Critical Analysis of Genesis

9 September 2016

World Behind the text Historical and Cultural Context Genesis illustrates the way Biblical writers J (Yahwist), E (Elohist) and P (Priestly) drew upon the cultural and religious legacy of the Ancient Near East (ANE) along with its stories and imagery and transformed it to conform to a new vision of a non-mythological God and a monotheistic, superior religion. “The Pentateuch developed against the background of the Ancient Near Eastern culture first cultivated in and spread by Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires”.

From this, we can see how Israelite religion was “shaped by responses to and reactions against this culture due both to contacts with neighboring Canaanites and to conflicts with Assyrian and Babylonian empires”. Genesis 1:1-2:4a can therefore be said to reflect the “Babylonian account of creation, which we call Enuma Elish…known from at least 1700 BCE,” “predating the earliest text of Genesis by at least a millennium,” as both their structure and content are similar.

Critical Analysis of Genesis Essay Example

In both Genesis and the Enuma Elish, the earth is made up of water and is divided into upper and lower waters and the days of creation in Genesis follow almost the exact same order in the Enuma Elish. The Enuma Elish is recorded on seven tablets and the Genesis account is completed in seven days. The Babylonians created humans to serve as slaves yet in Genesis God creates humans in the likeness of the divine. The Priestly source penned the creation story “with the purpose of portraying both the beginnings of mankind and Israel in the spirit of a monotheistic concept with a didactic aim. This conveys the notion of a superior religion assuming Gods eternity; as Genesis 1:1 states that in the beginning, He created, not that he was created. It is therefore implied that at the beginning of time God was already there, and as nothing is created from thin air, we can conclude that God is omnipotent and his existence has always been, portraying him as infinitely superior to those Gods of the Ancient Near East who were created by other Gods. “The scope of Genesis 1:1-2:4 contains an entire portrait of the nature of Yahweh, over against all pagan claims. Implying that God is a being of infinite wisdom, power and absolute intellect, superior to those of the ANE. The passage was written for the Israelites to gain an understanding of their place within Gods creation and to explain the relationship between God and humans. Source Criticism The narrative occurs twice within the first two chapters, Genesis 1 is believed to be by the Priestly author or school of authors who referred to God as ‘Elohim’ because of their observance of and focus on the Sabbath, the establishment of the priesthood and various rituals.

Genesis 2-3 is seen as a doublet, or second creation story, tied to a different source, J, who referred to God as Yahweh. Whilst having a doublet of a story and various names for God used in both stories cannot be considered evidence for two separate writers, “when the doublet of stories line up into two groups where one group consistently uses one name of God and the other uses another, that’s strong evidence. ” When Israel went into exile under the Babylonians in 597 to 586, a school of priests seems to have gathered many of the cultic and legal traditions together. This priestly work, called P, thus formed a source which made the earlier historical accounts more complete. ” Gowan also believes that P wrote the first creation story to reflect a setting during the Babylonian exile, “after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587BC between the middle of the 6th century and the middle of the 5th century”.

Given that P writes with the purpose of showing Israelites that God has showed continuing care over them from the time of the origins of the universe and “was very concerned to give Israel a sense of trust in Yahweh’s goodness and fidelity so that they would not lose faith,” it is fair to assume that it was written during the time of exile when Israelites would be questioning their faith as a result of the significant and continuous hardships they had faced.

Further evidence that the author of Genesis 1 is P is that “the account of creation in Genesis 1 has the refrains and solemn tones of a liturgical prayer…it maintains an interest in precise genealogy lists, a task of ancient temple scribes,” and pays close attention to structure and the repetition of key expressions, having a powerful effect on the reader, a style of writing that would only have been used by the well educated at the time, pointing directly to priests. World of the text Literary Context

Genesis is the first of the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, written in Hebrew in Israel, interweaving many genres including myth, epic and history. “Israel’s Bible begins with an extended look at the world prior to Israel instead of assuming that the world began when it came to be. ” “Gen 2-9 is introduced by Gen 1 and carried forward by Gen 10-11. Gen 1-11 then is a single story, an unusually sustained “philosophical” and “theological” explanation,” explaining our relationship with God, our flaws and destiny and religious institutions.

Whilst P is the author of Genesis 1, Genesis 2 has been tied to J and differs significantly in its tone and focus. J writes almost as if it is a fairytale and where the P account focuses on the origin of the world with the creation of mankind as its climax, J “begins with Gods creation of the man, and describes how subsequently God builds up a world for his new creature,” creating the animals for the purpose of human companionship and giving humans care over the Garden of Eden.

This contrasts to P who writes that humans are to ‘subdue’ and hold ‘dominion’ over the other living beings. Furthermore, whilst P writes in a chronological and symmetrical structure, J has poorer structure and does not discuss the creation of the universe in as much depth and instead focuses on humans. Genre The genre of Genesis 1:1-2:4a serves as a ‘consciously planned’ historical narrative or genealogy, containing dialogue in the form of God’s commands of creation, climaxing with the creation of man in God’s image. It has an introduction (1:1), a body (1:2-2:3) and a conclusion (2:4a) and together a unit is formed. ’ Structure In this passage, the author is the narrator; God himself is alive. “We first encounter God in motion – His spirit moving across the face of the deep. The entire creation account can be read as the result of this motion,” with the climax of this motion being the creation of human beings in God’s image. In this way, humans are set apart from the creation of other beings, which establishes their role on earth and facilitates communication between humans and God.

The passage uses imagery throughout along with the repetition of ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ in order to divide the passage into its seven-day structure. Genesis 1:1-2:3 comprises of six paragraphs for the six days of creation with the seventh paragraph emphasizing the importance of the Sabbath, repeating the theme of seven. ”The account itself is organized into two parallel groups of three. In the first group, regions are created: night and day, firmament and oceans, and the land.

The corresponding inhabitants of these regions form the second group: astronomical bodies, birds and fish, land animals and man. ” Upon analysis of the seven days of creation, God created habitations in the first three days for the creatures created in the final three days. The phrase, “In the beginning God created” conveys the complete authority and ownership God has over creation and is a true introduction, one that condenses the essence of the whole passage.

The power that God has over everything he created is the essential message upon which the rest of the bible is built upon. The completion of the passage with the creation of mankind is a climactic end and shows the great importance placed on the creation of humans in Gods image to control and care for his creation. Literary Qualities There are various literary qualities present in the passage. Firstly, days one to three and days four to six are tied together by particular verbs. Days one through three use verbs of formation, “separate” and “gather”.

While days three through six use verbs of filling; “teem”, “fill”, “be fruitful” and “increase”. Furthermore, the first three days are concerned with forming while days 4-6 focus on filling. Also, day one and day four can be compared by the use of the key word ‘light’ as can days two and five’s use of ‘upper and lower waters’ in both their creation and inhabitants. These comparisons demonstrate the intentional literary composition of the creation story, “emphasizing the symmetry and orderliness of God’s creative activity. ”

P “presents God’s power, freedom and unchallenged control over the world by the calm and deliberate repetition of the basic formula ‘God said,’ ‘Let there be,’ ‘And it was so. ’” The repetition of these phrases conveys a message of the ultimate strength and powerfulness of God. The overall tone of the passage is joyous with series of solemn announcements and commands. The Priestly source also uses light as a metaphor in this passage as Maier states, “it is no accident that Jesus is called the light of the world. ” Religious Message & Purpose

The message of the passage is that God is the almighty and powerful creator of the universe and all beings within it, creating humans in his likeness to care for the world. “It concludes with the sanctification of the seventh day, showing that the Sabbath day is of such importance to the author that he associates it with creation itself; but he does not explicitly draw the law of the Sabbath from creation. ” The passage is set in the wilderness at the beginning of time, with the only character present in the passage being God, the creator.

He displays human qualities and personalities by resting on the seventh day, allowing humans to better relate to and identify with this Supreme Being who shows human weakness in the form of tiredness. The World in front of the Text Today, just as in ancient times, religion “helps us to define ourselves, making the world and life comprehensible to us. ” Humans find comfort in believing that there is something out there more powerful than themselves that has control over what they do and what happens to them and in this ense I believe that Genesis 1 is still relevant to today’s society. Both versions of the creation story were written with the intention of proclaiming the greatness of God and historically I believe the writers served their purpose, particularly during the time of the Exodus, creating “more than a story of Israel’s past (instead) creating a theology and purpose that explained the religious faith and spirit of the nation,” becoming the foundation for Israel’s future focus upon God’s love.

In ancient times, particularly during the Exodus, Gods creation and recreation of the world (the flood) and his renewed blessing after humans commit sin would have been important to remember during exile and would have given the Israelites grounds for new and continued hope. “It is easy to see that P moves the story of salvation along as a single historical lesson for future generations…weaving themes of blessing, promise, covenant and human response to god. ”

Upon such deep analysis of this passage I believe that it can still be interpreted in the same way today as it was originally intended, not in a literal manner but with an understanding of the greatness and power of God and his impact on our lives. Bibliography Achtemeier, Paul J. The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. Rev. ed. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 1984 Clifford, Richard. J. and Murphy, Roland. E. “Genesis. ” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

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