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From Faith to Faith -- Essays on Old Testament Literature by B. Davie Napier

B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1955. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter One: Myth. In the Beginning (Genesis 1-11)

The earth is full of thy creatures. . .
These all look to thee,
to give them their food in due season.
When thou givest to them, they gather it up;
when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with
good things.
When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed;
when thou takest away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created;
and thou renewest the face of the ground.
Ps. 104:24c, 27-30

This is what the community of Israel believed. This became her fundamental article of faith, and in this mature expression of her creation faith, Israel denies that God having created then withdrew from his creation to let it proceed on its own laws and regulations. Israel never thought of God as creator alone but always as creator-sustainer, creator-preserver.

This is what Israel believed. This is an expression of her matured creation faith.

A. In the Image of God (Gen. 1:1-2:4a)

In the stories of Gen. 1-11, Israel has preserved and cherished what she deems to be the essential prelude to her own particular story beginning with Abraham. The life of the people Israel has meaning only against a background of cosmic sweep and universal scope. Israel understands her own history only in relation to Godís creation and preservation of all life everywhere. She interprets her place and function in history in terms of a universally broken relationship between creator and creature, God and man. Gen. 1-11 defines the universal condition that explains Israelís particular history.

The Old Testament opens on the note of creation, in a story (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) which did not come to its final form until after the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C. It is a story of creation patterned after similar non-Israelite stories yet shaped distinctively and unmistakably by the character and mind of Israel.1 This is a fully matured, priestly declaration of faith, which distills in and for fifth-century Israel the essence of that communityís belief about the relationship between man and God, and about the nature of man as a creature of God.

The creation story of Gen. 1 is, then, an appropriate opening to Israelís scripture because it reflects a matured understanding of the faith and history of the community. It is appropriate, too, because in phenomenally brief compass it defines and illumines some of the central affirmations of that continuing community. One of these affirmations is reflected in the eight occurrences of the phrase, "God said . . ." (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26) The story expresses, accepts as valid, and reconfirms Israelís faith that the word of God, the divinely spoken Word is never merely descriptive: it is a Word possessing and releasing power, effecting -- bringing to pass, causing to be -- that to which the Word refers, or that which the Word describes. The story at once gives expression to and further defines the historically conditioned faith of Israel: it was Godís Word through Moses that wrought her physical redemption from slavery in Egypt; it was the same dynamic Word, centuries later, that brought judgment against the sinful nation; and the same Word again that effected the return and restoration of Israel.

Here is the dynamic divine Word in its ultimate projection. We quote Gen. 1: 1-3 in a translation and form more precisely conveying the sense of the text:2

In the beginning of Godís creating of the heavens and the earth -- when the earth was waste and void, when darkness was upon the face of the deep, and when the spirit of God was brooding over the face of the waters -- then God said, "Let there be light." And there was light!

The Word of God calls into being that which was not! And the magnificently articulated story unfolds, projected from a corporate imagination informed to be sure by cruder stories of creation but motivated and controlled by the sense of the powerful divine Word in history.

The story reflects and is a commentary upon Israelís faith that the decisive factor in her history, and all history, is the creative and dynamic Word of God. It also affirms the essential goodness of creation, again with an emphasis in repetition: seven times -- of every item of creation except the second -- the responsive refrain occurs, "God saw that it was good" (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31, the last, "very good") This too reflects a central and consistent quality of the faith of Israel, a faith which the psalmists express in joyful praise:

Bless the Lord, O my soul! . . .
Thou didst set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be shaken. . . .
Thou makest springs gush forth in the valleys; . .
they give drink to every beast of the field;
Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the heart of man, . . .
and bread to strengthen manís heart.
[Ps. 104:1,5, 10, 11, 14, 15]

The good creation joyously acclaimed in the community is expressed and given ultimate confirmation in the story of creation. One of the psalmists recalls gratefully the goodness of man in his creation:

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
[Ps. 8:3-5]

The history of Israel shows nowhere the slightest inclinations to asceticism: the full richness of a good creation is for manís enjoyment, and he accepts the satisfactions of his normal appetites as gifts of God and with praise and thanksgiving to the Giver and Creator. It is an essentially good creation. God called it into being. He spoke it into being with his creative Word. And God himself passed upon it the first and unalterable judgment: He saw that it was good.

Such is the faith of Israel, matured through the centuries and given classical expression in the priestly story of creation. It is a story which further defines and distills the faith of the community in affirming the true nature of the relationships fundamental to Israelís faith, the relationships of God and nature, God and man, and man and nature. As Israel knows no asceticism, so too she knows no pantheism: God is never equated with the universe or with the natural order. He is, to be sure, revealed in nature:

The heavens are telling the glory of God

writes the psalmist (19:1) ; but in the next line the relationship is made clear:

The firmament proclaims his handiwork.

All nature testifies to the glory of God; but Israel tends always to see Godís primary and decisive self-revelation in the arena of history, not nature. Indeed, she comes to make the affirmation of God-as-Creator because of her prior conviction that God acts and reveals himself in history. If God is Lord of history, he must also be Lord of Creation, the Creator of the total environment of history.

The community of Israel knew in her history the fierce temptations of nature religion and later the fear of a fate decreed by heavenly bodies. She was surrounded by it for centuries, and its appeal and influence are clearly to be seen in her literature. But her rejection of it is nonetheless decisive and finds nowhere a more economical and penetrating formulation than that of Gen.1. God called the natural order into being, and continues to sustain it. It is his creation. He stands outside of it, separate from it, its Creator, its Preserver, its Lord.

Israelís mature belief about the relationship of man and God is also here caught up and given succinct expression. Man is essentially a creature of God. This is the primary and most meaningful category of his existence -- and it is a universal quality. Man -- not Israelite man, but Man -- is created being and, as such, owes his existence to the Creator.

Know that the Lord is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his. . . .
[Ps. 100:3]

Man is and is not at one with the rest of creation. We could proceed more surely, here, if we could be certain of the meaning of the phrases "in our image" and "after our likeness" of Gen. 1:26. It is clear that early Israel conceived of God as having form and substance and it may be that these phrases reflect that early belief that man physically resembles the form of God. But there are many overtones in Israelís literature that justify other than physical implications. Suppose we look again at the 8th Psalm:

Thou hast made him [man] little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.

A more literal translation of the first line would read, "Thou didst make him lack little of God," and the sense of the statement is hardly to point up a physical resemblance. In the light of Israelís total faith and its expression in canonical literature, we can hardly be wrong in understanding the image and likeness of God in man as implying manís high potential in achievement and his inherent capacity for response to and communion with God.

Manís status as creature is unique in another way: he is given "dominion . . . . over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Gen. 1:28) Here again the story of creation gives expression to a quality of faith characteristic of the community of Israel. Although man is a creature of God whose physical destiny is ultimately dust (as with all other creatures) , he is also at once the crown of creation, that created being to whose use all else in creation is committed by the creator:

Thou has given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou has put all things under his feet.
[Ps. 8:6]

And this is cause for manís unceasing praise of the Creator; the 8th Psalm begins and ends with the doxology:

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

The story of creation in Gen. 1 moves finally to the most characteristic institution in the outward expression of Israelís faith -- the Sabbath. The priestly perspective is nowhere more evident; yet the Sabbath is no less an affirmation of a point of Israelís belief than, say, the God-man relationship. Israelís consistent and serious regard of her institutional expressions of faith is attested early and late in her literature and in writings of prophets, priests and historians. Here the story gives the central institution -- the Sabbath -- its ultimate projection, declaring that its authority is from the beginning, in the very pattern of divine creation. God himself "rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done" (2:2)

This creation story is a deftly wrought, summary expression of much that was of primary significance in the matured faith of Israel. We have said that Israel knew no asceticism, nor any pantheism. We may add a third "ism"; for Israel also knew no deism. We have said that Gen. 1 is Israelís classical statement of her creation faith, but we have tried to make it clear that its primary motivation is not at all an objective interest in origins. In very fact, the creation faith of Israel betrays neither here nor anywhere else in her literature an interest in origins for the sake of origins. The creation faith speaks from and back to historical human existence. It is obviously not primarily or even significantly concerned to say how, scientifically, descriptively, man came to be, but rather to define what man is, and what, in the creation faith, his existence means. The thrust of the story is not toward the past but directly to the ever-moving present. Israelís creation faith is a theological commentary on the meaning of existence.

This is a far cry from deism, which sees creation continuing in an orderly (or pure-chance) fashion on its own inherent power while the Creator takes an extended Sabbath rest, unmoved and immovable, unknown and unknowable. Israelís creation faith is dynamically and existentially conceived. It is a faith articulated, cherished and preserved because it distills some of the essence of Israelís understanding of God and man in the world and in history.

We who belong to a totally different community, in a later age, products of modern Western, not ancient Eastern modes of thought -- we may agree that this is to speak of Gen. 1:1-2:4a in terms of the religious culture that produced the story. We may concede that this is what it said and meant to Israel; but we are reading the story now and in our perspective questions inevitably arise that could not in the nature of things have concerned Israel. We, and all of us in the West since the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, have some exacting questions to put to the literature. If we understand what an Old Testament narrative means first in Israelís categories, we cannot escape the questions of our own categories. To be sure, we have been asking our own questions for a couple of hundred years now, more or less; but we have made no prior effort, nor indeed any effort at all, to understand and interpret the literature in terms of its internal meaning, its meaning within the community that produced it.

We are concerned, to a degree that Israel never was, with matters of fact. We in the modern West, as compared with the ancient Israelite, have a highly developed analytical interest in all that confronts us. We are scientifically informed, and we apply consciously or unconsciously a scientific method of study. And so, in the story of creation before us, there are problems and questions which arise out of the difference between East and West and the gulf, measured in millennia, between that era and our own. We are struck by the storyís now naïve, mythological representation of a universe structured much in the fashion of a three-story building: water and land of the flat earth are the first level (1:9) , the firmament (heavens) the second (1:7) , and above the firmament at a third level, more water (1:6,7) As we are better and more accurate observers of our universe than they, so also we know infinitely more about the worldís past than they. We have uncovered in modern times significant geological and biological information reaching back literally over hundreds of thousands of years; and in the light of this information we are compelled to reject quite categorically the assumption of Gen.1 that this extended process and development occurred in six days.3

If it be argued, as some well-intentioned persons have, that we are to read the word "day" as representing tens of thousands of years, we would have to ask, "What for, and on what grounds?" Is it to rationalize the story, to bring the story into conformity with a scientific view of natural and human development? And if for the sake of argument we concede that this is a possible reading of the word "day" (which in fact it is not) what then? How shall we also rationalize the three-story universe, which is assumed everywhere in the entire Bible in one form or another? And how, if this is the sense of day, are we to interpret one obvious and climactic motive of the story -- the establishment of the ultimate authority of the Sabbath institution? The Hebrew word for "day" is yom, used with great regularity in the literature of Israel for the unit of time from sundown to sundown, or for the period of light as distinguished from the period of darkness. It may refer to a more extensive unit of time in the past and especially the future, but never with the abstraction and comprehensiveness implicit in our term "eon."4

Efforts to rationalize, then, can be and often are self-defeating, that is, they may obscure the first aim of Old Testament study -- the understanding of what Israel thought and believed. The more we erroneously impute our own modern categories to Israel, the less are we able to recover the faith of Israel. If Israel believed, with scientific inaccuracy to be sure, that the created universe came into being in six days, the expression of this view informs us of the quality of her faith. Israel nowhere views the natural order as we do -- and we must understand this before we can understand Israel.

Our own necessarily critical approach is never, then, ultimately negative in purpose and result; it often enables us to see and understand something of peculiar significance in the life of Israel which we might otherwise miss altogether. For example, we observe that the creation of light (1:3) , the separation of day and night (1:4 f.) , the phenomenon of evening and morning (vv. 5, 8, 13) , and the appearance of vegetation (1:11 f.) all precede the making of the two great lights" (sun and moon, 1:16) We know that light comes from the sun, that darkness is the absence of light, and that the growth of vegetation requires the sunís rays. But a little reflection will inform us that Israel must have known this too -- the knowledge is partially reflected in vv. 16-18. This is not, then, like the three-story universe, a prescientific discrepancy. Rather, this seeming contradiction of Israelís own observation of natural phenomena emphasizes her insistence that God is more than a nature deity, and that natural laws are subject to his will. The contradiction further suggests a characteristic quality in Israelís writings -- her relative indifference to concerns of logical consistency. In the recording, editing and compiling of her literature, Israel is simply not disturbed, as we inevitably are, by matters of logical contradiction.

Finally, our critical, analytical reading of the story raises a further problem: we cannot but note the inclusion of two different modes of creation. If God creates by divine Word ("God said, Let there be. . . .") , he also creates by Work (God made, or created, vv. 7, 16, 21, 25, 27). Apparently a concept of creation by work has at some point along the way in Israelís tradition had superimposed upon it a more spiritualized concept of creation by word. If so, Israel characteristically retains both modes and sees no necessary incompatibility: the created universe is Godís, who not only called it into being, but labored to produce it.

B. Of Dust from the Ground (Gen. 2:4b -- 3:24)

Other questions arise as soon as we continue our reading of chapter 2. V. 4a, "These are the generations of . . . ," is a kind of signature. It occurs ten times in the book of Genesis, with one or two minor variations (2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1[9], and 37:2) and always in a sharply transitional context. It is a characteristic term of the Priestly writers and is here obviously employed as the conclusion of the story of creation begun in Gen. 1:1.

Unmistakably, a second distinct story of creation begins in the middle of 2:4. The verse division here and in many other places is unsatisfactory and inappropriate; but it is well to remember that current verse division was first introduced relatively late, not, in fact, until the tenth century of our era. Scholars have through the years expressed their disaffection with the present versification in repeating the perennial story that verse divisions were first entered in the text by a man riding on horseback.

The first conspicuous difference between the two stories is in vocabulary. The P (priestly) account of creation (Gen. 1:1-2: 4a) consistently uses the term "God" from the Hebrew elohim. But in Gen. 2-3 it is characteristically a double term YHWH elohim, translated in the King James and Revised Standard Versions, "the LORD God" but in the American Revised Version, "Jehovah God." Jehovah was dropped in the recent American revision (the R.S.V.) because of its unsatisfactory nature as a hybrid word. The Hebrew language was written without vowels until a system of supplying vowels to the consonants was evolved over a period of several centuries early in our era by a continuing group of devoted scholars known as the Masoretes. They received a sacred tradition which forbade the articulation of the divine name, written with the four consonants, YHWH, a tradition which supplied, wherever the divine name appeared, the word adonai, meaning "Lord." Understandably, the Masoretes sought to continue the tradition by supplying the vowels of "adonai" to the consonantal root YHWH, giving rise to the hybrid word Jehovah. While we do not know and probably never can recover with certainty the original pronunciation of the name of Israelís deity, our best guess is "Yahweh."

The recognition of two creation stories in Genesis was the primary item in the beginnings of modern biblical criticism, a recognition first made in 1680 by a French priest named Simon. In 1753 another Frenchman, Astruc, a physician by profession, pointed out the use of divine names as the chief distinguishing mark of the two stories; and a little later, in 1780, the German scholar Eichhorn recorded other differences in vocabulary between the two creation accounts. The letter Y in YHWH, representing the Hebrew letter yodh, was transliterated J; and J (for JHWH) became the symbol to designate not only the second creation story but in time a considerable body of texts in the Hexateuch (Genesis-Joshua) showing some of the same peculiarities of vocabulary, style and point of view.

We note that differences in vocabulary are not confined to the divine name. P (Gen. 1-2 :4a) uses the verbs "create" and "make" while J (Gen. 2:4b ff.) uses "form" (literally, "to model") and, of woman, a verb literally meaning "to build." Where P speaks of beasts "of the earth" it is "of the field" in J.

But differences in vocabulary are less conspicuous than fundamental differences in representation:


Earthís original state A watery chaos A waterless waste

Time Span Six Days No time reference

Order of Creation 1. Light Man, out of dust
2. Firmament The Garden
3. Land, by Trees, including the
separation from tree (see below)
4. Vegetation Animals, beasts, and birds
(fish not mentioned)
5. Heavenly bodies Woman, out of man
6. Birds and fishes
7. Animals and man,
both sexes

The orderliness, the dignity, the repetitive phrasing, the. obvious purposiveness (absolute authority of the Sabbath) , and the relative sophistication of the P account5 are replaced in J with a charming and intimate naïveté. In vocabulary, in content and in total concept, the two stories appear to be so different that we cannot but wonder how and why both came to be included in this introduction to the literature of Israel.

We must look for the answer first in the postexilic (fifth century B.C.) theocratic community which brought the Pentateuch (Gen.-Deut.) together in its present form. Clearly, in this matured perspective of Israelís faith and history, the corporate editorial mind endorses and retains on behalf of the community both stories of creation because, despite their differences (and perhaps in their very divergence) , only the two stories in combination give adequate expression to Israelís creation faith, to her interpretation of the essential nature of man as a creature of God. We have good reason to think that the second story of creation came into literary currency in Israel as early, probably, as the tenth century B.C. (perhaps in a somewhat shorter form than now) ; that it was then incorporated into a continuous narrative still discernible as the primary literary structure upon which our present Hexateuch (Gen.-Josh.) is built; that the editor, whom we call the Yahwist, composed his document (J) in the main from individual stories and cycles of stories (oral and [?] written) of earlier and widely diversified origin; and that he achieved, largely by means of selection and arrangement (not revision) of these materials a remarkably unified and theologically coherent work.

From where we stand, we recognize, then, that we have to deal with three different levels of interpretation. The first and earliest level is that of the storyís primitive origin, before the Yahwist employed it for his own purposes in the J opus. We suspect that at this level the primary motivation of the creation stories and most of the material in Gen. 1-11 is an etiological motivation, that is, a prescientific, mythological effort to explain persistent and common questions of origin as, for example, of the world (1) , of the relationship of man and woman (2:18 ff.) , of the nature of sex (3:6 ff.) , of pain in childbirth (3:16) , of the necessity of human labor (3:17 ff.) , or, again, the origin of music (4:21) , or of men of unusually great stature (6:1 ff.) , or of wine and its effects (9:20 f.) , or of the dispersion of peoples and the variety of languages in the world (11:1 ff.)

But while we can be reasonably certain that these stories came into being at the first level under an etiological motive, and while the motivation leaves its clear mark on the stories as we read them now, we can be equally sure that this was by no means their primary significance at the second level, the level of their incorporation in the epic work of the Yahwist, or the third level, that of the final editorial work of the postexilic community.

The Yahwist constructs his work around the central theme of divine promise and fulfillment: the promise is made to Abraham in Gen. 12:1 ff. (and subsequently repeated to Isaac and Jacob) that (1) Abrahamís descendants shall become a great people and (2) they shall be given a homeland; and the promise is fulfilled in the formation of the people under Moses and the conquest of Palestine under Joshua. But that the Yahwist himself understands Godís concern and activity on Israelís behalf as having ultimate implications beyond this is unmistakably indicated in a third promise, not fulfilled in the scope of the Yahwistís work: in Abraham all the nations of the earth will be blessed. He prefaces his work with much of what is now contained in Gen. 2-1 certainly not as an etiological but as a theological prelude -- a prelude setting forth the fundamental terms of Godís relationship to man in the world, a prelude justifying and explaining the peculiarity of Godís particular activity on behalf of Israel.

With the third level of interpretation, we return to the postexilic community from whose perspective the whole of Israelís history is surveyed. The unexplicit and ultimately inexplicable conviction of the Yahwist that the promise to Abraham embraces a function infinitely beyond mere statehood has been further articulated by the prophets in their eloquent and inspired interpretation of Israelís hectic history from the tenth to the fifth centuries, and most pointedly in the words of a prophet who interprets the meaning of exile and restoration:

It is too light a thing that you [Israel] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the preserved of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
[Isa. 49:6]

How and why, then, do both creation stories come to be included in this introduction, this prelude, to the literature of Israel? What the Yahwist essentially intended to communscate in his story of creation in the tenth century is endorsed and confirmed in the fifth. At both levels the story serves a theological, not an etiological, purpose: it reflects the faith of Israel, early and late, about the meaning of existence. The later community, the mature community, simply underlines, in the addition of the first story, the absolutely universal purpose of God in his choice of Israel and his activity in her own and the wider environment of history. Israel ultimately must include both stories because, as we have already suggested, only the two together return a full expression -- we could as well use the word "confession" -- of her faith. The stories are complementary.

And this is to read the stories with empathy, from within the community. Creation is good. Divinely surveyed in its completed totality, it is "very good" (1:31) God is graciously disposed to man: his is a beneficent will (1:28 f.) All of this, in divine intention, is universal. In more intimate, in more highly personalized terms, this is reaffirmed in the second, older story, the J account. Yet the beneficent will of God is more. God labors in manís creation (2:7) He himself plants the garden, manís rich and pleasing environment (2:8) Seeing his creatureís loneliness he makes him -- almost -- a partner in creation: every living creature is brought into being and presented for approval, and a name. And for Israel, to give the name is to share responsibly in the very being of that which is named. Israel would never concur in our dictum that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; because for Israel a rose by some other name could not be a rose: the name is of the very essence of that which is named. The entire passage, 2:18-22, understands man as the object of Godís love -- nothing less -- and a partner, almost, in creation. This suggests the possibility of an even warmer quality in the psalmistís line,

Thou hast made man little less than God. . . .

But love must give freedom, and freedom requires the will to choose and an understanding of alternative choices. It is, to be sure, a good creation, and an altogether good and loving Creator -- but Israel knows not only in her neighbors but in herself the freedom of will to choose not the good but the evil. Consistently, Israel looks realistically at human initiative, an initiative symbolized in the creation story in "the tree."

The second story (J) , like the first (P) , shows signs that it came to its present form in a long process; and nowhere does it show its composite nature more clearly than in the various ways in which "the tree" is designated. In the unit, Gen. 2-3, the forbidden tree is referred to as:

1. the tree of life, 2:9, 3:22

2. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, 2:9, 17 (and cf 3:5, 22)

3. the tree that is simply prohibited, without further definition, 3:11, 17

4. the tree in the midst of the garden, 2:9, 3:3

From where we stand, it appears probable that the present story (Gen. 2:4b ff.) of the Garden-Creation preserves two originally independent accounts. One sought in some way to deal with the vexing question of human mortality (the tree of life) and the other, at a primitive level, with the equally perplexing problem of evil. Both accounts were clearly etiological, that is, both represent an effort to explain existing phenomena in terms of origins; and both themes appear to have been borrowed outside Israel.

But the very confusion in terms in the present story strongly suggests that within the Israelite community the story is shaped and preserved by faith, that Israel is concerned not so significantly with the intrinsic properties of the tree as with what the tree represents, what it symbolizes. Israelís stress is on the third and fourth designations above. The forbidden tree represents the essential difference between Creator and man; it defines the central requisite for their harmonious relationship -- obedience; and it leaves no doubt that obedience requires faith, that on any other terms than faith (e.g., human reason) man will rebel rather than obey:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. [3:6]

The forbidden tree represents the authority of the Creator over man; but it also represents his love. The forbidden tree is alone the symbol of manís freedom of will, his freedom of choice. Man-in-the-image-of-God can be no automaton. He possesses will: he is a responsible being.

Israel puts its emphasis upon the symbol of forbiddenness; but also, with an imprecision inherent in the character of the story, upon the location of the tree "in the midst of the garden." It is Israelís intuitive articulation of faith that the decision of human will is never peripheral but "in the midst," that the choice of obedience or rebellion is always in the center, always the central quality of human life in creation.

So it is that the unit, Gen: 2-3, moves on to give a theological explanation, universally applicable, of why the good creation, the beneficent divine will, the love of God, and the harmonious relationship between God and man, all appear to be distorted, fragmented and broken. We recall the words of Thomas Mann about the meaning of myth, the truth of myth: "It is, it always is, however much we may say, it was." Certainly this expresses Israelís understanding of these stories. These are stories, not about what was, but what is. This is Israelís commentary on the nature of existence. Human existence is in broken and distorted relationship with God and creation because man is not obedient. Man rebels against his status as creature, he rejects the limitation set upon his creatureliness (symbolized in the forbidden tree) , he repudiates faith in the Creator in favor of his own powers -- and God must act against him in judgment.

The two stories are complementary. The frustrations and tragedies of human existence -- expulsion from the Garden -- are the, unhappy outcome of a good creation by a good God (Gen. 1) because man exercises his power of will, his responsibility, his great gift of likeness to God, in prideful rebellion against his Creator and Sustainer. The full faith, the rounder understanding, is conveyed in neither story alone, but only in both. The one account in this respect is essentially summarized in the words, "God created man in his own image"; the other, in the words, "God formed man of dust from the ground." Neither alone is an adequate expression of Israelís faith. Together, they define what Israel believes about man -- his high potential in the purpose and love of God, and at the same time his sinful, rebellious performance: in the image of God, of dust from the ground.

C. Out to the Field (Gen. 4:1-16)

We have seen two stories of creation, one early (2 :4b ff.) and the other relatively late (1:1 ff.) We acknowledge the differences between the two, and we attempt to classify and define the differences in terms of larger and at one time independently integrated sources -- J and P respectively. Both stories are shaped by the continuing community of Israel. Both result from and give expression to the faith of Israel, a faith which was itself created and formed and sustained in a very real history of very real events from the Exodus to the Monarchy to the Exile and into the Restoration of Israel. The two stories are endorsed by the mature community and testify not only to certain differences in perspective in the long course of Israelís history but also and significantly to the perpetuity, the consistency and the essential unity of Israelís faith.

In Gen. 3 we have surveyed an account inseparably integrated with the J account of creation immediately preceding, an account whose raison díêtre in Israelís sacred literature lies in its explanation, in theological terms, of the universal human plight. Human life is fraught with tension, labor, pain and frustration because of human sin -- pride, rebellion, disobedience -- and divine judgment against it. And the three major narratives which follow also revolve, like that of the Garden, around the central theme of sin and judgment. This is the primary theme of the stories of the Garden (Gen. 3) , of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) , of the Flood (Gen. 6-9) and of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11) Each deals with a different aspect of manís prideful rebellion against his Creator and Sustainer, issuing in alienation not only of man from God, but man from man as well.

In each of the four stories, then, it is implicitly an act of rebellion against God which provokes the divine judgment; but each story sees the act in a different expression. In the first story, the sin, the rebellion, takes the form of disobedience:

She took of its fruit [the forbidden tree] and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. [3: 6b]

In the second, it is wanton violence within the human community:

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. [4:8b]

In the third, the story of the Flood, the sin of rebellion is yet more flagrant: the perversion of human will against divine will takes the form of moral depravity:

Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. [6:5]

And in the fourth, the account of Babel, rebellion is total and overt. It is rejection of God. It is apostasy, the repudiation of God, the abandonment of faith:

Then they [men] said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." [11:4]

Israel sees the divine judgment in each of the four expressions of rebellion as peculiarly appropriate to the human act. Disobedience of God issues in alienation and separation of God and man; human violence, in alienation and separation of man from man; moral depravity, in destruction and death; and apostasy, the denial of faith, the assertion of self-sufficiency, in wholesale human division, discord and misunderstanding.

We inject this brief survey of what immediately precedes and follows the story under discussion (Cain and Abel) because the interpretation of any biblical text is dependent ultimately upon its context. In Genesis in particular, stories representing a wide variety of origins and unquestionably transmitted at one time independently of one another have been put together with relatively little alteration in the form in which they were received. Their meaning to Israel, their function as an articulation of the faith of Israel, lies primarily in the process of selection and arrangement and integration. If we are to understand Gen. 4 we must see it in its purposeful relationship to its wider contexts, that is, to (1) Gen. 3-11, (2) Gen. 1-11 (3) Gen. 1-50, (4) the canon of Israel, the Old Testament and (5) for the Christian, the entire Bible.

And with respect to these relationships, it is important to remark again that the stories of Gen. 1-11 are together a theological commentary on Israelís view of the universal relationship between God and man. The four primary literary units in Gen. 3-11 constitute a universal indictment of what is, not an antiquarian "historical" commentary on what was. The indictment, then, of Gen. 3, and of the section Gen. 3-11, is universal -- and Israel herself is not an exception. Israelís historians, prophets and writers in the main insist that Israel too stands under the same indictment with all men. Israel understands the meaning of her own history in part in terms of sin and judgment.

The primeval history in Gen. 1-11 is in its essential structure and unity the work of J (the Yahwist) ; but it was received, endorsed and at points expanded by P. At both levels, Israel sees her own peculiar function and mission, pointedly introduced with the call of Abraham in Gen. 12, against the background of an ever-widening gulf between God and man, and between man and man. This is Israelís faith. Manís sin of rebellion against God -- whether in the form of disobedience, violence, depravity or apostasy -- is always divinely judged and punished.

But it is important to observe that divine judgment, severe as it is, is never without the quality of divine mercy. Man is expelled from the Garden, but his life continues with every indication of divine concern. Cain is expelled from his own community, yet he is granted divine protection. Man is destroyed, but not quite: the destruction is subservient to the divine mercy which seeks to give opportunity for a new beginning. Man is dispersed and divided by fundamental misunderstandings, but again life is continued in the divine hope that man will come to know the one source of unity and peace. The divine judgment is never merely punitive in character: it is ultimately redemptive in purpose.

If this is the theological sense of the primeval history, and if, in particular, the Cain-Abel story illustrates the common sin of violence and its consequences; if this is the appropriate interpretation at the levels of J and P, we, nevertheless, cannot escape questions which arise out of indications of other motives, other concerns, which are still latent in the story.

We suspect at once that the story originally had no connection with the account of the expulsion from the Garden in Gen. 3. The two accounts appear to have been somewhat artificially joined in 4:1-2a; and we note in addition several presuppositions of the Cain-Abel plot which suggest that the story originally had a different setting:

1. the existence of a clan or tribe to take revenge on Cain

2. the existence of another clan or tribe in which Cain finds refuge, and a wife

3. the existence of the religious institution of sacrifice which in turn presupposes a rather highly developed religious organization.

We have already noted Israelís indifference to matters of logical conformity; and we suspect that what appears as a discrepancy to us results in fact from singleness of editorial purpose -- not chronological sequence, but theological commentary.

If we ask the question -- and we can hardly escape it -- What was the function of the story at levels prior to its incorporation in the primeval story? more than one possibility is suggested. The story breathes a tribal atmosphere: did it originate and was it pridefully preserved first among tribesmen who counted their descent from Cain, who regarded him as their ancestor? Is this a story which comes to Israel from the Cainites, who become Kenites and who are subsequently seen in the Old Testament as related to, and associated with, the Israelites?

Or does the story reflect the ancient memory, a common memory among seminomadic tribes, of antipathy between the agriculturalist (Cain) and the nomad (Abel) ? Was this its original primary function?

Or could the story come to us from the original form of what is known as a cult myth? According to this view, the story is the verbal deposit of an ancient fertility ritual: it describes a primitive cultic function, a kind of sacrifice, performed to assure a rich yield to the field. Cain is the priestly person, and Abel the sacrificial victim whose blood, shed upon the ground, will bring necessarily the response of fertility. The flight of Cain is a ritual flight: he is defiled by his act and must purify himself in flight. At the same time, he is acting on behalf of the community, whose protecting mark is put upon him.6

Any of these explanations, alone or in combination, is a possible interpretation of the story at a preliterary level. It is not impossible that the story sustained even in early times an interpretation placing heavy emphasis on v. 9:

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brotherís keeper?"

In view of the wealth of legal and prophetic material in the Old Testament reflecting the sense of corporate responsibility, we are certain that this element of the story had profound meaning for Israel. It is indeed inseparably related to the primary theological theme and purpose of the story in its present context. True community is realized only under God, in conformity to the righteous will of God. Violation of the divine terms for community results in divine judgment -- disruption of community and separation from God. In context, the story gives expression to Israelís theological explanation of the brokenness of all community everywhere: it is precisely manís denial that he is his brotherís keeper; and the denial is itself an act of rebellion against God.

And the Lord said, ". . . The voice of your brotherís blood is crying to me from the ground." . . . Cain said to the Lord, ". . . thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. . . ." [4:10, 13 f., in part]

D. When Men Began to Multiply (Gen. 6-9)

The first four verses of chapter 6 appear to have had no original connection with the story of the Flood. They are placed here, probably by the Yahwist, because in the editorís interpretation the incident points to the sinfulness of men and it contributes, therefore, to his theme of the increasing moral depravity of the world. We note the probable etiological motive that first gave rise to the story. The occasional phenomenon of men of unusually great stature -- in our own circuses they are called giants -- led to the belief, widely held in antiquity, of the existence of a lost race of giants. The opening verses of chapter 6 explain the belief as the result of a union between the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men.

The story of the Flood no doubt preserves an ancient historical recollection of severe inundation; but it is, we think, no longer necessary to enumerate all of the reasons why this account centering in the person of Noah cannot be regarded as factual 7 Israel in her historical existence in Canaan never knew a serious threat from flood. The story is borrowed, apparently from Babylonia, not for what it says about water, land, animals and ark, but for what it says about the relationship of God and man.

It is borrowed from Babylonia, where severe floods were known and are archaeologically attested, in two forms apparently (possibly three) -- one taken over by J and the other by P. While the accounts are now interwoven, it is not difficult to separate the most important features of each.8


Seven pairs of clean animals, Two of all animals, and one pair of unclean animals male and female, 6:19 f., 7:15 f.

(a distinction reflecting dietary

laws) are taken into the ark,

7:2 f.

The Flood is caused by rain, The fountains of the great deep
below, and the windows of
heaven above, are opened, re-
flecting the concept of a three-
or possibly a four-storied uni-
verse, 7:11.

The Flood lasts for forty days, The Flood remains for 150

7:12 (cf. 7:17), and subsides days, 7:24 and is ended, after two (or three?) periods apparently, in 150 days,8:3.

of seven days, 8:6 ff.

The sending forth of raven

and dove, 8:6 if.

Noah offers a sacrifice, 8:20. The ark finally comes aground on the mountains of Ararat, 8:4.

Yahweh (R.S.V.: the Lord)

smells its pleasing odor, 8:21.

Yahweh declares that he will God makes a covenant with

never again thus curse the Noah, to which covenant the

ground; and he adds, in effect, rainbow remains the permanent

that he must find other means testimony: "never again shall

to solve the problem of human t here be a flood to destroy the

perverseness -- "for the imag- earth." 9:8 ff.

ination of manís heart is evil

from his youth." 8:21.

We note again one of the chief distinguishing characteristics of J and P: J uses the term Yahweh for the divine name, while P, as in Gen. i, prefers the more general designation God, in Hebrew, elohim. This is a consistent feature of the priestly stratum in Genesis, conforming to the view that the name Yahweh was first revealed to Moses, and through him, to Israel (see Ex. 6:2 if.)

If the modern reader finds these internal contradictions and discrepancies a little disconcerting, it is all the more important to observe what is stressed in the story without any ambiguity. The Flood marks the end of one epoch and the beginning of another. Man and the world are given a fresh start, a new and clean beginning. Chapter 9:1 ff. (P) makes of it a restitution of the original terms of creation and adds significant ritual and moral requirements:

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. . . . Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; . . . I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood [the requirement that the blood, the life principle, is Godís, and may not be eaten]. . . . of every manís brother I will require the life of man. . . . for God made man in his own image.

J also understands a restored creation:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. [8:22]

Similarly, although P alone uses the actual term "covenant," both strands of the narrative agree in a profoundly significant confession of faith, which is so articulated in the combination of the two together that one suspects not only "method in the madness" that united them, but also sheer inspiration.9 If we accept the story as finally Israel did in its present unity, we are given deep insight into her faith. God acts in severe judgment upon the perversity, the moral depravity of man. If the character of God is thus apparently portrayed in harsh terms, it is surely intended to underline not any inadequacy in God, but the incredible depth of human ingratitude which in wholesale fashion defies the love that brought man into being and prostitutes a capacity and nature divinely conceived precisely for harmonious community with man and God. In the Flood story, Israel expresses her faith not in an unmerciful God, but in a God of grace.

It is the sense of the story that the life of man deserves extinction. The anthropomorphic terms -- God in the image of man -- are retained in Israel long after the primitive concepts which shaped the original language are transcended.

And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I made them." [6:6 f.]

At an early level of the story, this is certainly to be interpreted as reflecting the notion of a highly limited deity who, like man, makes his mistakes and lives to regret them, to acknowledge them, and to attempt to rectify them. But in the full context of Israelís mature faith, we understand that she retains the old language with a different interpretation. How, more pointedly and economically, can Israel give expression to her own view that man in his desecration of creation deserves to be wiped out?

Yet Godís very judgment is given in love and compassion and mercy! The life of man is not extinguished but is instead given a new beginning, a fresh start. The old slate is wiped clean. That this renewal of life is something that always is -- not simply was -- is expressed in the designation of the rainbow as the perpetual sign of Godís mercy. It is the sign of Godís commitment in solemn covenant to the whole of creation in perpetuity, despite the fact that (8:21) "the imagination of manís heart" remains continually evil:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you [i.e., all men, in all time]. . . . I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. . . . When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." [9:8, 13, 16]

It is the faith of Israel that God is Creator, Sustainer and Judge, that he reveals himself in nature and in history, and that he is committed to all human life in love and mercy and profound concern. We cannot rightly understand Israelís view of her own peculiar divine election and covenant except against this background of her faith in Godís covenant with all men, in all time.

E. Its Name was called Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

The etiological motive, the primitive effort to explain existing phenomena in terms of origin, is a marked feature of the story of the building of the city and the tower. We suspect that the account in its present form combines two distinct etiologies:

Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth." [Gen. 11:4]

One etiology may originally have been created to explain the actual ruins of an ancient tower. According to this story, the builders constructed the tower in order to establish a name for themselves and they are divinely judged with the confusion of their speech, vv. 7, 9a. At an early level the story served the further etiological function of explaining the multiplicity of human languages. The other etiology has its beginning in a city, not a tower, a city built to insure the unity and security of its builders. The judgment is dispersion, vv. 8, 9b, explaining etiologically the wide geographic distribution of peoples.

The two narratives, if originally distinct, are now skillfully combined. Other than the duplicates noted, which are in any case in remarkable affinity, the story is inconsistent in only one particular -- the two references to Yahwehís coming down in vv. 5 and 7. It retains the naïveté of its early origin in representing all mankind as a single nomadic group with "one language and few words" and in explaining with charming economy the transition in language and location from simple unity to complex diversity.

In the context of what precedes and follows the story of Babel, we understand that Israel preserves this brief narrative for its contribution to the expression of her faith. Like the stories of the Garden, of Cain and of the Flood, Babel illustrates a central quality of human sin, and the nature of divine judgment. If at an early level the story (or its two separate strands) was taken to focus on what was, Israel clearly reads it as a commentary on what also is. Man presumes to effect his own security: he puts his ultimate trust in himself and in his own efforts, as if God did not exist. The judgment, under which all men live and from which all men suffer, is division, misunderstanding and antagonism. The theological essence of the story is an absolutely uncompromising faith: the multiple and tragic divisions within the human family result from pride and arrogance, self-trust and self-worship; the resolution, by unmistakable implication, lies only in acceptance of the status of creature, in faith in God.

Suppose we paraphrase the story in terms of our own times in an effort to translate the uncompromising nature of Israelís faith:

And as men journeyed through history, they came to the valley of the shadow of destruction and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make that which will cause wars to cease. And they had the dread of Hiroshima for brick, and for mortar the fear of weapons yet more terrible. They then said, "Come, let us build ourselves one kingdom of men, which shall be our salvation. And let us make a name for ourselves throughout all the ages, lest, indeed, we destroy ourselves upon the face of the whole earth.

And the Lord, uninvoked, came down to see all the efforts of the children of men to save the world by the means of the children of men. And the Lord said, "Behold, they would be one people, and they would have all one language. But I am their unity, and they have not called upon my name. Their common language is in me, and they know me not. Therefore, the kingdom of men is confounded, and its name shall be called Babel until the children of men are united in me, by my spirit."

In one significant respect, the story of Babel differs from the three major narrative units that precede it in the primeval history. The four stories together all declare that human life is derelict because man rebels against God. Human life is unfulfilled and unfulfilling because it is lived under judgment and in a state of alienation of man from God and man from man. It may well be that the stories are arranged so as to convey a progressive broadening of the chasm between God and man. And yet the first three stories understand a corresponding act of divine grace, of divine mercy, of divine concern. Man is expelled from the Garden; but God himself clothes his creatures, human life continues and God acts not in a justice which would decree death, but in mercy fraught with hope. Cain is expelled from the community; yet he continues under divine protection and lives to establish a new community (4:17 ff.) The Flood destroys, to be sure, but not utterly: if the judgment is severe, the divine grace is correspondingly powerfully expressed; for man is in mercy given a new start, a new beginning fraught again with hope.

In all of these Godís forgiveness is implicit, his sustaining power is explicit and above all his concern to bring about a reconciliation of himself and man is pointed and emphatic. Why is this positive note so conspicuously missing in the story of Babel? Life is permitted to continue, to be sure, but under what appears to be the unremitting, unrelieved and unqualified judgment of the fragmentation of mankind in widespread dispersion and in multiple mutual misunderstanding and alienation. Judgment appears to be the final, divine word.

The story of Babel is the climax of the primeval history. If, as we have suggested, the faith of Israel is portrayed primarily in the selection and arrangement of the stories, and if Gen. 3-1 is constructed in such a way as to convey a progressive estrangement between man and God, this story illustrates the ultimate act of rebellion -- the total denial of God in the absolute assumption of self-sufficiency. This is sin in totality, with finality. It is rebellion in greater intensity and degree than disobedience, or violence, or even moral depravity. The judgment is appropriate: the punishment fits the crime.

And yet, it is precisely here that the story of manís estrangement from God is inseparably joined to the great biblical theme of Godís initiating, active concern to bridge the chasm. It is precisely here that the tragedies and frustrations of alienation are resolved in the anticipation of divine purpose, love and promise. Babel is not the final word of the primeval history. The theological conclusion of the section, Gen. 1-11, is in the first verses of Gen. 12. The call of Abraham, and particularly the divine promise of Gen. 12:3, is at once the conclusion of the primeval history and the beginning of the story of Godís reconciling and redeeming activity. From the welter of peoples and tongues, Abraham is called for one express and ultimate purpose: . . . in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."10

This is the faith of Israel. This is essentially what Israel believes about man and about God. It is in the light of this faith that she understands herself.

F. These are the Generations

These are the major components of the primeval history. We will look briefly now at the remaining passages in Gen. 1-11. In Gen. 5 we have an extended and detailed genealogy obviously from the same priestly stratum responsible for Gen. 1 (note especially the vocabulary and phrasing of vv. 1 and 2) These are given -- we are sure, naïvely -- as the generations from Adam to the sons of Noah. Such a table as this reflects the view, held in common by the Israelites and other ancient peoples, that in very early times men had enjoyed a much longer life span. If these figures on longevity seem extreme, we may recall a parallel list of ten Babylonian kings preceding the Flood who together reigned for a remarkable total of 432,000 years!"11

In contrast to Pís clerical, repetitive table of generations, J (Gen. 4:17-26) records the line of human succession -- a list which closely corresponds -- with three marked differences. The J genealogy is a much more colorful piece of writing, often retaining with the name an item of interesting etiological data. Cain originates the building of cities; Jabal, "the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle," is the first nomad; his brother Jubal apparently is the originator of music as "the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe"; Tubal-cain is the first smith, "the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron"; Lamech is the originator of the principle of blood revenge, in a poem, incidentally, of extreme antiquity (vv. 23, 24) ; and it is Enosh, or men in his time, who first call upon the name of Yahweh. This introduces a second point of difference between the genealogies of J and P: as we have already noted, the P stratum records in Exod. 6:3 ff. the contradicting view that men first call upon the name of Yahweh in the time of Moses. A third striking difference is that this piece is drawn from a source which either reflects ignorance of the Flood, or has been editorially curtailed somewhere along the way.

This is not, of course, to say that the Yahwist, the J source as a whole, is ignorant of the Flood, since one of the two major strands of the present Flood story is from J. And at the conclusion of the Flood account, Gen. 9:18-28, we have an enigmatic little piece, much like Gen. 4:17 ff., about Noah and his sons. This, too, has the same naive and etiological atmosphere of the earlier J genealogy. Ham is the progenitor of the Canaanites; Noah is the first agriculturalist, and the founder of the first distillery, to his own embarrassment; which episode sets the scene for another matter of etiological information, the explanation in terms of origin of the subjugation of Canaan (Ham) to the descendants of Japheth and particularly Shem, the father of all Semites, and consequently of the tribes of Israel.

The full genealogy of Shem is given in 11:10 ff. in the characteristic style of P. It traces the descendants of Shem to Abraham who, as we shall see, is seen in Genesis as the progenitor not only of Israel, but of many nations and peoples.

In Chapter 10 we have another genealogy, "the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth." It is clear that J and P are combined here, whatever the nature of the original sources from which the material is drawn. The etiological quality of the J genealogy appears especially in the section from v. 8 to v. 19, in v. 21, and again in vv. 25-30. And again we are struck with the logical inconsistency of the literature: here, in contradiction to the story of Babel, the geographical distribution of peoples is understood as the result of a long process of expansion, migration and settlement. It is not, of course, a strictly accurate, scientific ethnology. We could hardly expect this. But it does represent a more rational effort to explain the phenomenon of race and language and the dispersion of peoples.

The major components of Gen. 1-11 are drawn from ancient, non-Israelite mythologies. They are selected, edited and arranged as a universal theological commentary whose primary quality is not was-ness but is-ness. God is Creator-Sustainer, Judge, and -- always implicitly -- Reconciler. Man is a rebellious creature in his disobedience, violence, wickedness and self-deification. This remains the divine-human tension in which Israelís historical role is understood and to which it is addressed, and it remains so to the very closing of Israelís Canon.

At the same time, Israelís theology is always, and in the most profound sense, historical. Every significant aspect of the faith of Israel is ultimately historically derived. But this is not to say that what Israel believes, she always believes from past to present. To be sure, Israel understands the meaning of Godís activity in her present history in part in terms of her understanding of his activity in her past history. What is interpreted by what was. But Israelís historical involvement also stimulates an opposite and simultaneous movement from present to past. The past is always subject to reinterpretation as the result of the interpretation of the present. What was is also interpreted by what is.

Israel conceives of no reality that is not historical reality. It is inevitable, therefore, that she clothe her primeval history in historical dress. What so convincingly to her is must have its expression in a setting of time and place and persons. The theological commentary on the relationship between universal God and universal man must have "historical" backgrounds if it is to have the realness which for Israel it so overwhelmingly has.

Israel understands that God tolls the bell and that when the bell tolls for one man, it tolls for all men.



1See further Pfeiffer, op. cit., pp. 192 ff.

2 This frequently proposed rendering of the Hebrew is accepted by Gerhard von Rad as syntactically possible, that is, as a valid alternative translation to the more common rendering (so R.S.V.) "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was" etc. But Professor von lad rejects on theological grounds our rendering here in favor of the more conventional reading. Always predisposed to follow von Rad, I fail to see the cogency of his argument here. See his Das Erste Buch Mose in the series D Alte Testament Deutsch (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Rupredit, 1952 f.) , pp. 36 f.

3 For a detailed discussion of the cosmogony of Genesis, see S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (London: Methuen and Co., 1909) , pp. 19 ff.

4A full discussion of the Israelite concept and vocabulary of time will be found in H. Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946) , pp. 106 ff.

5 Edwyn Bevanís tribute to the P account of creation in S. H. Hooke, In the Beginning, The Clarendon Bible, Vol. VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1947) , pp. 160 f.

6 Hooke, op. cit., pp. 38 ff.

7 For a concise enumeration of these reasons, see A Commentary on the Bible, ed. A. S. Peake (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons. Ltd., 1937) , p. 543.

8 For a discussion of, and significant quotations from, the Babylonian story from which our accounts are drawn see Driver, Op. cit., pp. 103 ff., or John Skinner, Genesis, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1930) , pp. 175 ff.; or, for a briefer comparison, Interpreterís Bible, Vol. I (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1951), pp. 450 ff.

9 See Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1946) , p. 14.

10 Here, and in my general interpretation of Genesis, I am indebted to Professor Gerhard von Rad, not only for his commentary on Genesis, already cited, but also for his Heidelberg lectures on the Theology of the Hexateuch in the summer of 1953 and the fall and winter, 1954-55.

11 "Peake, ed., op. cit., p. 142.

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