Sevens in the opening of Genesis

Another interesting thing I found in a JOT article I was reading about ANE cosmology.

The discussion was over the decision of where to put a section break. The Jewish textual tradition puts it between 2:3 and 2:4 instead of splitting verse 4 as some modern interpreters advise based on arguments from textual criticism. If you follow the traditional division, there is some salient numerology.

It seems to me that just the existence of such careful and intentional playing with numbers throws doubt on the argument we hear a lot that Genesis 1 is a straightforward narrative intended to record facts of natural history. Who relates facts that way? It seems clear to me that the text was designed to be very sacred, which makes the ideas some people have put out there that it was perhaps intended to be used ritually or liturgically to commemorate the inauguration of God’s cosmic temple more plausible.


Now THAT is numerology I find highly plausible – in stark contrast to the numerologies that purport to decipher or unlock deep gnostic secrets and prophecies.


Given the verse divisions are a modern invention, any idea how this numerology holds up if you use the Hebrew conventions of dividing the text into paragraphs? I couldn’t find anything in the article that addressed this.

The Jewish Study Bible says traditionally the first creation narrative ends after 2:4 [Edit: This should be say between 2:3 and 2:4, I had it wrong at first, and went back and double checked]. (Then the numbers work out, and they aren’t dependent on verse divisions, just sentences). Other people put the end of 2:4 as the first sentence in the second creation narrative, I gathered because of reasons related to the JEDP hypothesis.

Denis Lamoureux’s book contains a lot of information on the significance of numbers in the Bible. The one we are probably most familiar with is forty!

Right. And all of it makes it less likely that the six days of creative activity plus one day of “rest” are meant to be literal.

It is no coincidence that Enoch, the SEVENTH from Adam is the one who walked with God


The problem with 2.4a, from the source criticism viewpoint, is that it was later added by the redactor in combining the two creation narratives in order to smooth the transition between them.

That is the generally accepted view.

Some people suggest that since the “these are the generations…” is typically a heading, it may have been moved from the opening of Genesis to the end of the first narrative as a way of linking the first and second narratives.

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Note that NRSV, NLT, CEV, and CEB translations put 4a with the first account, not the second, so obviously there is not a unanimous vote in modern translation committees about the best place for the section break.

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Richard Friedman, probably the leading current proponent of source criticism, credits 2.4a to the redactor and 2.4b to J. He points out 1.1 and 2.4a use “skies and earth” while 2.4b uses “earth and skies”, showing the change in viewpoint from cosmocentric to anthropocentric as the text proceeds from the P version to the J version. He doesn’t address the very interesting question of whether 1.1 is therefore most likely also written by the redactor as an attempt to ‘bookend’ the first narrative. And, of course, the basic question of why there are two narratives at all is left untouched.

Interesting. Never thought about that. But it seems to me that this particular point doesn’t depend on the change in sources. The same observation could be made simply from a literary standpoint, since that is the overall change in narrative perspective from Gen. 1 to Gen. 2. Not criticizing Friedman. Just saying that you reach the same conclusion coming at it from a different direction. If that makes any sense. haha

I’m not trying to challenge source criticism, since I know little about it, but as someone who once made a living as an editor, it occurs to me that we should give a tip of the cap to the anonymous editor/redactor everyone talks so much about. I, for one, am convinced that he was a literary genius in his own right. (Not to mention inspired by the Holy Spirit …)

I went back and looked at the article and realized I had a mistake in post 3. It is having a break after 2:3 not 2:4 that maintains the number patterns. So the DH actually works fine with it, right?

The devil is in the details. But isn’t that what makes your translation work so much fun?

You have no idea.

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I can’t think in the morning. It is not fine with the DH either way, because the DH wants to split the verse the way the four translations I just mentioned do, which would mess up the word counts.

Having studied the creation narratives, the flood narrative, and the Sodom narrative for about 10 years, I can verify that your comment about the editor being a genius is absolutely correct. His apparent ground rules were (1) he had to present both P and J versions and could leave nothing out since they were viewed as sacred - but they could be rearranged; (2) he could add material to bridge, clarify, and correct discrepancies, and (3) most interestingly, he did add his own theology when he felt it was necessary. Probably his most interesting addition in the creation narratives was 2:10-14, the garden of Eden description - as I figured out myself and then found several commentaries also thought was very likely.

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Yes, it does. It also would show my comment that 1:1 might have been added by the editor is probably wrong since it would mess up the numbers. However, I found some of Roberts’s arguments rather weak. We all agree 7 is an important number in the Bible indicating completeness. However, he seems unaware that this concept arose in the ANE from the number of visible, moving celestial objects in the sky (sun, moon, 5 planets.) He also wants to take an ANE view of cosmology (with which I agree), but makes an exception for 1:1 which he claims shows creation ex nihilo. In reality, no one in the ANE or Greco-Roman world cared about the actual creation of the universe - matter, time, space. Given the chaos which dominated their ordinary lives, they wanted to know why there was any order at all - astronomical cycles, etc. That is what the ANE creations narratives were intended to answer. He also argues the DH is not supported by ‘conclusive evidence’, and therefore takes the traditional view. However, historical sciences almost always instead use the ‘preponderance of evidence’ test. And he ignores the fact that, except for conservative Jewish and Evangelical scholars, the large majority of biblical experts support versions of the DH.

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Yes, all good points. I suspect some of this might have to do with the intended audience of the article, which includes mostly people who fall on the “except for conservative Jewish and Evangelical scholars” end of the spectrum.

I was trying to get a little better grasp on source criticism the other day and ran across a Themelios book review on The Formation of the Pentateuch. I thought the reviewer’s summary was pretty good, but what do I know? Do you (and @Christy, and anyone else out there with a little knowledge to share) think it’s an accurate description of the state of things?

“This is an important book and to understand how it contributes to biblical studies, it is crucial first to remember the present state of critical scholarship on the Pentateuch. Currently, two main approaches coexist. On the one hand, many exegetes in North America and in Israel still endorse the Documentary Hypothesis, albeit often in a refined version. According to Julius Wellhausen’s hypothesis, four documents (J, E, D, P) underlie the Pentateuch. While this theory came under heavy fire during the last quarter of the twentieth century, some scholars (the so-called “Neo-Documentarians”), building on the work of their mentor B. Schwartz, have skillfully renewed it, notably J. Baden (The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012]) and J. Stackert (A Prophet like Moses: Prophecy, Law, and Israelite Religion [New York: Oxford University Press, 2014]). On the other hand, most critical scholars in Europe have long ceased to believe in the existence of E (the so-called Elohist document), and more recently in J, that is, the Yahwist (see e.g., T. B. Dozeman and K. Schmid, A Farewell to the Yahwist? The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation [Atlanta: SBL Press, 2006]). Accordingly, the main division in Genesis to Numbers is to be found between P (the Priestly work) and non-P, with some Deuteronomistic influence too.”