Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reading Genesis with some help from the scholars

This book of Genesis shows the reflection of the Hebrew people on the beginnings of human life and the purpose of life in this world. However, the Hebrew people didn't simply decide one day to "write a book" about origins. They had an experience of the Divine in their history that caused them to begin reflecting on the meaning of their life in this world. Several Old Testament scholars, none more important than Gerhard Von Rad, think that it was God's deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt that started their theological reflection that caused them to collect their varied traditions into one great sacred written tradition: The Hexateuch (the first six books of the Bible). Now, the Hebrew people, like other peoples, certainly had their share of stories about where they came from, and explanations about how this or that custom had developed among them, or why this or that place of worship had become holy. But, most Old Testament scholars think that it was God's revelation through the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, that brought about a focused reflection on the relationship of God to the Hebrew people and also a reflection about the relationship of God to all humanity. Surely, the old traditions of God's calling and promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had a rudimentary theology of promise and fulfillment and perhaps even an inkling that this blessing might reach far beyond the children of Jacob.

Modern scholarship theorized that there were three written traditions that had collected and interpreted the ancient folklore/sacred histories of the Hebrew people. The dominant collector and redactor they named the "Yahwist," because of the particular name used for God in these written traditions; the second collector of traditions into written form is known as the "Elohist," because of the particular name used for God in these written traditions; and the third and latest collector and redactor is known as "the Priestly source." The Yahwist is the dominant redactor who gives shape to the first six books of the Bible, though the work of the other two sources is included in this scope.

About the first six books of the Bible, Von Rad writes: "The basic theme of the Hexateuch may be stated as follows: God, the creator of the world, called the patriarchs and promised them the land of Canaan. When Israel became numerous in Egypt, God led the people through the wilderness with wonderful demonstrations of grace; then after their lengthy wandering he gave them through Joshua the Promised Land." Von Rad notes that this basic theme, however, though it seems simple, is a structure in which a profound theological vision is manifest. This is the vision of the "Yahwist," who collected, redacted the traditional materials, incorporating diverse traditions, previously unconnected narratives, within a great sacred historical vision of God's presence and purpose for human life. Von Rad believes that the sacred tradition about the deliverance from Egypt was originally a separate tradition from the tradition about the revelation of the law on Sinai, and that it was an act of theological comprehension by the "Yahwist" that understood the critical and crucial connection of these experiences as comprising the heart of faith. Von Rad also thinks that this same theological vision gives rise to reflection on the universal significance of God's revelation in Israel's history. This reflection on the universal significance is what brings the Yahwist to write the primeval history (Genesis 1-11), which concerns not just the relationship of God to Israel but the relationship of God to all people and the entire creation. So, Von Rad thinks that the Yahwist collects and orders older materials, but also that the Yahwist is the main creator of some materials like the primeval history.

Von Rad dates the work of the Yahwist at around 950 B.C., the work of the Elohist at around 750 B.C, and the work of the Priestly collector during the post-exilic period, 538-450 B.C. These dates, he acknowledges, are hypotheses, not matters of certainty. The dates at which these "editors" compiled their materials do not correspond to the age of the traditions. As Von Rad notes, there are some very, very old cultic traditions in the Priestly material, that were long a part of oral and then written tradition before complied in the Priestly source.

See Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Westminster Press, 1949, trans. by John Marks

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