In the XIX-XX centuries a lot of time has been devoted to the study of the Pentateuch’s prehistory. If today we have reached a relative consensus on the phenomenon of deuteronomism as the historic reform inspired by the king Josiah and the deep influence of the priestly class, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how the biblical text developed. Anyway the overview we have done in recent months is certainly useful to understand the historical context in which the Pentateuch and the historical books of the Old Testament were born and developed.
But now the time has come to turn to dedicate ourselves to the literary study of the Pentateuch. This kind of study is based on the belief that the Pentateuch possesses qualities not so much (and not only) historical, but rather literary. We’ll discover these characteristics through the exegesis of key passages of the Pentateuch.
The narrative of the Pentateuch is divided into three basic parts:
We begin now to go into the details of the first book of the Pentateuch: Genesis. The backbone of the book consists of the genealogies – in Hebr. toledot. The word comes from the verb yalad which means “to generate”. Their aim is to link the creation to the patriarchs accounts (Genesis 12-50). There genealogies run through the whole book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1; 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). Not always they introduce real genealogies, but also different stories.
Exegesis of Genesis 1,1-2,4a – CREATION
In the story is a visible kind of structure that consists of 7 elements. Taking as a basis 1:3-5, they are: 1. Introduction (eg. “God said”) 2. command (eg. “Let there be light”) 3. execution (eg. “And there was light”) 4. judgment (eg. “God saw that the light was good”) 5. divine action (eg. “God divided the light from the darkness”) 6. naming (eg. “and he called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night'”) 7. conclusion (eg. “and the evening and the morning … “). Therefore, the eight works of creation are distributed in a pattern but is sevenfold. This scheme seems to be the center of interest of the author of these chapters together for the interest on the seventh day.
These seven elements structure the sequence of the eight works of creation:
1. light (day and night)
2. firmament (upper sky / water and lower)
3. land and sea
6. fish and birds
Why a series of eight works? According some scholars the first three days of creation God made divisions, while in the following three days God made the ornaments. However, even in the fourth day God made a division (vv. 11-13). For others scholars there is a correspondence between the environment (light/stars, sky/birds, water/fish, land/animals and humans) and the works of creation. But at the center of the account there is the fourth day of creation. The reason lies in the fact that it represents a kind of bridge between heaven and earth, between the earth and the sky. In fact, in the fourth day the author speaks again about the sky after having described the creation of the earth. Above all, the centrality of the fourth day is due to the presence of verbs that occur only in the first day of creation ( ‘to divide’, ‘light-dark’, ‘day-night’).
The centrality of the fourth day of creation is also due to the interests of the post-exilic priestly class who created the liturgical calendar in use at the time. In the middle of the profane space and time, a creative act of God establishes the space and the time of God. (To be continued)