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Monday, January 21, 2008

On Genesis: the text

From Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Context: Part 1," Theological Students' Fellowship Bulletin 59 (Spring 1971).

"...2. Content and formation of Genesis
While the narrative and genealogical matter of the whole book is of one piece, it is also possible on content (and in the light of later biblical tradition deriving Israel from Abraham-Isaac-Jacob) to look at Genesis in two major parts: the 'primeval traditions' of 1: 1-11: 26 (sections 1-6 above), and the patriarchal traditions of 11: 27: -50: 26.

a. The 'primeval' traditions.

Everything within 1:1-11:26 precedes Abraham in point of time. 2. Insofar as he came from Mesopotamia (Ur to Harran, then westward), the originals of this body of tradition could have come with him, and find appropriate background in Mesopotamia rather than elsewhere. This in some measure is clearly so, on the comparative Near Eastern data now available. To this background or 'context', there are two aspects: individual features and episodes in Genesis 1-11, and the 'primeval' tradition as a unit. A third aspect concerns not content but style and composition.
i. Individual features.
First, creation. The theme of creation, especially as the result of divine initiative, is so widespread that only the delimitation of very special common features would justify linking Genesis 1-2 with any other account. On this ground, the attempts made in the past to establish a definite relationship between Genesis and Babylonian epics such as Enuma Elish have now had to be abandoned; in content, aim, theology, and philology, there is divergence and no proven link."

I know this is old, and scholarship moves on as a continuing conversation, but Kitchen's views remain of interest.