Writing about Genesis: Status Update

 Last year in September, I posted some thoughts on a book project dealing with the early chapters of Genesis. A good number of my (too rare) posts since then have dealt with those chapters in certain ways: Problems of language and culture (1, 2),  issues of translation (six parts so far, begin here), the structure of the first creation account, and my posts from teaching a Genesis Institute class (start here). I started researching the book and doing some initial writing. Here’s a very quick update.

Timing– At this point, I don’t think you’ll see it for January 2014 when we hit Genesis 1 again. If I delivered it complete to a publisher tomorrow I doubt we’d see it in time, and it’s nowhere near complete. I do have something else in the pipeline that will appear in time, but you’ll have to wait several months for more details.

Scope– As I’ve done more research and talked to people of varying interest levels, it has become very obvious that the scope had to shrink, and shrink a lot in order to have the level of depth I wanted, and not have it take 20 years or hundreds and hundreds of pages. I’m focusing on Genesis 1-2:4, with all the necessary groundwork, ancient Near Eastern and LDS background. Science is noticeably absent; this lack is important. The book isn’t a re-evaluation driven by science, but a recovery or restoration of Israelite context, coupled with some history of LDS interpretation, some interpretive principles, and translation with commentary. It’s striking how, in all my reading, so many end up talking about Genesis 1 in terms of scientific history and Darwin, instead of looking at the history of interpretation and context. But that’s a different post.

Status– Lots of research. Lots of notes. Lots of books scanned in as OCRd PDFs, marked up, copied to iPad, excerpted into Evernote. Lots of things left to read, and finding new ones on a regular basis. 45 page draft, consisting of outline, rough writing, some notes, etc. I don’t want it to go longer than 200-300 lest it intimidate (as some have told me). I wonder if the order I followed in my Institute class makes more sense than the book order, but a book and a class are very different things. I keep most of my notes in Evernote (free, and v.5 is great!), which I’ve written about before in terms of using it for taking notes on the scriptures (part 1, 2, 3)  and am writing in Mellel, since it allows for multiple footnote streams. Everything is backed up 3 ways from Tuesday in Dropbox, Time Machine, and both a laptop and desktop.

I fluctuate between thinking my research is overkill and thinking I’ve barely scratched the surface and am still speaking largely out of ignorance. Actually, it’s possible for both to be true; I imagine to the lay reader, it will seem like academic overload, whereas some of my cohorts who finished their PhDs may see it as lightweight and misguided. If I’d only read X or seen Y, I wouldn’t have made this or that argument. And that’s ok. I’m not trying to provide a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, as much as provide some basis for a Small Disparate Theory of a Few Things. I’d wager most people in the Church have never, for example, heard of Enuma Elish, known of the variety of GA interpretations, and feel caught between the odd and false framing of literal vs. figurative. To them, I certainly have things to offer. But I can’t shake the academic inferiority complex (somewhat justified given my academic history), that if I stop my research, I have or will miss some critical perspective that will inevitably prove to be my Achilles heel, the iceberg to my Titanic volume. The perfect has become the enemy of the good, perhaps.

Outline of book– The finished product will certainly look different from this (I already have some changes it doesn’t reflect), but I wanted to offer a glimpse of the work in progress. I anticipate most chapters will end with a Q&A and a few recommended readings.

I.      Acknowledgments     3
II.      Introduction     4
III.      Prologue     4
IV.      Starting Off Right     7
1. Reading in context     9
V.      Prophets and Scripture     13
VI.      Genre, Culture, and Communication: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra     15
VII.      Creation Accounts in the Bible and the Ancient Near East     15
VIII.      Did Moses Write Genesis?     16
1. Traditional Authorship     16
2. Problems with traditional Authorship     17
3. A brief intro to source criticism     17
4. Priestly Aspects of Genesis 1     17
5. Q&A      17
IX.      Historical LDS Views of Genesis     19
1. Recommended Reading     22
X.      The Book of Moses     22
XI.      The Book of Abraham     24
1. What is the Book of Abraham and how did we get it?      24
2. Recommended reading     25
XII.      The Temple     26
1. Recommended reading     27
XIII.      Two Genesis Accounts     27
XIV.      Timeline of Relevant Events     28
XV.      The Near Eastern Background of Genesis 1     29
XVI.      Translations     29
1. KJV     29
2. Formal vs. Dynamic Translation     29
3. Further Reading     30
XVII.      Commentary     30
1. Day One     31
2. Day Two     34
3. Day Three     35
4. Day Four     36
5. Day Five     36
6. Day Six     37
XVIII.      Notes on Hebrew     39
1. Structure     39
2. Hebrew Names     41
3.  Alphabet and pronunciation     41
4. Recommended Reading     43

XIX.      Glossary and Abbreviations     43

Questions– Does it matter if publication coincides with beginning OT again? Or, do I have another 3 years to work on this, or just get it done as soon as possible and who cares when it comes out? How does one write neutrally about someone’s negative influence or actions without being seen as besmirching their good name? Audience is important; I hope to make this very accessible. How many pages scares off the average reader?

9 comments for “Writing about Genesis: Status Update

  1. Ben, for the purposes of this project, what counts as negative influence?

    It looks like a fascinating project and I want to see the final result. If it were me, I’d probably start writing a complete draft right now so that I could identify what areas I still needed to research. Once I know enough about the project, the writing goes very quickly. Then I realize that my draft is junk, with gaping holes in the research and in the narrative. But at least at that point I’m trying to fix specific holes, rather than conducting endless general research about the topic.

  2. Looks like a great project. Translation between scholarship and current Mormon approaches is key.

  3. Jonathan- Much of the conflict between Science and Scripture in the LDS tradition (or between Creation and Evolution, to make it a bit more specific) can be traced to the influence of Joseph Fielding Smith and secondarily to Bruce R. McConkie. This is not to say that without them no conflict would exist in the mind of the average LDS.

    For example, “In 1935 only 36 percent of the students at the Mormons’ Brigham Young University denied that humans had been ‘created in a process of evolution from lower life forms.’ By 1973 the figure had risen sharply to 81 percent. No doubt many factors pushed young Mormons towards fundamentalism and antievolutionism. But the most significant scientificially was the far-reaching influence of [George McReady] Price.” (The Creationists- From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, 339). Price was a 7th Day Adventist who was largely responsible for Creationism, and many of JFS arguments were taken directly from Price. They exchanged letters, in fact.

    Even this treatment of some of JFS’ views drew fire from a CES friend of mine.

    I’m trying to explain the history but not everyone involved will come out positively.

  4. I’m looking forward to it. Don’t make me wait too long!

    I’ve been reading John Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, as you know. He starts the book with a nice discussion of how comparative studies became enmeshed in polemical debate about biblical historicity. According to Walton, correctives have been put into place over the last few decades that have helped to make comparative studies less contentious–at least with respect to what it means for the Bible as a matter of faith. He goes on to discuss the value of these studies for understanding the text, and I think he does a good job of putting the reader at ease–that the inspirational/revelational nature of the Bible is not on trial.

    I bring this up partly to suggest it as a model to follow, but also to make the broader and obvious point that JFS and BRM did not write in a vacuum. Man, His Origin and Destiny is almost equally an attack on higher criticism as it is on evolution. I think that if you take a little time to empathetically explain where they were coming from, readers like your CES friend who disagree with you will be less likely to feel defensive about your treatment. JFS and BRM can be seen as honorable defenders of scripture doing the best they knew how. The sting in the fact that accumulated scholarship shows them to have been wrong in some things can be lessened, if not removed, by showing how the grounds of the argument have changed in many cases to make their defense unnecessary. Thus, they are wrong but not defeated.

  5. Jonathan- that’s great writing advice.

    Jared*- I’ve enjoyed being able to place JFS arguments within a larger historical ebb and flow. It both mitigates (because he was not alone in this kind of thinking) and makes things worse. (It’s one thing to come up with your own poor argument. It’s another entirely to borrow someone else’s terrible arguments, and then hold them up as the only legitimate way to read scripture.)

  6. Someone somewhere on the bloggernacle recommended Genesis For Normal People, which is I picked up and started reading. It is perfect for me because it is at my level, I hate to say. I need some sort of ‘Genesis For Dummies’ and this is close enough.

    In it the authors (not LDS) discuss authorship of the Pentateuch, and after reading that I am now very interested in what you have to say in your “Did Moses Write Genesis” section on your book outline. Do you have any pdf materials by chance that expands on contemporary LDS scholarly thinking regarding this?

    Thank you very much for your contributions to this site recently. I have really enjoyed reading your posts.

  7. I don’t think it matters a lot about getting published on the OT part of the Sunday School cycle. If Deseret Book likes you, you’ll get their push whether you’re in the cycle or not. It might even be to your benefit to be outside the cycle, since there’s going to be a lot of competition, most of it from bigger names than yours, for books on Unpacking the OT for Mormons.

    There’s some tension between “besmirching” and the broad audience you want. That said, I don’t know what to do with it. Is there a similar volume for LDS readers (if not in topic, then in approach to its topic) that you can look to for guidance? I know the Holzapfel et al. book “Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament” had a section on the documentary hypothesis. How did they write that section? How did it fit their volume?

    Finally, I think it’s cool to see how you’re pulling some of your recent posts into this book. That’s something I didn’t expect to see in your outline. Good luck! I’m excited to hear about your other project and to buy them both when they come out!

  8. Sonny- I like Peter Enns a lot. I recommend his Incarnation and Inspiration (which deals with 3 problematic assumptions that LDS happen to share with Evangelicals in reading the Old Testament) and The Evolution of Adam. There are a good number of posts from an lds perspective at faithpromotingrumor (now at Patheos). Also, check out Kevin Barney’s article, Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis.

    Chris- I’m not sure there’s a good analogue. Perhaps the Kimball biography comes close. I suspect for some people, any suggestion that a dead prophet was wrong in any respect or disagreed with other apostles will be crossing the line. Re: posts, it tuns out I write on the same things over and over. No need to reinvent the wheel, just edit it thoroughly.

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