1 ABN 32 005 425 203 CRICOS Provider No: 01037A Unit Title: Entering the World of the Old Testament: Survey & Method Unit Code: BA1000Y Undergraduate Unit Credit Points: 18 Points Assessment Task 1: Write an exegesis of Genesis 1:1–2:4a (1300 words) Student: DUC TRUNG VU Student ID: 201821386 2nd Semester 2019 2 I. Introduction The chapter 1:1-2:4a of Genesis is a significant text which has strong influences on the history of humans. This essay will focus on the exegetical aspect of the text to find out the message that the text really conveys. II. Text criticism This exegesis is based on the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV) with the textual variant as follows: Vv.1:1: When God began to create or In the beginning God created Vv.1:2: While the spirit of God or while a mighty wind Vv.1:26: Humankind in Hebrew is Adam And over all the wild animals of the earth: other ancient text reads “and over all the earth.” Vv. 1:27: Heb him III. Source criticism This chapter is usually attributed to Priestly tradition.1 The first reason is that the text emphasizes God’s majesty and the order of creation. In addition, the generic name of God in this chapter is always and only referred as “ֹלהים ִ ֱ ”אrather than “יהוה.” Thirdly, the text also emphasizes the lawful perspective. Verse 2:3 highlights the sacred time of the seventh day which is revealed later to Moses as a sign of the Sinai covenant (Ex 31: 12-17). Observing the Sabbath is significant for exiled people because it is an act of announcing their belief in God and rejecting other gods.2 Fourthly, another distinctive character is that the text is concerned about the identity of God’s people. They are different because the God they worship is the Creator of the whole 1 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, Old Testament Library (London: SCM Press, 1961), 47. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), 35. 2 3 universe, not just the sun or the moon or even seamonsters – the common deities of the neighbouring nations. Futhermore, Walter Brueggenmann points out that the text is addressed to the exiled people around the sixth century B.C. To be more specific, its function is to be a ground for faith in the God of Israel when the experience of exile in Babylon seems to deny God’s transcendent power. Against the belief of the Babylonian religion, the text declares firmly that the God of Israel is the Lord of all life and “Yahweh still watches over his creation and will bring it back to well-being”.3 Overall, these theological issues indicate the author belongs to Israel’s priestly Holiness School.4 IV. Form criticism Genre: Geogre W.Coats calls this chapter the primeval saga which provides a narrative report of creation events.5 However, Clause Westermann argues that the text contains a fusion of prose and poetry. It is a report or narrative about the Creation and it is also a poetic text because its language is metered and rhythmic as a result of constantly recurring phrases.6 Similarly, Water Brueggenmann considers Gen 1-2:4a as a poetic narrative and insists that the text is used in liturgy. 7 In my opinion, I prefer the opinions of Brueggenmann and Westermann to call Gen 1:1-2:4a a rhythmic poetic narrative. Structure: The text begins with asserting that the premise of all biblical faith is about God’s creation (vv. 1-2). In particular, God is the creator of the whole universe. Then follow a 3 Brueggemann, Genesis, 24-25. Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 30. 5 George W.Coats, Genesis with an Introduction to Narrative Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 44. 6 Claus Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary trans. John J.Scullion S.J. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987), 90-91. 7 Brueggemann, Genesis, 22. 4 4 long section covering six days of creation (vv.3-31). This section can be divided into three subsections: Three separations (vv.1:3-10), four other creations (vv.1:11-25) and the creation of the human race (vv.1:26-31). Finally, the institution of the Sabbath (vv.2.1-4a) culminates the whole process of creation.8 Sitz im leben: In the oral stage, the creation narrative was narrated and handed down as individual stories. In the second stage, the narrative had a new setting as a solemn overture of the priestly work. It functions as a hymn. It might be recited on occasions such as the rites of passage or cultic festivals.9 Mood: The repetition of phrases creates a solemn atmosphere for the text. The flow of development through seven days makes the readers feel the intensity of creation. To some extent, it can be compared to a drama. The text is organized to express the order and majesty of God and God’s creation. V. Literary Criticism This chapter is a prologue of Genesis and it lays a solid foundation for the Pentateuch and the whole Bible as well. In particular, it belongs to the primeval narratives of chapters 1-11 which present a universal backdrop to the history of Israel. Chapter 1-2:4a is followed by another narrative about creation (2:4b-3:24). Those creation narratives are two complementary portrayals of creation. VI. The meaning of the text Verse 1:1-2: In the beginning 8 9 Brueggemann, Genesis, 29-35. Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary ,91-93. 5 The opening words of Genesis lay a solid foundation for understanding the origin of the universe and God’s relationship with humankind. The phrase “in the beginning” translating from the phrase “ ֹלהים ִ ֱ בָּ ָּרא א,אשית ִ ” ְּב ֵרleads to the traditional idea of creatio ex nihio ( creation out of nothing.”10 However, the Hebrew syntax does not support this idea. Simply, the phrase is understood as “when God began to create.”11 Verse 1:3-10: Three separations The order of time and space comes from three acts of separation: the alternation of day and night (vv.1:3-5), the creation of the firmament (vv.1:6-8) and the division of water and land (vv.1.9-10). Light, the first-born of creation, is created by God’s effective word. The separations make it possible for creatures to live on the earth. Verse 1:11-25: Four other creations The purpose of the author is not to describe how creation occurs but to convey the fundamental idea that: the whole universe is created by God’s hand. For example, the sun and moon are important deities of the ancient Near East, however, the use of phrases “greater light” and “lesser light” indicates that they are merely physical objects of God’s creation. 12 It is noticeable that on the fifth day, God declares a blessing for the first time (vv.1:22). Verse 1:26-31: The human race The last and climactic act of God’s creation is in creating the human race. It starts solemnly with God’s decision: “Let us make humankind in our image.” The plural “us” refers to 10 Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary, 93. Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, 51. 12 Arnold, Genesis, 42-43. 11 6 the lesser deities which are described in other biblical texts.13 The Hebrew word “ ”אךםis a collective noun and literally equals to “humankind.”14 Verse 2:1-4a: The seventh day, God’s rest The seventh day is sacred because God rests from work on that day. Through the sanctification of the Sabbath, people can refresh and commemorate God’s rest as a sign of the covenant. VII. Conclusion As shown above, chapter 1:1-2:4a is a poetic narrative which functions as a story about God’s creation or a liturgical song. However, its purpose is not to explain how the world is created but to convey the key notion: God is the creator of the whole world. God created everything and humankind is the highest point of God’s creation. 13 Claus Westermann, Genesis : A Practical Commentary, Text and Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), 11. 14 Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, 57. 7 Bibliography Primary source: Hendel Ronald. “Genesis.” In The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2nd ed., edited by Harold W. Attridge, 3-82. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Secondary source: Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982. Coats, George W. Genesis with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983. Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis : A Commentary. Old Testament Library. London: SCM Press, 1961. Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary Translated by John J.Scullion S.J. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987. ———. Genesis : A Practical Commentary. Text and Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1987.