Genesis: Supplemental Lecture
The first of the 36 books of Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Old Testament, is
Genesis. It is also, therefore, the first book of the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, known as
the Pentateuch. Among other attributes, Genesis reflects a great deal of heterogeneity, or
multiformity. This means that there are numerous and diverse elements present throughout,
including style of narration, literary form, such as prose and poetry, and contextual issues.
As the first book of the even more vastly diverse anthology of textual material, it is necessary to
grasp Genesis as fully as possible, before taking on the rest of the Bible. One critical thing to
hold in constant view, is that the literary text evolved from oral tradition, or spoken narratives,
which were later redacted (edited), and finally fixed into canonical (accepted) order. This is
further amplified by the fact that the original text was drafted in ancient Hebrew, therefore, many
of the important stylistic features are compromised by the Bible’s numerous translations into
other languages. In our case, we are reading the English version of translations from Koine
Greek—the language of the Septuagint, which was the first translation out of ancient Hebrew
and Aramaic, into ancient Greek (Koine). Koine was the original language of the New
Testament. Subsequent versions of the Septuagint were St. Jerome’s translation into Latin, called
the Vulgate, and then Luther’s translation into German 1000 years later, followed by a variety of
English versions, most notably, the King James Bible.
We will refer to some of the styles by proper literary terms. An early example of the “triadic” line
(meaning 3 lines), is Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image,
In the image of God created he him;
Male and female created he them.
We will strive to read these texts paying close attention to literary form, theme, metaphor, etc, in
the larger goal of understanding the text, in order to react to it. By the time we finish Genesis, we
should have this technique firmly in hand.
Typically, we should notice when a narrative shifts to a more elevated style, such as the one
above. We might recognize, therefore, that the ancient writers and redactors sought to contrast
messages or information by changing the way they emerged from a smooth-flowing narrative. In
other words, anytime we encounter a change in form, with specific patterns like a triad, or “two
line strophe”, such as in 2:23:
This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh:
She shall be called Woman
Because she was taken out of man.
We should pay particular attention.
There are a couple of important things to observe in this two
line strophe: “This is now” signifies a conclusive tone, a resolution of sorts. Using the word
“now” implies a sense of time past, hence time present. The writer is suggesting that an act of
creation of this particular type requires a particular name. You will read in genesis that Adam—