Thinking About Genesis 1 and 2: Genesis & Parody

I should admit, from the start of this post that I am neither a Darwinian or Evolutionary advocate. I should also admit that, while I do not subscribe to everything that Creationists teach, I do believe that God created the earth in six, 24-hour days. That said, my view of Genesis, particularly chapters 1 and 2, is that is not simply a scientific treatise, a geological thesis or merely a theological document. I do think that Genesis 1 contains elements of both poetry and narrative, which are rooted in what the ancient Hebrews considered historical events.

At this point in time, however, my view of Genesis 1 and 2 is that it is (and I honestly don’t know if this argument has ever been made!) a type of parasodic text. To put it differently, I think the creation narrative (I don’t subscribe to the documentary hypothesis or source critical theories either) was, to the ancient Hebrews, a sort of comical document, something like a parody. While I am aware that the argument that Genesis 1 and 2 are an apology against the Marduk narrative and while I am an advocate of that view, I also want to contend that the commencing chapters of Genesis would have been seen as subversive humor.

The sociologist, Murray Davis has said: “Comics try to discover whether it provokes a laugh to contradict what they hypothesize to be an essential characteristic of a typical social unit. Specifically, they replace this hypothesized essential characteristic with another feature (from a different social unit) they believe so uncharacteristic that imagining it together with the first unit’s other features will be laughable” (Davis, 1993, p. 217). In my estimation, something similar to this is taking place in Genesis 1 and 2. Moses (again, I am not into the DH!), in reaction to the Marduk myth (I do not care which one came first, the oral account of the Israelites or the written/oral accounts of the Mardukians J), composed the creation story in such a way that it made the Marduk account laughable.

Unlike Marduk, who represented chaos and formed the cosmos out of the body parts of other kin gods and goddesses, YHWH created out of “chaos” (e.g. showing His sovereignty over Marduk) and easily spoke things into existence, without war or even His hands. Just as well, whereas Marduk had to earn both his status and his keep, YHWH was already chief and ruler. There are many more things, I am sure, that I could highlight here. In fact, I would love to write a journal article on this very subject sometime. Perhaps I will start (a bit of encouragement could possibly get the motors running!). The point I want to make here, however, is that the humorous elements of the creation account are so often overlooked because the text is approached with modern-day, scientific, religio-political lenses on.

In the end, there are, I think, two main points that Genesis 1 and 2 are attempting to make: 1) God created the world in six days, and 2) YHWH’s orderly creation was a victory over the chaotic monster Marduk. To the author of Genesis and to the audiences, this story would have been viewed as positively parasodic as it made the Mardukian myth seem laughable. Perhaps it is high time to unearth the comical elements of the ancient combat myths, Canaanite chronicles and creation accounts. Just as well, maybe it’s time


  1. You certainly are not the first to think this. J. William Whedbee's excellent book The Bible and the Comic Vision devotes an entire chapter to the "subversive humor" of Genesis 1-11, though he places more emphasis on Genesis 2-3 than on chapter 1, suggesting that the story actually offers a rather ambiguous and ironic view of "the fall." For instance, subtle shifts like the fact that the man is said to leave his household for his wife (the opposite was more often true), and that Eve is the one who takes all the initiative in the dialogue with the snake (Adam is silent and passively accepts the fruit from her) comically reverse the traditional gender roles. Indeed, he argues that even God and the snake are presented in a more ambiguous light than later theology implies.

    Whedbee does, however, accept the Documentary Hypothesis (in fact, part of his argument is that P and J are intentionally being played off of each other as, ch. 1 emphasizes humanity's call to emulate God, while 2-3 suggest that we are not to be too like God, a tension that continues throughout scripture). If you can provide a new perspective that undermines such a redaction-critical reading, or offers a new perspective vis-a-vis Marduk, that could be interesting.

  2. Ken,
    Thans a lot for that resource, I will most certainly have to check that out; it sounds quite fascinating to me.

    I might just attempt to offer a new perspective. I appreciate your thoughts and comments. Good stuff, really.