We will be reading parts of Genesis on Monday in the class. I will (like a good critic) point to certain aspects of the story: ideas, literary devices, and such. Much of my comment will come from my book, Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation.
The book of Genesis is a collection of stories woven together by some unknown redactor. The work contains legend, poetry, fantasy, genealogy, short story, and other literary forms which are blended together to form a more or less coherent whole. Genesis is a kind of universal history; like other myths, it presents a story about what the beginning of time may have been like. It opens with two distinct creation myths: one emphasizing the transcendental nature of the creator god and the other emphasizing the human-like properties of the same creator god. The first god creates by fiat, by giving verbal commands; the second creates by breathing air into a lump of clay. The two may be different versions of the story by different poets, or they may be contrary projections of the complex human creation called god. The “third,” if the projection is read as a psychological ground, would be this: the verbal is the lump of clay. God speaks and the world begins. God speaks and life begins. The creative power of speech is celebrated in the beginning. Language with its formal aspects – its rules of syntax and semantics – is the perfect analog for creation itself, since language gives us the power to create order and meaning out of the chaos of experience.
The creation myth can be read as a description of any act of creation: first the intention, then the translation from mind to matter, and then the evaluation: “and it was good.” Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught The Bible as Literature at the University of California in the nineteen sixties, pointed out in lectures that the creation myth, when read aloud, will be heard to be an accurate description of the completion of any creative act. He told us the story of his first wife, a blind poet, who had asked him to read Genesis 1 and 2 aloud to her and who when he finished said “that is precisely the feeling of creating a poem.” In writing a poem one starts with an idea and a blank and formless page. The creative act of beginning to “blow” life into that page and after some time (and with some luck) giving form to the stuff of the mind, transforming it into a new medium has formed a completed work. Human creation, like Eliot’s The Wasteland, is often a multi-staged affair with false starts, revisions, crumpled failed attempts tossed away, and a complex of discovery and creation. The poet does not know the poem until it is finished. And when finished the feeling is there to be expressed: “And it is good.” (From Reading the Bible, Lane)