Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

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Genesis's Unity
The Shift in the Evidence
Genesis is a book about origins—the origins of the universe, humanity, civilization, Israel—and as such has generally been regarded as a form of history. But “history” is too narrow a category or genre for Genesis—it is not tied to simple factual reporting—and so it is now more frequently reclassified as historiography, the ancient mode of writing which, while portraying the past, communicated something larger. Even “historiography” is inadequate. Like the larger body of the Primary History, Genesis contains a transforming and crossfertilization of diverse genres (Damrosch, 1987, 41–47). Hence, while it is often permissible, for simplicity's sake, to classify Genesis as historiography, specifically antiquarian historiography (van Seters, 1992, 31, 34), it is necessary to allow that the full category or genre may be more complex.At times this possible complexity is forgotten. Genesis is classified narrowly, as history or as some specific form of historiography, and as such the book lacks unity.
Arguments against Unity
The main problems highlighted by modern research, the main reasons for rejecting unity, are as follows:
1. Variation in style and language. The initial description of creation (Gen. 1:1–2:4a), for example, sounds solemn and repetitious; but the further picture of creation, in the Garden of Eden (2:4b-24), is more colorful and down-to-earth.
2. Variation in the name for God. Variation in the divine name occurs even within the opening chapters. Compare, for instance, “God” (Gen. 1:1–2: 4a), “Yhwh God” (2:4b-chap. 3), and “Yhwh” (4:1–16).
3. Variation in viewpoint or theology. At first God seems elevated and distant (Gen. 1:1–2:4a), but then (2:4b-4:16) God is presented as anthropomorphic, close to humanity.
4. Repetitions and doublets. Some events are recounted not once but twice or even three times. For instance, Joseph seems to reveal himself twice (45:3–4), and an episode about an endangered wife occurs three times (12:10–20; chap. 20; 26:1–11).
5. Internal contradictions. Some contradictions seem slight, but others are glaring. The passers-by in the sale of Joseph, for instance, are de

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