My Book on Genesis 1

I am currently writing a book on creation and Genesis 1, under contract with the Maxwell Institute, anticipated in late 2015, tentatively titled Reading Scripture, Reading Creation: The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis 1.

Beyond providing two translations and verse-by-verse commentary, I propose some ideas about

  • how to read scripture in context
  • how the Israelites conceptualized the cosmos
  • how and why Genesis differs from the uniquely LDS creation accounts of the Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, and the temple account
  • why Genesis 1 differs both from a second creation account in Genesis 2-3 and sharply from a third creation narrative scattered elsewhere in the Bible
  • the relationship between Genesis and science
  • what Genesis 1 meant to Israelites
  • who wrote Genesis 1 as we have it, when, and why
  • what relation it has to other Near Eastern creation accounts such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish
  • why that relation is crucial to understanding Genesis 1
  • the relevance an ancient creation account has today

Below is a summary and sample. Any of this may undergo major or minor changes as the work progresses, but here’s how it stands at the moment.

The book has several main sections.

  1. Necessary groundwork
  2. Looking at different creation accounts and related questions
  3. Setting Genesis 1 against its ancient Near Eastern background
  4. Translations and commentary
  5. Addendums

Section 1- Groundwork
A few principles need to be clearly established, along with the implications for understanding Genesis. These include

  • the nature of scripture and revelation, including the principles of
    • adaptation (i.e. that revelation is not necessarily unique, and often draws on preexisting cultural elements, adapting and recontextualizing them to give new meaning)
    • accommodation (i.e. that divinity must condescend to work with humanity at the human level, communicating with them in ways they understand)
    • responsivity (i.e. that revelation rarely comes out of the blue, but is prompted by an issue, question, problem, situation, etc.)
    • variation (i.e. inspired material takes a variety of forms: legal material, letters, poetry, parable, “biography”; it may be historical, semi-historical, or non-historical)
  • the importance of context and different kinds of context
  • the importance of genre and genre confusion
  • different kinds of interpretation

Relevant past blog posts

Section 2-Creation Accounts 
This section looks in depth at creation accounts in the Bible, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the temple. Where did we get each one, what kind of thing is it, what is it trying to say, why don’t they all agree? It also looks at historical LDS interpretations of Genesis to establish that a variety of views have been held at the highest levels of the Church.

Relevant past blog posts

Section 3- The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Genesis 1
This section compares Genesis 1 to other Near Eastern creation accounts, particularly (though not exclusively) the Babylonian Enuma Elish. It focuses on the important points that become clear when Genesis is set against this background.

Relevant past blog posts

Section 4- Translation and Commentary
Here’s a sample of the three-column translation.

The KJV in the left column is there for comparison and familiarity, the other two are both mine. Neither has literary aesthetics as a primary goal.

The center column is a formal or “literal” translation, which hews closer to the Hebrew text in terms of rhythm, syntax, brevity, etc. but at the cost of smooth, clear English. This is often referred to as a “word-for-word” translation, although such a thing doesn’t really exist. The italics represent transliteration of Hebrew words I’d prefer to explain instead of translate, and each has a section in the accompanying commentary. This gets you closer to feel or flavor of the Hebrew text.

The right column is a dynamic translation, which is more expansive and interpretive in trying to convey the meaning of the Hebrew into English. In contrast to “word-for-word” this is sometimes described as “thought-for-thought.”

Because you can see it from different perspectives, reading multiple translations together contributes greatly to understanding the original text.

My initial outline commentary on these three verses runs about four pages with footnotes. Most verses won’t require as much, but there’s a lot going on here.

KJV

1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light.

Formal translation

When ‘elohīm began creating the heavens and the earth
the landmass was wild and waste
darkness on the face of the Deep
ruaḥ of ‘elohīm raḥaphing upon the face of the waters
and ‘elohim said let there be light

Dynamic Translation

When God began creating everything (the earth being purposeless and nonfunctional, with darkness upon the Deep, and a divine wind “hovering” upon the water), God said, “Let there be a period of light!”

I don’t like “hovering” in the dynamic translation, but it’s a very hard word to pin down. There are very few other usages and none in similar contexts. This is why I prefer to transliterate and anglicize the participle as “raḥaph-ing” in the formal translation. Then it gets an explanatory paragraph in the commentary. Actually, nearly every word in these verses requires commentary. As I said, there’s a lot going on here and a lot of background.

Relevant past blog posts

Section 5- Addendums

These currently include a short guide to Hebrew and pronunciation, a glossary/abbreviations, a bibliography, and an index.

Here’s a sampling of major popular works from my research list. Beyond these, I have a broad variety of technical commentaries, monographs, and articles.

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