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

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

on a given day, might suffer misery, but it was no vacuous city. Filtered through it was an extraordinary presence which, whatever the vicissitudes of history, was ultimately liberating and ennobling.

The flagship for this multivolume historiography was the book of Genesis. Genesis is one of the world's great writings, but in modern times it has been fragmented and trivialized—often reduced to a badly edited collection of second-rate historical sources. The fragmentation is double—inside and outside: it has been separated within itself (broken into parts, into hypothetical sources); and, to a large extent, it has been separated from outside literature. Thus, it has been both maimed and exiled.

The fragmenting process knows much, but it also misses much, and so becomes destructive. It is like a wonderfully clever genderless visitor from Pluto, which, descending to Earth through a morning mist, sees a brother and sister walking together across the fields to school. Endowed with great perception, it quickly catalogues the differences between the two, deduces that they belong to different planets—one to Venus, the other to Mars—and with great effort and care dispatches them on separate rockets to their planets of origin.

Aspects of this analogy are overdrawn, but its essence—the destructive separating of things from one another and from their primary context—is depressingly true. The two creation texts (Genesis 1–2) are indeed very different, but in the context of ancient literature they are also deeply complementary: together they represent the two basic literary forms for depicting creation (Westermann, I, 22). As such, and in their content, these creation narratives form a unity. But much modern biblical criticism was virtually founded on the separating of these two texts (Genesis 1–2), and biblical studies as a whole became contaminated by the example of that foundational barbarism. Here the present writer also has been guilty.

“Barbarism” is used here in a precise sense. Though plausibly reasoned and nobly intended, the fragmenting of Genesis entailed the de facto destruction of a great work of art.

However, the barbaric moment may be seen as a necessary phase. Ultimately, modern research is not negative. On the contrary, it is now having a very positive effect. It has led, in recent years, to two major streams of development, and these have begun to bridge the two forms of fragmentation.

The first stream concerns the alleged fragmentation within—inside Genesis. Genesis may indeed appear confused or broken—it has many variations—but there has been an increasing appreciation that the variations have a positive role: they are part of Genesis's literary art, and so the text begins to emerge as a unity (e.g., Fokkelman, 1975; Alter, 1981; Sternberg, 1985; Brichto, 1998).

The second stream concerns the alleged fragmentation outside—the separation from other writings. Genesis is being connected increasingly with several major bodies of literature, especially with antiquarian historiography, epic, and prophecy. Antiquarian historiography (including Greek historiography; van Seters, 1992) accounts partly for Genesis's literary form or genre. Epic (mostly

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