Discovering Literary Sources
Genesis is still a good place to begin reading the Old Testament. And Genesis 1–9 is a suitable location in the Pentateuch to illustrate the process of literary criticism. What literary sources and characteristics can be isolated in these chapters by using the techniques of literary analysis introduced above? What contributions to the understanding of this crucial portion of the Scriptures are made by such an analysis? These are the basic questions to which we shall address ourselves in this chapter. The general categories for investigating the literary evidence involved will be those of style, terminology, and perspective. Under the first category we shall consider writing technique, structural arrangement, and use of language. Under the second we shall give attention to recurring terms, names, key expressions, and clusters of words. Under the third we shall focus upon the central thrust, outlook, or vantage point of a specific section.
A search for oral forms or preliterary traditions may operate with much of the same evidence and some of the same methods demonstrated here. The recognition of a literary source or literary tradition, however, demands that we uncover a continuity of related literary evidence in an extended sequence of passages. The plausibility of a literary hand depends on the evidence of a common style, a related set of terminology, a generally consistent perspective, and/or a literary superstructure over a series of literary contexts. Such is the broader task of literary criticism. By a simple inductive study of Genesis 1–9 we plan to illustrate this process and isolate the evidence for two major literary sources.
Differences in literary style are sometimes easier to feel than to define. The listener in the pew can often recognize the difference in the style of one preacher from that of another without being able to verbalize the precise nature of the difference. One preacher may employ a conversational approach while another may operate as a dramatic herald.