genre variation between gen 1–11 and 12–50

It is reasonably clear that the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob found in Genesis 12–50 is presented as a historical narrative (regardless of what one thinks about the actual historicity of the story). But what are we to make of Genesis 1–11? Would the original audience have understood these chapters in the same manner as the later chapters, or would they have differentiated them?

The question is relevant because if it is read as the same type of literature, then the events of the creation, fall, flood, and tower of Babel would have been understood as historical narrative in the same way as the remainder of the book of Genesis. However, if the original audience recognised that Genesis 1–11 represented a different literary genre from the following chapters, then there are grounds for reading these earlier chapters in another way. They may, for example, function as some sort of pre-history which should not be treated as precisely historical as the latter accounts.

It turns out there are a number of significant differences between Genesis 1–11 and 12–50 (or, more precisely, between Gen 2:4–11:26 and Gen 11:27–50:26). These are worth enumerating.

  • Genesis is divided into sections headed by clauses introduced by the words אלה תולדת, “these are the generations of…” Hence there is a natural division in Gen 11:27, but likewise there are earlier and later divisions (Gen 2:4; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2; cf. Num 3:1; Ruth 4:18). Consequently, taken alone this tells us no more than that if there is a change then it is likely to be at Gen 11:27.

  • Genesis 1–11 is dominated by aetiological stories mixed with genealogies (some of which are also aetiological). So we have explanations for the origins of legless snakes, pain in childbirth, arduous toil to produce food, different languages, music, cities, and so forth. By way of contrast, there is virtually none of this after Gen 12.

  • There is a significant difference in pace between Gen 2–11 and 12–50. The latter chapters cover only 4 generations, perhaps only a couple of centuries. By way of contrast, the first 11 cover well over 1,000 years, and many generations.

  • The events of Gen 1–11 have a cosmic scale — creation, uncreation (through the flood), scattering of nations and languages. The subsequent events are the story of a single family which will becomes a small nation.

Daniel Lowery has recently analysed Gen 1–11 as well, concluding that:

I have discussed a number of generic signals that suggest how our genealogy in Gen 4 may in fact correspond to reality. The names and numbers both suggest a certain level of literary artistry and thoughtful arrangement, which is in concert with the generic signals of the surrounding context, Gen 1–11. The artistry and arrangement fit with expectations for the genre of mythic history, which suggests this should not be interpreted in a woodenly literal manner. This again is not to suggest actual events are not being described. Rather, it is perhaps more immediately relevant to the implied audience to speak of these events more figuratively. These events are in the distant protohistorical past, and the language employed to speak of that period in time fits with the generic expectations of mythic history.1

It is also worth noting that different genres can be signalled by quite subtle variations within the text. The points noted above could easily be more than sufficient indicators to the original audience to change their understanding of the text. In English, for example, the presence of four words can completely change a readers understanding of a narrative (just place “Once upon a time” at the beginning of any text and you’ll see what I mean).

The implication of these observations is that we must be wary of reading Genesis 1–11 as unadorned historiography, and that there are indeed grounds for treating these chapters differently to that which follows. This is not to say that Gen 1–11 is not historical or that it does not represent something of history, but it is to say that we cannot simply assume that it is historical and so either build a comprehensive history of the world based on minute details from this text or else dismiss these chapters as bogus because their details do not correspond to our scientific understanding of the world. To ignore these distinctive features and ascribe to Gen 1–11 an historiographical function is to impose a reading on the text, not derive meaning from the text.

1. Daniel D. Lowery, Toward a Poetics of Genesis 1–11: Reading Genesis 4:17–22 in Its Near Eastern Context (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 7; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013) 239.

Was Elihu Right?

JESOT 3.2 is now live and includes my article entitled “Was Elihu Right?” In it I discuss the contribution of Elihu in the Book of Job, so check it out:

The “prequel” to this article (entitled “Malevolent of Mysterious”) is also available for download from Tyndale Bulletin:

genesis 1 is not poetry

What can I say? Genesis 1 is not poetry, nor is it some weird hybrid of poetry and prose. Genesis 1:27 alone is poetry, but the rest of the chapter is pretty much stock-standard biblical Hebrew narrative in regards to its syntax. It is not poetry!

Why is this an issue? It’s an issue because debates about Genesis 1 seem to align figurative reading (of some sort) with poetry and literal reading with prose. This is a manifestly false disjunction. It is perfectly possible to have “literal” poetry, and it is quite common to have figurative prose. In other words, the whole argument is daft!

Aside from this, it’s worth making a few specific points about Genesis 1 in the context of such debates:

  • Whatever genre Genesis 1 is, it is not historiography (by which I mean the sort of text we find in much of the remainder of the pentateuch). The repetition, symbolism (including numerical symbolism), and the aetiological elements are unlike anything that we find in (what can loosely be termed) biblical historiography. This does not mean Genesis 1 must be figurative, but it does mean we cannot simply assume that it is “literal.”
  • A significant problem with modern readings of Genesis 1 lies in the dominance of scientific readings. Young-earth creationists read it as though it presents scientific information, those who believe the universe is billions of years old condemn Genesis 1 on the grounds that it conflicts with what they know from science. These groups dominate debate and both seriously misread the text!
  • Genesis 1 was written in the ancient Near East in a foreign language to a people with a very different cosmological view of the world, not to correct their cosmology, but to tell them about God and their place in his world. Much of what makes it strange to us was merely the language and ideas used to communicate to those people. There is no indication that it set out to correct their cosmology, rather that it used those ideas (just as it used Hebrew because that was what the people understood) to communicate its message. Consequently it does not endorse their cosmology, but needs to use it in order to successfully convey the message the text does endorse.
  • Some proponents of the young earth position speak as though non-literal texts cannot contain any factual information. This, too, is a fallacy. Jesus’ parables were fictional tales that sought to teach specific lessons. Fables are the same, as are numerous other figurative narrative genres. Furthermore, there’s no reason why figurative narratives cannot include historical elements. So, for example, Job may have been a historical figure, but the account of his life in the Book of Job can hardly be literal (who goes around speaking only poetry, after all?).
  • To realise just how strange Genesis 1 is (or ought to be) to us, I’ve reproduced my foreignising translation in toto below. This aims to avoid domesticating the text (which many modern translations do) so that we cannot escape from seeing just how difficult it really is to reconcile the chapter with modern thought.

So here’s the complete translation of Genesis 1:

When God began establishing the sky and the land, the land was uninhabitable, and darkness covered the surface of the primaeval depths. But the spirit of God stirred over the surface of the waters and God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. God recognised that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light “day” and he named the darkness “night.” Then there was evening and then morning, a first day.

Then God said, “Let there be a barrier between the waters which will separate the waters, and let the barrier separate the waters which are below the barrier from those which are above the barrier.” And it was so. Then God named the barrier, “sky,” and there was evening and then morning, a second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters under the sky be collected to one place so that dry ground appears.” And it was so. Then God named the dry ground “land” and he named the collected waters “seas.” God recognised that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land sprout plants: crops and fruit-trees producing varieties of fruit containing its seed.” And it was so. So the land produced plants—varieties of crops and varieties of trees bearing fruit containing its seed. God recognised that it was good, and there was evening and then morning, a third day.

Then God said, “Let there be lights on the barrier of the sky to separate between the day and the night, and let them mark the times for days and years, and let them be lights on the barrier of the sky to shed light on the land.” And it was so.

God made the two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night — and the stars. God placed them on the barrier of the sky to shine on the land, to govern the day and the night, and to separate between the light and the darkness. And God recognised that it was good. And there was evening and then morning, a fourth day.

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living things, and let flying things fly over the land, in front of the barrier of the sky.” And God established the great sea-monsters and all the varieties of squirming living things with which the waters swarm, and all varieties of winged flying things. God recognised that it was good.

And God blessed them with the words, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let the flying things multiply on the land.” And there was evening and then morning, a fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the land produce varieties of animals—varieties of cattle, creeping animals, and wild animals.” And it was so. God made the varieties of wild animals, varieties of cattle, and all varieties of animals which creep over the ground. God recognised that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind as our representation to be our proxy so they may rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, and over the entire land as well as all of the creeping animals which creep over the land.”

So God established humankind as his representation,
as the representation of God he created that one,
male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them with the words, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the land and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the flying things of the sky, and all the animals which creep over the land.” And God said, “Now I give you all the crops which are on the land and all trees bearing fruit containing its seed—these shall be your food. To all the wild animals, to the birds of the sky, and to the animals which creep over the land which are alive, [I give] every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God recognised that all which he had made was now very good. And there was evening and then morning, a sixth day.

Then the sky and the land was finished, and all their entourage. By the seventh day God had finished the work which he had done, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. And God blessed the seventh day and made it sacred, because on it he rested from all his work which God established.

To see the commentary that goes along with this translation, and its introduction, see the following pages:

  1. Introduction to foreignising translation
  2. Genesis 1 — part 1
  3. Genesis 1 — part 2
  4. Genesis 1 — part 3

apple pages 5.0 finally supports hebrew

In the last week, Apple has released a flurry of software updates, including updates to its iWork productivity software. While there are some who are unhappy with the changes, the good news is that Pages — Apple’s versatile word-processing application — now supports right-to-left and mixed direction text entry.

Previous versions of Pages would allow entry of Hebrew, but the cursor would remain at either end of the Hebrew text. Attempting to click into the middle of a Hebrew word would leave the cursor at the end of the word giving the user no idea that they were able to edit the word or what would happen when the next key was pressed. Now this has been fixed, and Pages (and presumable Numbers and Keynote) correctly inserts and edits Hebrew text.

The difference/improvement is easily illustrated in the following screenshots. First, Pages 4.3 (the previous version):


Here you can see the cursor to the left of the Hebrew text even though I had clicked into the middle of the Hebrew. Furthermore, Pages was clearly incapable of coping with the niqqud (the vowel points) which are pretty messed up.

Compare this with Pages 5.0:


The cursor is now correctly positioned in the middle of the Hebrew text, the niqqud are well placed.

For any existing Pages users, or for people purchasing a new Mac, the update is free.

In short, Pages has gone from useless for Hebrew to entirely usable. At last.

finding too much sex in genesis 2

I was simply going to title this “Common Misunderstandings of Genesis 2,” but then I thought the title could be spiced up a little bit, particularly because there’s a tendency to see sexual activity lying behind so much of what happens, particularly in the latter part of the chapter. Anyway, here are some of the common misunderstandings of Genesis 2:

  1. Eden was in the east.

    I’ve discussed this elsewhere, so you’ll need to follow this link for a full discussion. Suffice it to say here that the Hebrew word translated “east” in Genesis 2 can also mean “in ancient times” and may well be used that way in this passage. This is somewhat substantiated by the content of Gen 2–12 where humanity migrates east from the garden before Abraham is sent back to the west.

  2. Naming the animals is an expression of the man’s authority over them.

    This one’s very common, but completely misses the point of the naming episode. The first mistake is the presupposition that naming in the ancient world always served as an expression of authority. This is not true (just see Gen 16:13 for a good counter-example). More fundamental to naming was the aspect of character recognition. Names reflected something of the character or nature of that which was being named. This is seen in numerous names and name changes, think of Noah, Abram/Abraham, Isaac, and so on.1

    Next, take a look at what’s actually going on in Genesis 2 before the naming: God declares that it is not good for the man to be alone. What follows (the naming of the animals) is the first step in resolving this problem: God has the man examine the various animals he brings to him in order to determine whether any will fulfil the shortfall in creation. Naming the animals is an act designed to depict to the reader this close examination of each animal. It’s not simply something God gives the man to take his mind off his problems, it is an activity designed to scrutinise the animals to determine whether any would be a suitable companion for the man (note that it does not include naming of all animals, only those with which the man could feasibly form some form of attachment). In the end, no animal is found that is suitable and so God moves to plan B, build a companion from the side of the man.

    Claiming that this is primarily about authority makes the whole naming of the animals an irrelevant aside in the story. Correctly understood it serves as a search for the missing element in creation, and highlights the unique place in creation the woman occupies, for no animal is a suitable companion for the man.2

  3. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”

    I’ve heard some odd explanations for this. For example, the notion that flesh is the softest part of a person and bone the hardest, and so this is an example of a merism and essentially means “all of me” so that the man is saying that the woman means everything to him.

    Although it sounds nice, it misses the point. Many elements of Gen 1-11 are aetiological — they offer an explanation for the way the world is now. This applies to this passage as well. If you’ve read enough of your Old Testament you’ll come across somewhat similar expressions elsewhere, for this reference to bone and flesh is a common kinship formula in the Hebrew Bible.2 It essentially declares someone to be an intimate member of the declarer’s family (much as “flesh and blood” in modern English). Nor is it sexual in nature, for brothers also say this to one-another. The Genesis story provides an aetiology for the kinship formula. The intimate family relationships are founded in the ultimate unity of the first family whose very origins express that intimacy.

    Some examples of its use elsewhere include Gen 29:14; Judg 9:2; 2Sam 5:1; 19:13—14; etc.

    So in Genesis 2, the man poetically identifies the woman as his family, a point brought out further in the following verses.

  4. “The two become one flesh” is a reference to sexual union.

    This statement reflects the previous point. If it does include any reference to sexual union, it is not to the fore given that this sort of language is used by members of families. The primary point is that together the man and woman have formed a new family.

  5. “Cleave” has sexual overtones.

    It seems that sex is on the minds of many readers of Genesis 2. And while it is there in Genesis 2, it’s nowhere near as prominent as modern western readers of the text tend to think it is. The word “cleave” is another example. Nowhere else does the Hebrew word דבק have a sexual component — rather it refers to clinging to another through affection and loyalty (e.g. Gen 34:3; Ruth 1:14; 2 Sam 20:2; 1 Kgs 11:2). It is also often used of Yahweh clinging to Israel (e.g. Deut 10:20; 11:22; 13:5; 30:20; Josh 22:5; 23:8). In these instances we find this term frequently has covenantal overtones.

    In Gen 2, the term is contrasted with the term “forsake” (עזב) another covenantal term (sometimes used with the meaning “divorce”). In the context of marriage and family, what we have is the breaking (forsaking) of the man’s primary family relationship to his parents (“This is why a man leaves his father and mother” [HCSB]) to establish a new family relationship with his wife, a relationship that supplants that which was previously the most important human relationship with his parents. The man was previously “cleaved” to his parents, now he is cleaved to his wife.

    In the ancient world this speaks strongly to a society that was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal. In marriage, the man’s highest human commitment moves from his parents to his wife. A new family is formed (notably without the necessity for children). This is a message which continues to be relevant in the modern world.

There are other things that get misunderstood, but these are perhaps the most significant ones I’ve commonly come across.


  1. In particular, see G. W. Ramsay, “Is Name-Giving an Act of Dominion in Genesis 2—3 and Elsewhere?” CBQ 50.1, Jan. 1988, 24—35.
  2. A number of scholars seeking to demonstrate that women are subordinate to men mistakenly see this as further evidence in support of their case. Notably the New Testament never appeals to name giving in support of subordination.
  3. See, for example, Wenham, Genesis 1—15, 70; Clark, Man and Woman, 18.

running shoe review

I’ve been through a number of different brands of running shoe over the years, so I thought I’d share my experience and assess their worth.

Guy Leech Running Shoes: ★☆☆☆☆
I ran in these shoes for a couple of years. They’re cheap (around $30.00 at the time I got them). They did cause me some problems and eventually I decided to spend a little more money on shoes and have never looked back. They get one star for value.
Brooks Glycerin 8: ★★★★☆
Coming from the previous shoes, these were absolutely fantastic. No more sore legs, my average speed increased by around 1km/h, I felt as though I was running on springs! Two pairs of these probably covered about 2,000km (which, I admit, was probably a little too long to keep them going). The main problems were (1) the local Australian price was about twice the price when purchased from overseas even after including shipping, and (2) they became increasingly difficult to obtain from overseas retailers who would no longer ship Brooks shoes to Aus, thus forcing me to move on to other shoes.
Saucony Triumph 9: ★★☆☆☆
From Brooks I moved to Saucony. Initially they were great—bouncy, light, comfortable. However, it didn’t take too long to uncover the shoe’s fatal flaw: they had insufficient padding around the top-rear end meaning they scraped the skin off the back side of my ankles above the heel. For a while I worked around this by putting pieces of sponge inside my socks to protect me, but this problem really made the shoes quite useless to me.
Adidas Adistar Boost: ★★★☆☆
These looked promising and were certainly more comfortable than the Saucony. They were, however, insufficiently cushioned for me and left me with sore leg muscles after every run, and rather more tired than I ought to have been. They’ve now entered retirement as a nice pair of walking shoes. One thing to note, Adidas seem to use a different sizing scale to everyone else, so if you’re ordering without trying them on, choose a slightly larger size than you normally would.
Mizuno Wave Rider 15: ★★★★☆
After the disappointing Saucony and Adidas shoes, I was relieved to find the Mizunos to be well cushioned, comfortable, and easy to run in at a very reasonable price. If you run on gravel, be aware that there’s a hollow in the sole under the heel which has, for me, occasionally trapped a stone which consequently interrupts my run!
Adidas Energy Boost: ★★★★★
There’s been lots of hype about these shoes and, so far (I’ve run just over 100km in them thus far), I think it’s largely borne out by my experience with them. They’re light, very bouncy, and fit well (subject to the following observation). As with the Adistar above, they’re sizes seem slightly off compared to other brands, so I’d advise going for a slightly larger size in Adidas than I would in another brand. The other thing to watch is that these look quite similar to the Adistar Boost shoes, but they run very differently, so make sure you get the right one. The Adistar has solid rubber from the inside of the heel down to the ground which accounts (in part) for the comparatively low level of cushioning. The sole is flat so there’s no space for stones or other items to get jammed while you’re running.

windows type: the failure of cleartype

I’ve been playing around with the Windows beta release of Accordance recently. The one thing that struck me almost instantly was just how poor the Hebrew looked in Windows compared to the Mac. I tried reconfiguring ClearType to improve the appearance, but to no avail. Displaying Hebrew at anything smaller than 27 point looked a mess.

Fortunately, I discovered a solution: MacType. This replaces ClearType with font rendering similar to that found on the Mac and a number of Linux distros. Here is the result:

MacType vs. ClearType

MacType vs. ClearType

(Click the image to see the full size version.) The left half is ClearType, the right half is MacType, both are 24 point. Judge for yourself the results. The results are even more dramatic at 18 point.

There are a few typefaces which seem to work well with ClearType, but in my opinion most look better with MacType.

the origins of the use of κυριος for יהוה

All extant manuscripts of the NT consistently use the Greek word κυριος (kyrios, ‘lord’) when translating the name of God in the OT, יהוה (Yhwh). The background to this is not entirely clear nor uncontested, but it is worth noting a few points about what is and isn’t known, and what is and isn’t likely.
Continue reading

should ‘christ’ be removed from english bibles?

Yes, in the tradition of tabloid journalism my heading for this post sounds controversial, but hear me out. We’re all used to seeing the word ‘Christ’ in English Bible translations. The only exceptions are the few which use the term ‘Messiah’ in its place (such as the HCSB).

‘Christ’ is, of course, a transliteration of the Greek work Χριστός while ‘Messiah’ transliterates the Hebrew משיח (māšîaḥ). The question is, however, why are these transliterated and not translated in English versions of the Bible?

The failure to translate these terms is odd for a number of reasons:

  1. The NT translates the Hebrew with the Greek term and doesn’t attempt to transliterate it (e.g. Acts 4:26 quoting Ps 2:1–2).
  2. The LXX also translates the Hebrew with the Greek equivalent.
  3. English translations do translate these terms when they’re not used of Jesus (e.g. Ps 2:2).

The practice appears to begin in the Vulgate which uses Christus to transliterate Χριστός. Nonetheless, the term is not a name and it is used in the NT because of the word’s meaning. The way in which modern translations choose to transliterate this gives readers the impression the ‘Christ’ is Jesus’ last name. Even aside from this, there’s a lot of baggage associated with readers’ understanding of the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ that could do with revision (to be sure, there was a lot of baggage associated with these terms in the first century as well, but the baggage probably differs and could do with some revision).

Translating these terms rather than transliterating them means readers would be forced to come to grips with the actual significance of the title, and that could well be a good thing!

Thus we would translate Mark 1:1:

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ

as something like:

The beginning of the good news of Anointed Jesus, son of God…

Of course this would raise the question of precisely how to best translate the term Χριστός. Yet it would provide a refreshing translation that makes the reader think again about the words they’re reading, and that can only be a good thing!