Genesis 1-25 takes its readers on a hundreds of years journey from the beginning of time up to Esau selling his birth right to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. As I read through the first 25 chapters of Genesis, something I’ll admit to not have done consecutively for quite a long time, I was mainly taken aback by the, not one but two, accounts of creation.
It’s a great puzzle to me what the point is to having two similar but different accounts. Why are they both there? Is it a fluke? An accident? or every bit intentional? This is something that has always puzzled me. Creation is a serious topic to mankind; in fact I’d even venture to say that it’s the topic of mankind.
Man is always working to answer the questions: Where’d we all come from? What is our purpose? How’d we get here? Science has been advancing since the beginning of time trying to uncover these answers. Theologians have studied scripts and thought trying to reason their way into the answers. Religions have created stories to fulfill these answers. Mankind is striving to figure out what happened that brought us to where we are now. So what’s with the two different accounts of creation in the Old Testament?
I’ll admit to not knowing any religions outside of Christianity much at all, so I wonder if they have different accounts of the creation in their texts. I don’t imagine it’s common – or wise – for the authors of religious text to propose two different accounts of creation. That seems to be a recipe for mayhem amongst believers. My assumption is that the authors of religious texts write to ‘enlighten’ their believer’s and not confuse them. (But then again, that may not be the case.)
The previous assumption, and the assumption that Genesis 1 and 2 were written by the same author, which I have heard no argument that has yet convinced me they weren’t, leads me to think that it was not a fluke that Genesis 1 and 2 are chronologically not in sync. After all, it’s highly unlikely that the author would write Genesis 1 and then just accidentally get the order flipped around in Genesis 2. In the simplest of revisions, he would have noticed his mistake and corrected the sequence. But then why?
I was reading an article “Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis?” by Wayne Jackson on ‘Apologeticspress.org’ to find out some opinions of the two accounts in Genesis. Jackson describes the first account of creation as a narrative that climaxes with the creation of man, while the second account gives a detailed explanation of the process described in chapter 1. This is a literary technique termed “recapitulation.”
“This type of procedure was not unknown in the literary methodology of antiquity. Gleason Archer observed that the “technique of recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. The author would first introduce his account with a short statement summarizing the whole transaction, and then he would follow it up with a more detailed and circumstantial account when dealing with matters of special importance” (1964, p. 118). These respective sections have a different literary motif. Genesis 1 is chronological, revealing the sequential events of the creation week, whereas Genesis 2 is topical, with special concern for man and his environment.”
Marc Brettler in his interview on NPR about How to read the Jewish Bible stated that the first account of creation seemed pristine, perfect, and therefore unbelievable, but that the second account was more like the world he knew – a world of trial and error. Can this literary technique in Jackson’s article coincide with Brettler’s opinion that the second account is more realistic? If the second is more realistic isn’t it much more likely that its events were written with chronological intent, making the first some type of literary device?
I remember discussing this chapter with a woman, Sarah Parham, who is studying at Asbury Theological Seminary the last time I read Genesis, and had questions about the two accounts. Her opinion seems to make the most since to me of everything else I have heard thus far. She would agree with Jackson that Genesis 1 is some literary device, and she would agree with Brettler’s claim that the 2nd account seems more like earth we know now and is a more believable creation story. Parham see’s the first chapter of Genesis 1 to be a literary device that is equivalent to the opening narrator to a theatrical production. She says that the style of the writing by the repetitious and the, almost, poetic flow creates this sensation of a grand narration to a fantastic story. Chapter 2 then would be the opening scene, not Chapter 1.
This analysis has been the best explanation I have found for the literary discrepancies between the chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis, and I am extremely curious to learn more about these first two chapters.
As for the rest of Genesis, it was not as intriguing as the first to chapters for me, but it still contains its own peculiarity. Something else I would like to discuss in class is the style of the stories in the Old Testament and the purpose of the genealogy explanations between almost every story. These genealogies appear to be a break time; the end of one story and a segue into another. I’d like to know the purpose of this. Is it just a popular literary technique at the time, or is it culture, or is there a point to it in the stories?
While reading through the chapters of Genesis, I also realized that some of the ages appear a little inconsistent with time. Specifically in chapter 17 Abraham circumcises himself and his son Ishmael who was 13.
“Then Abraham took his son Ishmael… …and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins on that very day… …and his son Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin” – Genesis 17: 23, 25
However in chapter 21 Ishmael is only a baby when Hagar left him to die under a bush. I know that the author of Genesis is at best speculated but I wondered about the disjoint chronologically between chapters, and if this inconsistency insinuates that Genesis has multiple authors?