Thursday, October 18, 2012

Genesis/Beraysheet: an analysis

The Torah is read weekly in synagogues around the world. Indeed every synagogue reads the exact same portion each week. To this end, the Torah is divided into sections, parshiot (singular: parashah), each of similar length. Now after the holiday of Sukkot (tabernacles) ending in Simchat Torah ("rejoicing in the Torah"), we begin again, as we do each year, at the beginning of the Torah, with the parashah named Beraysheet (common spelling: Bereshit), pronounced ba-RAY-sheet. It is probably one of the best known parshiot (sections), the story of creation, including Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, Cain's killing of Abel, and then the next ten generations of humankind.

The following is a kind of structural analysis of Beraysheet, ala Levi-Strauss. It is my preferred way of giving a first reading to a Torah text. I break the text into its component sub-documents, based on perspective, information content, grammar-structure, and questions the text appears to be addressing. I also try to make sure that I look at the text both from the point of view (pov) of an author writing the text (what am I trying to tell my readers?), and as a reader, asking why does the author think this is important.

So here is a structural analysis of Beraysheet, Genesis 1:1 to 6:8.

1:1 - 1:23      myth; cosmology; early science including origin of species, with evolutionary perspective; source material for this narrative includes texts and concepts from other cultures, and thus is highly layered and multi-cultural; for the relationship of myth to science, see Malinowski, et al.
1:24 - 1:25    classification of species
1:26              hierarchy of life
1:28              a blessing
1:27 - 2:8     continuing with myth-science
2:9                origin of ethics
2:10 - 2:14    geography and mapping; geology
2:15 - 2:17    divine origin of law
2:18 - 2:20    continuing with myth-science
2:21 - 2:22    surgery, medicine, bio-engineering
2:23 - 2:25    continuing with myth-science
3:1- 3:7        origin of deceit
3:8 - 3:11     awakening of self-consciousness; developmental psychology
3:12 - 3:20   first crime and punishment; also origin of dissatisfaction, sorrow, pain
3:21              origin of clothing fabrication
3:22 - 3:23    origin of mortality; strange text - God speaks with other divine/eternal beings
3:23 - 3:24    human exile
4:1                etymology
4:1 - 4:2       origin of occupations/professions;
4:3 - 4:4        first sacrificial offerings described
4:5                God is partial and can appear unfair, for no reason
4:5 - 4:12      psychological analysis; impulse to anger/murder; human social responsibility
4:13 - 4:16    there are other humans!! where did they come from? clearly intimates that the text so far, or at least the Adam/Eve story, is not to be taken as literal, but metaphorical or allegorical
4:17 - 4:26    genealogy
4: 23 - 4:24   embedded poem with definite prosodic and conceptual structure
5:1                first reference of multiple books comprising Torah
5:2 - 6:1        genealogy; origin of nations; one explanation for the impossibly long lives of the people - they are tribal lives, not human lives; another explanation: the myth of human decline
6:2, 6:4         another reference to other divine/eternal/super-human beings
6:3                genetic/inherent limits to longevity
6:5                psychology
6:6 - 6:7       non-linearity of human development; (flood myth is reference to other cultural literary/historical sources)
6:8               God’s partiality; God’s merciful nature; reward of obedience

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