Reading Genesis: Ten Methods is a marvelous introduction to recent approaches to the study of biblical texts, accessible yet profound. Distinguished contributors survey methods both old and new, all focused on the book of Genesis. These are classic discussions and offer not only a report on the present state of bibli…cal studies but also fine examples of the biblical scholar’s art.
Tag Archives: Genesis
Chris Brady asks the question, “What can we determine about God from the fingerprints left behind in creation?” I think this is an interesting question and would like to respond here just for the sake of room.
In my mind, contextualization is one of the best interpretive keys in questions like this. The more we know about the context into which the author presents this text the better we should be able to evaluate their intentions, assumptions, and dogmas. I see Gen 1:1–2:3 as a later recasting of Gen 2:4–25. Gen 2 is also included in the final redaction so as not to entirely supplant what was most likely an established and canonical (so to speak) version of creation. Gen 2 is more compact and makes no mention of the creation of the earth, just the development of life from the dust of the earth. The prioritization of water alludes to storm god imagery, which probably ties it firmly to a Syro-Palestinian provenance, where an explicit cosmogony is also lacking. Gen 1 includes a cosmogony based on separation that plays off of Assyro-Babylonian literary devices.
Gen 2 contains no deliberation concerning the creation of humanity, as well. This may be interpreted as another sign of chronological priority, as the Assyro-Babylonian version of the heavenly council is more expansive regarding deliberation (as found in Gen 1) and prophetic participation (“overhearing” first, and then actual participation). I view the Israelite appropriation of that ideology as taking place around the ninth or eighth centuries when Mesopotamia and her literature began to more heavily influence Israel. That would put the composition of Gen 1 sometime after that. The traditional date puts it around the Exile, via the priestly source. While I’m not sold on the priestly source, I think the dating is probably pretty close.
Given the distinct cultural milieus from which these two text spring, they must obviously present rather divergent views on the nature of the God involved. While Gen 2 has a deity more physically involved in the creation and maintenance of humanity and the earth, Gen 1 treats creation as a product of divine fiat, for the most part. The verbs are “said,” “created,” “blessed,” and “saw,” while in Gen 2 they are “formed,” “made,” “breathed,” “planted,” “took,” and “brought.” Gen 1’s deity is a transcendent being far removed from the frailties of humanity. This squares with the universalization of God following the collapse of Jerusalem and foreign rule. I think this was not necessarily meant to be explicit in the text, but rather a subtle allusion to an updated perspective on deity, which probably followed a slow theological de-anthropomorphization.
In this capacity I believe Chris is accurate in stating, “God is simply there, his existence is assumed and essential.” I think the text was written in a time when Israel was well beyond needing or wanting a theogony or introduction to deity. The primary purpose of the text vis-à-vis the nature of deity is the presentation of a transcendent God of order whose productions are essentially good. This may or may not have served to ameliorate the despair of Israelites wondering where their God had gone, but it was most likely designed to fortify related perspectives being actively promoted by the priests and prophets. If we interpret Gen 1 as also promoting humanity’s stewardship over the earth and responsibilities toward maintaining order, it may be linked to Deuteronomistic reforms aimed at criticism of those nations which ruled in conflict with what Israel interpreted as righteous dominion. God is good and his creations are good, and so those whom he has entrusted with stewardship over the earth must be good.
That’s my view, Chris. It may or may not contribute to the discussion as you perceive it, but I appreciate the opportunity the organize some of these thoughts. Any thoughts?
I noticed this morning that the Targuman has a couple posts up concerning literary criticism of Genesis 1 (including a nod in my direction, for which I’m always grateful). Chris may have been reading over some other recent blog posts, because he reiterates James McGrath’s recent question regarding the origin of the gods (how’s that for source criticism?). His post also bears on the much discussed The Lost World of Genesis One, in which John Walton emphasizes the primarily functional orientation of Genesis’ cosmogony, rather than its material creation. Thanks for the enlightening discussion, Chris.
James McGrath asks an important question on his blog. He wonders what happened to Israel’s theogonies. Specifically, he wants to know why they seemed to have vanished without a trace, rather than being the object of vehement polemics:
The thought struck me as I was thinking about the plurals in Genesis 1-3, where God is speaking but we are never told whom he is addressing. It seems to me surprising that we are never given an account of the creation or of the begetting of intermediary beings, “gods” or “angels”. Given the controversies surrounding the topic, we might have expected at least a polemical account that sought to combat assumptions others had about them and their origins, much as the author of some of the Genesis material polemicizes against the idea that the sun, moon and stars are deities. Why do we instead get nothing?
I made a comment on his blog, but I thought I would pontificate a little more here. I believe we get nothing because there were several layers of theological development following the disappearance of Israelite theogony. In other words, by the time of the later redactions of the texts that now appear in the Hebrew Bible, the idea of an origin of the gods had long been ignored. The only remnants of that theogony survived in select cultic formulae and literary type-scenes. For example, Gen 14:19,22’s use of the participle קנה survives, in my opinion, because it was not associated with Yahweh, and no red flags popped up when the Syro-Palestinian qn ‘rs wšmm was edited to read עשה שמים וארץ. This wasn’t an issue because of theogony, though. I believe it was an issue because of the procreative nuance of the root qny in such formulae. Theogony was not an issue by that time as a result of the collapsing of the tiers of the Israelite pantheon sometime during the ninth or eighth centuries BCE. Thus we’re left with a stack of ideologies scrubbed clean by the last contributors, but with older themes creeping through in places.
That’s just my off-the-cuff opinion, but I’d appreciate your thoughts.