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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 '16 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. – shiningcartoonist Sep 20 '16 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 '16 at 18:41
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    See also on Hermeneutics.SE: Is Genesis 1 a type of Hebrew Poem? – Susan Sep 22 '16 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. – shiningcartoonist Sep 22 '16 at 15:27
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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.

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