G E N E S I S 1
literary features of the biblical creation story
~ The ancient creation story in Genesis 1 bears several literary features that reveal its essentially poetic structure, as opposed to its being a straightforward historical narrative, as modern “creationists” wish to assert.
~ The Scriptures contain virtually no additional references to any of the individual days of creation outside of Genesis 1. After the first chapter of Genesis, only the Sabbath receives any more specific attention. Thus, the modern creationist movement is giving the six days of creation far more emphasis than the Jews and the biblical writers ever did, even though the accounts were written by them and for them.
~ The creation account in Genesis 1 resembles a hymn, and is thus sometimes called the Hymn of Creation, or the Poem of the Dawn.
~ The creation accounts contain a number of alliterations (a poetic device) which are evident in the original Hebrew, but are essentially lost in the translation to English.
~ The Genesis 1 account contains several instances of Hebrew parallelism, a common feature of ancient poetry. These literary devices are clear in the Hebrew language, but are not evident in the English translation.
~ Repetition (a common feature of Hebrew poetry) plays a prominent role in the Genesis 1 account. The sentence “And God saw that it was good” serves as a refrain, tying the various creative acts of God together. Phrases like “and it was so” or “And God said” appear several times in repetition.
~ God’s creative activity is treated not literally, but anthropomorphically (using human imagery to describe divine activity). God “speaks,” “sees,” “moves,” “breathes,” etc. These are clearly figurative descriptions, familiar features of ancient poetry. We know (as the ancient Hebrews did) that God doesn’t literally do these things, since he is a Spirit (Jn. 4:24), and these are activities of a physical being. But literary license permits these colorful images.
~ The biblical writer uses numbers 3, 7, and 10 in a very specific and coherent way. The account starts with three elements to be formed----earth, darkness, and watery deep. These are dealt with within two sets of three days. Create is used at three points. The phrase “and it was so” appears seven times, as does “God saw that it was good.” The phrase “God said” appears 10 times, as does “make” and “according to its kind.” All of these numbers carry significant symbolic meaning within Hebrew literature, particularly in poetry.
~ There are particular places in the Genesis 1 account where the words rhyme, an obvious feature of poetry. As in the case of the alliterations and parallelisms mentioned above, this is completely lost in the translation from Hebrew to English.