wrote the Torah in human terms to accommodate limits in human understanding, and that apparent anthropomorphisms exist throughout the Torah to help us relate to divine actions. This is but one example of how the Torah is distorted by those who don't appreciate—or aren't informed of—traditional commentary.

Deliberate distortion also occurred by other religions to justify their new tenets. For example, although Christians accept the Old Testament as holy and believe that God publicly revealed the Five Books of Moses to the entire Jewish people, they mistranslated part of Isaiah so it would appear to predict a Virgin Birth. (The Hebrew verse in Isaiah 7:14 mentions a "young woman"; the Christian version turns her into a "virgin").

Moslems accept Moses as a prophet; Mohammed based many of the Koran's teachings on stories and laws from the Torah (which preceded the Koran by some 2,000 years). He also incorporated some basic rituals and ideas, such as belief in one God, prayer, reciting a verse proclaiming God's unity, and giving to charity, that he borrowed from our Torah and/or Talmud without noting that they have their source in Judaism. Thus, some Moslems teach that Abraham brought his son Isaac as an offering in Mecca, or that he brought Ishmael as an offering on Mount Moriah, instead of teaching that he brought Isaac on Mount Moriah, as the Torah teaches. While the Torah says that Jacob lay down and dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven (Jewish commentaries located that event on Mount Moriah), some Moslems replaced this incident with Mohammed's night journey to Heaven from Mount Moriah in an attempt to legitimize the Moslems' claim to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Understanding Our Raison d'être

Judaism teaches that the Almighty gave the Jews2 the Torah so we could optimize our time in this material world. Without the Torah, we would not know how to use our bodies or the world to bring eternal meaning to our lives, or how to conduct the most meaningful relationships with people and our Creator. As our souls' owner's manual, it guides us to work hard to do God's will.

When life in this world is over, our souls go to a spiritual afterlife to enjoy an intimacy with Him that we spent a lifetime earning. The more we have done God's will, the more we will have earned the greatest pleasure possible—an eternal closeness with our Heavenly Parent.3

The Torah expresses our Creator's will and "mind," and studying His Guidebook should be a joyous, exciting, and intellectually stimulating treasure hunt. The prizes we get at the end are the awe we feel at its Author's wisdom, the clarity it gives us about our lives, and the resulting love we feel for the One Who gave us this tremendous gift.

Please join us on our journey through Genesis, and may its Author grant us a full, clear, and sweet understanding of His Holy Torah.


  1. The Torah was first translated from its original Hebrew about 250 BCE (Before the Common Era), when King Ptolemy of Egypt forced 72 Jewish Sages to independently translate the Five Books of Moses into Greek. The rabbis deliberately mistranslated the same 15 verses (miraculously, each rabbi used the same words) so that the pagan Greeks would not get the wrong ideas from a literal translation of the text (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 9a-b). Because translating the Torah into another language could open it up to misunderstandings and would involve missed opportunities for deeper understanding, this incident was considered a tragedy in Jewish history. The resulting Greek text is known as the Septuagint, meaning "seventy" in Greek, so named after the number of translators.

Although the Septuagint contained deliberate mistranslations, it was not a distortion, as the intent was to make the traditionally understood meanings clearer. However, the next mistranslation was very different. Jerome translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin in the early 5th century CE (Common Era; Christians refer to this time as AD). This translation was called the Vulgate. Besides creating a poor translation due to a lack of Latin equivalents for many Hebrew words, Jerome was a Christian who knew little Hebrew and whose purpose was to prove that Jesus and Christianity were foretold in the Old Testament. He rearranged the order of the Old Testament books such that the Jewish canon then deceptively ended with the Book of Malachi instead of with the Book of Chronicles. Malachi's last verses predict the coming of Elijah the Prophet and the apocalypse. The New Testament immediately follows with the description of Jesus' story, as if to say that Malachi had predicted the Messiah's advent and the prediction had come true with the founder of Christianity.

Jerome deliberately falsified (and misunderstood) hundreds of verses to further mislead readers into thinking that Jesus and Christianity were foretold in the earlier books of the Jews. For example, he mistranslated Zechariah 12:10-11 to read,

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication, and they will look onto Me whom [et asher] they have pierced and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep for Him like the weeping over a first born. In that day there will be a great mourning in Jerusalem like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

Jerome conveniently dropped the Hebrew word et and capitalized the word him to make a point that was not conveyed in the Hebrew. The translated verse should read,

. . . the spirit of grace and supplication, and they will look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed, they will mourn over him as one mourns for an only child. . . .

Jerome's mistranslation implies that these verses refer to Jesus instead of to the righteous King Josiah, who abolished idolatry in Israel and was killed in battle with Pharaoh Neco (II Kings 23:29-30) at Megiddo. According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 28b), these verses actually mean that all of Judah and Jerusalem mourned when Josiah, referred to in this verse as Hadadrimmon, died (II Chronicles 35:22-25). Just as Jews then mourned over King Josiah, who died in battle when he was pierced by a spear, the verse predicted that the Jewish people in the future would mourn over their war dead. These verses also allude to the Jews' mourning for King Ahab, who was killed by Hadadrimmon.

Habbakuk 3:18 says, "Yet I will rejoice in God, I will feel joy in the God of my salvation." Jerome distorted it to read, "I shall rejoice in my God Jesus." Jerome took the Hebrew word yishee, meaning "my salvation," and substituted the word yeshu, the Hebrew word for Jesus.

In 1611, the King James Version of the Old Testament resulted from translating the Vulgate into English. The American Bible Society in the 19th century examined six editions of the King James Bible then circulating and found 24,000 variants in the text and punctuation!

  1. The Torah is unique in being the only Holy Book of a religion that was revealed publicly for all to see. Those of all other religions were revealed to just a few privileged individuals. The Torah was revealed to three million or so Jews 3,319 years ago in a public place, Mount Sinai, for all to witness.
  2. Non-Jews can attain closeness to, and eternal spiritual intimacy with, God by following the seven Noahide principles that encompass approximately 70 of the Torah's 613 laws.

Part I:

In the Beginning

Concepts of Creation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was empty and chaotic and darkness [was] on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God blew on the face of the water. And God said, "Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided between the light and the dark. And God called the light "day" and the darkness He called "night." And there was evening and there was morning one day.1

Summary: During the next five days, God created a firmament, upper and lower waters, dry land, vegetation, the sun, the moon, the stars, and various forms of animal life, plus people.

Creation vs. Eternal Universe

For millennia, many educated people rejected the Bible because these verses in Genesis seem impossible or anti-scientific. Famous philosophers as far back as Aristotle, and scientists2 until the 1960s (when the Big Bang theory was substantiated), ridiculed the Torah's account of Creation. They insisted that the universe could not have been created, since it is impossible for something to be created from nothing. They were sure that matter and time existed forever, and that there was no Creator. They believed that the world was always here and would always be here. Since many educated people believe what philosophers and scientists teach about the world, they rejected the Bible's ideas about Creation.

What was behind their reasoning? The majority of Western philosophers and scientists wanted to believe that there was no Creator and no moral purpose to life. However, their assumptions about how the world is put together began to unravel in the 20th century, thus making it reasonable that God created the world. Let's see how this happened:

In 1905, Einstein proposed his theory of relativity to explain how the universe operates. The theory revolutionized the way scientists viewed the world, because it claimed that time was not invariable, but rather is relative to how fast something is moving. This is a difficult concept for us to comprehend because that is not what we experience.

People today take for granted that gravity affects weight. We have all seen movies of astronauts leaping about the surface of the moon like ballet stars with springs on their feet. How can they do this? Because weaker gravity on the moon means that people or objects weigh only one-sixth of their Earthly weight. Although we understand that weight can vary, we assume that time doesn't vary because we don't experience time actually moving slower or faster. But time does vary, as proven by modern experiments.3

Einstein's theory of relativity opened the door to question many other fundamental assumptions about the world. For example, was the world really eternal? If not, it was possible that a Creator made the world. Einstein himself believed in a divine force, although he did not accept Biblical explanations of Creation. He opposed them so much that his feelings caused him to skew his scientific theories: He proposed equations assuming that the earth was static, but then had to use "fudge factors" to make his equations work.4

In 1916, drafts of Einstein's theory of general relativity were first circulated. When Danish mathematician William de Sitter reviewed it, he wrote Einstein that the theory had problems that could only be solved by proposing that the universe was expanding in all directions from a central point. This implied that the universe was not eternal, but that it had come into being at a certain point in time and was still coming into being. Einstein didn't respond to his letter.

In 1922, Soviet mathematician Alexander Friedmann independently discovered that Einstein's equations only worked if the universe were exploding away from a central point. Meanwhile, in the United States, astronomer Vesto Slipher noted a similar phenomenon: the 42 galaxies that he discovered by 1925, beginning with the Andromeda galaxy in 1913, were all rocketing away from Earth.

When these three men shared their findings with Einstein, Einstein begrudgingly admitted that they were probably right. Yet he didn't like the implications that the universe wasn't static. If it originated from nothing, that implied a Creator. He told a colleague, "I have not yet fallen in the hands of priests."5 He wrote de Sitter, "This circumstance [of an expanding universe, which implied a Creator and moment of Creation] irritates me."6 His comments remind us of how even supposedly objective scientists can be blinded to the truth when it has moral or religious implications.

Still, Einstein could reassure himself that 42 receding galaxies did not a universe make. It was still possible that most of the universe was static. But in 1929, using the world's largest telescope, Edwin Hubble showed that every galaxy within 100,000,000 light years of Earth was receding. This was pretty convincing evidence that the universe as a whole was expanding. And if that were true, and Einstein's equations were run backwards, it implied that the universe once had a beginning.

In 1946, George Gamow and his colleagues proposed that an enormous source of energy—a "primeval fireball"—appeared out of nothing and began the universe.7 This was the source of all the matter that now exists in the universe. Their theory predicted that all of the galaxies in the universe should be rushing away from each other at high speeds as a result of that initial explosion.

The renowned physicist Fred Hoyle derisively referred to this energy explosion as the "Big Bang," since he was sure that the universe was eternal.8 The Big Bang theory states that the entire physical universe, all matter, energy, and the four dimensions of time and space, burst forth from this explosion.

Scientific theories about the origins of the universe took a quantum leap in 1965 when physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson made a startling, serendipitous discovery. They were trying to calibrate a microwave detector for Bell Telephone Laboratories, but, much to their consternation, no matter where they aimed it, the detector kept picking up background noise. They tried cleaning the detector, then overhauled the electronic system, but they couldn't get rid of the noise. A series of studies indicated that this noise was filling the universe.

Professor P. J. E. Peebles at Princeton University explained to them that they had found the noise that resulted from the Big Bang. They then read an essay written by one of Friedmann's students which had predicted that remnants of the universe's explosion should be detectable in the form of weak microwave radiation of the type that Penzias and Wilson had discovered. These two men had discovered the echo of the explosion that brought the universe into being, and were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their findings. Steven Weinberg, a world-renowned physicist, called their findings "one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century."9

By this time, scientists wanted an independent body to determine if the universe was eternal, because study after study was showing that it was not. Robert Jastrow, a great astrophysicist, was the director of NASA's Goddard Center for Space Studies. He was appointed the head of a research project that included mathematicians, astronomers, and physicists who wanted to prove the eternity of the world. After 15 years of research, Jastrow published NASA's report (1978). He shocked the public by concluding that the universe, rather than being eternal, probably came into being at a certain point in time. He wrote,

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth . . . ." For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.10

Today, decades of scientific research support the idea that the universe came into being from nothing. The Big Bang theory, and no other, accounts for four main findings: the background noise found by Penzias and Wilson, the ratio of hydrogen to helium in the universe,11 the expansion of the galaxies that Hubble observed, and the perfect black-body spectrum of the microwave background radiation as measured by the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) space satellite in 1989.12 Scientific books and reams of articles have been written about the evidence that the universe came about in ways that are in harmony with the Torah's account of Creation.13

How Scientists Think the Universe Began

Renowned physicists today, such as Stephen Weinberg14 and Stephen Hawking,15 concur that nothing existed at a certain point in time, and then, all of a sudden, there was a moment of creation. The universe began with the explosion of a great ball of light/energy now generally known as the Big Bang. This enormous burst of concentrated energy became the source of all matter in the universe.16 When this ball of light exploded, it brought into existence all of the laws of nature, time, space, and matter.17

This matter took the form of plasma, charged particles that trap light. A very short time after the Big Bang, there was intense light from the explosion, but it was trapped in this plasma so that although photons were given off, they were quickly reabsorbed. When this initial energy cooled very quickly, the plasma became atoms. Then the light shone through and radiation (light) dominated the early universe, as in Genesis:

And God said, "Let there be light, and there was light." 18

Resistance to Theology

If a person came to a city, he would assume that people had built it—that it didn't simply spontaneously appear one day. Yet for thousands of years, scientists and philosophers were willing to believe that the complex universe in which we live had been here forever. Einstein resisted the idea of a created universe, even after there was abundant evidence to show that the world was not eternal. Today, many scientists such as Stephen Hawking admit, "The creation [of the universe] lies outside the scope of the presently known laws of physics,"19 yet are not willing to attribute creation to God.

Chance and the Non-Created Universe

A world that has always been here has no moral plan, purpose, or meaning. If the world and people got here by chance, our job is simply to survive and do as we please. Unfortunately, history has shown that when people make their own rules about how best to live, they are prone to be self-serving. Ancient Greece and Rome, Nazi Germany, and other "enlightened" cultures had no qualms about enslaving people; killing babies, the elderly, and the sick; and glorifying sexual decadence. Most people think of ancient Greece and Rome as enlightened empires that gave us Western civilization, respect for human rights, and democracy. Yet it has been estimated that more than 25% of the people in the Roman empire and 30% in ancient Athens were enslaved. Slavery was so common in Rome that slaves far outnumbered citizens. As the Roman Republic expanded, they enslaved entire conquered populations.20

Ultimate Game of Hide and Seek

Genesis is constructed to lead us from the fact of creation to why God created it, for if He deliberately created a world—especially an incredibly complex world such as ours—He must have had a purpose for it and for us.

Judaism teaches that the functions of the world's masks of nature and materialism are to obscure their Source—to induce us to look for and find their Creator.21 That is why the Hebrew word for world, olam, comes from the word he'elem, which means "hidden."

The rest of the Torah, and the oral traditions that have been passed down to us since the time of Moses, gives us detailed and practical answers to the questions, "Why did a Creator make this world, and how were we meant to use it?"22

Implications for Us

The Perfect Bull's-Eye

A man wanted to find out how a renowned archer always seemed to score a bull's-eye wherever he shot his arrows. Walking past an impressive series of ten arrows stuck in the center of each of ten targets, the man caught up with the archer and asked, "How do you manage to score a perfect bull's-eye each time you shoot?"

"Oh, it's easy," the archer replied. "First I shoot an arrow at the tree, then I paint a bull's-eye around it."

Instead of constructing a worldview based on what makes us comfortable, Genesis opens by telling us that God created a purposeful world so that we will live with His plan of meaning. One of our greatest challenges is to see life from His perspective, rather than from our own.


  1. Genesis 1:1-2, 4.
  2. Two-thirds of scientists who were surveyed in 1959 believed that the world was eternal! (Personal communication with physicist Gerald Schroeder.)
  3. Hawking, Stephen, ed. On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy. Philadelphia, Running Press Book Publishers, 2004.
  4. Einstein first wrote "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" in 1905. It was reprinted in H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, H. Minkowski, and W. H. Weyl, "The Principles of Relativity: A Collection of Original Papers on the Special Theory of Relativity." Fortschritte der mathematischen Wissenschaften in Monographien, Heft 2. Leipzig, 1922.
  5. Jaki, Stanley. "From Scientific Cosmology to a Created Universe," in Roy Varghese: Intellectuals Speak Out About God. Chicago, Regnery Gateway Inc., 1984, p. 76.
  6. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. New York, Warner Books, 2000, p. 29.
  7. Gamow, George. Nature (162), 1948, p. 680.
  8. Hoyle, Fred. "A New Model for the Expanding Universes," Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (108), 1948, p. 102.
  9. Weinberg, Stephen. The First Three Minutes. London, Andre Deutsch and Fontana, 1977, p. 120.
  10. Jastrow, Robert. ibid., p. 125.
  11. The Big Bang theory predicts that the universe would have consisted almost entirely of hydrogen and helium nuclei a few minutes after the initial explosion occurred. Their ratio, by mass, would have been 70-75% hydrogen and 25-30% helium. The fact that hydrogen and helium exist in these proportions in the universe today supports the Big Bang theory.
  12. The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was launched in November 1989 to see if there were minute differences in temperature across the background radiation of the universe that would indicate that the original expanding universe was not uniform and smooth, and that it could have given rise to galaxy clusters. COBE sent back information in April 1992 showing temperature differences of ten millionths of a degree. That information was consistent with the Big Bang theory.
  13. For example, George Gamow, "The Origin of Elements and the Separation of Galaxies," Physical Review (74), 1948, p. 505. Gamow's ideas laid the foundation for our present understanding of big-bang nucleosynthesis. A number of books authored by physicists describe the origins of the universe in ways that are consistent with Creation: Stephen Weinberg, The First Three Minutes. London, Andre Deutsch and Fontana, 1977; Gerald Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang, New York, Bantam, 1990; Andrew Goldfinger, Thinking about Creation, Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson, 1999; Nathan Aviezer, In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science, Hoboken, NJ, Ktav, 1990; and Nathan Aviezer, Fossils and Faith, Hoboken, NJ, Ktav, 2001.
  14. Weinberg, Stephen. op. cit.
  15. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. New York, Bantam Books, 1988. Hawking is one of the best-known physicists today; his popular book on cosmology has sold over 15 million copies!
  16. This is consistent with Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2, where a small amount of energy results in a huge amount of matter.
  17. Wheeler, John. Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam. New York, Norton, 1998, p. 350.
  18. Genesis 1:3-4.
  19. Hawking, Stephen. The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time. Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 364.
  21. This idea is beautifully discussed in Akiva Tatz, Worldmask. Jerusalem, Targum, 1995.
  22. Luzzatto, Moshe Chaim, The Way of God, discusses topics such as the purpose of life and how people can fulfill their purposes here.

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