Period Described, Written      
Exd & Cnq


Genesis: The Primeval History

The Bible begins with Genesis, a name that means 'beginning' or 'birth.' Appropriate, since:

  • Gen. describes the origins of humanity, & the origins of  peoples w/ whom the Israelites had contact.

  • also contains genealogies describing the interrelationship of different races and peoples.

Genesis 1-11 = Israel's "prehistory"-

  • the primeval history is history before recorded time.

  • how can this be?

  • The PH is essentially mythological. Meaning?

    • the term 'myth' (Gk: μυθος) is complicated:

    • to us, it typically means 'false.'

    • but in antiquity, myths were stories intended to relate timeless truths in narrative form.

      • They were ahistorical-

      • transcending any specific context, b/c they were seen as true for all peoples at all times.

      • Still, these stories are inspired by and respond to specific situations

  • The PH provides the cosmic framework in which Israel's chosen status is to be understood:

    • Because 'the world is the way it is,' Abraham is chosen.

  • The PH is the product of two sources:

    • The Yahwist (J) and Priestly (P)

  • The Priestly Creation:

    • Gen 1:1-2:4a, opens Genesis.

    • First verse is usually trans. "In the beginning..."- but this reflects the Christian influence of GJohn.

    • Hebrew may mean "When God began creating..."

      • creation 'ex nihilo'?

    • the order of creation does not appear to make sense in light of science/natural history:

      • Day 1:
        Light, called "day" and darkness, called "night."

      • Day 2:
        A dome to separate the waters above and below, called "the sky"

      • Day 3:
        Water under the sky gathered into a basin, revealing dry land. The water is called "the sea" the land is called "the earth."

      • Day 4:
        The two great lights (both unnamed), one governs the day and the other governs the night.

      • Day 5:
        sea creatures to fill the waters and birds to fill the sky under the dome.

      • Day 6:
        Land animals, including "man," to whom all plants and animals are given.

      • Day 7:
        Institution of Sabbath, or day of rest.

    • By this account, plants are created before the sun, which is needed to grow them. "Light" is also created before the sun, but its source is not described.

    • Is there logic behind the sequence? See for yourself. Do you see the relationship between the six days?

    • The story is symmetrical:

      • Day 1, day and night are created,

        • day 4, sources of light are created (they "occupy" the light).

      • Day 2, sky and water are separated (no earth yet),

        • day 5 animals that occupy the sky and the water are created.

      • Day 3, the earth is created,

        • day 6 animals that occupy the earth and mankind are created.

      • The main point: In creating, God brought order and harmony to chaos.

  • This story also has parallels to the creation myths of other Ancient Near eastern cultures, esp. the Babylonian myth Enuma Elish ('when on high'):

    • Versions of this myth predate the P account by several centuries.

    • The god Marduk is the focus of the story:

      • 1200 BC, the Assyrians captured Babylon and carried off a statue of Marduk,

        • the city's patron god and protector.

      • A century later, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar recaptured the statue.

      • Enuma Elish was written to celebrate this event.

      • At annual celebrations of the event, it was read publicly.

        • Jews living in Babylon during the exile would have been forced to listen to these readings.

    • [Enuma Elish recounts Marduk's defeat of an older generation of ANE gods.

      • the god Apsu and the goddess Tiamat were the parents of all the other gods.

      • When Apsu is killed by Ea, Tiamat seeks revenge for the death of her lover.

      • Ea turns to his father Anshar for advice, and Anshar decides to send Marduk to kill Tiamat.

      • Marduk agrees to do so only if he is placed first among the gods.

      • Marduk takes the 4 winds with him to face Tiamat, and she comes out to meet him with her mouth open to devour him.

      • He sends the winds into her mouth, blowing her up like a balloon, then he slices her in half.

      • Marduk makes a dome for the heavens out of the upper half of her body, and the earth out of the lower half.

      • Marduk also kills Tiamat's new lover Kingu, and makes man from his blood.]

  • Genesis is not the only place in the OT where creation is mentioned,

    • some of the other references sound much like the "battle" imagery of Enuma Elish.

    • Psalms: 74, 89, 104

    • Remember that the P account was composed during or the Babylonian exile or after the return,

      • so this story is probably both influenced by the Babylonian creation myth

      • and written in response to it.

  • This may be why the author is careful not to use the Hebrew word for the sun on day 3, shamesh,

    • which is almost identical to the Babylonian word Shamash,

      • the name of their sun god.


  • This may also explain why creation of the sun is after vegetation-

    • all things are dependent on God to live,

    • not on the sun, which is itself dependent on God.


  • The story also serves the function of explaining the purpose of the Sabbath:

    • Mankind is to rest every seven days, as God rested on the 7th day of creation-

      • but note the explanation In Deut 5:12-15.


  • The Yahwist Creation:

    • Gen 2:4b-3:24

    • written in a different setting:

      • P assumes water, J assumes an arid land in need of irrigation.

    • different order

      • In P, man and woman are created last, in the "image of God,"

      • In J, man is created first from the "clay of the ground."
        Animals are created later as 'helpers' for man;
        when they are not satisfactory woman is created.

    • diff. view of God

      • In P, God's transcendence is emphasized-

        • he pre-exists creation.

      • In J, God's immediate, personal presence is emphasized. He:

        • Breathes life into man

          • [Associates life with respiration.]

        • plants a garden and walks in it

      • He is both angry and compassionate:

        • punishes Adam and Eve for disobedience,

        • makes clothes for them before expelling them.


    • Story is best known in Christian theology (esp. Augustine's concept of 'original sin') for its description of "The Fall"-

      • Adam & Eve's choice to disobey God and expulsion from "paradise."

      • but recognize:

        • no refs to the Fall in the rest of the Hebrew Bible

          • [although occasional references to Eden.]

        • Adam & Eve not referred to again until the Hellenistic Period, in Ben Sirach.

        • At no point in this story -nor throughout the Hebrew Bible- is the serpent considered to be Satan.

    • Key points:

    • 'eden' is from Babylonian 'edinu,' means "plain" or "desert."

      • v.10-15 locates garden in relation to Tigris and Euphrates.

      • translated as 'παραδεισος' ('garden' or 'garden of happiness') in the septuagint, hence English 'paradise.'

    • 'adam' can mean 'mankind,' or 'the first man'

      • Later in the story, it is used as a personal name.

      • Probably a pun on 'adamah' meaning 'clay,' 'earth,' or 'ground.'

    • 'Eve' (chavvah) means 'life.'

      • The 2 are archetypal humans,

      • representing 'everyman' and 'everywoman.'

    • Man is given responsibility for the garden, to till it and care for it.

    • carries over a theme from P:

      • In P, man is created in 'the image of God,' told to 'fill the earth and subdue it,' and to have dominion over all living things.

      • In J, man is told to care for the garden, just as God had done when he first created it.

      • In both, man is unique above all other creatures, in that man is capable of acting like God.

      • But...

    • humankind oversteps and seeks not just to be like God, but to be equal to God.

      • The 'Fall' demonstrates the Biblical concept of sin as:

      • an act of disobedience to or denial of God that results in separation:

        • From one another
          Adam and Eve recognize their sexual difference and (out of shame) conceal themselves from one another. (Origin of suspicion between the sexes)

        • From God
          Out of fear, Adam & Eve hide from God in the garden.
          (Origin of our sense of alienation from the divine)

        • From Self (conscience)
          When confronted, Adam denies responsibility for his own actions, blaming Eve. Eve blames the serpent for 'tricking' her.
          (The inclination to rationalize rather than reason)

    • Some questions:

      • How does Eve know about the prohibition to eat from the tree of knowledge?

      • God tells it to Adam before Eve is created.

        • God:

          • NAB: 'You shall not eat...the moment you eat you are surely doomed to die' (2:17)

          • NABRE: 'From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.'

        • Eve:

          • NAB: 'You shall not eat or even touch it, lest you die.' (3:3)

          • NABRE: 'You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.'

        • Does she understand it correctly, or has she distorted it? read into it? Been misinformed by Adam?

      • Does the serpent lie?

        • the diff. between the two statements of the prohibition:

          • Adam & Eve do not die the moment they eat the fruit- but is that what God had claimed?

          • The serpent appears to be honest, technically speaking.

    • Punishment & Consequences (3:14-18)-

      • Some of this material is punishment for sin, some of it is a description of the consequences of the Fall:

        • the serpent is cursed by being 'banned from all the animals' and made to crawl on its belly.

          • v.15 has been understood as the first messianic promise in the OT:
            'He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.'

        • Woman is cursed with painful childbirth,

          • and told that her 'urge will be for her husband,' who will be her 'master.'

        • Because of Man, the ground is cursed,

          • only brings forth food with great difficulty.

          • Man will 'return to the dust,' i.e., he will die.

        • Humanity is expelled from Eden

          • before man or woman can eat from the Tree of Life

            • and become immortal. (were they not already? See the curse above.)

        • Theses stories are etiological- they explain the origins of things. (Gk. αιτια, 'cause, reason')

          • Genesis is filled with etiological material, most of it not intended as history. [more to come]


Cain & Abel: The Pattern Repeats & Intensifies

  • The pattern of the Fall is repeated:

    • Like Adam & Eve:

    • Cain sins against God (murders his brother).

      • an attempt to be = to God in giving and taking life.

    • Cain denies this when confronted by God.

    • Cain is cursed by God,

      • curse is related to his use of the soil for survival.

    • Cain is banished from his land, sent to settle 'east of Eden.'

      • God shows compassion by marking him, so that he will not be killed.

  • Story introduces rivalry between brothers:  

    • The eldest brother should be privileged over the younger,

      • but God prefers Abel's contribution to Cain's.

      • brother is jealous of brother; fratricide results.

    • The theme of the younger brother being chosen over the older (the 'rightful heir') repeats throughout the OT:

      • Isaac

      • Jacob

      • Joseph

      • David

  • After Cain's sin, human wickedness increases with each generation:

    • his descendent, Lamech, murders a boy for 'bruising' him out of vengeance.

  • A strange story:

    • Gen 6 begins w/ the Origin of the Nephilim.

      • Offspring of the "sons of heaven" (lit. "of the gods")and the "daughters of man."

      • Nephilim means "Giants"

        • trans here as a proper name for a race.

      • How is the story to be understood?

      • 2 possibilities:

        • Could be a negative critique of polytheism-

          • might be parallel to other myths (like the Greek titans)

        • But, the word nephilim is used again in Numbers to describe the Philistines-

          • most famous is Goliath, slain by David.

        • Either way, the story is placed before the Flood,

          • it is peak of human wickedness & corruption- the reason for the flood.

        • also parallels the Tower of Babel after the flood-

          • the nephilim are the result of the gods transgressing the human/divine boundary.

          • the tower is the result of humans trying to do the same thing.


The Flood Narratives

  • Like the Creation accounts,

    • the Flood narratives are from J and P.

  • Unlike them, the material from J & P is woven together in the flood,

    • but recognizable when common themes and vocabulary are identified

  • The P account:

    • best understood as an un-Creation and Re-Creation,

    • w/language || to the 1st Creation story:

      • A wind sweeps over the waters at creation & end of the flood.

      • The 'fountains of the abyss' and 'floodgates' in both stories reflect the P cosmology.

      • both stories have commands to 'be fruitful and multiply,'

      • in each, God gives permission to use part of creation for food:

        • plants in creation story

        • animals in flood

      • In essence, God 'wipes the slate clean'

      • P's genealogies:

        • antediluvian (pre-flood) ages are much longer than post-flood ages

          • This is || in other ancient mythology, always associated with a flood.

        • God limits human life spans to limit human wickedness.

  • The J account:

    • God is anthropomorphic:

      • closes the ark

      • smells Noah's sacrifice

    • best understood as a || to the Fall:

      • After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and gets drunk from the fruit-

        • || to Adam eating fruit of tree of knowledge in garden.

      • Noah has 3 sons (Shem, Ham, & Japheth)

        • || to Cain, Abel, Seth

      • Noah's son Ham sees his nakedness and shames his father

        • || to Adam & Eve becoming aware & ashamed of their nakedness

      • Ham/Canaan is cursed by Noah

        • || to God's curses in Eden

      • The point: the flood did not end human sinfulness,

        • instead, the cycle began again.

        • Also illustrated w/Tower of Babel, || to the Nephilim:

          • Except at Babel, it is humans who try to transgress the divine/human boundary.

          • Both stories also point out the wickedness of races with whom the Israelites had conflict:

            • Nephilim/Philistines

            • Tower of Babel= Babylonian Ziggurat


  • Noah & The Gilgamesh Epic:

    • like creation & Enuma Elish, the Flood has || in other ancient myths

    • most important is the Epic of Gilgamesh,

      • myth that developed as early as the Early Bronze Period (3000-2000 BC):

    • [Summary:

    • Gilgamesh is king of Uruk

    • Enkidu is created as his companion

      • he must be tamed- he becomes a man through sexual knowledge from a 'wise woman'.

      • but this weakens & civilizes him, so he cannot return to the wild

      • the woman clothes him, and he goes with Gilgamesh

    • He is killed, & G. becomes aware of his own mortality.

    • He seeks out Utnapishtim,

      • who was made immortal by the gods when he survived a flood intended to wipe out all of humanity.

      • U. is warned by the god Ea about the flood, and told

        • to build a boat

          • (caulked with bitumen)

        • and take his family and animals aboard.

      • Ea shuts him into the ark

      • the world is flooded, but U. & his family survive.

      • 6 days later, the ark runs aground on a mountain.

      • U. sends out 3 birds to see if they find a place to rest.

      • When U. leaves the boat, he offers a sacrifice to the gods, who find the aroma pleasing.

      • Enlil realizes that a mortal has survived the flood and is enraged-

        • but he makes U. & his wife immortal, so that, technically, all 'mortals' die in the flood.

        • he then sends them to Dilmun, at 'the mouth of the rivers' (=Eden)

    • U. tells G. that the secret to immortality is a plant found at the bottom of the sea

    • G. recovers the plant, only to have it stolen from him by a serpent.]

    • A historical flood...?

      • no archaeological evidence of a worldwide flood,

      • but there is evidence of one in the biblical world:

        • In 1997, 2 Columbia U. scholars proposed the Black Sea flood theory-

        • at the end of the last ice age (c. 5600 BC),

        • massive glacial melt caused the Mediterranean Sea to spill over into the Black Sea,

          • causing a sudden, drastic, disastrous inland flood

          • wiping out civilizations along the shores of the Black Sea,

          • imprinting itself on the collective cultural memories of those who escaped and resettle elsewhere,

          • explaining the prevalence of flood narratives in ANE cultures- and possibly even Plato's myth of Atlantis.

        • Concluding Point: God created humanity with freedom to choose-

          • for that freedom to be authentic, the consequences of bad choices must be permitted

          • along with those of good choices.

          • The Primeval History ends with a dilemma:

            • How can God encourage virtue in mankind without making it meaningless by restricting free will?