Genesis is an Epic with Epics


This is Part V of my review of the so-called Old Testament documentary hypothesis (the JEDP theory) and the book, Before Abraham Was: A Provocative Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis, by Kikawada and Quinn. All page references point to it.

Kikawada and Quinn take pains to show the thread of overpopulation and population control that exists in the various ancient creation stories (52n3). The flood would be the ultimate example of this. Taking population control as a central feature, they see the genealogies as coordinating concerns, especially when city builders and urban centers are in view. Cities come with the attending benefits of “civilization,” but urban civilization turns out to be an ironic disadvantage to humans.

Civilization requires population control, and thereby regards human life as just a qualified good. How appropriate then to attribute the origin of the city to the murder Cain, and other civilized arts to his descendants. And lest we think these descendants might not be as bad as Cain, the author inserts the taunt of Lamech, who prides himself on valuing human life even less than Cain (55).

Reading the line of Cain and the line of Seth, the depressing nature of Seth’s line (where the defining moment for each member is death), is to be contrasted with the high-culture of Cain’s line. There is a story embedded in the genealogical record of Genesis 4-5. Two cultures are present. One line is the City of God, the other is the City of Man. The City of God is populated with humans who call upon God, while the City of Man is filled with the somebodies — the musicians, the wealthy ranchers (Genesis 4:20), artisans and metallurgists.

Purposed Genealogical Records
In previous installments of this series, various arguments were given to support that Genesis was written by one controlling author. By examining the genealogies of Genesis the case will be solidified further. The names selected for the biblical records were just that, selected. Moses made a careful choice in how he wrote and structured the genealogies. This matches the careful construction of such lists in the ancient Near East where, ordinarily, the second name is the city builder (55).

Enoch is second in the genealogical listing of Genesis 4. He is listed after Cain. And here is the rub: Cain, the first in the line, is the city builder. We have an unexpected turn according to the ordinary customs of the ancient Near East. However, “as striking as it is for us to have Cain [the murderer] found the first city, it would have been even more striking to an ancient Near Eastern audience familiar with traditional genealogies” (56).

The result that Moses achieves is an attack on the City of Man. Population centers are demoted. If Cain is urban, then urban is the home of a murderer and his murderous descendants, “To summarize, the genealogy of Genesis 4:17-26 is an indictment of civilization… Ironically, this very genealogy has frequently been used as evidence in favor of the documentary hypothesis” (57).

Genealogical Problems?
The hypothesizers imagine that the godly line of Seth was inserted by the same editor that wrote Genesis 1 — while the sinful line of Cain was the work of the Genesis 3 author. The basis for this claim is that the two genealogies share names. There is an Enoch in both lines. But this is as easily explained by the fact that there were two people with the same name. If the presence of identical names in each line is an obvious problem, then why didn’t the supposed editors fix the problem?

Apparently the ancient editors were not as scrupulous as the documentary hypothesizers. And that gets me to my main criticism of this section: the documentary hypothesis is able to invent an endless array of editors and hypothesis to combat any truth. If the genealogies are fine, then they invent problems for them, then they get to be the academic heroes who find the answer. We must conclude that the ancient editors were not as clever as the modern hypothesizers, for the ancients could modify the Bible, they just couldn’t do it well. The truth of the matter is that there were no ancient editors. The truth is that the hypothesizers continually invent problems that don’t exist.

Sovereign Author
God knows every hair on every head of every human that lives. God knows how fast every car is going right now. He knows the trajectory and destiny of every atom in the entire universe. When we talk about God, we are talking about the one who concurrently sees every pixel on every computer screen. God knows about every raindrop that has fallen or will fall, the speed of each, and the exact time of their impact. He is entirely too complex to imagine. To suppose that this same God cannot publish a book is to think too little of him.

The documentary hypothesis is built around a small god who can’t even get 11 chapters right. No explanation about the shape of Genesis will satisfy these hypothesizers, for they know no truth that can’t be doubted. The problem of the hypothesizer is not the data, but the unconvertedness of their soul — regardless of their pedigree or their ability in Semitic languages. Moses knew Hebrew and he gets no respect from them, so being professors in Semitic languages is no basis for regard.

Genealogical Structure of Genesis
At the micro-level, Genesis 4 proved to be authored according to thematic intent and planning. Zooming out to Genesis 1-11 we find the structure consistently unfolds like a complex but balanced fractal. The genealogies of Genesis follow different formulaic patterns. The differences are not confusing, just different. In the end, the unfolding structure is one of stories held up at transition points by genealogical pillars. This, again, reveals a design and a designer.

Epics within the Epic
Genesis is a unified religious epic composed of smaller epics. It is a balanced fractal that shows unique beauty in its part and balanced symmetry in its whole. The epic of Adam and Eve is one. It follows a structure that fits in the ancient Near Eastern world. We should expect, then, that the Cain and Able story follows a similar pattern, as well as the story of Noah and Babel.

When we collect the first three of these epics into three columns and then examine the features, we discover parallels. They present a three-part outline that each of them follows.

when the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and Noah’s flood are viewed quantitative, we notice that the greatest portion of the narrative is spent for the stage setting part of the story in the Adam and Eve story; the greatest portion of the narrative of Cain and Able is reserved for the middle of the story; then, in the Noah narrative, we find the conclusion of the story becoming the story in itself and all the other parts being reduced to a brief prelude. So the interrelationship among three stories reflects a progressive dramatic development in three stages that can be observed even quantitatively (67-8).

With a kind of redactive method (where we compare the elements of one author’s three stories), the following interpretation is intriguing (even if not convincing):

The story shows how God tried the sedentary life for man, and it did not work [Adam and the garden]… And Eve wants to be wise…the highest product of civilization…And yet what happens when Adam and Eve try to become civilized? They become ashamed of their genitals. What does this shame signify? Perhaps that they no longer want to fulfill God’s command to be fruitful and multiply…. God’s curse on them associates procreation with the nomadic life…Since Eve was trying to avoid reproduction, her punishment is associated with it (68).

Many Epics
Babel is the final epic in Genesis 1-11. It is connected to the first. The “Let us make man” and the “Let us go down” are unique features that bridge the two. The command to be fruitful and multiply is balanced by the scattering of humanity so that they will spread across the face of the earth:

Genesis 1-2:3 tells how the cosmic divisions found their fulfillment in God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Genesis 11 tells why God decided that to make men obey his command, he had to create divisions within them (71).

Genesis shows structure at various levels. Genesis 1 can be organized according to a literary framework; days 1-3 can be aligned with 4-6 so that one more clearly sees the creation of realms and rulers. Likewise, Genesis 11 shows a framework structure. If we align Genesis 11:1-5 with Genesis 11:6-9 the story reveals ingenious design. If we could spill out beyond Genesis for a moment, it is worth noting that Genesis 11 is to be compared to Acts 2, for there the reversal of Babel becomes canonically thematic. There the hovering Spirit of Genesis 1 is found again, only this time it is a new creation merited by the works of a greater Adam.

The epic of Adam and Eve shows literary unity with the tower of Babel. Likewise, the relationship of Noah to Adam is one of unity. Noah is the head of a new humanity and stands as a new Adam and a covenant head. The instructions given to Noah echo the Garden mandate. Far from revealing the convoluted efforts of bumbling editors, Genesis demonstrates singular planning and deep thought.

What did we find when we looked at this internal evidence…? We found an author with such complete mastery over his materials (whatever their source) that it makes no literary sense to speak of him as an editor. The evidence commonly used to show that Genesis 1-11 is a literary patchwork does in our opinion–when closely examined and out in its proper context–support the view that Genesis 1-11 is a literary masterpiece by an author of extraordinary skill and subtlety. So much so, that when we think we find this author napping [i.e., sloppy in his writing] we had better proceed very carefully. As with Homer or Shakespeare, when you think you have seen something wrong, there may well be something wrong with your own eyes. (83).

In the next installment I will finish this series. I will present a brief commentary on Noah’s flood — highlights from the commentary given by Kikawada and Quinn — and speak to the documentary hypothesis as it applies to the rest of Genesis.

This article was published under Genesis, JEDP Theory.

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