Genesis for Today: An Introduction
by Herb Drake

Copyright (c) 2020, Herb Drake.

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Genesis as a Literary Masterpiece

Christians and Jews are not the only ones who love Genesis. It is widely regarded in the literary world as an excellent example of ancient literature even among those who do not study it for its "religious" content.

Some regard Genesis is the "foundation" of the Bible. This is not really the case. The people of God came into the knowledge of God during the wilderness period, so the foundation is best understood as the book of Exodus. The first eleven chapters of Genesis is regarded as "primeval," containing characters who were cut off by the Babel judgment and breaking any possiblity of oral transmission. Moses appeared in Exodus, not Genesis, so Genesis was written reflectively to answer the questions of origins -- origins mainly of the human condition and the relationship between the creation, humans, and God.

The content of Genesis, of course, involves areas of conflict with the contemporary worldview. This fact causes the book to be read by many who wish to understand this conflict and form their own positions in the areas of contention. Two major areas of conflict are apparent, both outside and inside the community of faith:

  • The assumption that Genesis is intended to teach in the areas of geology, astronomy, boilogy, and other scientific disciplines is widely held.
  • Within the Church community, conflict over the interpretation of Genesis continues.

As we look at Genesis, we need to remember that it is not a "scientific" book. Rather, it is a huge resource of theology. As such, it assumes an ancient understanding of the cosmos. Any attempt to force Genesis to comply with a modern worldview is trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

One more understanding is important. We will not examine Genesis as a relic of a dead society, but as a part of God's word that has value to the modern church.

An Acknowlegment

My enthusiasm for Genesis came from a seminary course on the book taught by (now retired) Professor J. Kenneth Eakins. He, in turn, acknowledged his Old Testament Professor Clyde T. Francisco (1916-1981). If there is any wisdom in these pages, it comes from these great men who passed their love of Genesis on to their students.

JEDP or Hepatic Repetition?

When I studied Genesis in the 1990's under Prof. Eakins, I learned the JEDP approach to the book's creation (also known as the "Documentary Hypothesis," or "DH"). I admit that I didn't really like this approach because it went against Jesus' own words that Genesis had Mosaic Authorship (Mark 7:10, 10:3-4, etc.). Years later, after Dr. Eakins had retired, a new Old Testament professor was added to the seminary faculty and I asked him for an update on JEDP. It was then that I learned that current scholarship no longer teaches the JEDP system.


The JEDP hypothesis suggests that there were at least four different "sources" from which Genesis (and the rest of the Torah) came about, each written by a different author and at a different time. The spark for this highly popular approach to the Torah was the fact that the literary genres seem to change abruptly as one reads through the text. Those are identified as either J, D, E, or P.

JJawist"(from the German version of Yawist) for those narratives using God's covenant name, which appears as an all-capital "the LORD" in our English translations.
EElohim(the plural form of "el," which simply means "god," but translated "God" when it appears as a plural).
DDeuteronomyFrom the same source as the book of Deuteronomy.
PPriestlyBelieved to have been written by one or more priests due to its grammatical structure, especially in the regular patterns of biblical genealogies.

Where these designaitons become controversial is the suggestion that each was a separate document, a "redactor" having carefully merged them into the text that we now have in our Bible sometime in the Kingdom period. This is the reason that evangelicals tended to discard JEDP, as the hypothesis claimed that Moses was not the author of those books, which they deemed to be an attack on the divine authorship of the Bible.

Hepatic Repetition

A Jewish scholar named Umberto Conssuto (1883-1951) discovered a different feature in the Torah -- the fact that many of the words and phrases were repeated a precise number of times (especially seven times, hence "hepatic"). Breaking up the text into JEDP genres put breaks in the text that could not have been coordinated among four separate sources and yet retain this repetitive schema. If this repetition was intended (and the sheer number of instances suggests strongly that it is), one can't escape the conclusion that the Torah books were written by a single author (presumably Moses) who used varying genres for his own reasons.

Examples from Genesis:

  • "And God Said, Let...." (7 times)
  • "Beast" or "Living Being" (7 times)
  • "Light" and "Day" (7 times)
  • "And God saw" (7 times)

This form of writing, according to G. M. Cascione, persists well into the New Testament, as other biblical writers imitated Moses. For more on this, see G. M. Cascione, Repetition in the Bible, Tuscon, AZ, Redeemer Press, 2016.

Some of the most brilliant scholars on the Torah literature (e.g., Gerhard Von Rad, Brevard Childs, Claus Westermann) used JEDP to identify the various genres that one encounters in the Pentatuch. When used in that way, JEDP still has a place. But the notion that these were separate sources seems no longer to be a valid hypothesis. For this reason, I will not include JEDP in the material that follows.

HCC Magazine | Genesis 1