A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Genesis 9:25-27 and the composition of the Pentateuch

So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”  – Genesis 9:25-27 (NASB)

Typically, the sources of the Pentateuch have been identified in part by the name that is given to God, whether it is Elohim (“God”) or Yahweh (typically translated as “LORD”) or a combination of the two (“the LORD God”). But 9:25-27 throws difficulty upon this form of identification, as by Elohim and Yahweh are used in this passage, and both have othere elements that are to be identified with either the “Elohim” or “Yahweh” sources.

Now, the difficulty could be alleviated if one could ascribe to 9:25-27 as following a process of development, where it had one part (probably Elohim) and then it was completed in its present form (probably Yahweh). The problem with this idea is that if any line of 25-27 is excluded, then the story is incomplete. If you exclude “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem”, then you have taken out mention of one of the brothers, and verse 27 (which uses Elohim) relies upon the fortunate state of Shem (as communicated by 26) in order for Japeth dwelling in the tents of Shem to make a great amount of sense. Otherwise, Shem is only mentioned in passing. It is doubtful the oldest son would have been mentioned only briefly in a such a blessing and cursing. Secondly, there is a unity between 25 and 26 indicated by the contrast of “Cursed be Canaan” and “Blessed be Yahweh.” So 26 is essential for verse 27, but also verse 25 and 26 show a unity.

Every mention of Shem in Genesis besides this one is in the texts that identify God as Elohim, and never Yahweh. This is also the case for Japheth and the person of Canaan, distinguished from the phrase “the land of Canaan.” So the text is characteristic of the texts that contain Elohim. But yet the “Blessed be…” and “God of…” formula is used within the Yahweh texts.

Taken all of this into considering, it leaves us with one of two options:

1) That there was a completed blessing that the Elohist had compiled, and the Yahwehist altered it to its current form (or vice versa).

2) The source for this text used both Yahweh and Elohim interchangeably

If it is the first option, there has to be a reason for the Yahwehist or the Elohist (or the Documentary Hypothesis’ Priestly, who also uses Elohim). But there is no seemingly important facts pertinent to Israel within the Elohim material that would merit such an action. And while the exalting of Shem occurs in the Yahweh part, it would be likely that an alteration would be more explicit than merely identified Shem’s reliance upon Yahweh (“Blessded by Yahweh, the God of Shem”). Even if it is feasibly, this throws the hypothesis that the Yahwehist was the first source or redactor out the window.

Genesis 9:25-27 is best concieved as a literary whole, and as such throws out the idea of the exclusive use of Yahweh or Elohim within a text. While one should be careful of basing a large hypothesis based upon one text, this should reveal that the sources for the Pentateuch can not clearly and reliably be identified.


January 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Genesis and Abraham the astrologer

The book of Jubilees, along with other Jewish literary sources, hold a tradition that Abraham was at one time an astrologer (some saying he forsook astrology, and some saying he didn’t). However, Genesis never makes any explicit statement about Abraham’s occupation. But we find in Genesis 15:5 that God tells Abram “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” (cf Genesis 22:17).

When we look Genesis 15:5, is it really possible to conclude that this is related to an occupation of astrology, or would it be a commonly use form of a communication that was simply appropriated for the situation? We can note that a similar type analogy is used with dust (Genesis 13:16 and 22:17), of which no tradition has been passed down (to my knowledge) about Abraham working in a field that requires dust/sand. However, the analogy of sand and the analogy of the stars can have been appropriated for different reasons.

But if Genesis 15:5 is based upon the idea that Abraham was an astrologer, then we have to consider the relationship between the Abrahamic tradition in the Aprocrypha and the Genesis narrative. There is no direct mention of Abraham being an astrologer in Genesis, so the odds of the Abrahamic tradition being formed beforehand and then including this analogy from God without making any direct reference is incredibly unlikely. The only reasonable scenario for that would be to say that there was originally an inclusion of astrology into the narrative, but later scribes erased any explicit mention of Abraham’s astrological background due to an aversion. But if we take the hypothesis that Genesis was formed in stages and there were scribal removals, then why did this not happen for other more difficult parts of Genesis? Plus there is no explicit rejection of astrology either within the Torah. In my opinion then, it is extremely unlikely that any Abrahamic tradition was formed beforehand that lead to the addition of Genesis 15:5 and 22:17.

Either then, the Abrahamic tradition developed as an implication that was drawn from the stars analogy or the tradition and Genesis narrative came from a common third source. The former is perhaps unlikely also for two reasons. First, 15:5 and 22:17 are unlikely to have drawn such speculation. There is nothing that really marks them as indicating anything further. Secondly, if there was an aversion to astrology (and Isaiah 47:14 indicates one), then it is unlikely one would extrapolate that the revered Abraham practiced astrology.

So the best answer as to the relationship between the Abrahamic tradition and the Genesis narrative is that they developed, at least at first, from a third source. Genesis does not mention the occupations of the patriarchs unless it served to develop the story (for example, Jacob working for Laban), so if there were other sources the Genesis narrative were derived from (instead of being a later creation) then mentioning Abraham’s astrological background perhaps served no purpose. But the same sources (or sources that came from them) could have served as the basis for the Abrahamic tradition outside of Genesis.

So in my opinion, if Genesis 15:5 is based upon an astrological background for Abraham, then this leads us to ask questions regarding the composition of Genesis and the Pentateuch. For me, it takes away from any theory that attributes the composition to later date made by people with a particular agenda. Genesis’ and the Pentateuch’s composition best fits within a hypothesis that it is based upon sources that also make historical claims about the Patriarchs and Israel. The narratives and ideas of the Pentateuch are not the creation of compilers, but rather they are derived from other purportedly historical sources (as to how they came into being, we would have little idea).

January 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment