Genesis Reading Questions


Our reading assignments for the next two weeks are as follows:

3/11 Monday: Genesis 1-11

6/11 Thursday: 12-25

10/11 Monday: 26-37

13/11 Thursday: 38-50

 Chapters 1-11

1.) Robert Alter’s translation of the beginning reads, “When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

The King James Version, in contrast, reads “In the beginning God created the Heaven, and the Earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

What are the different senses of temporality in the two translations?

2.) What powers do divine, human and serpentine languages have in the first three chapters?

3.) In what ways does the text present binary oppositions as the structuring principle of the narrative?

4.) What is the relationship between narrative (storytelling) and creation (speech)?

5.) For many readers, Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25 form two separate but related narrative units. Most importantly, the divine creator is called “the Lord God” (YHWH ’Elohim) instead of ’Elohim. What differences are there in the two accounts?

6.) Cattle and crawling things are repeated in the text. Why?

7.) From 2:11 to 2:16, the text zooms in to geographical description (chorography) with much precision and local details. This seems different from the previous cosmic vantage point. What do you make of the differing perspective?

8.) Blessings, commandments, naming, curses, persuasion: what can language do and not do?

9.) Gender. Discuss.

10.) Note Alter’s commentary and his attention to the word plays and puns in the Hebrew. How do his explanations help us understand the original text? What features of the Hebrew language can we notice?

11.) Human beings are said to be made in the image of God. Yet God and the Lord God seem to have human characteristics. What are they?

12.) “Let us make a human in our image, by our likeness” “Now that the human has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. . .” Comment on the use of the first person plural in these passages.

13.) a.) Why did the Lord favor Abel and not Cain’s offerings? b.) What is an offering? “Sin” is mentioned for the first time in 3:7. c.) What significance is it that the first murderer is the founder of the first city? d.) What relationship is there between violence and civic institutions? e.) What significance is there at Abel is a “herder of sheep” and Cain a “tiller of the soil”? f.) What significance is there that the Lord favors the younger brother over the older one?

14.) In 4:22—Jubal “the first who play on the lyre and pipe” and Tubal-cain, “who forged every tool of copper and iron” are brothers from different mothers (but the same father.) What’s the significance of this?

15.) What is the significance of the genealogy in Chapters 4 & 5?

16.) Does God/ the Lord/ the Lord God ever change his mind? When and where and why?

17.) 6:18--“And I will sent up a covenant with you” What is a covenant? How does the God bless Noah and his sons? In what ways are his commandants a modification of what was stipulated in the Creation story? How does the relationship between humans and the animals change? Humans and nature?

18.) Why does Noah become drunk?

19.) How does the biblical narrative explain the diversity and confusion of language? In what ways is the story of Babel supremely ironic? What linguistic parallels do you see in human and divine speech? In what ways is the desire to build something a reaction to the fear of the memory of the Flood? What is the relationship between architecture and language? What does it mean to ”make us a name”? What are the different glosses and etymology of the name “Babel” (see footnote 3, p. 47)?

20.) What are the different narrative styles, poetic tropes, rhetorical strategies of the text? Is the authorial voice consistent or does it vary? At what moments is it poetry and prose?

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