The Literary Form Of The First Chapter Of Genesis -- By: Herbert W. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 079:314 (Apr 1922)
Article: The Literary Form Of The First Chapter Of Genesis
Author: Herbert W. Magoun

The Literary Form Of The First Chapter Of Genesis

Herbert W. Magoun, Ph.D.

The first chapter of Genesis has long been a storm center. It seemed for a time as though the disturbance was over; but it now appears that the change was only a lull in the tempest, and that there is more to come. Not only is there an effort on foot to restore the old literal interpretation of the English Version and discredit all the conclusions of science but also there is a pronounced difference of opinion as to the literary form of the chapter, and no little disposition to become indignant over some of the claims made.

Certain critics have treated it as a poem, and the conservatives resent any such implication. They see in the treatment an effort to belittle the chapter and so reduce it to the level of mere poetry, and such probably was the animus of the action. Nevertheless, there may be a certain element of truth in the critical contentions; but it is likely to operate against their main position for all that and turn out to be a boomerang. What the form really is and what it signifies is certainly an important question, and it is in order to institute an inquiry along those lines.

With that end in view, it will be necessary, as a preliminary requirement, to sketch briefly the general character of prosody; for in its present form it is based on a false premise, is illogical in its conclusions, mixes things that differ, is inconsistent with itself, warps poetry out of all semblance to its true nature, and disregards the most fundamental principles of the very thing from which it originated. And, moreover, it assumes to speak with authority.

Lest this indictment should seem too severe, let it be said that the writer has now spent twenty-five years in the study of this problem; has carefully and repeatedly weighed all that the Greek and Roman grammarians have to say on the subject; has solved the riddle of Classical prosody which had stood for about twenty centuries and

has been called impossible of solution; has prepared a reference work of some four hundred thousand words embracing some English and all Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit poetic forms, with a brief allusion to Hebrew ones; and has been successful in devising a mechanical method of testing results with accuracy. It not only proved more things than he had dared to hope but also enabled him to solve some puzzles in rhythm whose character was such that they could not have been solved otherwise.

Incidentally, elision in both Latin and Greek has been studied and its nature determined, and proof has finally been found in one of the Latin grammarians that the solution obtained is sound. It removes all inconsis...

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