Genesis — Its Internal Clues

Letting Genesis be Genesis is a challenge — from the creationist, who wants it to be compatible with science or science with it, to the naturalist-evolutionist, who wants to debunk the text from the outset as hocus pocus. Both ends of the spectrum claim they are reading Genesis well, but not all have paid sufficient attention to the internal clues in the text.

Walter Moberly, well known Old Testament specialist at Durham University in England, has the internal clues in mind when he writes “How Should One Read The Early Chapters of Genesis?,” in S.C. Barton and D. Wilkinson’s Reading Genesis after Darwin. What Moberly wants to do is let Genesis be Genesis and not what we’d like it to be.

What do you think of Moberly’s evidence for splicing? Do you think division of labor indicates later date?

His basic conclusion is that the early chapters of Genesis reflect the splicing together of formerly separate stories so that, while the text reads well from chp 1 to 50, there are at times internal clues that various bits had different contexts originally. This view has become more and more acceptable to a wide range of evangelicals though some have to say so in hushed tones to those whom they trust. Nor should one dismiss that such a view does cut against the grain of what many believe about the Bible, though we must take a deep breath and say “I too want Genesis to be Genesis. So let’s see what it says.”

This question is not new. Origen was asking these very questions in the 3d Century AD, and he did not conclude what the conservative end of the spectrum today concludes. But I’m not concerned with Moberly’s quick sketch of Origen.

Instead of dipping into Genesis 1-3, Moberly begins with Cain and Abel. His big conclusion is that the text assumes a world that is already populated, suggesting then that it tells one major story — the need for obedience — in the categories of a world that does not assume Cain and Abel are the world’s first sons. In short, there are other people and cities around. Here are the texts:

Genesis 4:2: “Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil…” assuming a division of labor.

Gen. 4:8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” The assumption here is that it is safer to murder in the open field where no one else is around, the language and perspective a populated location.

Gen. 4:14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Again, population assumed.

Moberly doesn’t quite draw this conclusion, but I would: this kind of description shows that at work already is the doctrine of election, so prominent later in Genesis but throughout the Bible: God was working with the line that would lead to Abraham. I heard Tom Wright say election is at work in God choosing Adam and Eve from others to be the ones with the image of God. (He did not claim that Packer fans are in the other line. It’s worth thinking about.)

He finds similar internal clues in the Noah flood story, like olive trees seemingly growing though they’ve been submerged for more than a year. Cain’s descendants, by the way, are pre and post flood and this goes against the grain of all but Noah’s line surviving (Genesis 4:17-24).

Does God speak Hebrew? Did Adam speak in Hebrew? Is Hebrew the oldest language? Or, is this stuff re-writing in light of Hebrew beliefs and traditions?

Darwin, then, does not help us when it comes to the genre of Genesis but he may speak to the substance of what Genesis may or may not be about.

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