August 10, 2020

Brueggemann on the Genre of Gen 1-11

Earth Code Genesis 1:11-13, Janice Schoultz Mudd

Here is another thought-provoking quote, giving the reader of Genesis 1-11 something to consider when approaching the text. This comes from Walter Brueggemann’s fine commentary on Genesis in the Interpretation series (Genesis: Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching).

Comment needs to be made on the matter of creation, world-beginnings and attempts to correlate creation narratives with modern scientific hypotheses. . . . The expositor must move between two temptations. On the one hand, there is the temptation to treat this material as historical, as a report of what happened. This will be pursued by those who regard science as a threat and want to protect the peculiar claims of the text. If these materials are regarded as historical, then a collision with scientific theories is predictable. On the other hand, there is the temptation to treat these materials as myth, as statements which announce what has always been and will always be true of the world. This will be pursued by those who want to harmonize the text with scientific perceptions and who seek to make the texts rationally acceptable.

Our exposition will insist that these texts be taken neither as history nor as myth. Rather, we insist that the text is a proclamation of God’s decisive dealings with his creation. . . .

. . . The text, then, is a proclamation of covenanting, as the shape of reality. The claim of this tradition is opposed both to a materialism which regards the world (nature, cosmos) as autonomous and to a transcendentalism which regards the world as the same stuff as God. The term “create” asserts distance and belonging to. It is affirmed that the world has distance from God and a life of its own. At the same time, it is confessed that the world belongs to God and has no life without reference to God. This idiom of covenant applies not only to the creation stories of Gen. 1-2, but to all of the materials of Gen. 1-11. The whole is a narrative about God’s insistence that the creation should be nothing other than his creation. Such a view leaves ample room for every responsible scientific investigation. But it yields not at all on the issue of the fundamental character of reality as derived from and belonging to this sovereign, gracious God who will seek to have his own way. (p. 16f)


  1. My multi-semitic-language-speaking OT professor has been routinely blowing my mind. Like, Genesis 1 is a song written by the Levites meant to affirm faith. The serpent represents the ocean, which symbolized chaos and was the main threat to the people. Yeah, stuff like that. Not Grandma’s interpretation. Processing delicately….

    • Oh, wow! The serpent is Tiamat!

      I never before thought of that! That gives yet another layer of depth to the story. Thanks, Sean (and now I will stop abusing the exclaimation mark key).


      • But Gen 3 and Gen 1 have separate origins, and Gen 2-3 has no tehom. Without the tehom, there is no hook to hang the serpent=tiamat idea. So, other than 21st cent interpreters, to/for whom is the Gen 3 snake equivalent to Tiamat? It seems like a stretch to me to claim that the redactor had the Gen 1 creation, with its faint echos of tiamat, and juxtaposed it to gen 2-3 in order to portray the snake as tiamat. It is more likely that they had nothing to do with each other.

        • I’m just going to post some of my notes without comment, because I still don’t have a reference point for this stuff. Make sense of them if you can.

          THREATS (have to do with water):

          The Waste and the Deep

          The Snake – A remnant of the water. Let’s get rid of good land.

          The Flood

          THE DEEP: – tehom – the deep, salt water.

          Same word Mesopotamians use to explain chaos in their world. Floods from rivers. Robs you of land that you worked hard to cultivate. Their only choice was to beat gods at their own game. Hard world = hard gods. The world was created through the defeat of water (Tehoma)

          God divided the water – cut it in two. Created it like Mesopotamia. Hebrews and Mesopotamians both buy the idea that land is threatened by water. Radically different ideas from that point on.

          The great question is “Will the water come back?” 2012, Waterworld, etc.

          The SNAKE:

          Not “Satan” in the OT world. No divine enemy.

          OT people would have thought of a Satan character as a good god vs. a bad god, and they’re both equal. That’s the polytheistic culture. So God in his wisdom doesn’t reveal that.

          Other creation stories, with something opposed to creation.
          “Yom” = ocean. Depicted as a snake. Great opponent of Baal in Caananite religion.
          (Isaiah 51)

          Rahab → Ocean. “The wide one.” Canaanites probably gave her that name. She reminded people of chaos.

          Leviathan → Picture of the sea.

          “Evil” never used in these texts. It’s just “bad lands.”

          Psalm 74:13-17
          Job 26:12-13

          The snake was trying to use the prohibition to break down their setting in good land, so there would be a return of waters (figuratively…chaos) to the earth.

          The issue of the snake is a practical issue for those on earth. What would threaten people’s lives?

          • No one would deny that there is an ancient myth about the deity fighting a reptilian sea-monster. Yammu is not described as reptilian, but the Baal cycle does refer to a fight with Lotan, a sea-monster. The Baal cycle, however, is not a creation account, and both Yammu and Lotan are watery opponents. It is not legitimate to make every “snake” that appears in an ancient text a reference to this myth. Without any reference to a watery nature or something else that would connect this snake to the myth, the case for a reference to that myth is pretty weak. The snake in Gen 3 serves such a different purpose than the sea-monsters in the myths you cited that you would have to make a very strong case here. The appearance of a snake is not, of itself, enough to support your claim, as interesting as it may be.

    • I’ve read elsewhere that the serpent represents the pagan Canaanite system, of which the serpent was a cult figure, a symbol of fertility. With that interpretation, Genesis 3 might be seen to be commenting on the Israelites’ temptation by the surrounding cultures’ paganism.

  2. I am very far from a Genesis scholar, so this question may be naive, but what about Walter Wink’s suggestion that Genesis was a Jewish creation story meant to counter the Babylonian creation story? It is mentioned here:

  3. First you quote from James D. G. Dunn in the previous article to prove a point, and now you quote from Walter Brueggemann and YOU think I am the one with the problem??

    Of course, I got it. I am the heretic here because I take Scripture to be fully inspired, authoritative, and infallible.

    My posts get deleted because I don’t tow the “confessional” line of post-Micheal Spencer iMonk. But, of course, quoting from a NT scholar who rejects the orthodox Christological standpoint of historic Christianity and using commentary by a OT scholar who wrote a OT Theology textbook using a post-modern leftist ideological framework is A-OKAY.

    Imagine if I started quoting from the likes of John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Charles Spurgeon, etc. to back up a point here. I think the reception would be less than friendly. But I expect it in a place like this where many people who regularly post here think salvation is easy and free and that historic orthodoxy can be played with like puddy.

    • The question you are failing to ask here is: Why discount the scholarship of someone who does not share your view of Scripture? There are many writers in this category who are very perceptive thinkers and do some good work. You don’t have to accept everything they say, and you might want to keep commentaries on the shelf that agree with your presuppositions too. But if you don’t read them at all on account of discounting them as “post-modern leftists” (interesting catch-all catagory, btw), then you are missing out on some interesting material you can use to understand aspects of the texts.

    • “…many people who regularly post here think salvation is easy and free and that historic orthodoxy can be played with like puddy (sic).”

      …you weren’t around for Ancient-Future week, were you?

      Also, arguing for “historic orthodoxy” (btw does that include geocentrism?) isn’t why your comments get deleted. It’s that last, condescending sentence in your post..

    • Mark, let’s speak the truth here:

      1. You usually get deleted because you are off topic, insulting and rude, or your comments add nothing to the discussion. There is a very clear policy about comments on the FAQ/RULES page, and I try my best to adhere to it.

      2. No one has ever called you a heretic or questioned your salvation.

      3. The only “problem” anyone has suggested you might have is that you tend to beat the same drum over and over again, regardless of the topic. And that you come across as harsh, judgmental, and self-righteous at times.

      4. There is no “post-Michael Spencer” confessionalism. Go back and read the archives and the re-posts that I put up ever week, and you will find that we rarely go as far as Michael did in criticizing the accepted evangelical approach to the faith.

      5. If you would start engaging in thoughtful discussion, using “the likes of John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Charles Spurgeon, etc.” to back up your points, I would be delighted. But you don’t. Instead you sling mud, and question the salvation of anyone who doesn’t fit in your narrow little Reformed Baptist box.

      6. As I have tried to say many times in the past, this is not a church but a discussion. A discussion with whomever wants to join in. You can know where we stand on things by reading the FAQ. That doesn’t mean we can’t have conversation with folks from all different points of view.

      7. The way we have accepted you and continue to allow you to post should say something to you. I could have simply put you on moderation or banned you from the start, but I didn’t, and I probably won’t. We have affirmed that you have many important things to say, and we are happy that you come here to say them. We wish you would stick to the subject more often, and not be so condemning of others who disagree or take other points of view.

  4. I “spoke” to Mark about heresy and orthodoxy on the post started on 10-19-10 at after he was insulting to Chaplain Mike. I agree with you, Michael, that it is not Mark’s differing opinions that sometimes gets his comments deleted, but it is his attitude that is the problem.

  5. David Cornwell says

    Brueggemann is a man who always makes me do some thinking. He is interesting, thoughtful, and provocative. Thanks for including him in this discussion.

  6. I wonder why Brueggemann feels the need to differentiate between mythology and proclamation, unless he has some sort of negative view of the use of mythology in scripture. He seems to be splitting hairs, but I can’t really tell from just a selection from his work.

    What if Genesis 2-3 or the Noah story is best described by the myth genre? Does that automatically disqualify it from a high view of scripture? I don’t think so. God can speak truth through mythology.

    • He is using “myth” in the sense of ancient views that the realm of the gods is the “real” world and we are their playthings. He goes into this more in the commentary.

  7. The theory that makes most sense to me, and certainly appears to fit the data of the text best is that Genesis 1 is intended to provide a minimalist but historically true account of God’s creation of the cosmos, and the earth in particular. It thus is very far from telling us everything we might like to know, but what it does tell us it intends for us to take as given.

    Why is that so hard to believe?

    • It’s hard to believe to many (like me) because it is discordant with science and because ihe text itself (in my view) argues against such a literalistic interpretation.

      The key phrase in your comment (and mine) is “to me.” The theory that “appears to fit the data of the text best” is arguable.