Friday, February 26, 2010

structure of genesis 2‒3

"These are the generations of . . ." So begins many Old Testament genealogies (Exod 6.16, 19; 28.10; Num 1.20‒42; 3.1; Ruth 4.18; 1 Chron 1.29; 5.7; 7.2; etc.). Curiously, this same phrase is a significant textual marker in the book of Genesis. The specific phrase 'ēleh tōlĕdōt occurs eleven times in Genesis (2.4; 5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10, 27; 25.12, 19; 36.1, 9; 37.2). Technically, Gen 5.1 actually reads, "This is the book of generations of . . ." zeh sēper tōlĕdōt. Unlike the use of this phrase elsewhere in the OT, often tōlĕdōt's introduce sustained narratives in Genesis (2.4‒4.26; 6.9‒9.29; 11.27–25.11; 25.19–35.29; 37.2–50.26). So, Old Testament scholars recognize the tōlĕdōt's of Genesis as a significant structural marker.

Genesis 2.4, then, begins a new section in the book. Unlike Genesis 1.1‒2.3, which describes God giving function and purpose to creation, Genesis 2.4‒24 describes the God-intended function of humanity. Chapter 3 describes the human predicament and chapter 4 shows its ever deteriorating effects. Unfortunately, it is often assumed that these two passages represent two different and conflicting creation stories. Even if they do represent different creation accounts, which I have my doubts, they were put together in their final edited form. So, at least in the mind of the final editor of Genesis, these two narratives were compatible. I believe that a more sensitive reading of the text shows that the two narratives serve different purposes. The goal is not to harmonize Genesis 1.1‒2.3 with 2.4‒24, as many a Biblicist has tried. Instead, these two narratives, read carefully, look to make two different statements about God and humanity. Genesis 1.1‒2.3 is concerned with describing the function of the earth as God's sacred space. Genesis 2.4‒3.24 shows how humanity, the crown jewel of God's creation, was intended to function in the sacred space, how that intention was distorted and the ensuing results of distortion.

Within the tōlĕdōt markers of 2.4 and 5.1 falls the narrative of 2.5‒4.26. There are three distinct narratives between these markers: the Garden of Eden (2.5‒3.24); the murder of Abel (4.1‒16) and Cain's family (4.17‒26). The Garden story has two phases. First, there is the creation of man and his wife (2.5‒25). Second, there is the temptation and fall from the garden (3.1‒24). Following Jerome Walsh, Gordon Wenham suggests a "seven scene" structure that illuminates the passage nicely (Genesis 1‒15, 49‒50).

(1) 2.5‒17    Narrative    God is the sole actor; man is a passive character

    (2) 2.18‒25        Narrative        God is main actor; man minor; woman and animals passive

        (3) 3.1‒5            Dialog            Snake and Woman

            (4) 3.6‒8            Narrative                 Man and Woman (Centerpiece à eating the fruit)

        (5) 3.9‒13            Dialog            God, man and woman

    (6) 3.14‒21        Narrative        God is main actor; man minor; woman and snake passive

(7) 3.22‒24    Narrative    God sole actor; man is passive character

Scenes 1 and 7 are connected by the dust and garden. In scene one, man is shaped from the dust of the earth and "rested" in the garden (2.7‒8) to work and keep it (2.15). Then in scene seven, man is ejected from the garden he was supposed to rest in (3.24) and returns to work the dust he was taken from (3.23).

Scenes 2 and 6 are connected by four actors: God, man, woman and animals (the snake serves as a representative of the animals in the entire narrative). Both scenes are concerned with man's relationship with the rest of creation. In scene two the ideal is portrayed with animals being named by man and his companions (2.19‒20) as well as woman being man's perfect partner (2.21‒25). In six, however, this ideal is distorted. There is conflict between mankind and animals (3.14‒15), men and women are at odds (3.16) and the perfection of the Edenic environment is replaced with thorns and thistles (3.17‒19).

Scenes 3 and 5 are both dialogs concerning consumption of fruit from the tree of knowledge and its ramifications. Both occur in the garden though not in the middle of the garden near the tree of knowledge (3.3, 10‒11). In scene 3, the woman and the snake make three comments about the tree. First, the serpent asks, "Did God say . . ." (3.1). Then, the woman responds that she is able to eat from any tree except the one in the middle (3.2). The serpent challenges her claim and God's motives (3.4‒5). In scene 5, God asks three rhetorical questions: "Where are you?" (3.9), "Who told you?" (3.11) and "Have you eaten?"(3.11).

As the centerpiece of the story, Scene 4 stands apart. Man and woman are alone. Neither God nor the serpent appears in this scene. Adam and Eve's physical location has moved to the middle of the garden. The two choose to disobey God's only command and eat of the forbidden fruit. God is moved from his rightful place of authority and the serpent is elevated, Eve is deceived and Adam follows his wife's deception.

The good creation God intended is distorted into shame and brokenness. A story that ought to have paradise at its center has hell instead.

1 comment:

Thom Stark said...

You can't say that "different purposes" for the two accounts explain all the discrepancies between them. Yes, they serve different purposes. But they also have different chronologies. It's hardly tenable that one author wrote the same account twice for two different purposes, but did not think to make sure the same events in his own two different accounts harmonized with each other.

Just pointing out that they obviously have different purposes isn't enough.

But that said, acknowledging that they are clearly two different traditions doesn't ruin anything for you. You can still say, "The point isn't the chronology, but the theology of the narratives. The details are background to the point, vis-a-vis other creation myths from other nations.

The truth you're looking for is in the general thrust, not in the chronological details, and admitting that it is very implausible that the same author wrote both accounts is not going to undermine the case you've made here.

All that said, I would really like to see you wrestle with the other creation myths, acknowledge common motifs, see the influences, and discuss the implications of all that.

This post doesn't tell me much about you, and I'm way more interested in you than in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.