Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does Psa 33 Allude to Gen 1?

Last weekend at the Upper Midwest Regional SBL meeting I heard a Hebrew Bible paper on Wisdom Theology in the Creation Psalms. At several points, the presenter indicated that he felt the psalmist had been aware of the creation accounts of both P and J. It was clear that he was still developing an understanding of how one would demonstrate such a textual connection that was more than a “feeling.” During the Q&A, I asked for specific examples he’d found supporting his assertion, but he answered mostly about thematic connections and the idea of creation by speech. I hate to be the one to burst his bubble, but after examining the shared locutions between Psa 33 and Gen 1, I have to conclude that it is very unlikely that the psalmist knew of or used the Priestly Creation Account in Gen 1-2:4a. The idea of creating by speech is known from ANE mythology (e.g., the deity Ptah creates by naming things in one Egyptian account). Beyond that, the only thematic connection is that both are creation texts.

So, I started thinking about what would constitute a clear allusion to Genesis 1. The shared locution should be distinct and recognizable in order to function as an allusion. I found 10 lexical items in Psa 33 that are also found in Gen 1: ארץ, שמים, רוח, עשה, צבא, מים, ים, תהום, היה, אדם.

With the exception of תהום , all occur over 350 times in the Hebrew Bible. So, do common words like “earth” (2498x), “to make” (2573x), and “to do” (3514x), constitute an allusion?

I think not.

Are there any terms that are sufficiently concentrated in Gen 1 and fairly rare overall in the Hebrew Bible to possibly support an argument for allusion? The words above come from very common vocabulary used in Gen 1.

Here are a few terms from Gen 1 that are sufficiently uncommon to serve as markers of allusion: תהו, בהו, רקיע, בדל, רמש, שרץ, מין, צלם, תנין. Most of these terms occur 20x or less in the Hebrew Bible. The verb בדל “to divide” (42x) and the noun מין “type, kind” (31x) are the only exceptions, but בדל occurs 5x just in Gen 1, raising its profile for allusion.

Unfortunately, none of those terms occur in Psa 33. I have yet to search whether they occur in any other creation texts in the Hebrew Bible, but that is another question that I’m interested in: Does any of the Hebrew Bible allude to Genesis 1 at all?

What else in Gen 1 is sufficiently distinct to be considered a clear allusion to that creation account in a psalm or other Hebrew text?


  1. I have not tried to prove it with rare words, but Job is clearly about creation. Job 3 is his uncreation - let there be darkness. The speeches of Hashem are Job's recreation. I won't make mention of Leviathan or Behemoth, the first of God's creation.

  2. Yes, Job definitely includes creation accounts. I'm more interested here in whether other creation texts in the Hebrew Bible clearly allude to Genesis 1 or not. The existence of the shared motif of creation isn't the issue since that doesn't automatically imply a textual connection (i.e., had the other writers read Genesis 1).

  3. Without assuming a particular direction of dependency--is this text alluding to Genesis or is it actually the other way around--the parallel with Exodus 39:32-43 is fairly clear. Mark Smith makes reference to it in The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1.

  4. Hi Doug,
    Shrewd point, as usual. I don't think counting the frequency of words, by itself, will quite decide for us; we'd all agree it's drawing on a similar creation myth--what Fishbane calls the logos-myth, or creation by word, versus the agon-myth, or creation by sword.

    I guess the tough thing is whether it is alluding to the text of Genesis 1 more or less as we have it. Here is where it helps to define one's terms:

    The clearest methodological discussion I've seen is in Ben Sommer's A Prophet Reads Scripture, which builds on Fishbane's classic work. The section I'm thinking of begins here:

    There's also Sommer's further discussion here: Exegesis, Allusion and Intertextuality in the Hebrew Bible: A Response to Lyle Eslinger
    Benjamin D. Sommer
    Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 46, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1996), pp. 479-489

  5. Joseph, if there is a textual relationship at all, I would argue for the priestly writer knowing the psalm.

    Seth, I was using frequency as a guide to plausibility - attempting to distinguish actual literary dependence from simple shared subject matter. I think the shared locutions do not support a connection beyond shared subject matter. I'm familiar with Sommer's method. In his section on the psalms, he admits it is all but impossible to identify allusions in the psalms partly due to the overlap in shared subject matter. It's hard to find anything sufficiently distinct to support an argument for literary dependence.

    I found Sommer's method to be good but his application of it (especially w/ 2 Isa and Jeremiah) was stretching the bounds of plausibility some times.

    I recently read an article from 2008 in JBL by Jeffrey Leonard that laid out some methodology for inner-biblical allusion using Psa. 78. I think the title was "Inner-biblical allusion: Psa. 78 as a test case." One of his criteria is that the word has to be distinct enough to point to a specific text. Eretz doesn't cut it.

  6. What concerns me about using frequency alone as a criterion is, as my old teacher Jonas Greenfield used to say, the danger of counting words without weighing them. There doesn't seem to be anything preventing a writer from alluding to a conventionally-worded passage using the same conventional words. But probably not here.

    What impresses me about Sommer's method is that, unlike a lot of writing on inner-biblical exegesis, it's had some actual empirical confirmation: I can't think of a more remarkable independent convergence of inner-biblical exegesis and source-critical reconstruction than Sommer's "New Light on the Composition of Jeremiah," (CBQ 61/4 (1999), 646-66).

  7. I suppose counting words is about as useful as counting variants. I know it doesn't make the argument alone, but I thought it helped weigh them in this instance. Overall I've found Sommer's methodology very useful. I'll add the article you cite to my to-read list for inner-biblical exegesis. I've found Sommer and Levinson to be among the more careful scholars developing Fishbane's ideas. The type of intertextuality that troubles me is where there is no clear method or data - just the assertion that literary dependence is there.

  8. Just for clarification, I am not positing any relationship between these texts and the Psalm, just between Genesis and Exodus.

  9. Does any of the Hebrew Bible allude to Genesis 1 at all?

    Obviously. (The institution of the Sabbath, for instance) -- but you probably meant something outside the Pentateuch.

  10. ...and Noah's Flood narrative... but, again, you probably meant something outside of Genesis...

  11. actually, i mean - is there any way to know they were reading Genesis 1 versus Gen 1 being an after-the-fact explanation for sabbath, etc.? Overall argument is for lateness of the priestly writer compared to 2nd Isaiah or Psalms, for example.

  12. Hi Doug,

    You are looking for statistically significant occurrences of shared material--so this would include the frequency, distribution, and proximity of shared locutions. Not just identical individual words, but multiple words in similar/identical constructions and in clusters.

    From more probable to less probable: how about Jer 4:23-26? Psa 136? Zeph 1:3?

    Check out Fishbane, BIAI, 321-326, and the footnotes for some interesting observations.

    Michael Lyons

  13. Michael, thanks for the references. I find the prophetic examples intriguing since they allude to the undoing of creation which seems to be a common use of creation allusions connecting the day of YHWH with the reversal of creation or the unleashing of chaos as YHWH comes in judgment. With Psa 136, determining direction of dependence would be difficult. One could argue that the historical outline in Psa 136 (and others like it) existed prior to the fleshed out prose version in the pentateuch. Direction of dependence has always been a tough one for me. I'll look at Fishbane tonight. Like all good students of inner-biblical exegesis, I sleep with BIAI next to my bed.

  14. Well... is the Flood-narrative also from a Priestly source?

  15. Lucian,
    There are actually 2 flood narratives interwoven (according to the standard conclusions of the documentary hypothesis). One is the priestly source, the other is the Yahwist (J). But, in my mind at least, the fact that the source is considered P doesn't necessarily prove one part is chronologically prior to the other or that "P" is a singular entity. P in Genesis 1-9, however, does seem to hang together. P outside of Genesis (mostly Leviticus) seems different to me. So overall, I'm looking at the question of how P in Genesis relates to the rest of the Pentateuch and beyond that to the rest of the Hebrew Bible.

  16. Well... Genesis 1 is about creation... since the word "to make" and all of its derivatives are way too numerous, and most or at least very many of them do not necesarily point to creation, I've chosen to give an automatic search for "creat*" in the OT: here are some results, which, I guess, illustrate this idea:

    Psalms 89:11  The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them. 12  The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.

    Psalms 148:1  ¶Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights. 2  Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. 3  Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. 4  Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. 5  Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.

    Isaiah 40:25  To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. 26  Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these [things], that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

    Isaiah 40:28  Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

    Isaiah 42:5  ¶Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:

    Isaiah 45:7  I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    Isaiah 45:12  I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

    Isaiah 45:18  For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

    Isaiah 65:17  ¶For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

    Amos 4:13  For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.

    The searches for "made" and "make*" yield over 700 or 800 results each, so I think I'm gonna stop here.

  17. Lucian, thanks, but you've kind of proved my point about confusing shared subject matter with a direct literary relationship. The paper I heard on Psa 33 made a similarly simplistic connection--Gen 1 is about creation, so is Psa 33, so the writer of one was influenced by the other. Not necessarily. Your references cover the main creation texts in the Hebrew Bible from Psalms and 2nd Isaiah. Demonstrating that any of them are textually dependent on another is much more complicated than throwing out a list of references.

  18. Well... depends on what you're searching for...

    the texts make God the Maker of heaven & earth; sun & moon and stars, seas and all therein, etc. (The idea expressed in Genesis 1 is very simple, so your quest for more complex references seems weird).

  19. I guess looking for inner-biblical allusion can seem weird depending on how one approaches the biblical text. The question isn't about whether the Bible presents God as maker of heaven and earth. Some people see texts from Isa like 45:7 which Lucian cited as interpreting Gen 1, for example. In Gen 1, God starts by creating light and darkness was already there. Isa 45:7 explicitly says God created light and darkness. That's the kind of thing I'm looking at.