Havilah, where there is gold : a post-Sinaitic theology of gold

The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. Genesis 2:11-12

Economist Nouriel Roubini says that gold has no intrinsic value.  He like many others, including Warren Buffet, take a utilitarian approach whereby the value of something is only what the market will bear at any given moment.  So in a Black Swan event, such as when all are dying of famine, a bag of gold could potentially buy a loaf of bread to stave off starvation.  In such cases, gold is only worth what people are willing to trade for it–so the thinking goes.

Others argue that silver is a better investment because at least silver has an industrial use.  But the gaping hole in this entire utilitarian argument is it misses an important aspect of gold: its aesthetic value.  Now, aesthetics is about an appreciation of beauty.  The gold-has-no-intrinsic-value cult thus downplays the ornamental and the artistic value of gold in jewelry, in works of art, and in religious artifacts. But since the dawn of history, these qualities have made gold one of the most desired elements in creation.  I would argue further, that God actually created gold to have this aesthetic value.  But let’s not make the opposite mistake as Roubini et al. and downplay the utilitarian value of gold.  Genesis 2.11-12, the first mention of gold in the Bible is making an implicit statement about why God created gold.

My very first undergraduate class in Bible was on the Pentateuch.  Prof. Darrel Hobson at Northwest College taught that the theology of the entire Pentateuch was post-Sinaitic.  If Moses is the essential author of first five books of the Bible–a traditional view–then he wrote everything from the vantage point which occurs after the Exodus and after his experience of God’s presence at Mt. Sinai.  The Creation narrative tells us that God made the heaven and the earth and everything which is in them.  He thus made the gold of Havillah and that gold was good–like everything else he created (see Gen 1).

This says something implicit about the function of gold in Moses’ time.  In those days, gold had its obvious aesthetic value to make beautiful things.  But it was also used as money.  Therefore, Genesis 2.11-12 implies that the utilitarian function of gold as a intermediary of exchange and a store of value, i.e., the monetary use of gold was good and an aspect of the creational purpose that God had for gold.

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One thought on “Havilah, where there is gold : a post-Sinaitic theology of gold

  1. Nouriel Roubini is right gold has no extrinsic value without the art. These art on gold made wonderful creation. This is a God gifted metal. and human art became these metal aesthetic.

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