I've heard several knowledgeable people state that Genesis 1 is using Hebrew poetic language, but I recently ran across some counter arguments against the view that Genesis 1 contains poetry in the original language.*

What basis do interpreters use to support their idea that Genesis 1 is using poetic language? I am Catholic and thus am interested in anything consistent with that Tradition.

*Those arguments included the idea that Hebrew poetry appears to repeat ideas twice in the same statement; however it then only then addressed other parts of Genesis, as if it were assumed that if Gen 1 is poetry, the whole book must be.

  • No need to limit this question to Catholicism, the answers will be the same across all denominations.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 20, 2016 at 1:27
  • Ok. I was only including that tag because I know other denominations can have widely different views on gen 1. If it won't be an issue I'm fine with opening it to all. Sep 20, 2016 at 12:34
  • I'm not yet voting to close the question. But I think better answers might be had at the judaism.stackexchange.com site.
    – brasshat
    Sep 21, 2016 at 18:41
  • 3
    See also on Hermeneutics.SE: Is Genesis 1 a type of Hebrew Poem?
    – Susan
    Sep 22, 2016 at 13:38
  • Ah, YES! This seems to answer my question in a depth that i had not expected. I think that my question has been answered there in your link. Sep 22, 2016 at 15:27

1 Answer 1


Genesis 1 is constrained writing, and most poetry is a kind of constrained writing. My guess is that this is what has led a lot of people to say that Genesis 1 is a kind of poetry. But not all constrained writing is poetry, and Genesis 1 is very dissimilar from the typical Hebrew poetry of the rest of the Bible (ie., the Psalms, most of the prophets etc.)

To explain how Genesis 1 is constrained writing, I'll quote this list from John Dickson explaining all the ways in which the number seven and multiples of seven are used in the chapter:

  • The first sentence has 7 Hebrew words
  • The second sentence has 14 Hebrew words
  • The words for 'earth' and 'heaven' each occur 21 times
  • God is mentioned 35 times
  • 'and it was so' occurs 7 times
  • 'God saw that it was good' occurs 7 times
  • The chapter is structured around 7 days

The number seven symbolises wholeness and perfection, the very quality of the completed creation. Genesis 1 reinforces the goodness of the creation both through what it teaches, but also how it teaches, using these subtle (and invisible in English translations) constraints on its writing.

  • Many scholars believe most parts of the first 11 chapters in Genesis were inspired by existing Babylonian mythology (e.g. Gilgamesh). Those surviving stories are similar in prose and usually considers poetry.
    – user3961
    May 20, 2020 at 21:03
  • @fгedsbend, that's fine if you don't believe the Bible is inspired. If you do, why would God need to copy Babylonian mythology? Isn't it more likely that the Babylonian mythology is a misrepresentation of actual history?
    – Matthew
    Apr 11, 2022 at 20:26

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