Tag Archives: Genesis 1-11

Form & reference

As you might guess from the previous post, I’ve been thinking a little about Genesis, creation and all that jazz.

The other day I came across an old idea, put forward to show that Genesis 1 is ‘historical’. Here’s what I read:

Hebrew has special grammatical forms for recording history, and Genesis 1-11 uses those. It has the same structure as Genesis 12 onwards and most of Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc. It is not poetry or allegory.

(From this.)

Genesis 1-11 has much narrative, that’s true. So have a look at these Hebrew narratives:

The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honoured, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
From Judges 9


There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.
From 2 Samuel 12

In form these are both Hebrew narratives. The first is a parable towards the end of the story of Gideon. It is not asserting the existence of talking trees. The second from the prophet Nathan to King David.

In reference these are both allegorical. They are not forensic accounts of set events. The brilliance and power of Nathan’s story is that the same style used for history is also a style used for allusion and allegory. David made the crucial error of assuming ‘history’ when it was metaphor. It referred to him, his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.

In summary: the form of a text does not determine what that text refers to.

Is Genesis 1-11 different?

I have heard or read this question: is Genesis 1-11 different from Genesis 12-50?

It’s usually asked by those who, unlike me, hold to a young earth view of creation. That is, people who think the days of Genesis 1 each refer to a day of 24 hours.

The question is asked with a subtext: that people like me read Genesis 1-11 in a different manner from, say, the account of Isaac. And that this is a wrong thing to do, unjustified by the text.

Here’s one part of an answer. Yes, Genesis 1-11 is different.

And the Bible itself shows us this. In particular, the Bible frequently refers to ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Even in Genesis itself (eg, Genesis 31:53, or 50:24). These three are the patriarchs whose lives the Lord works through – despite themselves, it often appears! – to bring blessing back into the sinful world. These three are frequently linked, right into the New Testament (such as Matthew 22:32, Acts 3:13).

In contrast, I’ve never come across a biblical phrase linking, say, Noah and Abraham.

So: there’s certainly a change at the end of Genesis 11. There’s biblical reason to view this as a different stage in God’s unfolding plan.