Thematic Patterns in Genesis

How would you write a history of the world?

Most of us would spend hours researching Liby , Herodotus, some Ibn al-Tiqtaqā’s, the Mayans and the Aztecs, plus some Jedi Holocron over in the rediscovered Jedi Temple and then compile something in chronological order (starting a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). Some of us would delve into Josephus and Eusebius to spice it all up with some Church History. We’d make a timeline, group it by geographical area and then tick off major events within those areas. We would try as much as possible to remove ourselves from the recounting and Stick To The Facts And Nothing But The Facts. We most definitely would avoid interpreting historical events but only rarely wondering what would’ve transpired if events went another way.

We would then take that methodology with us and start reading Genesis.

Since Genesis is a history of the world, we would mumble to ourselves, and this is how we would write history then we should expect the author to Genesis to be doing the same thing. We take the author to task for the (embarrassingly, though we’d never admit it) mythological sections and click our tongues at the complete ignorance of events around the globe (egad, no mention of South America!) and maybe lightly roll our eyes when we start talking about Jacob’s view of genetics. By the end of the book we would have congratulated ourselves for having gotten through the material and wistfully hope to get to the Good Parts like Romans or Hebrews or First Peter.

But the author of Genesis, under the careful eyes of observation, organized his material very carefully and intentionally repeating certain key terms throughout the book.

For example the book opens with a blessing (Genesis 1:22) and closes with a blessing (Gen 49:28). Scratching their modern head, the reader of today would see that as a strange thing to include in any historical account. Maybe this is an oddity of the author, wonders the modern reader, like the strange tics in a homeless guy.

Until we see that a blessing occurs in just about every major story in the book. God rested on the seventh day and blessed it (Gen 2:3); He created them male and female and blessed them (Gen 5:2). Then God took Noah and his family and blessed them (9:1); Abram being blessed by the Lord (Gen 12:2); Isaac is blessed (Gen 24:1). Heck the story of Jacob and Esau deals with Jacob stealing the blessing from Esau (Gen 27). As if to hit you on the head the author puts the story of Jacob blessing Joseph’s Sons (Gen 48) next to the story of Jacob blessing all of his sons (Gen 49).

Something important is happening in this book. We mentioned earlier that whole bit about patterns, structure that underscores thought flow—and here we’re seeing a pattern that is doing Something…likely establishing thought flow.

Just as surprising is the other word that keep popping up throughout the book: curse. In the beginning of the book we see a curse (which we Christians spend a lot of time citing in Gen 3:14-17). But we see another curse before the flood (Gen 5:29) another curse after the fall (Gen 9:25) God saying he would curse folk that mess with his vessel of blessing (Gen 12:3) a cursing by Isaac (Gen 27) and even a cursing close to the end of the book (Gen 49).

Well, when we notice a repeating pattern within an author’s story we know that we’re getting a peek into the author’s mind—especially in Jewish literature. The repetition underscores importance. Like the decorations on a wall, or the shapes on the floor, they are found throughout a home generating a complete theme which reflects the mindset of the designer. They are the elements that bring color and reveal something of the mind of the author—what is some of his or her major concerns.

When those details are brought to the fore then someone has to ask some other questions of the book. Why is the author concerned about these things and what do they have to do with the material as presented? What other words does the author seem intent to hit us over the head with? (I’ll cheat and tell you favor comes up a whole lot as well). How is the author using those words? Where do those appear?

Why did the author relate his history in this way? Some interesting questions that will need some further examination.

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