The Bible Icon

Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

Site Map | Contacts | Links | Newsletter |  

Genesis 1:3-5 DAY 1
Let There Be Daylight

Hebrew Text

rwa yhy - Let there be daylight

Another important concept in understanding the ANE context is the separation of daylight from sunlight. In the ancient world the light of dawn was different than the direct light of the sun. Daylight occurs an hour to two hours before the sun rises, and continues for an hour or more after the sun sets. In this pre-scientific age daylight was not the result of the sun light. When this is clearly understood many verses of the Bible, and the creation of the sun on day four fall into place. Aalen has an excellent article about light in TDOT (Vol. 1, 147-67).

Another interesting phrase that ties in here is "the spreading out of the heavens." Daylight spreads across the sky from East to West, as well as darkness spreads across the sky after sunset. Joel 2:2 says, "Like dawn spreading across the mountains" (NIV). This fiery red sunrise spreading across the mountains, pictures the coming judgment. It is described as a thin veil in Isaiah 40:22. The heavens are also said to be rolled out as a scroll (Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14).

The picture described here in Genesis 1:3 is the dawning of creation like the dawning of a new day. Job 38:14 describes it as a seal pressed on the clay. The formless images in the darkness take shape in the light of day. This verse has nothing to do with a potter’s wheel or the earth’s rotation. In the ancient world each new day was a new creation. In Egypt the sun was reborn each day. There are several OT passages that indicate the difference between daylight and sunlight.

Ecclesiastes 12:2 states, "before the sun and the light (rwa) and the moon and the stars grow dark" (NIV). Here the sun is distinct from rwa, daylight.

Isaiah 30:26 proclaims, "The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days" (NIV). Note the three types of light. In ancients times they did not realize that moon light was reflected sunlight.

Daylight is known for its "brightness" and is nowhere used to describe the sun, while the sun is known for its "heat." In Exodus 16:21 it says, "Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away" (NIV).

The Hebrew word rwa is explicitly used in connection with dawn while there is no mention of the sun at all. There seems to be a period of time between dawn and when the sun rises as seen in Genesis 19:15-23. Lot has time to flee to Zoar before the sun rises and the city of Sodom is destroyed.

According to Aalen "In Job 38:4ff., the primeval morning is represented as the beginning of the creation of the world" (TDOT, Vol. 1, 152). There is no mention of the sun in this context of morning creation.

In Job 3:9-10 dawn is compared to the birth from the womb. It says, "May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me" (NIV). There is no mention of the sun. The morning star is the planet Venus which heralds the dawn (Isa 14:12). The birds sing at dawn and may have been equated with the morning stars in ancient times (Job 38:7).

Psalm 104 is a creation poem that seems to parallel Genesis one. The light mentioned in verse two is different than the sun and moon which are not mentioned unto verse nineteen. Verse two says, "He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent" (NIV).

In Psalm 139:9-12 the dawn has wings, and its light in contrast to darkness is separate from the sun. The sun is not mentioned at all. It says, "If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even your hand will guide me, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you" (NIV). Wakely comments on the "wings of dawn" by saying it is "a poetic description of the first rays of dawn rapidly fanning out to the far horizon" (NIDOTTE, Vol.4, 88).

In John 1:4-9 which seems to be a midrash of Genesis one, Jesus is seen as the light "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (KJV).

In the NT in the Book of Revelations (21:23) the new heavens and new earth will not need the sun or the moon to shine for the glory of God will give light. This seems to assume a difference in daylight and sunlight,

Skinner comments, "The thought of light as the first creation, naturally suggested by the phenomenon of dawn, appears in several cosmogonies" (1910, 19). We want to look at some of these.

Sumerian Literature

The Sumerain god of the air is Enlil. Aalen comments, "The bright-eyed god of the air, father of the gods, and creator-god, separated heaven and earth. He causes the day to appear. His light 'rises up,' he 'makes his emblems bright'(TDOT, 1:149). The light of Enlil, daylight, is different from the sunlight and moonlight.

In text NBC 11108 it describes the pre-creation period. It says, "The moon did not sh[ine,] darkness spread; Heaven showed its shining face in Dagan[=heavenly dwelling], (Clifford 1994, 28).

In the poem Praise to the Pickax, it states, "To separate earth from heaven he (Enlil) hastened. To make light shine in Uzumua, He bound the pillar (of heaven and Earth) in Duranki. He worked with the pickax: the light of the sun came out" (Ibid, 31). It seems that daylight and sunlight are different here. Enlil has to poke a hole in the horizon with a pickax for the sun to come out, while the axis of heaven is set for daylight to shine.

Akkadian Literature

Enuma Elish

Heidel compares Enuma Elish to Genesis, and states, "Both accounts refer to the existence of light and to the alternation of day and night before the creation of the heavenly bodies" (1942, 101). Day and night are mentioned in line 38, and the brightness of the light of Apsu in line 68 before the sun and moon are created.

Egyptian Literature

In the Hermopolitan story of creation there are eight primeval gods of which two represent darkness are said to create light. In other stories the Primeval Ocean, Nun, is "the water that made the light" (Ringgren, 1969, 141-2). Kuk is said to bring "the light and the sunrise into being" (Ibid). It seems that light came out of a watery darkness as in Genesis one.

Coffin Texts, Spell 334 states, "When they behold Shu (Air-god) bearing the light.When Shu arises, father of the gods, river around him is ablaze with light. As I carry yonder sky that I may steady her brightness" (Ibid, 144). Clark states, "Shu is the dazzling light of an Oriental morning" (Ibid, n.3).

Ringgrens comments, "this combination of Shu with light implies that light is not necessarily bound up with the sun (or the moon) as its source, but it is conceived as something that fills the air between the earth and the sky" (1969, 144).

In the accession of Amen-hotep II it says, "When the next morning dawned The sun disk shone forth, The sky became bright," Frankfort sees three events here; the first light of dawn, the spreading of light across the sky, and finally the sun rises (Ibid, 149; Kingship and the Gods 1948, 148).

After Re, the sun-god rose to prominence all light is seen as coming from the sun. Each morning Re must defeat of Apophis (darkness) so light can spread over the world. Re is reborn each morning.

Ugaritic Literature

In Ugaritic texts Dawn and Dusk are mentioned as the first sons of the creator-god, El. Daylight seems to be separate from sunlight. Gibson translates, Look, [Gupn] and Ugar, the daylight [is veiled] in obscurity" (CTA 4,vii,54-55).

There is a partial story about the birth of Dawn, shr and Dusk, slm. El sees two women by the seashore. He kills a bird and roasts it on the fire for them. He then seduces the two women who become pregnant and give birth to two males Dawn and Dusk who are called "The gracious gods, cleavers of the sea, children of the sea" (Gibson, 1978, 126; UT 52:61-2; CTA 23; KTU 1.23). According to Gibson the light of dawn and dusk comes from the sea. They cut a hole in the sea so light can come out; however, Pardee translates ym as "day" and not "sea" (For full translation and notes see COS, 1.87.60). I would translate agzrym bn ym as "dividers of the day, sons of the day." In Genesis one God does the dividing between light and darkness.

Greek Literature

In ancient Greek literature dawn is a goddess called Eos. The light of dawn is distinct from sunlight. Homer describes Dawn as "saffron-robed (krokopeplos, Iliad viii,1), "rose fingered" (ërododaktulos, Iliad i,477), "beautiful" (kalh, Iliad ix 708), "fair-tressed" (euplokamos, Odyssey v,390; McKay 1970, 460).

In the Odyssey book 23:240-46 it says:

And now would the rosy-fingered Dawn have arisen upon their weeping, had not the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, taken other counsel. The long night she held back at the end of its course, and likewise stayed the golden-throned Dawn at the streams of Oceanus, and would not suffer her to yoke her swift-footed horses that bring light to men, Lampus and Phaethon, who are the colts that bear the Dawn (LCL 1919, 391).

In the Iliad book 11:1 it says, "Now Dawn rose from her couch from the beside lordly Tithonus, to bring light to immortals and to mortal men" (LCL 1924, 481). Dawn is said to sleep in the ocean bed with her lover Tithonus from which she awakes and rises each morning. Dawn is also awakened in Psalm 108:2.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are some apocryphal psalms. 11Q5 XXVI is a Hymn to the Creator. It says, "He separated light from darkness established the dawn with the knowledge of his heart" (Martinez 1996, 309; verse 11). It seems that the ones at Qumran equated the light of Genesis 1:3 with the light of dawn.

Jewish Literature

In Genesis Rabbah R. Judah says, "The light was created first. The matter may be compared to the case of a king who wanted to build a palace. But the site was shaded. What did he do? He kindled lights and lanterns to know how to lay the foundations" (Neusner 1985, 27).

According to R. Berekhiah it was "Not by hard work or toil, but by a word" that light was created (Ibid, 28).

Rabbi Simeon asked "from what source was light created?" R. Samuel replied, "The Holy One, blessed be he, cloaked himself in it as in a cloak, and the splendor of his majesty shown forth from one end of the world to the other" (Ibid, 29; Psalm 104:2).

Based on Tannaite authority the light of Genesis 1:3, since the creation of the sun, has been stored away for the righteous in the age to come (Ibid, 30; Isa 30:26).

Next - God Said, Divided, and Called