Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 1 (Gen 1-15)

(Chapters 1 - 15)

And thus it begins...


In the introduction of my Bible, it says that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible - the Jewish Torah) weren't written by any particular person, but instead were the product of oral tradition, and taken from four different sources: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuteronomical. There are differences between these and they were all merged to form the current Pentateuch. For example, the Elohist tends to be sober and moralistic, and the Priestly are more theological.

So this is the reason why there are two stories of creation. The first (the Seven Day one) is from the Yahwist source, and the second (Adam from dust; Eve from his rib) is from the Priestly.

I started thinking about this whole oral tradition thing, and wondering - how much of the Pentateuch is real historical fact, and how much is symbolic? For example, Seven is the number of perfection. God might not have created the world in seven days - the Yahwist storytellers might just have put it neatly into such a structure to emphasize that the world that he made is perfect. Or, what about the ten antediluvian patriarchs? They all lived for hundreds of years! My edition of the bible has a footnote that says that the long lifespans are less historical than they are symbolic, and that the Babylonian culture also had a list of ten antediluvian kings with really long lives. (And then, what was their definition of a year? The whole 365 day thing hadn't been determined. What if they actually lived as long as we did, and they just counted it differently?)

This whole oral history thing gets confusing, particularly when it is mixed from various sources. I'm guessing the audiences of that time would have been able to differentiate the symbols from the history, but I'm having trouble with it.

On another topic, there seem to be a lot of play-on-words in the Bible (except we need footnotes to understand them, because they're in Hebrew...). I think that's pretty cool.
This one, at last, is bone of my bones
     and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called 'woman,'
     for out of 'her man' this one has been taken.
This is what Adam says when Eve is created. According to my footnotes: "There is a play on the similar sounding Hebrew words ishsha (woman) and ishah (her man, her husband)."

There are tons of examples like this.

And finally, I'll leave with the thought: there are SO many cool names. Tubal, Javan, Ashkenaz, Togarman, Chedorlaomer... :-)

Any comments on the first fifteen chapters of Genesis? What did I miss? Let me know below!



  1. Oooo, this sounds like a interesting project, Sophia! You are certainly going deep into the meanings. I need to do something like this, perhaps for 2015, as my 2014 is stuffed full of projects.

    I've always wondered why we question age spans just because we don't live as long now. The Sumerian king lists, make note of kings that ruled for thousands of years and there are many other non-Biblical sources that list people living very long lives. Call me romantic but I prefer to believe what was written then, even though we, comparing it with today's standards, find it difficult to conceive. And, of course, I could be completely wrong. ;-)

    Have a great time with this project. I'm really looking forward to reading your posts!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my post! And you bring up some good points - and I think secretly I'm hoping that you're right :-)


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