widespread among the early peoples who attained to much thinking power was a conception that the universe arose from a watery chaos, and that its inhabitants were produced by sea and on land in obedience to a divine fiat.
This is clearly seen in the same records of Chaldæo-Babylonian thought deciphered in these latter years, to which reference has been made in previous chapters. In these we have a watery chaos which, under divine action, brings forth the earth and its inhabitants; first the sea animals and then the land animals, the latter being separated into three kinds, substantially as recorded afterward in the Hebrew accounts. At the various stages in the work the Chaldæan Creator pronounces it “beautiful,” just as the Hebrew Creator in our own later account pronounces it “good.”
In both accounts there is placed over the whole creation a solid, concave firmament; in both, light is created first and the heavenly bodies are afterward placed “for signs and for seasons”; in both the number seven is especially sacred, giving rise to a sacred division of time and to much else. It may be added that, with many other features in the Hebrew legends evidently drawn from the Chaldæan, the account of the creation in each is followed by a legend regarding “the fall of man” and a deluge, many details of which clearly passed in slightly modified form from the Chaldæan into the Hebrew accounts.
It would have been a miracle indeed if these primitive conceptions, wrought out with so much poetic vigor in that earlier civilization on the Tigris and Euphrates, had failed to influence the Hebrews, who, during the most plastic periods of their development, were under the tutelage of their Chaldæan neighbors. Since the researches of Layard, George Smith, Oppert, Schrader, Sayce, and their compeers, there is no longer a reasonable doubt that this ancient view of the world, elaborated if not originated in that earlier civilization, came thence as a legacy to the Hebrews, who wrought it in a somewhat disjointed shape and in a form mainly monotheistic into the poetic whole which forms one of the most precious treasures of ancient thought preserved in the book of Genesis.
Thus it was that, while the idea of a simple material creation literally by the voice, hands, and fingers of the Creator became, as we have already seen, the starting-point of a powerful stream of theological thought, and while this stream was swollen from age to age by contributions from the fathers, doctors, and learned divines of the Church, Catholic and Protestant, there was poured into it this lesser current, always discernible and at times clearly separated from it a current of belief in a process of evolution.
The Rev. Prof. Sayce, of Oxford, than whom no English-speaking scholar carries more weight in a matter of this kind, has