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A journey into the Genesis creation account: part six

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This article is the sixth part of a series on the Genesis creation account. Here are parts one, two, three, four and five.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:11-12).1

Exodus 32:1-6 reports an incident that underlines the extent to which the Hebrews were ideologically infected by their neighbours. Some time after Moses went up Mount Sinai to confer with God, the people clamoured for Aaron to make a golden calf they could worship.

To add insult to injury, we learn that after they ate and drank, the Israelites got up to “play,” an expression which in this context carries a sexual connotation.

For those who might wonder whether this burst of eroticism was caused by some wilderness aphrodisiac, it should be noted that as reprehensible as it may seem, there is more going on here than mere moral laxity.

The Israelites’ behaviour would have been viewed as entirely acceptable in the context of the Canaanite fertility cult.

Canaanites believed that Baal, sometimes portrayed as a bull, a symbol of fertility, generated fecundity in the land by engaging in sexual intercourse with his consort, the goddess Anat (or Asherah).

In Canaan, sexuality and worship were intrinsically linked. Canaanites believed that the ritual reenactment of Baal and Anat’s physical union fostered fertility in the land. Scholars surmise that the practice either represented a form of imitative participatory magical ritual or was simply intended to entice Baal to have sex with his consort.

By absorbing human sexuality into the realm of the sacred, the fertility cult fostered a culture of exploitation and dehumanization by reducing one of the most fundamental characteristics of human nature to an accessory of divine manipulation.

This organic link between sexuality and fertility attested in ancient Mesopotamia most likely triggered the Israelites to behave the way they did. By engaging in sexual intercourse in the presence of the golden calf, the Israelites were attempting to secure a future for themselves.

The Torah condemned the sexualization of worship.2 Not only did nature worship reduce the creator of the universe to the level of a mere idol, but it also initiated a catastrophic collapse of the distance between God and nature.

Without the belief in a transcendent God, it was impossible to maintain the intrinsic value and dignity associated with the notion of the image of God (Gen 1:27-28).

One does not secure God’s favour by offering sacrifices or participating in sexual rituals. The Torah teaches that God’s favour is obtained by loving one’s neighbour and acting justly (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; Micah 6:8).

The creation account was written to give the Hebrews a true insight into the nature of reality and to provide a powerful alternative to the worldview they would encounter in the Promised Land.

Nature worship was one of those toxic ideas the Israelites had to be immunized against.

Moses undermines the connection between human sexuality and worship by eliminating the very system the Canaanites believed was essential to maintain the conditions necessary for human survival.

Genesis 1:11-12 erases any cause-and-effect relationship between harvest yields and the sexual proclivities of a god of nature like Baal. It is Elohim who, by his word alone, causes the land to produce vegetation. As biblical scholar, Gordon Wenham, further points out, not only does God create various kinds of plants, but he also gives them the ability to reproduce on their own.3

Agricultural production is therefore not contingent on enticing nature gods into having sex with each other. Reproductive potential is already written into the very DNA of every plant and, for that matter, every animal species (Gen 1:24-15).

All of nature is literally on autopilot.


For a more detailed discussion of the creation narrative and its theological implications, see Pierre Gilbert, Demons, Lies & Shadows: A Plea for a Return to Text and Reason (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2008). 

1 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are from the New International Version (2011).
2 Israelite law strongly forbids such an instrumental view of human sexuality (Lev. 19:29 and Deut. 23:18-19).
3 See Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 21.

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