CHXIII - XIII Genesis-a Book Written Backwards We do not...

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XIII. Genesis--a Book Written Backwards: We do not have the time, and my modest gifts suggest I lack the talent, for constructing a full-scale theology of Genesis. But since we've taken up the task of putting together a comprehensive theology of the OT, we should get to the "beginning" (Lat. Genesis ) sometime. We should begin by looking at the literary structure of Genesis. A close reader of these texts will readily attest that Genesis is probably the most disjointed book of the Pentateuch. This impression is probably due to the fact that it covers an overly ambitious sweep of salvation-history. While it is a highly selective history written with a rather specific group (Israelites) and rather specific goals in mind, Genesis also meanders, digresses, and jars in ways the other Pentateuchal books (generally) do not; this feature and the various variant readings, have made Genesis the chief quarry from which the documentary hypothesis and oral "traditions" theories of composition have been hewn. It seems enough for us to say, at this point, that the further from the life-situation of the Mosaic period Genesis progresses, the more fragmentary the narrative history of the Patriarchs becomes, and finally, when the Genesis narrative moves from patriarchal (Gen. 12-50) to primordial history (Gen. 1-12), historical narrative begins to take on a poetic quality as it seeks to communicate in summary fashion the Hebrew response to life's most basic and baffling questions: "How did we get here? What is life about? Who is God? Who am I? What does God require of me? Why is it so hard for me to do what God wants?" The inner, or theological dimension of the text emerges more and more prominently as the writer peers further and further into the distant past. Thus, the Joseph narrative, which stands in close historical and cultural connection with the Mosaic era, takes up a rather disproportionate amount of Genesis (17 chap- ters, ch. 33-50), while matters like the creation of heaven and earth, creation of humanity, and 1
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the origin of evil are treated in a compact three chapters. It would be a mistake to measure the apparent importance of those two sections by their literary length, but the odd juxtaposition of their length and their relative importance seems to beg for some sort of explanation; that explanation is perhaps best advanced by remembering the author's own location in Egypt, in the generation that followed Joseph's meteoric rise to prominence there. Joseph must have been a sort of folk hero to the enslaved Hebrews of the next generation. He was one of their own, who had risen to power and authority in Egypt, and who used his status there to save and provide for his people. The Joseph narrative also makes a suitable introduction to the Mosaic era. It provides the
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CHXIII - XIII Genesis-a Book Written Backwards We do not...

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