In my previous post, I discussed the importance of understanding the genre of a text in order to read and interpret it more correctly (I say “more correctly” because it is nearly impossible to interpret a text exactly how it was intended to be understood). To briefly summarize, how we define a text’s genre, whether love poem, narrative, or satire, dramatically affects how we understand the text. If a satire is read as an actual news report, the interpretation of it yields results not intended by the author. How, then, should one read Genesis 1-3?
Genesis 1-3 is a mythological account of creation. By “mythological”, I don’t mean to imply that it is false. Rather, it simply means that it is a story intended to demonstrate certain truths about humanity, God, and why things are the way they are, not a history. Thus, I would deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. The 7 days of creation, for example, should not be read as a literal 7 days because the text is not intended to be a historical account to explain the origin of the universe. Similar to the question NT Wright poses about Jesus in his book Simply Jesus, Genesis 1-3 is not asking how God created the earth (For NT Wright, how is Jesus divine?), it asks how God rules the earth and what the role of humanity is within it (For NT Wright, how is God king), which is then expressed through a myth.
Beyond the 7 days of creation, there are many other aspects of Genesis 1-3 which are commonly misunderstood. These include, but are not limited to, gender roles in creation, creation ex nihilo, the 7 days of creation, the goal of creation, and purpose of speech in Genesis 1. Through understanding the genre of myth, there also becomes a corpus of contemporary literature of the same genre to assist in interpreting Genesis 1-3, including literature such as Enuma Elish, Enki and Ninmah, The Theogony of Dunnu, and A Unilingual/Bilingual Account of Creation. Recognizing the genre of Genesis 1-3 elucidates many of the Mesopotamian themes from its contemporary literature and also shows why it is so unique.
In conclusion, if you do seek to understand the Bible in an honest way, you must understand the genre of a book because it affects how you approach it. Furthermore, the genre also changes the literature used to interpret it. Perhaps a new understanding of Genesis 1-3 as a mythology will even help to combat the centuries of abuse of Genesis 1-3 by the Church, in regard to male and female roles in society. While it may take more time to understand the Bible by seeking to understand the genre, the dedication to the task of understanding can significantly impact how you understand humanity and how we relate to Yahweh.