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The Priestly Creation Story (Chap 1:1 - 2:4)


DW | Old Testament

2.3 - The Priestly Creation Story (Chap 1:1 - 2:4)


The P account of creation in seven days is a brilliant beginning to the Old Testament. The creation itself unfolds in six days, carefully balanced into three days each:

1st Day – Creation of Light

2nd Day – Creations of Heavens and Water

3rd Day – Creation of Land and Vegetation

4th Day – Creation of Bodies of Light

5th Day – Creation of Creatures of Heaven and Water

6th Day – Creation of Life and its Vegetable Food, With the Creation of Humankind

On the first three days, God creates the physical world and separates each part into its place. On the last three days, God populates the world with living creatures and assigns them their proper roles. The climax of the creative process is the human being, whom God makes male and female, blesses, and appoints as those to have dominion over his new creation.


The world this describes obviously doesn't share the same scientific view of the contemporary age, in which the earth is one planet around one sun in a universe full of stars and planets. The ancient picture of the universe is much different. To the Hebrews, the earth was a disc surrounded by water not only on the sides, but underneath and above as well. A firm bowl (firma-ment) kept the upper waters back but the sky had gates to let the rain, hail, and snow through. The sun, moon, and stars moved in fixed tracks along the underside of this bowl.

From below the disc, the waters rose up in the form of wells, rivers, and oceans. The earth stood on firm pillars sunk into the waters, much like the pilings of a pier. Now deep below the earth was the 'Abode of the Dead', called Sheol, which could only be entered by the dead.

This image of the world did not make the Hebrews unique. Many of the ancient civilizations around them believed the same layout of the world. Even the order of creation was similar to the Babylonians and their story of creation. Their account, called the Enuma Elish, was known from at least 1700 B.C., long before the priestly account, and followed the same order of creation.

While the priestly authors obviously knew the Babylonian story, or one similar, and used its outline, they did not accept its theology. Several differences were made – most importantly that the creation of man was made in God's image – as a place of honor, unlike the Babylonian account which states that “man has no purpose but to be the slaves of the gods”.

As noted by the historian Lawrence Boadt, the scope of Genesis 1:1 - 2:4 contains an entire portrait of the nature of Yahweh, the God of Israel, over against all pagan claims. Such a profound statement, a summary of what God can do, a guarantee that the story to follow makes sense. How close it comes to the wonder and praise expressed in Psalm 8:

When I look up at the heavens, the work of your hands,

The moon and the stars you have set in their place,

What is man that you should remember him,

Mortal man that you should care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god,

Crowning him with glory and honor

You make him master over all your creatures

You have put everything under his feet. (Ps 8:3-6)


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