Barry Newman's Blog

November 17, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XIV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:19 pm

Final Questions

What is the Literature of Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 like?

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 has a simple straight forward aspect to it.  It has an introduction.  It then tells the reader how in six days God made the world, what the world is like and what various aspects of the world are for. It then has a conclusion.  Yet it doesn’t read like a simple novel with a plot that unwinds, meandering through various descriptions until one gets to the conclusion followed by a short epilogue.  It has fairly well defined structure that becomes clearer as day follows upon day.  Thus:

Day 1                                                                           Day 4

God acts:                                                                    God acts:

Light                                                                             Lights

Day 2                                                                          Day 5

God acts:                                                                    God acts:

The Sky that separates the waters                   Creatures who live in the Sea below the Sky and creatures who fly beneath the Sky

Day 3:                                                                         Day 6:

God acts (2x):                                                           God acts (2x):

Land and                                                                    Animals and                                                          

Land Plants                                                               Mankind who live on the land and eat the plants                                                               

As impressive as this symmetry appears we should not forget that the division between Days 1 to 3 on the one hand and Days 4 to 6 on the other, together with their parallelism would seem to be largely dictated by the author’s concern with, “formlessness” and “emptiness”.  This “formlessness” and “emptiness” are progressively confronted as “structure” and “functionaries” that make use of this structure, are made.  It should be noted that the works of separation that occur in Days 1 to 3 are not paralleled in Days 4 to 6, which are characterised as simply making use of the separation brought about on those earlier days.

Of course, “symmetry” is not all pervasive throughout the document.  Consider the use of the word, “tov” (good).

Day 1:                                                                Day 4:

God saw that it was good                           God saw that it was good

Day 2:                                                               Day 5:

                                                                              God saw that it was good

Day 3:                                                               Day 6:

God saw that it was good                            God saw that it was good

God saw that it was good                            God saw that all that he had made was very good

There is something close to symmetry here but it is not a strict application of symmetry.

In addition to symmetry, superimposed upon the structure is the mentioning of various matters a certain number of times – three times for example. There is the reference to God creating the heavens and the earth in the introduction in 1: 1, God creating the water dwellers and the birds in 1: 21 and God created mankind in 1: 27.  However “bara”, (create) in connection with mankind, occurs twice more in 1: 27 and again in 2: 3 in a concluding summary phrase.  Again, the notion of “time” seems to be dealt with in a special way on three occasions – in Days 1, 4 and 7 although that may be reading into the text, too much, the importance we tend to give to time understood in an abstract sense. God blesses on three different occasions – Days 5, 6 and 7. The writer may have considered that the number seven was a “special” number.  There are indeed seven days but the phrase, “and there was evening and there was morning” occurs only six times. The word, “tov” (good) occurs seven times, although one instance, as indicated above, is amplified by the use of the word, “very”.  The two words translated, “and God saw” occur seven times.  It may be true that the use of numbers regarded as special may have a certain attraction for the writer but as with symmetry such an attraction is not always strictly applied.

The text is also characterised by omissions which are probably not always to be understood as either accidental or deliberate omissions.  On Day 2, the “raqia” separating the waters, by implication only, creates “space” underneath it.  It is this space which is inhabited by the birds that fly under the face of the “raqia”.  The waters above the “raqia” receive some prominence on Day 2 but are altogether, even though understandably, ignored on Day 5. The birds of Day 5 are not referred to as living creatures, though all the water dwellers are, yet these together with the birds are created. It is possible that the birds were not considered as living creatures but this is unlikely.  The animals are “made”, though the water dwellers and birds are “created”.  The water dwellers and birds are blessed but the animals are not.  There may be special reasons for these apparent oddities and it could be argued that the author’s attraction for certain words being used a special number of times lies behind some of these reasons. 

In summary, my own position is that while the author writes with a certain framework in mind, mainly dictated by the making of structure where there was none and then the use of that structure, he writes with a certain liberty that avoids a slavish conformity to a rigid style.

(To be continued)


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