IMHO, and at the risk of being stoned (in the traditional sense I mean), the creation stories in Gen 1 and Gen 2 are classical cosmogonic myths. What sets them apart is that they contain and teach profound theological revelations; many of them. And upon which everything else in our faith is based. And so by focusing on a literal/historical interpretation of the text, the true spiritual meaning is either minimized or lost altogether. Here are just some of the truths expressed that I can think of:
1. Good is Good.
2. Therefore His creation is good.
3. Mankind is the culmination of His creation.
4. We are made in His image and likeness, and this is extremely important for everything that is to follow.
5. God is not whimsical and arbitrary in His acts; they have intrinsic meaning and purpose. This really sets Genesis apart from every other creation story that I am aware of, except for Plato's Timeaus, which is why it was quoted by several of the Fathers.
6. His creation is not just a collection of playthings.
7. God created knowing that humans would not follow his instructions. So our disobedience somehow is part of His purpose, His plan so to speak.
8. God is not to blame for our awful condition, despite the fact that He knew in advance how we would debase our condition. We are fully responsible. He endowed us with free will.
9. However, there is an opposing evil force in the universe that tricks man into thinking it is OK to be disobedient. It really makes God out to be a liar. And that there won't be any negative consequences to our disobedience. So our free will and the proper exercise of free will is not something that is cut and dried. It says a lot about the nature of good and evil -- how perplexing and confusing it can be, and why it takes enormous constant effort and training to be able to discern the difference.
10. The true and proper and natural state of man is to live in perfect harmony with God and with all of the things He has made. This is not an historical fact but something that arises out of experience and struggle. This revelation is, however, one of the most important, significant "facts" of history.
11. There is a theological explanation for the fact that human beings get sick and die and suffer in between all kinds of discord, conflict, inner turmoil, etc. The reason is not material, but spiritual. It is not the result of unseen, arbitrary or deterministic forces but lies deep within each one of us. The context, both ancient and modern, is that people are constantly striving to come up with explanations for why people and the world are really messed up. The standard mythology today is evolutionary. As mankind evolved he developed strong survival instincts. The ones with the strongest survival instincts prevailed, and those were the ones who were able to command the strongest mates, breed, and produce offspring, and therefore those with a weak survival instinct were eliminate from the gene pool. But with the rise of civilization, these instincts clashed with the demands of civilization and needed to be repressed. How to effectively repress these instinctual, biological, evolutionary drives so that mankind can live in harmony in turn springs forth numerous theories about how to do that, all of which require some kind of coercive action on the part of controllers who know the "truth." Genesis of course represents a God who is firmly in control, and all attempts by humans to control our destiny is doomed to failure.
12. For a look at the conflict between ancient creation myths, see Plato's Symposium. The Bible is not a philosophical text, so it does not lay out the Hebraic revelation in opposition to other creation myths. But that does not mean that the ancient Hebrews would not be aware of the context, of how unique their approach to creation was. And theologically and morally superior, with profound implications. It is just one of the reasons why the Hebrews saw themselves as God's chosen people.
13. There are many more profound implications, but one might say that salvation from God is implicit in the text. God as not only creator but savior is implicit in the text. The whole point is that while we condemn ourselves, we cannot save ourselves. But one has to have the spiritual eyes to see this, and debating whether it is a rib or a side or a spine seems to me to inevitably deaden the spiritual intent of the text.
Edited by Olga, 30 October 2010 - 09:56 AM.
added spaces between bullet points for ease of reading