Creation in Genesis 1-3 (Part 2b–Literary Analysis)

In the last segment I discussed where certain literary and narrative divisions exist in Genesis 1-3. For instance, I previously noted that the narrative section which begins in Genesis 1.1 most likely ends at Genesis 2.4a. Additionally, I noted one crucial literary feature of this first creation account, namely that it is broken into seven one-day intervals (i.e., a one week period). Furthermore, I briefly noted that there is a further significant literary division between days one through six which describe God’s physical creative activities (each of which ends with the formulaic phrase “(And) there was evening and there was morning, day…”) and the seventh (and final) day which is the pinnacle of the account and which describes God’s sanctifying the seventh day. Having noted these literary markers and narrative boundaries, I shall now further explore other literary devices which structure the first creation account’s six creative days, and analyze their implications concerning Israelite beliefs about creation.

My primary question in this part of the essay is: at what point in the text does God’s creative activity during day one actually begin?[1] It is clear that every other day of creative activity in the story (days two through six) begins with the formulaic phrase “(And) God said, ’Let…’”, since the formulaic phrase “(And) there was evening and there was morning, day…” decidedly ends each previous day of creative labor and always immediately precedes the former phrase. Where, then, does the description of God’s creative activity for day one–which day, for the author of this account, is the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth–start? Given what I have just noted, it almost certainly begins in verse three where the formulaic phrase of creative initiation occurs for the very first time: “And/Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” This, in turn, encourages us to see Genesis 1.2 as part of the introductory material which begins with the temporal clause introduced by the preposition bereshit in verse one. Thus, Genesis 1.1-2, which describes the pre-creation state of the cosmos, parallels Genesis 2.1-4a, which describes the state of the earth following God’s creative activities and narrates God’s rest from his labors. This parallel coincides, significantly, with the fact that certain noteworthy formulaic words and phrases that structure the six days of creative labor are missing from these two literary units. Such other important words and phrases that provide structure for the intervening material, but are missing from Genesis1.1-2 and 2.1-4a, include “it was so” (vv. 7, 9, 11, 15, 24 and 30), “(And) there was evening and there was morning, the…day” (vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31), as well as God’s seeing in vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25 that his acts of creation were “good” (or the emphatic “very good” after the last act of creation, namely that of humankind on the sixth, and final, day of creative labor in v. 31). That these formulaic words and phrases are missing from Genesis 1.1-2 and Genesis 2.1-4a reinforces the conclusion that Genesis 1.1-2 serves as introduction to God’s creative acts–which begin in verse 3–by describing the pre-creative state of the cosmos, just as Genesis 2.1-4a, on the other hand, is post-creation narrative. These two sections thus provide a literary bracket for the actual acts of physical creation, which creative acts first begin on day one (starting in verse 3) and continue on through day six (ending at verse 31).

Furthermore, I previously discussed on grammatical grounds that Genesis 1.1 begins with a temporal clause introduced by the preposition bereshit, and this synchronizes comfortably with my preceding analysis of the literary evidence since, as I shall discuss in a future segment, Genesis 1.3 flawlessly fulfills the syntactical role of apodosis in the sequencing of the temporal construction. However, if Genesis 1.1 were introducing an absolute statement of creation, the literary details of the narrative just discussed (and those to be discussed just below)–which details strongly indicate that verse three represents God’s first creative act on day one towards the cosmos–would have great difficulty being reconciled with God’s supposedly having made the “heaven(s) and earth” in verse one, since one of the creation of the heaven(s) and earth themselves would have to be placed prior to God’s first creative act towards the cosmos on day one, thus falling outside of the deliberate literary markers which the author has specifically used to define the intervals of God’s procession in creating “the heaven(s) and the earth”. For the author of this narrative, however, God’s act(s) of creating “the heaven(s) and the earth” are encompassed only within a six day sequence, and this sequence of creative days does not begin until verse three.

Moreover, there are yet further important indications that Genesis 1.3 serves as the actual beginning of God’s creative activity for day one. As noted, there are six days of physical creative activity, each of which begins and ends with rote formulaic phrases. Each day describes the creation of various elements in the cosmos. As has been noted by biblical scholars, the elements created on each day may, significantly, be divided into two parallel groups, as represented in the following table.

Pre-creation

Day 1: Light

Day 4: Luminary bodies

Day 2: Sky/Heaven & Water bodies

Day 5: Birds and fish

Day 3: Land and Vegetation

Day 6: Land animals

Post-creation

The preceding symmetrical arrangement gives further indication that the first day of creation actually begins with “light” in verse three, since the creation of light on day one parallels the creation of the luminous heavenly bodies in day four. Thus, the preceding table supplements the conclusion mentioned earlier that the information provided in Genesis 1.1-2 precedes the beginning of God’s creative acts, since, as a pre-creation introduction to the narrative of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, this section parallels the post-creation narrative of Genesis 2.1-4a. Overall, the preceding arguments are significant because the chaotic material described in the pre-creation introduction in Genesis 1.1-2 demonstrably precedes God’s first creative act and is not placed within the days of the creation of the cosmos. Therefore, it is most adequately seen as primeval and pre-existing by the author.

Finally, that Genesis 1.1-2 is pre-creative narrative and Genesis 2.1-4a is post-creative material may perhaps be further demonstrated by other literary or stylistic features that they hold in common. One clear literary device used in both passages is alliteration. I will provide a transliteration of each relevant part to illustrate. For instance, Genesis 1.1 begins alliteratively with the words bereishit bara, each of which begins with the same three consonants. Genesis 1.2 then describes the pre-creation state of the earth as tohu wa–vohu and also describes God’s wind hovering over the chaotic waters as ruach merchphet. In comparison, in Genesis 2.2-3 the words used for “seventh” (hashevi’i), “to cease” (shavat), and “to make/do” (‘sah) are alliterative as well.

I believe, then, that all of these factors, in combination with what has already been discussed, converge to show that God’s creative labors begin in verse three, with verses one and two as an introduction describing the chaotic preexisting state of the cosmos.

Notes

[1] For the discussion that follows I have drawn from Marc Zvi Brettler’s, How to Read the Jewish Bible (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 38-42 and Bernhard W. Anderson’s From Creation to New Creation, OTB (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 42-55.

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3 responses to “Creation in Genesis 1-3 (Part 2b–Literary Analysis)

  1. Rob Osborn

    The narrative of the creation as you say ending in 2.4a is in my opinion wrong. Up through 2.4a God is giving the account of the creation of the earth in preparation for life to be placed upon it. Up to this point, there is no plants growing on the earth, there is no breathing fleshy life upon the earth, it has not even rained upon the earth yet. Then beginning in 2.5 it explains what was done previously in the six days of creation and that it wasn’t the literal placement of actual living growing fleshy life on the earth- that was yet to come!

    Then in verse 2.6 it explains that God caused it to rain for the first time and the seeds planted previously in the ground began to grow. 2.7 then explains that God forms Adam from the dust of the earth and becomes the first flesh upon the earth- before any of the animals. Then in 2.8 God plants a garden eastward in Eden and puts Adam into the garden. This is all taking place on the seventh day. After this God then forms fromt he dust of the earth all of the animals and brings them to Adam to see what he will name them he being the Lord over the creation of the living being the first flesh on the earth.

  2. Rob,

    I appreciate your engaging my post. However, for the reasons that I have discussed above, as well as in my post on the Documentary Hypothesis and Genesis 1-3, it is quite clear, in my judgment, that there are two separate sources that are standing next to each other in these chapters. Thus, what I am saying in the post above is that the first creation account ends in Genesis 2.4a, while the second creation source continues thereafter. If you want to see these two sources ultimately as really only one united source, you have that right–I don’t think this really changes my analysis above which was directed at determining where the first act of creation occurs on day one.

    However, as far as I can tell, there is no intimation from the first account which I marked out that God is merely preparing the earth for life to be placed upon it at a later time; rather, this is a literarily separate account relating its own narrative of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. Moreover, I would like to know what specific textual evidence from the second account you think supports your claim that “beginning in 2.5 it explains what was done previously in the six days of creation and that it wasn’t the literal placement of actual living growing fleshy life on the earth- that was yet to come!”?

    Simply, I think your mistake in reading these chapters is the same mistake that has been made for the majority of Judeo-Christian history, namely that of reading these two accounts as though they were really just one united literary account. Again, I recommend you reread my post on the Documentary Hypothesis and Genesis 1-3. It can be found here. I also recommend you read the prior segment of this series if you haven’t already.

    As I argue in those posts, I think it is an unsustainable position that what occurs in the second creation story is merely an expansion or continuation of the first account. I simply disagree with your assertion that “[t]his is all taking place on the seventh day,” since day seven according to the first narrative is reserved for God’s resting from creative activity! You are welcome to believe such ideas, but I think they are clearly contradicted by the textual evidence, both literarily and terminologically.

    Thanks for your participation here at FPR though!

    Best wishes,

    TYD

  3. theophilus lamptey

    how one proof the existence of the world using the metaphysical theory?