Here are two excerpts from the most recent paper I worked on. They are my conclusions on two items: comparing the genre of Genesis with Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) Myths and trying to understand the function of genre for carrying out the theological themes Moses wants to communicate to the Exodus Community of Israelites (EXCI).
This is a straight copy and paste from my paper, so please excuse the lack of good writing introducing each excerpt.
When treated faithfully, Genesis as a whole exhibits itself to be historical narrative1. This genre “seeks to render a realistic picture of the world”2. For this reason, Cassuto notes Moses’ use of prose, which, “employs as a rule simple, not figurative, language, and weighs every word scrupulously”3. It is this mature dismantling of contemporary myths that leads Cassuto to say that Moses’ “language, … is tranquil, undisturbed by polemic or dispute” while yet “[setting] the opposing views at nought by silence or by subtle hint.”4 Only this sort of writing would fit the Hebrew understanding of Yahweh, as Lioy mentions, “the Hebrews deemed the creation of the universe to be a work of Yahweh ‘in history, a work within time.’ Correspondingly, ‘if the account of Creation stands within, time, it has once for all ceased to be a myth, a timeless revelation taking place in the natural cycle’”5. Indeed, Moses intended the EXCI to read the narrative of creation as a version of the event itself.6 The Genesis account is presented as “direct history with no evidence of myth”7, and thus is deserving of the full confidence of the EXCI. The overt temporal structuring of the Days, as well as the development within each of the Days (“and there was light … and it was so” 1:3, 9 etc.) gives the sense of an eye-witness account8. Moses presents his account of Yahweh creating the world as utterly trustworthy. The God who redeemed Israel out of slavery was not just a peculiarly powerful god, he is the Sovereign Creator of all that exists9. Only this sort of story could serve as the foundation for the faith of a community of ex-slaves wandering through the desert on their way to conquer a whole territory. If this God can’t act in history, what use is he when in the face of the giants of Canann, they “seemed to [themselves] like grasshoppers” (Num 13:33)? While it is clear that this genre serves as a historical certainty, its theological use still needs to be demonstrated.
Contrasting man’s duty before and after the rebellion in chapter 3 is instructive, both to further illuminate the contrast between Moses’ accounts with the ANE creation accounts, as well as further describe the nature of Israel’s calling. Much of what the ANE myths portray as the original nature of man’s life on earth is what Moses presents as life under the curse outside of the garden; they are missing the most important part. Indeed, as Wenham notes, “[m]ost important for an understanding of Genesis are the opening chapters, particularly chapters 1-2, which describe the world as it was first created, before humankind disobeyed: it thus serves as a vision of God’s ideals for the human race”11, and therefore, I would add, as the telos as well. Both the EXCI and the whole world are still responsible to fulfill their duty of extending the rule of God. If they are to do this well they must continue in their loyalty to God, especially as that loyalty relates to their independence and knowledge12.
It is important to note that the ultimate crux on which the whole story turns is the issue of loyalty to God, and God’s activity. God’s covenantal interaction with humanity is the central force driving the story before and after the fall. God’s commitment to his people forms the boundaries of human existence, and thus shapes the way the story unfolds. God’s gifts to man are the means of man’s rebellion. Yet, those same gifts are used by God’s fatherly discipline as he turns them into frustration. Since this is the central theological plan, it becomes clear that while Moses is committed to accurately portraying the historical events of Genesis 1-4, he nonetheless subordinates the choice of what events to include to his pastoral agenda. That is, Moses is not simply an historian, concerned with detailing the events. He is not less than historical in his account, but he is more than that; he is pastoral. As Lioy points out, “[h]e did not spell out with scientific precision the process by which the cosmos came into existence, but rather crafted an ‘artistic synthesis of history’ to spot light the divine Agent behind the process”13. Moses chose to include certain events, in a certain order, so that the full theological significance of those events might be clearly understood by the EXCI. One clear example of this is found in the genealogy of chapter 5 in which each person mentioned “had other sons and daughters” (5:4, 7, 10, etc.). As well, we are not told what sort of work Adam first set about to doing in the garden. We are not told how the Adam and Eve prepared meals, nor any of the other ocean of details which fill everyday life. Rather, Moses “chose incidents that effectively recounted what occurred as well as conveyed the ‘meaning and significance of what happened’”14. Every event, and every detail mediated to the reader through the text is essential for Moses’ pastoral aim.
1J. Sailhamer, Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 12.
2J. Sailhamer, 13.
3U. Cassuto, 11.
4U. Cassuto, 7. He makes an odd comment that the creation is not polemical. While he is right about its tone, he overlooks too much of the context in which the EXCI would read Genesis.
5D. Lioy, 29, quoting G. Von Rad Genesis: A Commentary (trans. John H. Marks, London: SCM Press, 1961)
6J. Sailhamer, 13.
7D. Lioy, 7.
8D. Lioy, 32.
9G. J. Wenham, Story as Torah (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 25.
11G. J. Wenham, 3.
12There is a wealth of literary contrast in chapters 2-4 that is well worth investigating. The climax of chapter 3 is the eating of the fruit; an act which demonstrates moral autonomy.
13D. Lioy, 31.
14D. Lioy, 32.