BT Conference paper on discourse structure of Gen. 1-2

I spent the last five days at the biennial Bible Translation Conference in Dallas. The last paper presentation I went to was an analysis of the discourse structure of Genesis 1-2 by retired Hebrew professor Andy Bowling.

I bring it up because I often hear from the YEC /OEC side that the only reason that someone would come to a “non-historical” view of Genesis 1 is because they are trying to “impose science” on the Bible or make it fit with ancient earth or evolution. This paper is another example of how that contention is wrong. The author is a conservative Evangelical who mentioned he recently visited Ken Ham’s Ark.

However, based on textual elements alone, the author concluded (somewhat hesitantly because he was obviously uncomfortable with being lumped in with heretics like us) that Genesis 1-2 “were never intended to be a single, chronologically ordered, historical presentation.”

His argument was that multiple textual elements indicate it is not a narrative text, but is rather expository. The analysis was based on the text structure and the use of a certain Hebrew word, wyyqtl, which has typically been indicative of narrative mainline. However, he presented evidence from other texts in Genesis where this word was clearly used for “ancillary” actions in a non-narrative context. He argued that the repeated Genesis 1 structure of a creative intent, followed by execution, naming, and evaluation is not attested in any other sequential/historical Hebrew narrative he has seen and that it is clearly a topical organization. He also noted that when you pair day 1 and 3, 2, and 5, and 3 and 6, the amount of text about doubles between the first member of the pair and the second. This is not a recognizable narrative structure (which usually follows a pattern of exposition/setting/participant introduction, developing action, peak, resolution).

He claimed the point of both chapters 1-2 was not to tell history, but to deal “with significant life issues of the Old Testament World as seen by the faith of the ancient Hebrews.” Even the parts that are sequentially ordered are first and foremost explaining the answers to “Big Questions.”

It follows then—I believe—that these two chapters give somewhat vague truth, but still truth about the universe which is as true now as it was then about those ages. But it is not truth that can be forced into the thought, cultural, or scientific patterns, or into the specific scientific dogma of any given age in the history either of pre-Christian saints or the saints of the post-Paul Church Age.

All that from a quite senior Bible scholar who has no ideological commitments to evolution or ancient earth.

11 Likes

I don’t suppose there’s a recording of this somewhere or a written transcript anywhere? That would be really handy.

2 Likes

I have a copy of the paper and permission from the author to discuss it here. It is kind of long (I haven’t read most of it) but if anyone would like to look at it, PM me with your email and I’ll send it to you.

1 Like

This bears repeating. Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the genre of “myth,” but providing answers to life’s “big questions” was exactly the purpose of ancient mythologies. In the ANE form, the capriciousness of the gods was the cause of human hardship, death, and toil. In the Hebrew form, human choice is the cause of our pain and brokenness.

I much prefer the Hebrew version.

2 Likes

I think it is very clear from the text that there are two creation stories with different orders and methods of creation.

The first creation story, Genesis 1.1-2.4a, has the order as plants, animals, man and woman. And the method is generally by God telling the earth to bring forth these creations. (It is interesting to me that atheists often see the earth as bringing forth.)

The second creation story, beginning in Genesis 2.4b, has the order as man, plants, animals, and woman. The method is God forming and God planting.

The moral of the first creation story is that people are stewards of the earth. The moral of the second creation story is that man should leave his parents and cling to his wife.

I see Genesis 2-3 as the complete 2nd creation story as it goes into Fall from the brief encounter with Yahweh Adam and Eve have in the Garden. I personally think that Genesis 2-3 is the oldest creation story and Genesis 1 was developed as a form of tabrenacle/ temple inauguration ceremony since Genesis 1 has a lot of temple inauguration symbolism in it (source for my point of view on this view from a brief overview from John Walton’s book “Lost World of Genesis 1” From Proposition 9 in the book.

Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration. The seven days of the creation account are the seven days of the cosmic temple’s inauguration. While the material creation of the temple is necessary, the inauguration is the important part, and this is the focus of Genesis 1. Genesis 1 may have also acted as a liturgy for an annual celebration that “reaffirmed creation, temple presence and royal election” which, although not attested to in the Bible, would be culturally appropriate.

Genesis 1 sounds like responsive reading to me, where the audience comments with statements like “and it was evening and morning the third day, and God saw that it was good.”

I visualize it around a campfire.

The second creation story, again around the campfire, includes a long list of animals (with the length depending on how long it is before bedtime) of the form “and God brought the snail to Adam and said ‘is this animal a suitable partner.’”

1 Like

Never thought of it that way. And yes I can see the creation stories being passed via oral tradition until the time of Moses in which they got first written in whatever proto-Hebrew text they had writing it down with.