In the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the deep. Then God said, “Let there be light”… and there was light.”
The Western theological tradition has, for the most part, ignored Genesis 1:2. The chaos, the uncreated stuff that was the face of the deep does not quite fit with the patristic doctrine creatio ex nihilo, a doctrine that has no scriptural basis.
The word for deep, tehom, originated from the Babylonian word for Tiamat, the primordial goddess of Enuma Elish. After Tiamat’s grief for her murdered husband overrode her maternal protection and threatened devastation; Marduk destroys her, and her body becomes the creative stuff, the chaotic matter with which the world was made. Chaos, the deep, the leviathan, all are associated with the feminine divine- and not always badly. In Psalm 104:6, Adonai plays with the leviathan…plays! And according to the Talmud, Adonai spends one quarter of each day doing it! Chaos then is depicted in scripture both as dangerous and as…something else. While defeat of chaos is a key feature of many ancient near eastern myths, the positive traces of the myth remain behind, floating on the surface of the deep in Genesis 1:2.
The Western tradition has always sought to defeat chaos, to order our lives without the unknown and uncontrollable. However, without chaos there cannot truly be order, boundaries, even creation. Chaos is neither evil nor is it nothing. It is un-created positive something.
What am I suggesting? The chaotic something of Genesis 1:2 was in partner with God, much like the spoken word and the hovering spirit. This female something was the stuff with which Elohim created the world. She birthed the something. Perhaps this feminine figure of chaos is only a mysterious part of Elohim himself? Food for thought.