Friday, June 24, 2011

Genesis is History, Not Poetry

“Why are you guys so literalistic about Genesis? Don’t you know that it’s just Hebrew poetry? There’s no need to treat it like real history!” This was the smug comment of a young English literature teacher at a recent Christian educators’ conference where the Institute for Creation Research was conducting seminars.

The bottom line is that Genesis is not “Hebrew poetry.” Genesis is Hebrew narrative prose. In other words, Genesis is a record of accurate, true history. Not mysticism. Not mystery. Not myth. Anyone who can read a Bible can prove that Genesis is not Hebrew poetry. And this is not a minor issue, because Paul hung his theology of our salvation in Christ upon the historicity of the Genesis record (Romans 5:12-21).

Example of Genesis history, exhibiting the format of narrative prose.
And Cain talked to Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. (Genesis 4:8-11)
There is no informational parallelism in this passage. What we read is history, a narrative account of the first instance of an unbeliever tragically persecuting a believer, a terrible precedent, a hate crime that preceded millions of later copycat martyrdoms. It’s a sad history (except that Abel went to heaven).

There is no poetic parallelism anywhere in Genesis 4, with the possible exception of the wicked “song” of Lamech the polygamist recorded in Genesis 4:23-24. Nor is there any poetic parallelism in Genesis 1, 2, 3, or any other chapter in Genesis. Why? Because Genesis is history. Virtually all of Genesis illustrates what we expect from historical narrative: careful attention to sequenced events (this occurred, then this occurred, then this occurred, etc.), as well as inclusion of time-and-space context information (when such is relevant to the narrative) and a noticeable absence of Hebrew parallelism.1


Why would anyone even pretend that Genesis 1-11, or any part of Genesis, is Hebrew poetry?

For those who know better, it is intellectual dishonesty to avoid the obvious truth that Genesis is real history. Their most likely motive is a desire to accommodate evolutionary mythology by discounting the real history of our origins, stealing credit from Christ so that a fable called “natural selection” can be credited with “selecting” (and creating) earth’s creatures.

Genesis 1-11 is easy-to-understand narrative prose. Don’t naïvely fall for the misinformation of a so-called scholar who, because he wants to rationalize his own evolutionary mythology, tries to dissuade you from believing Genesis 1-50 is an inerrantly inspired historical narrative—because that’s exactly what it is. And, as they say, “the rest is history.”

(for the complete article, see James J.S. Johnson, Genesis is History, Not Poetry, Acts & Facts, June 2011)

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References (selected)

1.Genesis 1-11, as well as 12-50, also routinely uses the vayyaqtil forms (i.e., conjunction-modified verbs that older Hebrew grammars call waw consecutives or waw conversives), an awkward Hebrew language feature that pervades Hebrew narrative prose but not Hebrew poetry. See, e.g., Practico, G. D. and M. V. Van Pelt. 2001. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Workbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 125-134.

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