What the Text of Genesis 1–2 Reveals about Its Own Compositional Nature and the Beliefs and Views of Its Authors


The following is excerpted from the Conclusion to Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate (p. 117-120)

First, when the text of Genesis 1:1—3:24 is read and understood on its own terms and from within its own cultural and literary contexts, we notice that the text itself reveals that the beginning chapters of the book of Genesis preserve two creation accounts—that it is in fact a composite text. We furthermore saw in chapter 1 that being honest to this text’s composite nature and its stylistic, linguistic, thematic, and even theological differences revealed that its two creation accounts were penned by two different authors who held differing views and beliefs about the origin and nature of the world and of man and woman. We additionally saw that each one of these creation accounts expressed beliefs, messages, and worldviews uniquely tailored to the specific culture, geography, social setting, and time period in which these two texts were composed—one written by an educated elite priest of the postexilic period influenced by the literary traditions of Mesopotamia, and the other written by a secular storyteller of the days of yore in the land of Canaan. These stylistic and thematic differences, these competing authorial messages, beliefs, and worldviews were revealed through an objective reading of the texts themselves and from within their own unique cultural perspectives. That is to say the observable textual data and the conclusions drawn from them were reached independently of the reader’s religious or nonreligious persuasions. They are drawn from our object of study—these ancient texts themselves in their proper cultural contexts.

Second, we furthermore saw that the texts of Genesis 1:1—2:3 and 2:4b–24 revealed that not only did the authors of these two creation accounts hold differing views and beliefs about the nature of the world and of man and woman, but that these competing views and beliefs were shaped by each author’s different cultural and literary contexts. More specifically, it was observed how the description of the creation of the world and of man and woman presented in Genesis 1:1—2:3 was in actuality an explanation of how the world as its author and culture perceived and experienced it came to be. That with a proper understanding of ancient literature and the literary conventions employed by ancient scribes, we saw that what the author of Genesis 1:1—2:3 depicts the creator God creating is the world as it was perceived by its author and his priestly guild—not the objective world, but a subjective world, subject to the culturally conditioned views and beliefs of the priestly guild that composed this ancient document. So in the end ancient texts do in fact represent the views and beliefs of ancient peoples and cultures. This really shouldn’t have to be argued for.

Third, despite the ardent claims made by modern readers influenced by this text’s longstanding interpretive tradition, the text of Genesis 1:1—2:3 itself reveals that it is not the word of God, however one wishes to conceptualize this. I realize the alarming and sensitive nature of these conclusions, which I will address more fully below. But we must, as a culture, start acknowledging these texts on their own terms and that includes not only what they reveal about the beliefs of their authors, but also what they reveal about their own compositional nature and the literary conventions employed by ancient scribes in substantiating their beliefs. So once again what the text itself expresses are beliefs about the origin and nature of the world and of man and woman as they were perceived and experienced by its author and his culture. Indeed, the creation account was written in part to legitimate those beliefs and perspectives by presenting them as those of the creator God himself. Yet we saw that one of the literary techniques employed by our ancient scribe was to project or transfer his culturally defined beliefs and perspectives about the nature of the world, his cultural “truths” as it were, onto the deity of his composition so that in the end the god of Genesis 1:1—2:3 creates the world as it was perceived and experienced by its author and his culture. The words of the text, then, were shaped and influenced by cultural perceptions and beliefs held by this author and his priestly guild. They represent his beliefs and his culturally conditioned “truths” about the nature and origin of the world and of man and woman. This brings me to my next point.

Fourth, the textual evidence of chapters 1 and 2 combined reveals that what the author of this text was doing was crafting an image of God that coincided with and supported his own culturally shaped priestly perceptions and experience of the world. It is no coincidence that in this corpus of literature, and only in this priestly source, Yahweh is presented as advocating through eternal covenants, eternal laws, and other decrees the unique views and beliefs of the Aaronid priestly guild responsible for writing this text. The Yahweh of his composition, in other words, is a literary creation which he shaped in support of his own views and beliefs. Again, I realize the provocative nature of these conclusions, but the fact is that they are drawn from observing the textual data. If we were to compare the portrait of Yahweh and his eternal laws and covenants in the Priestly source with other texts of the Bible, with for example the book of Deuteronomy or Jeremiah, or even the writings of Paul, these conclusions would become even more evident. I’d also like to remind my readers that I am making no claims about God per se. I am not discussing God in any metaphysical, ontological, or theological sense. What we are doing here is simply noting the observable textual data and the literary techniques used by ancient authors and the conclusions this evidence leads us to draw about the text. In other words, we are talking about the text and the beliefs represented in that text, and that includes how our author understood and portrayed his god. Thus the text itself and all things in it are an expression of his beliefs, his worldview, his concept of God, and his culturally defined perceptions about the world. Our task as mature responsible readers of the twenty-first century is to acknowledge this, and to understand the hows and whys behind all of this. Being honest to the texts is our first and most immediate task, albeit perhaps the most difficult.

Finally, an honest reading of the texts of Genesis 1:1—2:3 and 2:4b–24 also revealed that the beliefs and unique messages of these two authors not only disagreed with one another, but neither do they support the belief claims made by Creationists about these texts and about the world! It was textually demonstrated that the claims of modern day Creationists in professing belief in the nature and origin of the world as depicted in Genesis’ creation account(s) were in reality feigned beliefs. Genesis 1 does not legitimate the claims made by modern day Creationists, both about the text and about the world. To the contrary, the text itself revealed that Genesis 1 legitimates its author’s subjective beliefs and worldview—beliefs and a worldview that no longer exist nor are shared by this text’s modern readers despite their convictions. Sure, a modern reader may believe in one or two of this text’s views, but on a whole we do not perceive, experience, nor live in the world envisioned in Genesis 1. It is a world that properly belongs to the elite ancient priests who penned this creation account.

In other words, the creationism touted by modern day Creationists is not biblical creationism per the text of Genesis 1! Their creationism, rather, is a modern invention, a sham, a gross negligence of the biblical text itself. They have come to value their own beliefs about the text and about the world above what this ancient text is claiming about itself, about the world, about the beliefs of its author, and ultimately about God as well.

All of the above conclusions were reached by reading and understanding the text of Genesis 1 on its own terms and as a product of its own historical and literary world—not on the terms nor contexts of later readers. As a result it should start to become clear that what the texts of Genesis 1:1—2:3 and 2:4b–24 reveal about their own compositional nature and the beliefs and messages of their individual authors clash with the claims made about these texts by later readers who forged new interpretive frameworks within which to read these texts. The claims that the texts of Genesis 1 and 2 are making, in other words, are at odds with the ideas and beliefs implied in these texts’ centuries-later label “the Holy Book.”

What the Texts Themselves Claim versus What Later Tradition Claims about the Text
When modern Christians claim that they believe in the Bible what they are actually saying is that they believe in the belief claims made about the text by later tradition, and not the unique, once independent, and competing beliefs and messages made by the Bible’s sixty some different texts and authors. . .

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