Genesis, the Flood, and a Druken Sailor

This is the final installment of my review of the documentary hypothesis (the JEDP theory) and the book, Before Abraham Was: A Provocative Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis, by Kikawada and Quinn. All page references point to it.

In Parts I-V I have attempted to make a case for my own rejection of the documentary hypothesis. It will now be useful to go back and make detailed comments about Noah’s flood. The flood is a prominent feature of Before Abraham Was and is critical to Kikawada and Quinn’s thesis. The following discussion tracks pretty closely with chapter 4 of Kickwada and Quinn. I will summarize their position and present my own observations along the way.

Looking at the flood more closely will allow me to tighten some of the main arguments. For example, Genesis 6:1-12 is mistakenly understood by the documentary hypothesis as being composed by two editors. Yet, the unity of this section proves to undermine the theory.

Genesis 6:1-12
In Genesis 6:1 we learn that humans began to multiply on the earth, as per the mandate of Genesis 1. However, this was not the multiplication God intended, for the wickedness of men was great (Genesis 6:5). In this way, the story starts with a kind of thematic coherence, and it continues in various forms. For example, “Seeing” is a thread throughout this section. Notice that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, and Yahweh saw the wickedness of man, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight. Equally impressive is the precise structure of Genesis 6:8-9 as if forms a chiasmus in Hebrew–the place where the documentary hypothesis seeks to break the account between two editors. Instead of arguing against the documentary hypothesis, however, note the plot:

A long time ago man lived peacefully and productively on the earth, but this very peaceful productivity, this very goodness, attracted a super-human force that entered and disturbed the moral fiber of human society. God then made a decision to curtail life expectancy of man, but this seemed to have little effect. Thus he resolved to annihilate mankind with all other creatures–but there was one good man, worthy of being saved (87).

An alternative to this presents itself if we stick to the earlier observation about Cain and Seth. The sons of God may be the final generation of the godly line of Seth. Cain’s heritage was murderous, as you will recall, but Seth’s progeny called upon the name of the Lord. By the time we get to Noah, this godly line seems to be almost expired. There is Noah left, but the City of God seems to be intermingling with the City of Man. That is, the godly line of Seth (the sons of God) saw that the daughters of men were fair. The great downgrade was completed. None were left who called upon the name of the Lord.

I am not certain which of these two interpretations is correct, but both do justice to the unity of Genesis.

Genesis 6:13-7:5
God tells Noah to build an ark and Noah does. He is instructed to load it with two of every kind of animal, and then told later (at least later in the record) to bring seven of the clean animals. The unfolding detail of the clean animals is not a problem. Some might prefer that God lump all of his animal instructions together in one place — but such is not necessary.

Genesis 7:6-7:16
Noah gets in the ark in Genesis 7:7, then he gets in again in Genesis 7:13. What is happening here? He only got in the boat once, and Moses knew that. The reason for him stating it twice is recapitulation (as he does with Genesis 1 and 2).

A common way to repeat for emphasis, if one has decided not to repeat verbatim, is to repeat with greater detail. (Ugaritic poetry tends to repeat verbatim; Hebrew poetry tends to repeat with variation.) And so the second time Noah is six hundred, but the precise date is given–the equivalent of February seventeenth. We get the names of his sons and much more zoological information (89).

If we want to follow bad logic, Noah enters a third time in Genesis 7:15 and then again in Genesis 7:16. But Noah did not enter four times. This is a literary style. If the hypothesizers want to make much out of this, then we can ask them: if there were editors, why did they mess it up? Since it seems like an obvious mistake to the hypothesizers, then it had to be more so to the editors. If they edited a story to fix it, why did they ruin it so horribly? Editing this small of a fragment is not that hard. The fact is, the story is just right the way it is told, and telling through recapitulation may seem problematic to the hypothesizers, but they are not the judges of these things.

Note that Genesis 7:16 uses Yahweh and Elohim. Recall that this verse was divided down the middle according to the documentary hypothesis. But such a division is not necessary. The use of two divine names is not unheard of.

[This] resembles very closely the use of divine names in Akkadian epic narratives such as in the consecutive lines from Atrahasis where the creatress of man is called by two of her many names… And, in the Akkadian Creation Epic we find the creator of man, Enki, referred to by two different names… A similar phenomenon is also observed in certain Ugaritic narratives (91)

Genesis 7:17-8:22
Verses 17-19 form an epistrophe (the repetition of phrases). The waters prevail and then retreat. Noah gets off the ark and God makes a covenant of promise.

Genesis 9:1-28
Chapter 9 and 6 can be aligned and compared.

What is striking about these parallels is that they suggest we can extend the chiasmus to the strange story of Noah, his drunkenness, and his sons. We have earlier shown how tightly the equally strange story about the sons of God is tied to the beginning of the Noah story (102).

Sexual impropriety brackets both ends of the flood story — the sons of God incident, and then Ham seeing Noah naked. Seeing a unified structure controlling the accounting of the great flood allows interpreters to detect more of the tale. Kikawada and Quinn suggest that it reveals that Ham had violated boundaries as seriously as the sons of God. They go on to speculate what that was, but their main point is that a unified structure by a single author legitimizes such speculation. If Genesis is from many editors, then trying to get to authorial intent is nonsense. Because Moses wrote Genesis, there will be layers of communication and artisan beauty that is evident to a careful reader.

All of Genesis
Everything about Genesis 1-11 points to an equal unity in the rest of Genesis. Kikawada and Quinn offer these concluding remarks:

We offer a persuasive refutation of the documentary analysis of Genesis 1-11. The best defense of this hypothesis now becomes its analysis of other portions of the Hebrew Bible. And, of course, as a dominant research paradigm of biblical scholarship for an entire century, this hypothesis has produced its documentary interpretations of virtually every major book of the Bible… One thing, if anything, we are certain of: the documentary hypothesis at present is woefully overextended.

In the main, Kikawada and Quinn have provided a useful launch pad for exploring and rejecting the documentary hypothesis. More work could be done, but one wonders: Why? How many times must we shoot the horse? The JEPD theory (i.e., the documentary hypothesis) is dead. It was never alive. It was and is a deaf, blind and mute idol that reflects a created god .

Relieved to Preach
This series has been negative in the sense that I had to deal with a theory for which I have no respect. I have done justice to the data. The documentary hypothesis is completely unconvincing. Pushing my analysis of it to a blog was a way to guard the Sunday sermon. Analysis of failed theories is of limited value for the content of preaching. Dealing with it here keeps it quarantined but analyzed. The sermon is the positive side of Genesis. Preaching through Genesis is edifying for Christians. The documentary hypothesis destroys the Genesis-sermon because it denies the book of its power. Genesis points to Christ. The preaching of this message is for the nourishment of the church. Read in the light of Christ, Genesis proves to reveal the glorious tree of life..

This article was published under Genesis, JEDP Theory.

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