Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 30:1 (March 1987) p. 71
Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1—11. By Isaac M. Kikawada and Arthur Quinn. Nashville: Abingdon, 1985, 144 pp., $9.95 paper.
The cover gives the purpose of this book: “A provocative challenge to the documentary hypothesis.” The authors argue that a rhetorical analysis of Genesis as a literary unity offers a paradigm superior to that of the documentary source analysis that since Well-hausen has dominated OT studies. The thesis, if generally accepted, would overturn more than a century of OT scholarship.
Kikawada teaches Near Eastern studies and Quinn teaches rhetoric, both at the University of California at Berkeley. The book combines the skills of each, with ancient Near Eastern mythological parallels being contributed by the former and literary analysis sharpened by the latter. One senses here a more scholarly extension of the literary approach of Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981 L who is also at Berkeley.
After presenting as strongly as possible the case for the documentary analysis of Genesis 1—11 (chap. 1L the authors present their own alternative. They maintain that the basic structure of Genesis 1—11 is derived from the Mesopotamian Atrahasis traditions, to which it is a response (chap. 2). Whereas the Mesopotamian myth placed emphasis on urban civilization’s need to limit population growth, the Bible rejects the values of Mesopotamia by its preference for pastoral/nomadic life. Hence it stresses “be fruitful and multiply” over against population control, and it attributes cities, civilized arts, and the murderous disregard of human life to the urban society of the descendants of the murderer Cain. Furthermore the tower of Babel (Babylon) story represents urban Mesopotamia’s rebellion against God’s command to subdue the whole earth (chap. 3). Next, the authors seek to show purpose as opposed to patchwork in Genesis by an analysis of the linchpin of the documentary hypothesis, the flood narrative. The repetitions attributed by the Wellhausen school to various sources are rather to be explained by the literary artistry of the narrator who has produced an elaborate, strict chiasm from 6:10 to 9:19. Having recognized the narrator’s style, it is then possible to recognize another chiasm over Genesis 11—22 centering on the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 17. It th...
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