Iain Provan compares the Jewish view of creation with other ancient beliefs about reality – and ethics.
Well, in terms of views of the world, and the physical material world in particular, the people who followed the teaching of Moses had a very different view of that issue from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. By and large, in the ancient world, the material world was only a window into the supernatural, the other, the world of the gods. It wasn’t taken seriously in itself – very little interest in it, in itself. In the biblical idea of things, the material world is a good place intrinsically. It’s precisely the place that we should be, and it’s not merely symbolic of something else or a window into something else.
It’s a very world-affirming perspective in itself, and it particularly appears to be so when you know the ancient context and you realise what was the normal cultural way of approaching that question.
Of course, in the ancient view generally, the cosmos is made for the gods, and the vast mass of human beings are essentially slave labour to serve the needs of the gods. So the view of the world, your cosmology, translates pretty quickly into your politics and your nature of the good society. So the practical implications of the view of the cosmos, the view of creation, the view of physical materiality – that has direct consequences in a world where they don’t really have the secular/sacred split that we would have.