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The Genesis of Everything, Part 2: The Genre of Genesis 1

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June 16, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by John P. Dickson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Genesis of Everything, Part 2: The Genre of Genesis 1

Note: Today's post is the second of a four-part series by theologian, historian and Christian apologist Dr. John P. Dickson, dealing with the history and interpretation of Genesis 1. Dickson's paper first appeared in 2009 as "The Genesis of Everything: An historical account of the Bible’s opening chapter," at Christians in Science and Technology (ISCAST), an Australian organisation dedicated to exploring the interface between science and the Christian faith. As that title suggests, it urges us to treat the early chapters of Genesis as a literary and historical statement, and listen carefully to it on those terms.

In the first post, Dr. Dickson surveyed how Genesis was interpreted in a non-literalistic fashion by esteemed Christians and Jews throughout history. In today's post, he examines the genre of Genesis 1.

The Genre of Genesis 1

With the rise of literary criticism modern biblical scholars have begun to appreciate more fully the importance of genre for interpreting ancient texts. When you and I pick up the daily newspaper we have no problem moving from news-report, to editorial, to satire, to TV guide, to comics, and so on. We do not need side notes indicating the transitions. We all understand the literary forms and read the relevant pieces appropriately.

Ancient people operated in much the same way. Within the Bible alone we can discern not only poetry and prose but also legal formula, historical report, parable, aphorism, prophecy, hyperbole, creed, hymn, epistle, prophetic lament, homily and apocalyptic. All of these must be read differently and were so by ancient audiences. The notion that the ancients were simpletons who only knew how to operate in literalistic mode is as facile as it is false.

The example of ‘apocalyptic’ in Revelation

‘Apocalyptic’ offers a good parallel for the present discussion. In the book of Revelation, the closing text of the Bible, the writer narrates cosmic visions replete with symbols and codes involving numbers, colours and even animals (the famous ‘666’ or ‘mark of the Beast’ comes from the book of Revelation).

A literalistic interpretation of, say, Revelation 19—to take just one example—would have us believe that Jesus will return to earth one day with eyes of fire, riding a white horse, wearing a blood-stained robe upon his back and multiple crowns upon his head.6 Some modern Christians may sincerely expect things to pan out this way, but such a concretization of the images would never have entered the minds of ancient believers.

Scholars long ago pointed out that large sections of the book of Revelation correspond to the ancient literary device known as ‘apocalyptic’, in which numbers, colours, animals and so on, were employed with specific referents. The writer of Revelation would never have predicted that audiences one day might approach his work literalistically.

A similar situation pertains to the first book of the Bible. Genesis 1 is not written in apocalyptic, of course, but it is composed in a style quite unlike the ‘historical narrative’ of, say, the Gospels in their accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. There is no getting around the fact that the Gospels writers were claiming to write history at that point—whether or not readers end up accepting what is reported. Genesis 1, on the other hand, is not written in the style we normally associate with historical report. It is difficult even to describe the passage as prose. The original Hebrew of this passage is marked by intricate structure, rhythm, parallelism, chiasmus, repetition and the lavish use of number symbolism. These features are not observed together in those parts of the Bible we recognize as historical prose.

This observation must be given some weight. While on literary grounds one cannot say that the world was not created in six days, one can safely conclude that the concerns of Genesis 1 lie elsewhere than providing a cosmic chronology. The genre of our text suggests that the author intended to convey his meaning through subtle and sophisticated means, not through the surface plot of the narrative (i.e. creation in six days).

Number symbolism in Genesis 1

A full account of all of the literary devices in Genesis would be inappropriate in this journal—and would certainly exceed the word limit— and they are well described in numerous technical studies and commentaries.7 I will, however, draw attention to the number symbolism present in our passage. This provides a compelling example of the unusual nature of the text and of the way the author seeks to convey his message through means other than the surface-level plot.

It is well known that in Hebrew thought the number seven symbolises ‘wholeness’ as a characteristic of God’s perfection. A well-known example is the seven-candle lamp stand,8 or Menorah, which has long been a symbol of the Jewish faith and is the emblem of the modern State of Israel.

In Genesis 1, multiples of seven appear in extraordinary ways. For ancient readers, who were accustomed to taking notice of such things, these multiples of seven conveyed a powerful message. Seven was the divine number, the number of goodness and perfection. Its omnipresence in the opening chapter of the Bible makes an unmistakable point about the origin and nature of the universe itself. Consider the following:

  • The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words. Instantly, the ancient reader’s attention is focused.
  • The second sentence contains exactly fourteen words. A pattern is developing.
  • The word ‘earth’—one half of the created sphere—appears in the chapter 21 times.9
  • The word ‘heaven’—the other half of the created sphere—also appears 21 times.
  • ‘God’, the lead actor, is mentioned exactly 35 times.
  • The refrain ‘and it was so’, which concludes each creative act, occurs exactly seven times.
  • The summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ also occurs seven times.
  • It hardly needs to be pointed out that the whole account is structured around seven scenes or seven days of the week.

The artistry of the chapter is stunning and, to ancient readers, unmistakable. It casts the creation as a work of art, sharing in the perfection of God and deriving from him. My point is obvious: short of including a prescript for the benefit of modern readers the original author could hardly have made it clearer that his message is being conveyed through literary rather than prosaic means. What we find in Genesis 1 is not exactly poetry of the type we find in the biblical book of Psalms but nor is it recognizable as simple prose. It is a rhythmic, symbolically- charged inventory of divine commands.

Literary style and the question of ‘truth’

None of this should trouble modern Christians, as if truths expressed by literary device were somehow less true than those expressed in simple prose. We have already raised the examples of parable and apocalyptic. Outside of the Bible, we also recognize the capacity of images to convey truth. When Romeo says, ‘What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!’ we all understand what is being said. The statement is no less real than if Romeo had said, ‘Juliet is at the window and she is pretty’. Only someone unacquainted with the English literary tradition would quibble over the ontological discrepancies between a woman and the sun.

Did God create ‘light’ on Day 1 of creation? He might have. But this is not the point of Genesis 1:3. The highly ‘literary’ presentation style of our passage makes it unlikely, in my opinion, that the author intended for us to link his surface plot of a seven-day week with a sequence of physical events in time. Again, the example of the book of Revelation comes to mind. It is universally agreed amongst scholars that the number of Jews present in Revelation’s picture of the heavenly kingdom (144,000) is symbolic not actual. Being a multiple of 12 (the number of the tribes of Israel) the 144,000 figure conveys the idea of a complete number of Israelites. This is recognized even in popular circles, though I note that Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret the number literalistically.

Notes

6. Revelation 19:11-13: I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
7. A good introduction to the literary characteristics of Genesis 1 (with ample bibliography) can be found in Wenham’s Genesis 1-15 (Wenham 1987 pp. 1-40).
8. In Revelation 1 in the New Testament Jesus is described as holding ‘seven stars’ and walking amidst ‘seven lampstands’. These are images of his divine authority over the cosmos and the church.
9. Please remember, I use the word ‘chapter’ loosely. It is commonly noted that the opening literary section of Genesis runs from 1:1 through to 2:3. Appropriately, the NIV places the heading for the second section at 2:4. For the details see Wenham (Wenham 1987 p. 6).

In the next post, Dr. Dickson examines the purpose of Genesis 1.


John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins. He has hosted two nationally televised documentaries (The Christ Files and Life of Jesus), authored over a dozen books and is a busy public speaker.

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George Bernard Murphy - #70487

June 16th 2012

 I think you are wrong.

The Bible is not merely ancient literature. 

It makes statements that impart truths that were unknown at tht time.

 Only now is modern science proving how true the Bible is,..... but to review these similarities you indulge in “concordance”.

 The biblical scholars have sold the idea that CONCORDANCE IS ALWAYS WRONG.

 THEREFORE THE EVIDENCE THAT SHOWS THE BIBLE HAD ADVANCE  UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHS CANNOT EVEN BE PRESENTED.

 it is not politically correct.

Soooo,... bible scholars do not need to study any science, [and it makes their job much easier].

 NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT!

CONGRATULATIONS!


George Bernard Murphy - #70488

June 16th 2012

In other words John,.. you need to throw out your doctorate in ancient history and get one in cosmology.Then you could explain the bible.


Mark Edward - #70492

June 16th 2012

It’s comments like this that nearly make the dicussion not worth it. What does ‘political correctness’ have anything to do with this? What is the point of those multiple backhanded quips? They don’t contribute to respectful dialogue, and they’re certainly not spoken out of ‘love’.

Perhaps, if you think he is wrong to suggest that Genesis 1 was written from within a certain culture, and used certain literary devices, you could show HOW he is wrong. What (biblical) rule is there that Genesis 1 must be read as ‘literal’? You could also explain how any of what he said contradicts the idea that Genesis 1 contains ‘statements that impart truth’.

It’s easier to come to a proper understanding together when we’re not throwing knives at each other.


George Bernard Murphy - #70493

June 16th 2012

There is a rule which is currently dominant which posits that concordance is always faulty reasoning.

 [Perhaps I should have coined a new phrase like “theological correctness”]

But it aborts all serious discussion of concordance.

 The current massive dump of concordant data on the religious community  by science is therefore dismissed WITHOUT DISCUSSION.

 None-the-less it is out there.

 

 

 

It aborts any of the discussions of the massive correlations between the Bible and modern science that should be headlining the science/bible discussions.


George Bernard Murphy - #70494

June 16th 2012

P.S. Mark I love you!


D.U. Litz - #70497

June 17th 2012

I wrote this in response to a few of Mr Murphy’s [your] comments on “part 1,” and did not respond, so I’m re-posting it here because its the same topic of “concordism.” I am a young student, and am fully open to changing my mind, but I have issues with “concordism” as Mr   Murphy [you] are using it for the following reasons. If I am wrong, I am willing to change my mind.

I actually am with Walton on what “in the beginning God created…” actually means. I think the material was a given, and the passage commences with God installing order and function. But I realize this is a contested debate. So regardless…

Here is my problem with the type of “concordism” you espouse: It does not make sense that it would be in the text.

You used the example of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” as a statement that “concords” with science. Fair enough, but the statement first “concorded” with the ancient given that the earth was “created” by God. This no more “concords” with modern big bang cosmology than “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” concords with our understanding of the respiratory system.

I do not mean this to sound antagonistic, but do you really think the Ancient Israelite audience understood big bang cosmology? If not you are practicing “accommodationist Hermeneutics,” which I prefer anyway. And if you do think they had some “secret knowledge,” than that is poor exegesis.

Any given passage cannot mean something to us now that it did not first mean to the original audience. To say otherwise is, again, bad exegesis.

God did not reveal any science to Israel that we now take for granted. I am sure it was not even their concern. The bible is inspired by God and penned via human authors with ancient conventions of historiography, poetics, narrative, etc. IF science ahead of its time was given to Ancient Israel, it is difficult to get from the text, unless your presupposing it will concord with your modern views of science. What about science 100 years from now? Can we save some scientists some time by giving them something from the text yet to be discovered? Or is it only convenient to “concord” it with the text after the discovery is made? Furthermore, If science was revealed ahead of time why do we not see Israelite culture in general (and is writing) seem more advanced technologically? And where did the amazing concordance they presumably understood get lost in translation? The fact is Ancient Israel was less-advanced than their neighbors in many points of history.

I just cannot wrap my head around “concordism.” I get it to a degree; it comes down to issues with inerrancy. But I reject concordism and still consider myself an inerrantist. I think we should accept the text on its own terms and not place our categories of what we expect on the text. Its humbling to know the text is not always out to answer my questions.

Also what do you mean it had “divine origin?” I agree in a sense of inspiration, but not in a sense that God grabbed his holy pen and wrote down the passage.


George Bernard Murphy - #70503

June 17th 2012

I am sorry Mr. Litz. I didn’t see your post.

The first concordant fact was Hubbell’s law.which concords with the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

And the most startling fact was THAT THERE WAS A BEGINNING! All of the great scientists believed the universe was stable and unchanging and would remain so.

Isaac Newton believed tha unverse was stable.

Albert Einstein believed the universe was stable,[ it had no beginning and would have no end]. When he proposed his theory of relativity it was obvious that even if the universe was in perfect balance it would remain that way only briefly and then a quantum event would cause it to start contracting or expanding so he introduced a factor called the ‘cosmologic constant” which ws designed only to make the universe stable.

 [Later he called it the greatest error of his life.]

But what I am trying to say is that the people who thought the universe had no beginning were THE REALLY BIG HEAVYWEIGHTS OF SCIENCE.

BUT THE BIBLE SAID THE UNIVERSE DID HAVE A BEGINNING! AND IT WAS RIGHT!

 NOW this is big time concorance in the face of nearly universal disbelief.

The same verse of scripture indicates that earth and all of the heavenly bodies are partt of the SAME CREATION.

THAT IS NOT OBVIOUS WHEN YOU LOOK OUT THROUGH A TELESCOPE. BUT IT IS TRUE!

 But the one that amazed me was the story of Day 4 which seems totally illogical.

 It is composed of several disconnected statements about “lights in the sky” and “seasons” and “days” all being  initiated at the same time by a single event. This seems impossible of being true because the stars are older than the sun and the moon and our solar system.

But the Apollo progrm showed that a collision between a planet and our young earth started the earth spinning.[giving us days!]

The axis of spin was tilted 23’ which gives us seasons and years.

Prior to the giant impact the earth had a dense black cloud around it which did not allow light to reach the surface.The impact blew that away so the heavenly bodies became LIGHTS IN THE SKY!

When you chart it all out you see that ALL OF THE STATEMENTS IN THE 4TH DAY OF CREATION ARE TRUE.

Of course the data from the Apollo program was analyzed relatively recently around 2004.

But what it proved was that the Genesis 1 ,Day 4, creation story as recorded in the Bible is true.

 The concordant data does not end there but I am running out of space


D.U. Litz - #70516

June 18th 2012

Your ignoring all of my objects and giving more “concordant” data. I’m having a hard time taking you seriously unless you actually dispute my objections.

your also ignoring rules of interpretation of the bible (or any ancient literature) for that matter-rules even some that might want to agree with you follow

lastly, I believe Richard Dawkins pointed out in a debate with John Lennox something to the effect that the “concordance” with the first verse of the bible isn’t that surprising because it had a 50/50 shot at being right; either the universe started, or its eternal

 


Merv - #70522

June 18th 2012

I’m not defending GB Murphy’s concordism here, but I do want to take issue with the rule that later interpreters must never venture beyond authorial intent in drawing meaning from a text.  Let me be clear before I do, though, that I agree this is a sound rule and one we need to generally follow, but with this caveat.  When N.T. writers appropriate O.T. passages and identify them as speaking of Christ, I don’t think we need maintain that the original prophets who penned those words new all the details about the Christ they were describing.  They were given visions of what they needed to know to make the prophecy.  With hindsight, later authors (Peter, Paul, & gospel authors) are shown how Christ is the culmination of what was written earlier.  Strictly speaking, all that these later authors knew of (the then revealed) Christ probably went beyond original authorial knowledge of the earlier scribes, but we obviously have no problem with that.  In other limited ways I think texts can be appropriated (appropriately!) for worship and meditation in ways that ancient scribes could not have anticipated—and why should we limit the Spirit by declaring all such anachronistic use off limits?

All that said, I think Mr. Murphy’s use of force-injected concordism is an example of what we should not do with ancient texts.  Clear-cut rules on this may or may not be discernable or helpful, though.

—Merv


D.U. Litz - #70525

June 18th 2012

I agree, but “appropriately” is key.  In the context of Genesis One there is ancient cosmology that we see. Concordance would almost be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the cosmology depicted in Genesis One (and throughout the rest of the OT) was actually in “concordance” with the other ancient cultures cosmology (i,e. Egypt, Canaan, Babylonian, etc.). Furthermore if the purpose was to tell how God built everything. But that isn’t the context or purpose, so identifying Genesis One as a passage written where the authors “did not know” they were writing accurate science doesn’t make sense.

Again the example could be used that god “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life” somehow concords with our modern understanding of the respiratory system. The problem is that concordists could in theory mine every word and concord with something. At the end of the day the text still meant one thing, and not another. Is the passage of Jacob having to work for Laban 7 more years really supposed to convey that “you cannot trust an employer (Fiddler on the Roof)?” My problem with concordism is that it breaks those rules, and any passage can mean anything you want it to.

My purpose in saying that “the text cannot mean something it did not first mean to the original audience” is simply to say that it had a meaning, and that meaning isn’t suddenly different now. I also think there is a difference between the prophetic literature, and a narrative of creation in a structured prose. But that is a more technical discussion.

I do essentially agree with you though, good thoughts. At least we can both agree the concordance is a bit off


Dunemeister - #70498

June 17th 2012

Concordism is a red herring. The issue is (a) What does the text say? (b) What did it mean to its original audience? (c) How much of that is relevant to us and in what way?

If it turns out that some beliefs of modern science “concord with” certain understandings of isolated passages of scripture, WHO CARES? The existence or nonexistence of these concordances will not impress nonbelievers or provide aid and comfort to believers.

In fact, concordism looks a lot like Islamic apologetics. Some Muslim scholars love to show how the Koran does what GBM does with the bible. Some Hindus also do the same with the Baghavad Gita. So what does this mean? That all these holy books are of equal value? Is that the conclusion GBM would draw? If not, why not?

My guess is he’d say not. My further guess is he’d say that the bible is “vindicated” or “authenticated” on other grounds. Well, I say: Stick to those other grounds and ignore concordances.


D.U. Litz - #70499

June 17th 2012

I agree completely, well put

 

Technically some ancient creation account would “concord” better in some spots. The Egyptian Hermopolis creation tradition espoused a type of “evolution” that would, if read entirely wrong, “concord” better with biological evolution we now know. But to read that ancient text in such a way is wrong. Thats not what they meant at all.


Joriss - #70506

June 17th 2012

 On the sixth day, Adam and Eve were created. If they were the result of evolution, how could they be good and sinless? Before they sinned, I mean?


Mark Edward - #70507

June 17th 2012

In Genesis 1, ‘good’ does not have to do with sinlessness, but with the created thing fulfilling its intended purpose; specifically, each created thing is to benefit humanity, which is in the image of God.

As a few examples: When God created the passing of Day and Night on day one, it is declared to be ‘good’ because they together fulfill it purpose of human timekeeping. When God created the Earth and its vegetation on day three, it is declared to be ‘good’ because they together fulfill their purposes of providing a place to live and food to eat for humans. And so forth.

This doesn’t mean humans weren’t sinless, just that Genesis 1 isn’t quite concerned with that topic (where Genesis 2 is).


George Bernard Murphy - #70508

June 17th 2012

Mark the ‘Light” and “dark” of day one might be the so-called baryonic matter “light” as distinguished from “Dark matter”.

 We now know the universe has much more of the dark matter, something like 96% of our  material universe is dark matter. We can’t see it and light passes right through it but it exerts a gravittional force.

The “day” and “night” used for timekeeping was created on “Creation Day” 4, by the planatery collision, which started the earth rotating.


D.U. Litz - #70509

June 17th 2012

Joriss,

Good Question. The Short answer is what defines “image of God.” This is debated, but I fall in the camp they [Adam and Eve] were sinless in the garden. So with that said, God placed a pair in the garden, they screwed up and sinned. I could see you then asking what about the “creation” act of them in chapter two, and at first glance it seems problematic (I thought the same thing originally too). But they make sense as archetypal statement (paralleled in the ANE literature, particularly Atrahasis). I reccomend reading Tim Keller’s articles on an evolution model on this site, or John H. Walton’s NIV Genesis Application Commentary. Also Tremper Longman III “How to Read Genesis” is a good introduction

 

Mr. Murphy,

You never interacted with anything I said above. I really do want to know how your view fits with my objections. I am willing to change my mind, but you seem to be saying the same thing over and over without actually addressing reasonable objections to the concordism you espouse.

p.s. the above concordism example for “light” makes more sense of “time” assigned a role or function, not the scientific explanation.

Also, even if it were true, did ancient Israel think thats what the text meant? If not, I cannot accept it because it feels like you are changing the meaning of the text. I was taught (at a baptist university who rejects evolution) that the text cannot mean something now, it did not first mean to the original audience.


George Bernard Murphy - #70511

June 17th 2012

Concordance with chapter 2 of Genesis is not as well worked out as concordance of chapter one is with cosmology.

 Chapter 2 is late in day 6 of the creation story [as told in chapter one], but the scientists have not done their part of giving us the facts.

There is one concordant fact about Eve being the “mother of all who live”.

Studies of the Y chromosome show that everyone on the earth today descends from one single female,whom the scientists call ,[fittingly enough,] “Eve”.

 This doesn’t mean she was the only female, she is just the one female who is in EVERYBODY’S FAMILY TREE!

You can google her up under “mitochondrial Eve”.


Mark Edward - #70510

June 17th 2012

George,

Unless the original audience of Genesis would have understood the text in the ways you’re proposing, I simply can’t agree with the interpretations you have offered. Finding a contemporary scientific cosmology in the text of Genesis 1 is just not a viable option, because it forcibly reads contemporary science into the text, and since science is continuously in a state of flux, such a reading will necessitate a perpetually revisionary interpretation of the text of Genesis 1.

Just to put it in terms of the above: we don’t ‘know’ that the universe has more dark matter. This is a hypothesis based on our ever-limited data. And even if we did ‘know’ this, we have zero evidence that such was how the ancient Israelites (or any generation after them, up to less than a hundred years ago) ever read the text of Genesis 1 in this way.


George Bernard Murphy - #70512

June 17th 2012

I think now they KNOW that there is more dark matter. The past decade has seen a lot of scanning of the sky with more to come.


George Bernard Murphy - #70513

June 17th 2012

Mark I wonder if the first chapter of Genesis was written for OUR GENERATION.

 The ancient Isrelites did not know whether it was true or NOT,... BUT WE KNOW!

GOD HAS GIVEN US THE TOOLS TO CONFIRM THAT GENESIS 1 IS TRUE!

 And it should give us faith that God inspired the words because at that time THERE WAS NO ONE ELSE WHO HAD THE INFORMATION.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70532

June 19th 2012

In my opinion the basis of Genesis 1 is not science, ANE or modern, it is theology, the view that God created the universe, which is not ANE.

The fact is that good theology lays the basis for good science and this is the true “miracle” or mystery.  That is, the LOGOS is the foundation of the universe.

Theology and science are separate and must be kept that way, but they are also interdependent in the way we understand ourselves and our world.


D.U. Litz - #70535

June 19th 2012

I would say Genesis One is in fact “ANE” because that the environment it comes from. It’s culturally defined whether revelation is given or not. The theology we get derives from the culturally defined text.

I agree with the latter half of you comment


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70537

June 19th 2012

D.U.,

Thank you for the agreement which I am sure is musch more important than our possible differences.

The point I am trying to make is that, while Genesis 1 does use a cosmology shared by the rest of the ANE, its theological worldview of Creation makes it very different and not in agreement with the rest of the ANE.  

In other words to best understand what God is telling us here we need to filter out the ANE cosmology to find out what is God’s message.  It is these differences, the theology of Creation, which is the revelation, not the science of the ANE.   

Again the theology of Creation is very much in agreement with today’s science, even if many scientists do not understand this reality.   

 


CF - #70517

June 18th 2012

Dr. Dickson,

I appreciated your earlier post and am in strong sympathy with the substance of this post regarding genre and in comparison to parable and apocalyptic. However, the sub-section on numerological reasons for reading Genesis 1 non-literally seems a weak and unconvincing case.

Like the Bible Code, Kabbalah Numerology, and other spurious numerlogical interpretations, this seems like a coincidence or seeking patterns that are beyond authorial intent.

I think there are strong reasons from the text itself to read the passage non-literally, but this is not one of them.


Dunemeister - #70550

June 20th 2012

The problem with this comment is that Old Testament scholars are unanimous on the point about the numbers (and when you find unanimity on a point of biblical scholarship, you should take note). We know that 7 has the meaning of “completeness”, and we find significant words and phrases used in multiples of 7. A numerologist would go on to say that these particular patterns themselves have meaning but Dr. Dickson and responsible OT scholars don’t, except to emphasize that “completeness” is important to the overall meaning of the passage. This can’t be denied, especially as it is supported, as you say, by other features of the text. The point here is not that one can magically ascribe meaning or power to the text a la numerology. Rather, the point is that this text is not a straightforward, journalistic history. These numerical patterns support that point but again, as you say, there are other features of the text that do that, too.


Craig Robinson - #70530

June 18th 2012

I believe Umberto Cassuto was the first to say that “Earth” and “Heaven” appeared 21 times in Genesis chapter 1:1-2:3 and it appears Wenham copied him. They were both wrong. Earth appears 21 times, the Hebrew word for Heaven appears 11 times, and the Hebrew word for Expanse occurs 9 times. Cassuto then included 2:4a to get another occurance of Heaven, thus 12 occurances of Heaven + 9 occurances of Expanse to get to 21. Problem is that by adding 2:4a, he then has to include another occurance of Earth, thus giving him 22 occurances of Earth. So it is best to understand that there are 21 occurances of Earth, 11 occurances of Heaven, and 9 occurances of Expanse in Gen 1:1-2:3.

And while certainly Genesis 1 has one of the most beautiful unsurpassed stylistic structures ever written, you can also find intricate structure, rhythm, parallelism, chiasmus, repetition, and number symolism throughout OT narrative prose. It is there if you know where and how to look.


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