GENESIS 2 AND 3, KALEIDOSCOPIC STRUCTURAL READINGS – a theopoetic hermeneutic – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Genesis 2 and 3, Kaleidoscopic Structural Readings

Daniel Patte, ed.

Copyright © 1980 by Society of Biblical Literature.

Published in Chico, CA.




One Text: Several Structures

Daniel Patte


Action Sequences in Genesis 2–3

Robert C. Culley

Response to Paper by Robert Culley

Arno Hutchinson, Jr.

The Myth Semantics of Genesis 2:4b–3:24

David Jobling

A Response to Jobling: The Necessity of Being “Outside”

James G. Williams

A Structural Exegesis of Genesis 2 and 3

Daniel Patte and Judson F. Parker

A Response to Patte and Parker

Glendon E. Bryce

A Structural Reading of the Structuralist Exegeses of Culley, Jobling, and Patte/Parker

Robert Detweiler


Direct and Third Person Discourse in the Narrative of the “Fall”

Hugh C. White

Felix Culpa and Foenix Culprit

John Dominic Crossan

The Structure of Narrative Rhetoric in Genesis 2–3

Thomas E. Boomershine

Response to Boomershine: Structure and Narration. An Enunciative View

Gary Phillips


Structure and Narrative Rhetoric in Genesis 2–3: Reflections on the Problem of Non-Convergent Structuralist Exegetical Methodologies

Brian Watson Kovacs

Synchronic Texts and Diachronic Critics

Clarence H. Snelling, Jr.

Works Consulted


Thomas E. Boomershine

United Theological Seminary

1810 Harvard Boulevard

Dayton, Ohio 45406

Glendon E. Bryce

College of the Holy Cross

Worcester, Massachusetts 01610

John Dominic Crossan

Harbor Point, Apt. 3208

155 North Harbor Drive

Chicago, Illinois 60601

Robert C. Culley

McGill University

Faculty of Religious Studies

3520 University Street

Montreal, PQ H3A 2A7

Robert Detweiler

The Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts

Emory University

Atlanta, Georgia 30322

Arno Hutchinson Jr.

205 N. Prairie

Raymond, Illinois 62560

David Jobling

St. Andrews College

Saskatchewan, S7N OWO Canada

Brian Watson Kovacs

Box 4451

Department of Sociology

Centenary College

Shreveport, Louisiana 71104

Judson F. Parker

Box 1679, Station B

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee 37235

Daniel Patte

Box 1704, Station B

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee 37235

Gary Philips

College of the Holy Cross

Worcester, Massachusetts 01610

Clarence H. Snelling

Iliff School of Theology

2201 S. University Boulevard

Denver, Colorado 80210

Hugh C. White

Department of Religious Studies

Camden College of Arts and Science

Rutgers University

Camden, New Jersey 08102

James G. Williams

Department of Religion

Syracuse University – 316 HBC

Syracuse, New York 13210

One Text: Several Structures

Daniel Patte

Vanderbilt University


Following a brief discussion of the need for a linguistic-based approach, it is argued that a text is characterized by a structural network, i.e., by a set of interrelated structures. Reviewing the essays found in this volume, Patte attempts to show which specific structure(s) is (are) studied in each of them. These essays, as readings of the text at various levels, complement each other and together display the meaning of the text in its fleeting and mysterious reality. As such they contribute to re-opening the text so that it might eventually challenge us to engage in a hermeneutic—in a theopoetic. (Reference is made to the essays in this volume through mention of the author’s name).

0.1 Biblical scholars and theologians are often puzzled by structural exegesis. The readers of this volume might even be more puzzled by the juxtaposition of a series of apparently conflicting exegeses of the same text: Genesis 2 and 3. My goal in this introductory essay is to attempt to provide an overall model allowing the readers to get hold of the general purpose of our collective research and to perceive the interrelation of the various essays. I will do so, in my own name and from my own perspective, a perspective that my colleagues might want to challenge as they, in fact, do in some of their essays. This is to say that, following the Semeia tradition, this volume presents a collective research in progress. Its format—exegetical essays followed by responses—reflects this status of our research. Yet, we believe that these structural readings of Genesis 2 and 3, when taken together, contribute to the understanding of this important text by calling attention to aspects and dimensions of the text which are usually ignored.

0.2 The puzzlement over structural exegesis results, in part, from the fact that the questions it addresses to the text are unexpected: they appear to be beside the point; they seem to avoid dealing directly with the meaning of the text. Its results often mystify the exegetes and theologians. Yet, it is not without relations with traditional Judeo-Christian ways of approaching the theological task: the allegorical and midrashic biblical interpretations. Such interpretations have been brushed aside in our enlightened culture because of their fanciful character: the literal meaning of a text in its transparency, is the whole meaning. But then, what happens to the text’s mystery, to its revelatory power? For indeed, the meaning of a story cannot be posited anymore than can the glitter of a jewel. It is an effect, a fleeting effect unveiling a mysterious reality, an effect resulting from the interrelation of the several textual facets and of the light in which they are perceived. Expressing this effect in a formula (e.g., a dogma) which is supposed to represent the meaning of the story might satisfy the common sense’s eagerness for ordered knowledge, but occults the mystery. Perceiving meaning as an entity pictured in the story might permit its appropriation, but involves confusing the live glitter of a jewel with the still shine captured on one of its photographs (Frei, 1974). The structuralist venture is based upon an awareness of the delusory fascination for making a fossil-like image out of a story’s meaning.

1.1 The Need for a Linguistic-Based Approach

1.11 So as to dispel the illusion that a narrative is a monolithic meaning entity, literary studies emphasize the multiplicity of its potential meanings. Several readings of a given text are possible and eventually valid. This common experience can be understood as resulting from a twofold phenomenon: a) the relationship text-reader is constantly changing, each time involving a different hermeneutical “circle”; b) the text can be read at several different levels and thus one can distinguish among various levels of meaning. Structuralism also recognizes this distinction although it is now viewed as referring to two broad categories of structural relations: a) the relations which are characteristic of the process of communication, author-text-reader; b) the relations which are found in the text as system of significations (Eco, 1976: 8–9). Both types of relations simultaneously participate in the overall meaning-effect of the text: both belong to a single network of structural relations and thus interact with each other. Yet by distinguishing them we imply that two broad dimensions of the meaning-effect have different (although interrelated) conditions of possibility.

1.12 The categories of rhetorical criticism (cf. Boomershine) are most helpful in dealing with certain aspects of the text as process but cannot in and of themselves adequately account for other aspects of the process of communication and for the text as product. Following Lévi-Strauss’ and Barthes’ pioneering works, structuralist research is characterized as an attempt to apply, after the necessary transpositions, various linguistic theories to the study of cultural manifestations. It is also termed semiotics since these linguistic theories are often centered on the nature, role, and function of “signs”.

1.2 The Structuralist Technical Vocabulary as Reflection of the Text’s Mystery

1.21 There is no need to belabor the potential fruitfulness of using the results of contemporary linguistic research for the study of another instance of communication such as discourses and texts. The study of language led to the identification of linguistic elements (e.g., phonemes, semes, signs) and their relations. In the same way, structuralist and semiotic research involves the identification of relations among intratextual and extratextual elements. In this analytical process, a microscopic view of the text is substituted for the macroscopic view of the common sense’s perception which does not apprehend these elements as discrete although interrelated entities (Patte & Patte, 1978a:1–10). Thus these elements and relations need to be expressed in a technical vocabulary which, unfortunately, has to be different from the technical vocabulary used in other types of literary studies: the elements and relations considered in structuralist studies do not directly correspond to the traditional literary categories because they are defined in terms of linguistic models.

1.22 Non-structural literary studies consider the relations among meaningful elements, i.e., meaning entities such as characters, parts of a plot, symbols. Such studies effectively challenge the common sense’s view of the text as having a monolithic meaning. Yet, in most instances, they still presuppose that the meaning of a text is the combination of discrete meaning entities which either are added to each other or modify each other. Thus it is still possible to envision the appropriation of the meaning of a text as the compilation of the meaning data found in the text.

1.23 Following contemporary linguistic theories, structuralism presupposes that meaning is a relational effect; i.e., the effect produced by the relations among various elements which in and of themselves do not have meaning, but are merely the poles between which the sparks of meaning flash. Each element identified by structuralism can thus be viewed as polarized and even as having a meaning-potential—the potential of participating in a variety of meaning-effects through its relation with other elements. Yet in and of themselves structural elements are meaningless not because of a “lack of meaning” but rather because of a “surplus of meaning”: they have so many potential denotations and connotations that they would be hopelessly ambiguous without the selecting process performed by the network of relations. As such, structural elements do not correspond to the meaning-centered elements considered in non-structuralist literary studies. In fact, from a structuralist perspective, these meaningful units are, by definition, an effect produced by a network of relations: they are complex units which need to be deconstructed in order to show what their structural elements are. The need for a technical vocabulary to describe these elements is clear. Structuralism also considers the relations among complex units which more or less correspond in scope to the units studied in non-structuralist studies, yet it does so in order to determine the meaning-effect produced by the interaction of these units. The use of a structuralist technical vocabulary for the description of these units is essential to make clear that they are not viewed as meaning entities, but as complex structural elements which have merely a potential to produce certain types of meaning-effects through their relations with similar units.

1.24 The structuralist technical vocabulary, far from being a gratuitous jargon, constantly manifests that meaning is a mysterious relational happening and prevents the return to the false security of fossil-like images of meaning. The structuralist game-like multiplication of technical vocabulary aims at being a kaleidoscopic reflection of the text’s mystery, while attempting to establish hermeneutical rules—the conditions of possibility of certain meaning-effects. Conversely, this multiplication of technical vocabulary must befit its purpose and thus it must be limited by it. By describing in the following pages the various dimensions of the meaning-effect which, in my view, need to be accounted for in a narrative, I would like to help circumscribe the areas for which a technical vocabulary is necessary. On the basis of the essays which form this volume and which were first presented and discussed at the “Consultation on Structuralism and Exegesis” held in the context of the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, New Orleans, November 1978, I will attempt to chart what too often appears as a tohû-wa-bohû.

2.0 Charting the Structuralist Tohû-Wa-Bohû

2.11 The meaning-effect of a narrative can be viewed as produced by a complex structural network which needs to be deconstructed so that its mechanism might be elucidated. It can be viewed as a series of structures which govern the organization of corresponding systems (either static or dynamic systems). These structures are superimposed upon each other and interwoven so as to form a network. This is to say that the same textual material simultaneously participates in several systems organized by corresponding structures. Consequently, in most instances, a given textual feature participates—either as an element or as a component of an element—in several systems in which it is set in relation with various other textual features. The analogy of a handwoven blanket might be helpful here: a brown thread might at once participate in the warp of the blanket (that is in the system “fabric produced by the structure of the loom” in which it is opposed to the woof), in the system of colored threads used by the weaver (as such the brown thread is contrasted with the other colored threads), in a part of the design (e.g., a system of iconic forms, in which the thread participates as an element of a given form that is contrasted with other iconic forms). Thus one cannot speak of the single structure of a text, but rather of the plurality of its structures. A text must be viewed as the superimposition and interweaving of several textual systems each governed by a specific structure.

2.12 In my view (but cf. Kovacs’ response), this theoretical remark helps to understand why various structural analyses of the same text have often quite different results. Each structural analysis needs to limit itself to the study of one or a few textual systems. Consequently, structural analyses considering different textual systems break up the textual material into different elements and elucidate different structures. This situation led to bewildering multiplication of theories and methods. Yet the growing interaction among scholars involved in semiotic and structuralist research progressively brings about the recognition of the place and role of each structure in a complex structural network.

2.2 Two Types of Structures, Five Types of Structuralist Research

2.20 In the plurality of structures we must first distinguish two types of structures which govern the organization of the various textual systems: a) universal structures which characterize narratives as part of the universal phenomenon of communication: these structures are rules which govern the interrelation of variable elements; b) structures which characterize each specific narrative and/or each specific use of this narrative in a communication process: these structures are often themselves a system of significations (e.g., a system of values or of symbols).

This first distinction helps to understand the difference among five broad types of structuralist research.

2.21 Certain studies aim at elucidating the structures which characterize a given text (or a given use of a text) by examining the text (or use of that text) in and of itself. Implicity or explicity such studies presuppose that the organization of the text in textual systems can be elucidated on the exclusive basis of what is found in the text and thus without accounting for universal structures. The proponents of this approach have strong reservations vis-à-vis the deductive methodologies and the structural exegeses which propose to analyze a text on the basis of a semiotic theory. They suspect these methodologies of projecting on the text something foreign to it, as if their own approach was free of presuppositions! In fact, these exegetes read the text with pre-understandings about the nature of the relevant textual systems and of the pertinent textual features. Indeed, they hold implicit semiotic and structuralist theories about the nature of a meaningful text which would need to be examined. I anticipate that such an examination will show that most of these studies are dealing with specific textual systems and with structures which indeed have a place in the structural network that theoretical semiotic research strives to describe. Such studies often provide significant insight into the text, yet their methodological weakness does not allow one to assess what dimension(s) of the meaning-effect is thus disclosed.

2.22 At the other extreme, we find almost pure theoretical research—usually termed semiotic research—aimed at establishing the universal structures. It aims at establishing what is characteristic of a narrative qua narrative. While this research is still in process, significant results have now been reached by considering narrative as a specific instance of the phenomenon of communication. Since both language and narrative belong to the same phenomenon of communication, one can expect that they have similar characteristics. The first decisive result of this research was to point out that the universal characteristics of both language and narrative are rules (or structures) which govern the relation among their respective elements and not specific elements. For instance, since each specific language is characterized by a specific set of phonemes, no given set of phonemes can be characteristic of the universal phenomenon of language, yet the rules which govern the organization of phonemes in various phonetic systems have been shown to be universal. Similarly, when considering narratives, we can say in a first approximation that characters are variable (a narrative remains a narrative whether it is about cowboys and Indians, knights and squires, etc.) while certain rules governing their relations are constant. Thus the research is aimed at showing the rules or structures which are universal. In so doing, one also identifies the type of textual features which are set in relation, and thus what are the textual systems (as I termed them above) that characterize narrative qua narrative. This research is by nature quite abstract and leads to different (although not necessarily contradictory) results according to the linguistic theory (or more generally, the theory about the phenomenon of communication) upon which it is based. We shall come back to this issue below. This theoretical research needs to be complemented by inductive analyses of texts and verified by deductive analyses.

2.23 Inductive analyses study specific texts in order to discover the universal rules or structures which govern the organization of meaningful texts. Such analyses are very disappointing for the exegetes for they do not reveal anything about the meaning of the text under study (or, if they do, it is only by accident). Yet they are necessary in order to develop further the semiotic theories.

2.24 Deductive analyses of texts are used in order to verify if a structuralist theory (previously proposed either on the basis of theoretical research or of inductive analyses) is valid or not. The text and its meaning-effect are not the focus of the study which aims rather at establishing a semiotic theory. But once it is established, this theory becomes the basis upon which methods of structural exegesis can be developed.

2.25 Various kinds of structural exegeses are aimed at the study of specific textual systems and how they contribute to the overall meaning effect of a given text. This type of study (at last!) helps elucidate various dimensions of the meaning-effect of the text, as the first type discussed above also does, but this time, with a more rigorous methodology, that is with an awareness of the place of the specific textual system under study in the overall meaning-effect of the text.

2.26 As long as one is not aware of the differences among these five broad types of structuralist research, one cannot but be bewildered by such a diversity. And yet each type contributes in its own way to the structuralist project. The first and the fifth study the characteristics of specific texts in order to elucidate various dimensions of their meaning-effects. The other types of study are parts of a methodological research aimed at providing sound semiotic and structuralist theoretical bases for structural exegetical methods.

2.3 Two Diverging Semiotic Theories: Two Complementary Types of Structural Exegesis

2.30 The universal structures command the attention of the structural exegetes in that they permit them to identify the textual systems which participate in the meaning-effect of a specific text. The difficulty is that at the present stage of the research there is apparently very little agreement among scholars regarding these structures. Each school, if not each individual author, has developed its own model for these structures, together with its own technical vocabulary. An international semiotic congress is a methodological Tower of Babel. Yet the general semiotic theories recently published clarify the situation by integrating numerous partial theories. Furthermore, they show that beyond the diversity of technical vocabulary and details, the main divergence in the perception of these structures results from two different conceptions of the phenomenon of communication. Two recently published works are representative: the book by U. Eco, A Theory of Semiotics and the encyclopedic dictionary by A. J. Greimas and J. Courtès, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire Raisonné de la Théorie du Langage.

2.310 Both these works acknowledge that the phenomenon of communication involves two types of components: a) processes of communication and b) systems of significations. Both theories attempt to account for these two dimensions of the phenomenon, yet in opposite ways.

2.311 Eco takes the most fundamental structure of the phenomenon of communication, to be “the elementary structure of communication” characterizing the process which can be represented as follows (Eco, 1976: 32–33):


While recognizing the need to use different approaches for the study of the two components, Eco subordinates the study of signification systems to that of the communication processes because the latter always presuppose the former (Eco: 9). From this perspective one identifies the various elements of the phenomenon in terms of their function in the communication process. The codes as systems of significations as well as the different types of signals, channels, transmitters, receivers, are classified in terms of the various types of communication processes in which they participate.

2.312 Thus despite the fact that Eco studies separately on the one hand, the codes as systems of significations, and on the other hand the communication process (sign production), he defines a code as a “communicational framework” or rule which interrelates “signals”, “notions”, and “behavioral responses”, that is, as the structure which interrelates items from various systems (systems of signals, of notions, of behavioral responses). For him these systems and their own organization “deserve theoretical attention only when it is inserted within a significant or communicational framework (the code)” (Eco:38). Thus he studies the “sign function” because “properly speaking, there are not signs, but only sign-functions” (Eco:49). Despite Eco’s well balanced approach (which integrates results of research on signification systems), it remains that the focus on the system of communication and its structure lead him to underestimate the role of the structure of the other systems. Thus rather than focusing upon the study of signs as part of a system of signs, he proposes a typology of signs classified in terms of their respective function (Leach:9–16).

2.313 The validity and fruitfulness of this first type of general semiotic theory is clear. When transposed to the study of texts, it proposes models for the formal identification of features of the text in terms of their effect upon the reader and for the structure of the hermeneutical process. The fact that this theory deals with the communication process as a whole is both its strength, as it has the potential to elucidate the meaning-effect as a whole, and its weakness, especially when applied to texts. The difficulty is that the verification of such models necessarily involves the effect of the communication act upon the addressee, since these models include theories about “the general possibility of coding and decoding” and about the process, or labor, “required in order to produce and interpret signs, messages or texts” (Eco:152). While one can eventually envision such a verification in the communication of certain aspects of simple messages (for instance, in the fact that they bring about some behavioral responses) it is impossible to study adequately the effect of the communication upon the addressee’s vision of life or ideology. This problem is especially acute when dealing with complex texts or discourses. In most instances one must rely on the evidence found in the encoded message (as is clear in Eco’s argument).

2.32 Without denying the fundamental importance of the structure of communication, another semiotic and structuralist tradition focuses its research upon the systems of significations. This type of research, best represented by A. J. Greimas’ work, studies the systems of significations as manifest in the encoded messages, such as texts, without presupposing a model for the structure of the communication process. In this approach the provisory results of both theoretical elaborations and inductive analyses can be refined progressively and verified by means of deductive analyses. In the case of texts, various textual systems, their respective structures and their interaction, are gradually identified. As such, this research has a much more modest goal than the preceding one, it aims merely at establishing conditions of possibility of the communication process. It is not in a position to say anything about the structure of the communication process. Yet this type of research contributes indirectly to its study by progressively circumscribing the field of the possible theories about the structure of the communication process. Accordingly, Eco carefully took into account the results of the research on the systems of significations available at the time of his writing (between 1967 and 1974). While it is the best theory of the communication process available, certain of its aspects need to be revised in light of new results of the research on signification systems. In brief, as Greimas saw it, the structures of the communication process must be defined on the basis of an understanding of the structures of the signification systems, and not the other way around.

2.33 The present state of structural exegesis reflects this twofold theoretical research. Certain methods aim at studying various features of the text as part of the communication process, while others aim at studying specific textual systems of signification. The former methods promise more striking exegetical results (dealing as they are with the meaning-effect as a whole) but are methodologically weaker (the theories upon which they are based cannot be really tested). By contrast the latter methods aim at more modest results (the characteristics of a few aspects of the meaning-effect) but have a stronger methodological base (the models upon which they are based can be verified, even though further verifications and refinements are always necessary).

2.34 From the preceding discussion it appears that these two types of structural exegesis are complementary and not exclusive of each other; they deal with different dimensions of the meaning-effect of the text. Yet, at present, it is difficult to understand clearly their relation. As we progress in our charting of the various methods of structural exegesis we shall suggest how their interdependence might be envisioned.

2.35 At this point it might be useful to represent in a table the broad categories of structuralism we have identified so far:

Study of

Signification System

Communication Process


structural exegesis

Signification systems of a given text as specific investments of universal structures

Communication process (or system) as specific investment of universal structures

semiotic research

Universal structures characteristic of signification system

Universal structures characteristic of communication process

As this table shows, both types of structural exegesis study specific characteristics of a text or of its communication viewed as the investments of universal structures manifested either in the signification systems of the text or in the specific process of communication to which the text participates. In the following pages we shall not deal directly with the universal structures, yet we need to keep in mind that to each signification system and to each dimension of the communication process correspond universal structures which govern their organization. Implicity or explicity each specific structural exegetical method presupposes an understanding (or better, a model) of these universal structures. My own attempt to show the interrelation between these methods is based upon my ongoing semiotic research aimed at elucidating the structural network in narrative.

3.0 Methods for the Structural Exegesis of Textual Signification Systems

3.01 When considering a narrative text such as Genesis 2 and 3 as an encoded message whose meaning-effect is produced in part by the interrelation of its elements within the message itself, we must first acknowledge that the textual “stuff” (as Hjelmslev designates it) can be broken up in any number of elements interrelated in a variety of ways so as to form different systems. The question is: which among these elements and systems are pertinent, i.e., actually participate in the production of the specific meaning effect of the text? The structuralist exegetes respond: those systems which are organized by universal structures, that is by relational rules which can be found in any narrative. At first, such a view is surprising—is this not excluding what might be the most original component of a text’s meaning-effect? Yet one needs to keep in mind that the specificity of a text’s meaning-effect can only be perceived by comparison with a similar meaning-effect. Thus, only those elements and signification systems which can be contrasted with comparable elements and systems in other texts truly participate in the meaning-effect. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, let me emphasize that the above statement is aimed at discriminating among various ways of breaking up the text in elements and systems and not among meaningful and meaningless parts of the text. This view does presuppose that the entire text participates in the production of the text, not a single letter should be discounted!

3.02 First one needs to distinguish between the signification systems of the expression and of the content of the narrative. The signification systems of the expression include a linguistic system of signs, and various systems of stylistic features (e.g., phonetic or graphic features which characterize the poetic or prosaic expression of the text). Structural exegesis focused on signification systems has not developed methods at that level, possibly because of the awareness that the significance of such analyses would depend upon their contribution to an understanding of the text as part of the process of communication. At any rate, methods of structural exegesis for the study of signification systems are almost exclusively focused upon the narrative content.

3.03 In the narrative content of the encoded message one needs to distinguish between two types of signification systems, the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic systems.

3.1 Structural Exegesis of the Syntagmatic Systems

3.10 The plot of a narrative, e.g., the narrative development from the barren and empty earth to the posting of the cherubim to the east of the garden of Eden in Genesis 2 and 3, is a complex syntagmatic system in that it is composed of several syntagmatic sub-systems that I will simply list (cf. Patte & Patte, 1978a: ch.II) with an illustration from Genesis 2 and 3.

3.11 The basic narrative syntagmatic unit is the transformation. An Object is transmitted to a Receiver, who is therefore transformed from a state of lack (not having the Object) to a state of lack fulfilled (having the Object). Transformations are usually manifested by the verbs of the category of “doing,” although they can also be expressed in nominal forms. Two examples shall suffice here. When the woman gave the fruit of the tree to her man (Gen. 3:6) “man” is the Receiver and “the fruit”, the Object. Then their eyes were opened (Gen. 3:7). Either “their eyes” is the Receiver, and “openness” the Object, or “man and woman” is the Receiver and “opened eyes” is the Object (the choice among these two possible interpretations is dictated by the interrelation among transformations). Thus the plot can be viewed as a system of transformations. It has been suggested that this system was structured by a main transformation; the plot being the passage from an initial situation of lack to a concluding situation in which the lack is fulfilled through the intermediary of secondary transformations. According to this model, in Genesis 2 and 3 the initial situation of lack is that there is no man to till the earth, Gen. 2:5–6; this lack is overcome in Gen. 3:22–24 (cf. Jobling and Patte/Parker). Yet, this model is not valid because narratives often continue to unfold after the initial lack is liquidated. It is clear that the plot emphasizes certain transformations, yet the plot as a system of transformations is not structured by a transformation. Rather, the transformations are first organized in various syntagmatic units which are themselves interrelated so as to form the plot.

3.12 A transformation is part of a larger syntagmatic unit which I term narrative program, characterized by the actantial model proposed by Greimas:


In other words a transformation takes place only when there is a Subject who is willing to do it (the volition is established by the Sender) and able to do it (i.e., who has adequate Helpers to overcome any eventual Opponent). Through their participation in programs, transformations are organized in various clusters.

3.121 They are organized in pairs of opposed transformations. Thus the transformations of the programs of the hero and the villain in folktales are often opposed (one giving something, the other taking it away; one giving an Object to somebody, the other giving it to somebody else; etc.…). The textual manifestation is often more complex, the same personage might play both the roles of Subject and of Opponent, and the opposed transformations might be expressed in conditional or hypothetical statements. Yet in each narrative one finds such oppositions. In Genesis 2 and 3, Patte and Parker identified nineteen such pairs of opposed transformations, among them: 3:16e—man (domination→woman) vs. 3:17b Adam (listening →woman) (the Objects “domination” and “listening” are opposed as “domination vs. a form of submission”.) 3:16b—Yahweh Elohim (labor pain→woman) vs. 3:6e—woman (pleasing fruit→woman).

These oppositions play a special role in the production of the meaning effect of the text by marking certain transformations as particularly significant because of the very fact that opposite transformations are manifested. Accordingly, they are termed “pertinent transformations.” They appear to have a twofold function.

First, they participate in the unfolding of the narrative development in the form of action sequences according to the model “action vs. counter action”. Thus in Genesis 2 and 3, Robert Culley identifies six action sequences. It is enough to mention four of these here. Two of the sequences are of the type “wrong/wrong punished”: the man and the woman eating the fruit and being punished (2:16–17, 3:1–6, 9–13, 16–19). The “wrong” itself involves a succession of transformations, namely a prohibition and a violation of this prohibition. Similarly the serpent does wrong (3:1–5) and is punished (3:14–15). Two other sequences belong to the type “difficulty/difficulty removed”. The characteristic acquired by man through eating the fruit poses a difficulty or problem for Yahweh Elohim, which is resolved by the expulsion from the garden (3:22–24). Similarly the sequence concerning the creation of the woman (2:18–25), which resolves the problem or difficulty expressed in Yahweh Elohim’s statement: It is not good that the man be alone. By participating in interwoven action sequences, these pairs of transformations also show the narrative development to be polemical in nature. They establish a principal and a polemic axis along which the textual elements are gathered.

This participation of the pairs of opposed transformations in the narrative development is certainly not their only role; some of these pairs are indeed established by the introduction of textual elements which do not contribute to the unfolding of the plot. For instance, one of the effects of introducing the excursus about the river(s), 2:10–14, is to oppose the watering of the garden by the river (v. 10) to the watering of the earth by the “mist” (‘ed, v. 6). In this case the same Object “water” is attributed to two different Receivers, “garden” and “earth”. This observation and other theoretical reasons led me to conclude that the pairs of opposed transformations formed a system of pertinent transformations which is closely associated with the symbolic system of the text. Each pertinent transformation (a syntagmatic unit) is, so to speak, the center of a magnetic field around which textual elements are gathered together whether or not they contribute to the narrative development.

The transformations are also organized so as to form chainlike series in order to describe a complex action process. For instance, the creation of the woman in Gen. 2:21–22 involves a series of successive transformations. When they are defined in terms of the actions, these chain-like series form what is termed by Greimas narrative trajectories. When considering the actual organization of narratives, the uninterrupted chain-like series of transformations form elementary narratives (often, a part of the story of one or another personage). As such the plot as a system of transformations appears as a system of elementary narratives. A study of the interrelation of the elementary narrative shows that they can be grouped in narrative levels according to the way in which they are interrelated. The elementary narratives which converge with each other (that is, which contribute to the narrative development through cause/effect and action/counteraction relationships) belong to the same level. In Genesis 2 and 3, we find two such narrative levels: Genesis 2:4b–9, and 15; and Genesis 2:16–3:21. The narrative development continues to unfold from one to the other but not as the result of a cause and effect, or action and counteraction relationship. Rather, the narrative moves forward on the basis of a character’s recognition or attribution of a certain “value” (or meaning) to the preceding narrative development. The new narrative development which proceeds from this interpretation can be viewed as diverging from the preceding narrative development. In the present case, Yahweh Elohim’s command is not a direct response to any of the preceding transformations. Rather, it presupposes the attribution of a certain value to the preceding narrative development; the man and the Garden together with its content should be in a specific relationship. In 2:18 we find a second interpretation of the situation by Yahweh. It is focused, this time, on the loneliness of man. The serpent’s intervention in 2:1–7 presupposes another and conflicting interpretation of the relationship between man and Garden which converges, according to the category action/counteraction, with Yahweh’s. Such a diverging narrative development, often marked by cognitive verbs or by certain types of direct discourses, signals a shift from one narrative level to another.

3.2 Syntagmatic and Paradigmatic Systems

3.21 The importance of this identification of the narrative levels according to the principles briefly outlined above (cf. also Patte/Parker) resides in the fact that it allows the exegete to identify the broad outline of the organization of a text’s symbolic and semantic systems. The second narrative level is characterized by the fact that it presupposes certain values related to evaluations of the preceding narrative development. Consequently, the symbols found in this part of the text are held together by semantic connotations which are different from those found in the first narrative level. In other words, a study of this syntagmatic system (the system of elementary narratives) prepares the study of the paradigmatic systems (the symbolic system, the codes, the semantic universe) of the text.

3.22 The other syntagmatic systems (the system of pertinent transformations, of the narrative trajectories, and of the action sequences) correspond themselves to paradigmatic systems. Their identification prepares a detailed study of the symbolic and semantic dimensions of the text. Yet, they are valuable in themselves. A comparison of texts at this level (for instance, in order to establish genres or sub-genres) is quite appropriate. Because of the correspondence between syntagmatic and paradigmatic systems, explicity or implicity, they take into account essential characteristics of the symbolic and semantic organization of these texts (cf. Boomershine).

3.3 Structural Exegesis of the Paradigmatic Systems

3.31 Among the studies of textual signification systems, those focused on the paradigmatic systems reach exegetical results which have the most significant implications for a hermeneutic of the text and thus, also for theology. The mere descriptions of the codes, the symbolic system, the semantic connotations of each symbol, and the characteristics of the text’s semantic universe invite a comparison with contemporary codes, symbolic systems, and semantic universes.

3.32 The study of the paradigmatic systems of the text is often performed independently from the study of the syntagmatic systems (whether or not they are juxtaposed to such studies). In such a case, models usually derived from Levi-Strauss’ research on myths are used in order to identify the symbolic and semantic oppositions as well as the codes. By contrast the members of the Society of Biblical Literature seminar attempt, in various ways, to relate the study of the paradigmatic systems to that of syntagmatic systems as well as to that of features of the communication process. For, indeed, there are great numbers of semantic oppositions and categories which can be identified in each text. The question is, what are the oppositions and categories which truly characterize the text i.e., the pertinent oppositions and categories? More or less elaborated theories about the correspondence between the syntagmatic and paradigmatic systems are used as a methodological tool to guide this choice. For instance, in Genesis 2 and 3, after having performed a syntagmatic analysis in terms of the actantial model, Boomershine identifies five codes: an alimentary, an animal, a sexual, a geographical and a life/death code. Jobling, while identifying similar features, focuses his analysis on semantic oppositions such as inside/outside and on the role of semantic categories (such as life and death, knowledge, man and his helpers) on the basis of a narrative analysis in terms of a refined Proppian method. Similarly Parker and Patte propose an analysis of paradigmatic systems on the basis of a study of the text’s syntagmatic organization (especially, of its narrative levels and system of pertinent transformations). For this purpose they use a detailed model of the relationship between the syntagmatic systems of pertinent transformations and the symbolic and semantic systems (cf. Patte & Patte, 1978a:chII). They endeavor to elucidate the semantic universe of Genesis 2 and 3 which involves two isotopies (or set of deep values): the one concerning the specific connotations that the “power to create” has in this text, and the other concerning the text’s view of human existence as related to various aspects of the world, of the divine and human experience. For Parker and Patte, such an analysis displays the general semantic framework undergirding both the narrative and symbolic organizations of the text and, consequently, prepares the detailed study of the symbolism.

3.33 Since each of these studies deals with paradigmatic systems of deep values presupposed by the text, one is tempted to think that they deal with a single signification system. In fact, the codes, the symbolic system (and its semantic categories), and the semantic universe (and its isotopies) are three distinct, albeit interrelated, systems of deep values.

3.34 The codes are cultural systems which characterize a text as one expression among many of a given culture. In the analogy of a handwoven blanket proposed above, the codes would correspond to the system of colored threads. It includes a limited number of colored threads and certain constraints defining how they can be associated and contrasted. It is available to all the weavers belonging to the same culture (or sub-culture). This system is manifested in each hand-woven blanket of that culture. Similarly, codes are systems of deep values which form one of the semantic frameworks of texts in a given culture.

3.35 The symbolic system (and its semantic categories) is characteristic of a given text. It corresponds to the system of iconic forms of a hand-woven blanket. The deep values that it manifests are complex semantic units (cf. Patte & Patte, 1978a: 16–22) which form the semantic framework directly undergirding the narrative development. As such, the deep values of the symbolic system can be relatively easy to express as the author’s anthropology, cosmology, theology or epistemology. In other words, they can be expressed in discoursive forms which involve the presentation of values in the context of a (narrative or logical) development.

3.36 The semantic universe is also characteristic of a given text, but at a deeper level. The deep values which form it are the semantic framework undergirding the symbolic system (and thus, indirectly, the narrative development). They are self-evident truths which characterize the overall gaze (regard, cf. Foucault) of the author (and of the readers insofar as they submit to the text). They are the semantic framework without which nothing in the text makes sense. They are the semantic universe inside which the author thinks, speaks, and acts (to be contrasted with the symbolic system that the author dominates, transforms and creates, at least to a certain extent). These deep values are the “meaning horizon” of the text. As such they are not the central values manifested by the text’s symbolism. They are peripheral although foundational. They are not that upon which the text is focused although they are what focuses the text, its visée (Greimas’ term). Because of their self-evidence, they belong to the category of the revealed, of the transcendent. They characterize the author’s very faith, that we contrast with the many possible expressions of this faith in symbolic or theological discourses or acts.

3.37 The differences between these three types of semantic systems appear clearly when comparing the essays by Boomershine, Jobling, and Patte/Parker. There is no doubt that they are closely interrelated. But the laws governing their complex interactions have not yet been fully established. In order to understand this phenomenon we will need to take into account features of the communication process. At the present stage of the research, analyses of the signification systems provide a number of criteria allowing the exegetes to verify the validity of hermeneutical discourse. The organization of the symbolic and semantic systems defines the field of the possible hermeneutical discourses which should be based upon symbolic and semantic systems prolonging, and thus compatible with, those of the text. Furthermore, the description of the symbolic and semantic systems of a text is in itself an invitation to compare them with the systems of our own discourses. Such comparisons are themselves hermeneutical discourses brought about, and controlled, by the exegesis.

4.0 Methods for the Structural Exegesis Focused Upon the Communication Process

4.1 The hermeneutical rules which are eventually derived from the exegesis of the textual signification systems are primarily negative criteria. Exegeses focused upon the communication process as manifested in the text promise to offer more specific hermeneutical rules. Such analyses should permit us to elucidate the precise target toward which the meaning-effect of the text is directed. Is the text aimed at communicating information to be used by the addressees in their own discourse? Is it aimed at manipulating the addressees so as to make them do something (faire faire), or so as to make them believe (faire croire)? In such cases how does the text affect the addressees’ systems of values, their cultural codes, their symbolic system, or their semantic universe?

4.2 A general answer given to this last question by certain exegetes affirms that the text affects the addressees by inviting them to identify themselves with specific characters at one or the other stage of the narrative development. Following a method termed “rhetorical criticism” (cf. Jackson and Kessler, 1974) these exegetes, among whom is Boomershine, study the syntagmatic organization of the narrative: a) in terms of the “variations in narrative points of view” (what are the narrative components which are presented from the perspective of an observer, or rather from the perspective of a character as an inside view); b) in terms of “norms of judgment” (the “criteria of right and wrong which are the implied basis for the narrator’s attitudes toward the characters and their actions”); c) in terms of the “dynamics of distance in the characterizations” (that is, “the degree of sympathy or alienation, involvement or detachment which occurs in the various relationships in the narrative and his audience and between the audience and the characters of the story”); and d) in terms of the “establishment and reversal of expectations” which characterize the plot. (These categories are those proposed by Boomershine).

4.3 This exegetical method leads to important conclusions prescribing certain hermeneutics of the text (cf. Boomershine, 1974; Tannehill, 1975; Booth, 1961; Corbett, 1969). Yet as is clear from the above criteria, the analysis involves many judgments that the exegete must make upon very few formal textual evidences. Boomershine attempts to remedy this weakness by complementing this exegesis with a study of certain textual signification systems (the narrative syntagmatic system of actantial functions and the paradigmatic system of codes). While Boomershine’s methodological research needs further development, it is most appropriate, in view of the obvious relationships which exist between the rhetorical criteria and the signification systems discussed above.

4.4 White (cf., White, 1978) sees that such a promising exegetical method cannot be established as long as it is not based upon a sound theory about literary communication processes. This article is almost exclusively theoretical rather than being exegetical. This represents well the state of the research aimed at establishing a structuralist exegetical method focused on the communication process. What is at stake here is the identification of enunciative markers, that is, of textual features reflecting the communication process to which the text participates or participated. Following Searle (1970), Austin (1975), and primarily Benvéniste (1966), White emphasizes the role of the deictics (the pronouns, I, you, etc., the demonstratives, this and that, and the time markers) and, consequently, the role of the alternance of direct and third person discourses as means of recognizing the narrator/narratee relationship.

4.5 While this type of methodological research has long stagnated we can expect it to progress rapidly now. The exegetical paper by H. White as well as the responses by Phillips and Crossan present promising elements of method. The structural categories established for the study of textual signification systems help, in my view, to conceive models of the universal structures which characterize the communication process, even though these structures are quite different from those of the signification systems. Here we must be content to list some of the issues which need to be resolved, and the questions which challenge the proposals offered on the basis of the study of signification systems.

4.6 In the case of narrative, the primary meaning-effect is aesthetic rather than informational. In other words, a narrative has for effect either the transformation or the reinforcement of the symbolic and semantic systems of the addressees. A large part of this effect results from the distance (harmony or disharmony) between the text’s symbolic and semantic systems from those of the addressees. In the case of disharmony, it can be either a conflict of semantic universes (or semantic horizons) or a conflict of symbolic systems (within the same narrative universe), or again a conflict regarding cultural codes, or several of these combined. The question is to know if there are textual markers which would allow the exegetes to identify what type of aesthetic effect characterizes the text. The interrelation of the various components of the semantic systems need to be studied anew. The analysis of the signification systems aims at showing how the various semantic components form an overall system. In the present case, we need to study the semantic, symbolic and narrative connectives which articulate the different components. Why are the connectives manifested in the text? Furthermore, the enunciative markers, such as deictics, and the shift from direct to indirect discourse, which are found in the syntagmatic organization of the text, do not necessarily correspond to the narrative, symbolic, and semantic organizations of the signification systems. What is the significance of discrepancies? of absence of discrepancies? For instance, White’s and Crossan’s analyses of Genesis 2 and 3 in terms of markers of the enunciation and in terms of the types of subjectivity manifested by the form of the discourses reveals an enunciative organization which is at times consistent with the organization of the symbolic and semantic systems, and at other times, at odds with it. Furthermore, one has to wonder whether or not the distance between the text’s symbolic systems from those of the addressees corresponds to tensions found in the text. More specifically, would it correspond to the tension between modes of subjectivity which is revealed by the study of the modes of discourses as proposed by White? Answers to these questions and others of the same type might help progress toward a methodology which would allow the exegetes to identify the type of a text’s aesthetic effect as well as the parts of the symbolic and semantic systems which are particularly significant for the communication process. In this way the exegesis would define more specifically what the proper hermeneutics of a given text are.

5.0 Structuralism and Hermeneutic

5.1 Structuralist research is an ongoing quest for hermeneutical rules; the text’s shallow self-evidence becomes a multi-dimensional mystery. In an exegesis of the text’s symbolic and semantic organization the text is allowed to define the field of its valid hermeneutics. In an exegesis of the dynamics of the communication process inscribed in the text, the text’s aesthetic power will, hopefully, be released on the targets it sets for itself in the addressees’ experience. New stories are generated out of the addressees’ experience submitted to the impact of the text’s meaning-effect. The text’s mystery is reflected in the new discourses.

5.2 Such is the ultimate goal that the members of the Society of Biblical Literature seminar pursue through their structural exegetical research. Much needs to be done to establish a complete exegetical method which would allow the hermeneuts to proceed to a “theopoetic” prolonging the biblical text and respecting its mystery.

5.3 Theopoetic. Throughout his career Amos Wilder made a plea for theopoetic (Wilder, 1976). It is appropriate to refer to him in conclusion of this essay. It is to him that the structural exegetical research of American scholars (cf. Via, 1975; Crossan, 1975, Patte, 1975; Detweiler, 1978; McKnight, 1978; Patte & Patte, 1978) owes its characteristic concern for hermeneutic conceived as deeply rooted in the creative imagination and as finding a privileged form of expression in story-telling. No wonder, then, that the midrashic scholar (Lou H. Silberman, 1977) finds himself at home in structuralist research.

Action Sequences in Genesis 2–3

Robert C. Culley

McGill University, Montreal


This paper explores one aspect of narrative structure: action sequences. These are of different types and have been labelled with terms like “wrong-wrong punished” and “difficulty-difficulty removed.” It is argued that the narrative action of Genesis 2–3 can be described in terms of action sequences. The main sequence is a punishment sequence and several other sequences of different kinds have been embedded in, woven into, or added to the main sequence.

0.1 In this study of Genesis 2–3, the scope will be limited to the investigation of one feature of narrative in Old Testament texts, that is narrative action, and one way of describing this aspect of narrative will be explored. Nevertheless, this approach to narrative action has been developed with an awareness of a whole range of possible approaches to narrative (see Gülich and Raible for some of these). While I am generally aware of the work of Propp (and successors like Jason and Bremond), Greimas, and Longacre, it is the applications of such general theories and similar approaches that have stimulated my own thinking. One can mention text and discourse analysis (Longacre, Richter, Gross, Schweizer), adaptation of the work of Greimas (CADIR), and the use of Propp, Greimas, and Lévi-Strauss by Jobling as well as the more eclectic approach of Polzin.

0.2 I became interested in the patterns in some Old Testament narratives which seemed to control what happened in the stories, that is to say, the main actions performed by the main actors (Culley 1975, 1976). The shortest possible stories were selected in order to get the simplest possible patterns. And these patterns seemed to be shared by other stories. For example, a pattern shared by a number of miracle stories runs as follows: (1) a party in a difficult situation brings this to the attention of a party with the power to provide miraculous help; (2) the helper party responds by taking action on the problem; (3) the miraculous result removing the problem is indicated. Example: Elisha makes the bad water good (2 Kgs 2:19–22). Similar patterns were found for deception and punishment stories. Instead of trying to apply Propp’s thirty-one functions to biblical narratives, I tried to follow Propp’s general method of looking for common actions and roles in groups of stories.

0.3 The results of this work were encouraging enough to move on further. However, since the number of very short stories in the Old Testament is limited, the next step must be to move on to more complex texts. If groups of small stories have turned up some common of shared patterns of action, then what happens in longer texts? One of the ways of producing longer and more complex stories appears to be by building in and adding on a number of action patterns of the sort found in very short stories (this is what will be investigated in Gen 2–3).

1.1 But before moving on to the Genesis story some further comments are needed to clarify what is meant by pattern of action. I will use the term “action sequence” to refer to a basic unit of action in a story. Here, I am merely simplifying what I have done earlier in discussing miracle, punishment, and deception stories. Instead of the three steps mentioned in 0.2, all action sequences will be considered to have two primary phases. For example, a miracle story has a problem phase in which some difficulty is introduced and a solution phase in which an intervention occurs which solves the difficulty already introduced in the first phase. In this way an action sequence is seen as an action which moves from complication to resolution, from a beginning to an end, such that an action sequence could serve as the main action in a story. The term “action sequence” and the definition of it just given are tentative and proposed largely for the purposes of discussion. Similarly, reference to participants, characters, or roles has been set aside for pragmatic reasons. By concentrating only on some basic patterns of action, a simpler analysis will result which may provide a good basis for a discussion of participants.

1.2 The action sequences will be identified in terms of patterns of action already discovered in Old Testament narratives. Here, too, the terms proposed will be tentative and may need revision later on. Three action sequences can be proposed here. The first one is “difficulty/difficulty removed“. It is rather broad and covers a family of similar sequences of action (for examples see Culley, 1975). In some cases, the “difficulty” is a problem which is removed by a miraculous intervention. In other cases, the “difficulty” is a problem that is removed by means of a deception instead of a miraculous intervention. The second action sequence is “wrong/wrong punished“. The punishment could be a miraculous intervention or simply retaliation by a wronged party (for examples, see Culley, 1975). The third action sequence to be proposed here is “desired/taken“. In the first phase, a person is confronted with something worth having but not easily accessible while in the second phase, the desired thing is gained. Two examples come to mind. Jacob gains Esau’s blessing by using a deception. Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard, and he obtains it by a deception.

1.21 The last action sequence just mentioned, “desired/taken“, can be used to illustrate why I have said that identification of action sequences is tentative. Precise description of action sequences is not easy at this stage because they can be viewed differently. One could argue that instead of “desired/taken”, one could say “lack/lack liquidated”, since to desire something is to express a lack of something. Thus, the emphasis would be on overcoming the lack. Since the lack of something is a difficulty, it might be argued that this “lack/lack liquidated” is essentially a “difficulty/difficulty removed” pattern, in other words part of the family of the first action sequence mentioned above. I have chosen to make a start with tentative, and perhaps even arbitrary, proposals and allow for the fact that further investigation and discussion will be required to resolve problems and ambiguities in this area.

1.22 One further comment needs to be made regarding action sequences. The identification of the three action sequences mentioned in 1.2 is based in each case on the existence of a group of examples which share the same pattern of action. But the examples in any one group are not identical, so that the group really represents a cluster reflecting different degrees of similarity. Here again, clear decisions cannot always be made as to membership in groups.

1.3 Finally, a word may be said about how action sequences are joined together to form more complex stories. First, one sequence may be added to another so that one follows directly after the other. The story about Naaman in 2 Kgs 5 has two sequences: a miracle story in which the prophet heals a sick man (difficulty/difficulty removed) followed by a punishment story in which Gehazi does wrong and is punished (wrong/wrong punished). Second, an action sequence may be embedded in another such that one action sequence stands for one of the phases in another action sequence. For example, in the story about Naboth and his vineyard, Ahab does wrong and is punished, or at least the punishment is announced. But the act of wrongdoing is itself an action sequence (desired/taken) in which Ahab desires something which is acquired by a deception. Third, action sequences may run parallel to each other and be interwoven as will be seen in Gen 2–3. It should be added that stories can be expanded without adding action sequences. The two stories about the dead boy show this (1 Kgs 17:17–24 and 2 Kgs 4:18–37). The second of these is much longer than the first, although the action sequence is the same in both stories. Expansion is accomplished by fuller and more detailed description of what took place.

2.0 Gen 2:4b–3:24 will be taken as a single text. There are, to be sure, a number of tensions and marks of unevenness. Some of those may reflect stages in the growth of the text. However, the aim here is to concentrate on what holds the text together and on what produces coherence in spite of whatever signs of past development may exist. It is just as valid to ask about how a text hangs together as it is to ask about the stages in its growth.

2.1 In the story of Gen 2–3, one action sequence stands out as central. It may be identified as a “wrong/wrong punished” sequence and is spread out through the following verses: Gen 2:16–17; 3:1–6, 9–13, 16–19. A wrong is done when the man and the woman eat the fruit and this wrong is punished. Some elaborations of these phases are also present. The “wrong” has two primary elements: a prohibition and a violation of the prohibition. (This is also the case in the “wrong/wrong punished” sequence concerning Lot’s wife and expressed very concisely in Gen. 19:17 and 26). Here a specific instruction is given not to eat the fruit of a particular tree (2:17). This prohibition is violated when the woman takes some fruit from the tree, eats it, and gives some to the man to eat as well (3:6). It is probably best to consider the incitement of the serpent as a component of this sequence since the intervention of the serpent is essential from the point of view of the action. If eating the fruit meant certain death, as Yahweh God had said, then to do so would make little sense. However, when the serpent introduces an alternative view of what eating the fruit would do, then this act becomes possible. Similarly, in 1 Kgs 13, the prophet’s word of Yahweh permitting the man of God to eat opens up an alternative to the earlier prohibition given to him. The second phase of the action sequence, the “wrong punished” phase (3:16–19), consists of a pronouncement of punishment on the woman and the man. Further, it may be that 3:9–13 should be considered part of this action sequence because it deals with the discovery and investigation of the violation by Yahweh God. This kind of questioning and confrontation also occurs in the punishment story of Gen 4.

2.2 A second action sequence can be identified in Gen 2–3 and it is also “wrong/wrong punished”. The serpent does wrong (3:1–5) and is punished (3:14–15). This sequence is woven into the previous one. It is worth noting that the action of the serpent functions differently in the two sequences. In the first, the serpent’s action causes the violation. Yet, this action is at the same time a wrong which Yahweh God punishes and thus forms another “wrong/wrong punished” sequence. Here, as in many punishment stories, no particular prohibition is stated. Most readers would recognize actions which might constitute a wrongdoing. However, from the point of view of analysis into action sequences, it is best to recognize as wrongdoings only those actions which are punished and in this way let the structure of the story define wrongdoings. Here, then, the serpent’s action is identified as a wrong because Yahweh God pronounces a punishment for it. This sequence can be compared with 1 Kgs 13. While this story is very different in content from Gen 2–3, the main action sequence can also be identified as “wrong/wrong punished”. The man of God reports that he has been forbidden to eat or drink before arriving home (vs. 9). Because of another word of Yahweh through a prophet, the man of God eats and drinks. Since this violates the original prohibition, he is punished. Here the punishment phase has two elements. First the punishment is announced: he will not be buried in the grave of his fathers. The rest of the story relates how, having been killed by a lion, he is buried away from home.

2.3 The next two action sequences to be mentioned are both short and have the form “difficulty/difficulty removed”. The first of these is Gen 3:22–24 where Yahweh God expels the man from the garden. This segment only mentions the man but its present context in the larger story suggests that the expulsion should be taken to include the woman as well. This is one of the tensions mentioned earlier. The new characteristic acquired by man through eating the fruit poses a difficulty or problem for Yahweh God. Man might take the fruit from the other special tree of the garden and gain the ability to live forever. In the face of this difficulty, Yahweh God acts to avert the problem by expelling the man from the garden and setting a guard to prevent access to the special tree. That the man might try to eat the fruit can be taken as a difficulty primarily because Yahweh God takes action to avert the possibility. There is no notion of punishment here since the man has not had a chance to do anything. However, since this sequence is added on to and clearly depends on the main “wrong/wrong punished” sequence, it does narrate a further consequence of eating the fruit which must likely be understood as a negative result for the man. Furthermore, the punishment pronounced on the man (3:17–19) seems to anticipate the expulsion since the difficult conditions described seem to be what would apply outside the garden rather than inside it. The story about building a tower in Gen 11 can be set beside this action sequence. The building of a tower by human beings is a problem or difficulty facing Yahweh. Since Yahweh is concerned about what people will do next, he decides to put a stop to the whole business. By mixing up their language and scattering them, Yahweh averts the possibility of a repetition of this incident. It might be possible to understand Gen 11 as a punishment story in which the human race is punished for transgressing its proper bounds but, as indicated, the language of the story does not point in this direction.

2.4 The second “difficulty/difficulty removed” sequence is Gen 2:18–25 which relates the creation of the woman. The difficulty or problem is clearly stated by Yahweh God: it is not good that the man be alone. Yahweh God proposes to make a partner for him. After a first try which fails (the making of the animals and birds), a second attempt succeeds and the difficulty is solved with the creation of the woman who proves to be an ideal partner. It would be difficult to find close Old Testament parallels to this sequence. In the normal miracle story, Yahweh intervenes, usually through an intermediary like a prophet, to help someone with a problem. Here, it is Yahweh God who has the problem and he uses his special powers to solve his own problem. The movement from difficulty to solution of difficulty by miraculous means is there but the roles of the participants are divided differently. Nevertheless, in deception stories, it is the person in trouble who often helps himself or herself out of a difficulty by performing a deception. The sequence about the creation of the woman is very closely related to the preceding section about the creation of man (2:4b–17) and would appear to be embedded in and thus part of this larger story.

2.5 This brings us to Gen 2:4b–25. The embedded sequence just discussed is included. This segment is not easily defined as an action sequence; one cannot readily see other Old Testament stories with which it can be grouped. Still, it appears to be an action sequence in the sense that there is a clear beginning and ending, with a definite movement from one to the other. At the start, the world is relatively empty but at the finish, there is a man and a woman along with all the animals and birds living happily together in a wonderful garden. But where is the tension created by a complication and resolution which is usually clearly identifiable in other action sequences? Perhaps any task of making or creating poses a problem implicitly as a starting point. The task is a difficulty to be overcome, and this would make this sequence similar to those labelled “difficulty/difficulty removed”. For the time being, I am prepared to leave the matter open for further discussion. I will simply argue that there appears to be justification for identifying an action sequence here and that it has something to do with a task and the completion of the task. In any case, the section Gen 2:4b–25 is subordinated to the main “wrong/wrong punished” action sequence in that it sets the stage for the wrong. A man and a woman are put in a garden with special trees. Now it is true that much more than the essential background information for the main punishment is presented. Gen 2:4b–25 could stand alone as a creation story apart from the presence of the prohibition which suggests that there is more to come. In fact, some critics have suggested that the creation story was originally separate. The fact that a creation story has been subordinated to a punishment story creates a certain tension because the creation story demands more attention than background information normally does.

2.6 The last segment which must be discussed is Gen 3:1–8. Some of these verses have already been discussed in connection with the first two action sequences (cf. 2:1 and 2:2). The action of the serpent was, in the first case, an incitement which made it possible for the woman to do wrong. In the second case, the action of the serpent was also a wrong which was punished. But there is something else in these verses which may be an action sequence but can only be proposed at this stage as a possibility. The serpent tells the woman that eating the fruit of the tree will open their eyes and they will become like God with respect to knowing good and evil. The story relates how she looks at the tree and sees how attractive it is. It is especially desirable with regard to becoming wise. When the woman and the man do eat the fruit, it becomes evident that the serpent was right, although the story does not indicate this immediately. Verse 7 only says that their eyes were opened and that they knew that they were naked. There is nothing about their being like God with respect to knowing good and evil, but it is clear that a basic change has taken place. The next verse (8) turns to the problem of trying to keep what they have done from Yahweh God. It is only later (3:22) that it is explicitly stated that the change the serpent promised had in fact occurred. I suggest that it might be possible to see an action sequence here something like “desired/taken”, a sequence mentioned earlier (cf. 1:2). The woman sees that there is a distinct advantage to be gained by eating the fruit, so she eats the fruit and gains the advantage. The expected change takes place, but because taking and eating the fruit is at the same time a violation of Yahweh God’s prohibition, the couple is severely punished. However, they do not die as Yahweh God had said and what is more, they retain the characteristic which they gained by eating the fruit. Nevertheless, their new state produces a situation which Yahweh God perceives as a problem and leads to their expulsion from the garden.

What we have, then, in Gen 2–3 is a punishment sequence (wrong/wrong punished) which seems to dominate, yet alongside it is another sequence (desired/taken) which, moving in the opposite direction, thickens and adds another dimension to the narrative. A certain degree of ambiguity is created with regard to the act of eating the fruit. It is a wrong which brings an advantage and a gain which brings a disadvantage.

2.7 In the discussion so far, only two verses have not been accounted for. Gen 3:20 relates how the man gives his wife a name. This action is not an action sequence in itself nor does it seem to be integrally related to any of the other sequences just discussed. In terms of subject matter, it is perhaps related most closely to Gen 2:4b–25.

The other verse raises an interesting problem about action sequences. Gen 3:21 says that Yahweh makes skin garments for the man and his wife. This verse is related to earlier verses (3:7, 10 and 11) where the subject of the recognition of nakedness is mentioned. Perhaps one could suggest an action sequence to be classified with those labelled “difficulty/difficulty removed”. A problem can be identified. In their new state the man and the woman realize that they are naked and are uncomfortable about it. They try to meet this problem by making garments of leaves. Yahweh meets the problem, apparently in a better and more permanent way, by making clothes of skin and dressing the couple in these. However, narratives are chains of actions with many of the actions being responses to previous situations or actions. In other words, what happens in narrative is usually logically related to the story which the narrative relates. But in the present case this relation is not clear.

3.0 The purpose of this paper has been to see if a narrative like Gen 2–3 can be described in terms of action sequences (the problem of whole series of actions making up the narrative has been set aside). With the use of tentative definitions, four fairly clear cases were established and two further possibilities were proposed. In summary, the action sequences run as follows: (1) Gen 2:16–17 and 3:1–6, 9–13, 16–19 (wrong/wrong punished); (2) Gen 3:1–5, 14–15 (wrong/wrong punished); (3) Gen 3:22–24 (difficulty/difficulty removed); (4) Gen 2:18–25 (difficulty/difficulty removed); (5) Gen 2:4b–25 (task/task achieved?); and (6) Gen 3:1–8 (desired/taken?) It was suggested that the main action sequence is number (1). Number (2), another punishment story, is woven into number (1). Number (3) comes at the end as the final stage of the narrative. Number (5) functions as background information setting the stage for the main sequence, number (1). Number (4) is an embedded sequence in number (5). Number (6) is parallel to and woven into number (1). Sequences (2) to (6) can be seen as elaborations of number (1) in terms of their function in the narrative.

3.1 If this analysis of narratives into action sequences proves useful, it will, of course, be necessary to develop a more precise description of action sequences. In this paper, action sequences have been identified and described in the light of other stories in the Old Testament which share similar patterns of action. The labelling of action sequences is thus relative to the group of stories being considered. This fluidity which produces different degrees of specificity in describing action sequences will not be an advantage if one is working toward a general theory of narrative. However, if the aim is an exploration of Old Testament narratives, then it may be useful to trace similarities in narrower and wider groupings of stories. What is done here is similar in some respects to the work of Jason and Bremond. They, too, are concerned with segments of action, although they have chosen other ways of defining these. Furthermore, they are concerned with developing a wider theory of narrative.

3.2 Identifying action sequences and noting their arrangement in complex narratives may provide a sound basis for another important stage in narrative analysis, the discussion of characters and roles. Characters perform within action sequences, and their roles should be defined in terms of how they function in the action sequences in which they participate. One of the things that makes individual stories interesting beyond the network of actions and roles which they produce is the specific actions and characters which fill this network as well as the setting and props used. This is especially true of Gen 2–3 where there is so much that invites exploration of other levels of the text, but this goes beyond the structure of action sequences which was the subject of this paper.

Response to Paper by Robert Culley

Arno Hutchinson, Jr.

For someone approaching it at least partly from the standpoint of Transformational Grammar, Robert Culley’s paper presents some intriguing possibilities. Of course, he has not yet explored very deeply the matter of structure in biblical literature. Until his work on Genesis 2:4b–3:24, he confined himself to the simplest biblical narratives. This, however, has provided a good foundation for his program of research.

1.0 In his previous work, Culley isolated three types of “narrative sequences” which are found in simple biblical narratives: (1) “difficulty/difficulty removed,” (2) “wrong/wrong punished,” and (3) “desired/taken” (Culley, 1.2).

1.1 In the present analysis of Gen. 2 and 3 he attempts to determine if that complex narrative can be broken down into a number of simple narrative sequences. First of all, he points out the main “action sequence” which falls into the category of “wrong/wrong punished.” In this sequence, there is God’s prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the violation of that command by the man and woman, and the announcement of their punishment. This main action sequence is the one around which all the others are organized.

Culley also sees a second “wrong/wrong punished” sequence. This one has to do with the serpent. Culley believes that even though the serpent has not violated any prohibition stated in the text, the fact that Yahweh punishes him indicates the above sequence.

1.2 Two “difficulty/difficulty removed” sequences are also noted by Culley. One of them is in 3:22–24. The difficulty is that the man and woman may take of the fruit of the tree of life, now that they have the knowledge of good and evil, and therefore become like gods. The expulsion from the Garden removes this difficulty.

The other “difficulty/difficulty removed” sequence is found in 2:18–25. The difficulty is that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” A first try to remove the difficulty fails (when the animals are created), but the second succeeds (with the creation of the woman). (The same sequence is identified by Judson Parker and Daniel Patte as a “lack/lack liquidated” sequence, 1978:143).

1.3 Culley sees a possible fifth sequence in 2:4b–25 which begins with a relatively empty world and ends with “a man and a woman along with all the animals and birds living happily together in a wonderful garden” (Culley, 2.3). This sequence he tentatively labels “difficulty/difficulty removed.”

1.4 Still another possible sequence is identified by Culley. This one is in 3:1–8 and is categorized as “desired/taken.” It concerns the fact that the fruit of the tree of good and evil seems desirable to the man and woman, they eat it, and they do gain the knowledge of good and evil as the serpent had promised. This sequence, Culley points out, moves in the opposite direction from the main “wrong/wrong punished” sequence. “It is a wrong which brings an advantage and a gain which brings disadvantage” (Culley, 2.1).

1.5 In Culley’s view, these various simple action sequences are put together in several different ways to form the complex narrative of Gen. 2:4b–3:24. The various ways of joining the sequences are those of addition, embedding, and paralleling (Culley, 1.3).

2.1 It is noteworthy that these same processes occur in sentence formation. We can see some examples of this in our Genesis passage. The adding process may be observed in the frequent use of the Hebrew conjunction waw in this passage (117 times). What is perhaps of greater significance, only six sentences out of the forty-six verses in the passage begin with something other than waw. That could be interpreted as meaning that the passage consists of only six long sentences.

2.2 The foregoing seems to point to how close the processes of sentence formation and narrative formation are in the matter of structure. It has been noted in Transformational Grammar presentations that there really is no longest grammatical sentence (e.g. Robert B. Lees, 1957:383; Jerrold Katz, 1972:13–14). The only limits are those imposed by the ability of humans to process, remember, and understand what they have read or heard. In other words, the limits are those of performance rather than competence.

2.3 It may well be too drastic a conclusion to say that all that can be expressed in any narrative can be expressed in a single sentence of unusual length. Nevertheless, most of what would be expressed in a narrative could be expressed in one extremely long sentence (cf., 6.0). A major part of what would be missing in the latter would be what was conveyed by some sentence, paragraph or chapter breaks. It might even be possible to convey a part or all of that in a single sentence although I cannot at present visualize how it would be done.

2.4 We might also note that a piece of literature written as a single long sentence would make difficult reading. We only present the possibility of such being done to illustrate how much sentence formation and narrative formation have in common. The way shorter sentences are put together to form longer, more complex sentences is very much like the way Culley puts together simple “action sequences” to form a more complex narrative.

3.0 Besides simple addition as a way of putting together simple sentences or “action sequences” to form complex sentences or narratives, there is also embedding. We see an example of this in sentence formation in Gen. 2:22: “And Yahweh Elohim formed the rib which he took from the man into a woman and he made her for the man.” Disregarding the last clause, we note that the rest of the quoted material is formed by embedding “Y.E. took from the man a rib” into the matrix sentence “And Y.E. formed the rib into a woman.” In the resultant sentence, the second occurence of Y.E. is replaced by a suitable pronoun while the second appearance of “the rib” is moved to the beginning of its clause and changed to “which.” Compulsory rules of sentence formation bring this about.

4.0 Parallel formations might be seen in such a verse as 2:4b: “On the day Yahweh Elohim made the earth and the heavens.” This can be considered to be formed from two sentences: “On the day Y.E. made the earth” and “On the day Y.E. made the heavens.” After the two are combined (or sometime in the process) the overlapping verbage is removed by rules of sentence formation.

5.1 We believe the evidence for a definite relationship between rules of sentence formation and rules of narrative formation is strong. Certainly the two are not identical, but one can learn a great deal about narrative structure from studying sentence formation. Robert Culley seems to incorporate some of this in his work. He has not yet, of course, delved very much into the matter of the interrelations of the various simple “action sequences” that go to make up a complex narrative.

5.2 Transformational Grammar points to the important role played in meaning by the relations between the parts of a sentence. (Let it be noted that these parts include not only words, but also phrases, clauses, simple sentences, and even larger units.) The simplest sort of example can be seen in a comparison of the meaning of the two sentences “The dog bit the boy” and “The boy bit the dog.” Exactly the same words are involved in both sentences but the meanings are worlds apart.

5.3 But Transformational Grammar is not just concerned with relations that are easily seen in the surface structure. It is also interested in relations that are best seen in “deep structures.” We intuitively know that “The boy kicked the ball” and “The ball was kicked by the boy” mean the same thing. Thus, in the second sentence, even though “the ball” is the subject of the surface structure, it is the object of the deep structure and the opposite is true for “the boy.”

5.4 A frequently used example in Transformational Grammar is a comparison of the two sentences: “John is eager to please” and “John is easy to please” (e.g., Chomsky, 1964:66–67). They appear to be parallel formations. The surface structures are parallel, but the deep structures are not. In the first sentence “John” is the deep structure subject as is evident from the possible modification: “John is eager to please Jane.” The other sentence, however, could not be changed to: “John is easy to please Jane,” although “To please John is easy” or “It is easy to please John” are acceptable. This makes it evident that “John” is not the subject in the deep structure, but the phrase “to please John” is, and “John” is the object of “to please.”

5.5 Transformational Grammar is an attempt to represent coherently such facts as the foregoing. It points out, on the one hand, that the relationships of the various parts of a sentence that affect meaning are by no means simple. Yet, on the other hand, it also points to the fact that even these complicated relationships can be represented in a coherent way. Transformational Grammar has gone a long way toward clarifying those relationships, but it still has a long way to go. The light that has already been shed, however, should be of some value in the explication of the structures of narratives in the Bible or elsewhere. In both sentences and narratives, deep structures are of great importance to the meaning of the item being considered as are the relationships of the parts. Robert Culley has gotten a useful toehold into the matter as pertains to narrative structure.

6.0 Appendix

6.1 For the purpose of exemplifying what we refer to, we have constructed a long sentence incorporating a slightly simplified version of Gen. 2:4b–3:24. A sentence including all of the content of the original could have been constructed, but we felt the following was long enough to convey our point:

6.2 On the day Y.E. made the earth and the heavens there were not plants because there had been no rain and no man to till the ground, but then God placed a man whom he created in a garden tilling and guarding the garden, and then after a time he said: “It is not good that the man is alone,” and therefore he created various animals, which, however, did not answer the man’s lack, and then, a woman, which did, and God warned the man that while he could eat of the tree of life and all the other trees in the garden, he should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for “in the day that you eat of it you will die,” but the woman was tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit and she tempted the man and they both ate and received knowledge of good and evil as the serpent promised but they also were made aware of their nakedness for the first time and were so ashamed they hid from God when they heard him in the garden, but he discovered them and when he asked them what they had done that made them ashamed and they admitted their violation of the prohibition, each blaming another for what they had done, God announced their punishment which was that the man must till the earth outside the garden with very hard work in order to get his food, and the woman must bear children painfully, and the serpent and they would be enemies, and then, because God feared the couple would now eat of the tree of life also and become like gods, living forever, he drove them out of the garden and set a guard so they could not return.

The Myth Semantics of Genesis 2:4b–3:24

David Jobling

St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon


I shall offer a semantic model which is, I believe, evoked by the text, and capable of giving a comprehensive account of it. This semantic model will be based on a narrative model, presented as briefly as possible. There are a number of tensions between model and manifestation; for the text is, in my view, multilayered, semantically overloaded, and as myth, under pressure to conceal certain levels of its meaning. I shall seek a structural account of these tensions, and particularly of the lack of “fit” between narrative and semantic models.

1.0 Narrative Analysis

Model: The text has a main program, to get a man to till the earth, into which the other narrative programs fit. The text evokes a spatial opposition “inside” vs “outside” the Garden, and “the earth” in the model means the space “outside.”

1.1 The main program is suggested by the wording at the beginning and end (2:5, 3:23). The spatial opposition is clearest in the expulsion (3:23, “inside” → “outside”); but also at the beginning (2:8, cf. 15), when Yahweh makes the Garden, he introduces the man into it (“outside” → “inside”). The intervening story takes place “inside.”

1.2 The shape of the action is close to that of a Proppian folktale. The earth needs a skilled workman; but the only one available is stolen by a villain, who wishes to make selfish use of his services in his private garden. There is, however, a flaw in the villain’s plan—if the man eats of a certain tree in the garden, the villain will lose his hold on him. The villain therefore forbids this tree to the man, on pain of death. But, by the agency of certain helpers, the man is brought to eat of the tree. When the villain discovers this, he marks both the man and the helpers (the curses). But he does not carry out the death sentence. Rather, he sends the man out of the garden, so that the original lack is liquidated.

1.3 Problems of the Narrative Model

1.31 The main problem is with the character Yahweh. To characterize him as villain is not implausible, in view of 3:8 (the Garden is for his own enjoyment), and vs. 23 (where he feels “threatened” by the man!). As villain, he is the opponent of the main program (in the terms of Greimas’ actantial scheme). At the outset (2:4b–7) he seems, however, like the sender; but perhaps he was always a deceptive sender, intending to fulfill his own wants, rather than the earth’s needs. More problematic is 2:18–25, where Yahweh sets in motion the counteraction against his own villainy for no apparent reason, by creating the animals and the woman. Why was it “not good that the man should be alone?” He wasn’t complaining! The text leaves this matter in mystery, not suggesting, for instance, that Yahweh was dissatisfied with the service he was getting; Yahweh stands out, indirectly but clearly, as helper of the main program. This role is by no means so overt as that of opponent, but it creates definite ambiguity.

1.32 The man is primarily the object of the main program, and is, indeed, largely a passive figure. But he participates in the counteraction (not only in choosing to eat the fruit, but also in his role in the creation of the animals and the woman), and is, to this extent, subject. The serpent and the woman appear as helpers of the main program; particularly the unexpected absence of the woman from the dénouement of 3:22–24 (only the man is said to be expelled) suggests that her role is confined to helper. But, in terms of responsibility for the achievement of the main program, the roles of serpent and woman overwhelm that of the man! This ambiguity over the subject role appears in 3:8–19; Yahweh certainly treats the man as subject up to vs. 13, but serpent and woman share with him the curses of vss. 14–19 (which I have associated with the Proppian marking of the hero).

1.33 Comparison of my analysis with that of Robert C. Culley, elsewhere in this volume, is helpful here. He identifies the following “action sequences” in our text:

(1). 2:16–17, 3:1–6, 9–13, 16–19

(2). 3:1–5, 14–15

(3). 3:22–24

(4). 2:18–25

(5). 2:4b–25

(6). 3:1–8

Culley does not recognize my overarching main program; the nearest he comes to it, in (5), seems misconceived to me. His (4) is problematic, in that it should be linked somehow to 2:9 (from which it gets its point), and hence to (5). His other sequences I accept, though (6) does not concern me here. (1) and (2), which are intertwined into a single sub-story, are of “wrong/wrong punished” in relation respectively to the human pair and the serpent. (4) is of providing a “helper” for the man (“difficulty/difficulty removed”).

Culley takes (1) as the “main” sequence, and the others as “elaborations” of it. I do not see how a convincing model for the whole text can be derived in this way (cf. his embarrassment over 2:4b–25). But it cannot be denied that not only the sub-story in Culley’s (1) (or 1 & 2), but also the one in (4), draw attention to themselves and away from my main program. The “Fall” and the union of the sexes, that is, are more compelling themes of the manifest text than providing a man to till the earth! This tension between model and manifestation will have to be accounted for later. The importance of these remarks for my discussion above (1.32) is this: the sub-story of the “Fall”, Culley’s (1) & (2), fits into my main program, but not quite smoothly; it creates confusion over the role of subject in the main program. His sequence (4), on the other hand, fits perfectly into the main program.

1.34 A further element of tension between the “Fall” story and the larger text brings us to the threshold of semantic analysis. In 3:17–19, the man is ostensibly condemned to hard labor in the Garden—nothing has been said of expulsion. But in vss. 22–24 he is expelled. The former verses refer to his death (vs. 19), while the latter contend with the possibility of his living for ever (vs. 22)! Sense can be made only if we read vss. 17–19 as describing the man’s fate “outside” the Garden. But this means that the semantics of “outside” have found their way into the narrative of “inside”!

2.0 Semantic Analysis

Model: The semantics are based on two opposed semantic configurations, summed up as “inside” and “outside” the Garden, with opposed semic pairs (to be arranged under various isotopies). The “inside” configuration is inherently unstable; but mediating efforts, to find stable combination of “inside” and “outside,” are evident.

2.1 Semantics and Narrative

The threat to the man’s remaining “inside” the Garden arises always from “inside”. It is here that Yahweh mysteriously (1.31) gives his assist to the main program by making the animals and the woman. But even before this, from the beginning, the Tree of Knowledge, the prerequisite from the main program was “inside”. “The man ‘inside’ the Garden” is an inherently unstable situation, and the narrative evokes this fact. On the other hand, the narrative prolongs the “inside” beyond the point that it makes even narrative sense to do so (cf. 1.34, on 3:17–19, 22–24)!

2.12 My model implies, therefore, that the narrative both evokes opposed semantics for “inside” and “outside,” and obscures them by its need to render the “inside” situation plausible; an ultimately impossible task which it attempts, however, by admitting the “outside” into the “inside” “on a limited basis!” The manifest text may be segmented as follows. From 3:6, the breaking of the interdict, the semantics are those of “outside”; in 2:8–17, they are those of “inside” (with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge); in 2:18–3:6, the narrative fabricates a “middle” semantics, aiming to mediate “inside” and “outside.” This segmentation will be presumed in the detailed semantic analysis.

2.2    The Semantic Configurations




Isotopy of culture



Easy agriculture

Agriculture only

No animals

Hard agriculture

(Agriculture and husbandry/hunting)


Isotopy of society and sexuality



Male only



Male and female

Sexual generation

Isotopy of vitality



Isotopy of Knowledge



2.3    The Isotopy of Culture

2.31 Throughout the text, the man’s vocation is agriculture. His essential relationship is with the soil (cf. the etymology ‘dm‘dmh); he comes from it, lives off it, is responsible for it, and (“outside”) returns to it. He is introduced (2:4b–7) as a predicate of the earth’s needs, and the curse of 3:17–19 has to do entirely with his relationship to it. Divergent possibilities exist only as to the conditions of his agricultural existence. “Inside,” he receives the earth’s bounty with little expenditure of work; “outside,” he is slave to the earth, living on what little it grudgingly gives back to him. But even at this most basic level of existence, “inside” is unstable, and it is a tree which precipitates the man “outside.”

2.32 One may briefly notice the opposition wet vs dry. “Insude,” there is a special water supply (2:10–14). “Outside,” the water supply is unsatisfactory (vss. 5–6), and we never hear of its becoming better; rather, dryness is stressed in the curse on the man (“thorns and thistles,” 3:18). The man is associated “outside” with the dust, dry earth (2:7, cf. 3:14), and ‘dm is linked etymologically with red, parched soil.

2.33 “Inside,” there are no animals. “Outside,” apart from the serpent, the only reference is to clothing made from skins (3:21). The introduction of the animals in the “middle” (2:19–20) is interesting; they fail to meet the man’s need, but he demonstrates expertise in relation to them in the naming. In this first impingement of the “outside” upon him, he shows himself at home there (cf. 2.522). The serpent is a special case whose importance lies elsewhere (cf. 2.513, 2.522), but it is significant that an animal has a major role in the man’s movement to “outside.”

2.34 There is no suggestion of the cultural activities related to animals, husbandry and hunting, as counterparts to agriculture (but cf. the skins?). Such a move is semantically implied, however, and agriculture vs husbandry becomes, in fact, the main opposition in 4:1–16.

2.4    The Isotopy of Society and Sexuality

2.40 “Inside,” there was one male, born autochthonously. “Outside,” there is a multiplicity of people, born sexually. The creation of the woman is both the cause of the transition and the ground of its possibility. This double function generates the greatest contradiction with which the text has to deal, and it is here that the “middle” takes on its greatest importance.

2.41 “Inside,” woman does not exist; “outside,” she exists in pain (childbirth) and inferiority to man (based on sexual desire) (3:16). In the configuration of “outside,” her very existence implies her (sexually related) pain and subjugation. The man also knows pain, where “inside” he knew ease; the transition came through his eating the fruit. The woman cannot parallel this, for she never was “inside,” unless she can be intruded there without essential alteration of the semantics of “inside”! Even this will not suffice to explain her inferiority—she must also have done there something worse than the man’s eating of the fruit!

2.42 These problems are “solved” by the two sub-stories which I have already noted (1.33) as stealing attention away from the main program. Culley’s sequence (4) in 2:18–25 gets the woman “inside” the Garden. In this “middle” situation, there are two, but the two are still one (“one flesh,” “a helper corresponding to him”). There is no semantic change, unless it be a refinement—the one is now the human rather than the male (one recalls versions of the myth in which Adam is hermaphroditic or sexless!). But this move fails—the human is, after all, two; the woman is separate and immediately acts separately (3:1–6). This occurrence, however, is taken up into another sub-story (Culley’s 1), which solves the second part of the problem. What the woman does that is worse than the man’s eating is to instigate his eating (but perhaps even before this her fault lies in breaking the unity, in acting separately at all). These “solutions” are, as they must be, logically vacuous; but narratively compelling, for narrative “thickness” usually signals semantic overload.

2.43 The function in this deception of the non-narrative commentary in 2:24 should not be overlooked. The text needs to suggest that childbirth and sexual desire, which, under the curse, woman will experience in a “reduced” state, previously existed in an “unreduced” state. But in fact childbirth has not been mentioned, and desire has been only hinted at (and on the side of the male). 2:24 “innocently” introduces the ideas of parenthood and sexual mutuality into the story of the “unfallen” state, as though they were the presuppositions of the myth, rather than its results!

2.44 In the light of this discussion, it is not surprising that the woman mediates between the man and the animals, veering now towards the one, now towards the other. In 2:18–25 she is introduced under the same category as they (potential helper), but only to show her complete difference from them and oneness with the man. But it is to her that the serpent has direct access (3:1–5), and we find a threefold repetition of the sequence serpent-woman-man (or vice versa) in vss. 1–6, 8–13, and 14–19. Finally, the theme of naming is significant in this connection. In 2:23, the man does not name the woman in the same sense in which he has named the animals. Not only is a different formula used but, more importantly, the man must name himself in order to name her! In fact, the name he gives her, ‘šh, is the one by which she has already been referred to (vs. 22), and he renames himself in conformity with it (‘yš for ‘dm). This is another way in which mutuality is introduced into the semantics of the “middle” (and one is irresistibly reminded of 1 Cor 11:11–12, another feminist turn within an anti-female context). However, in the “outside” situation of 3:20, he names the woman again; this time in the same way that he first named the animals, and with a name which associates her closely with them.

2.5    The Two Trees

2.50 There is a clear logic in 3:22. “Knowledge” and “eternal life” are the twin essentials of divinity. Of the two, the man may possess only one. They are exchangeable, but only in one direction; having acquired knowledge, he must be cut off from everlasting life. The logic elsewhere in the text is not quite so transparent; but it is clear that “everlasting life” belongs to “inside,” and “knowledge” to “outside” (both trees are “inside,” but the one is forbidden, while the other is allowed).

2.51    The isotopy of vitality

2.511 Part of the curse on the man (3:19) is mortality, so that the appropriate opposition is immortality vs mortality. What complicates the picture is the death sentence of 2:17, mentioned again in 3:3–4 (with the significant omission of “in the day!”) but not carried out (the man does not die immediately upon eating the fruit). All would be logical if 2:17 were to read “you shall become mortal.” Such a semantic “translation” is permissible and indeed necessary. To be transferred from the sphere of immortality to that of mortality is not much different in the semantics of myth, from dying on the spot; and the man’s instant death would be both a semantic and a narrative absurdity—the narrative would stop, and “outside” would be reduced to a single seme, death!

2.512 This last point may be further developed. Both “inside” and “outside” contain the means of their own continuance. “Inside,” the earthborn man has everlasting life; outside, he is mortal, but can reproduce himself. The woman, who precipitated him from “inside” to “outside,” is also the means whereby life “outside” becomes possible; the solution, as well as the problem. Thus she acquires the name “mother of all living” (3:20)—of the life which dies but continues.

2.513 The animals (“living creatures”) share this semantic value of life which dies but continues (cf. the etymological link with “Eve”). But the serpent is a special case, for its associations with infinitely renewable life are well known. In the semantic “middle” of the text, the serpent represents the “outside” (animals) coexisting with the “inside” (immortality). And what it says fits with this: it affirms the possible coexistence of “inside” and “outside,” of immortality and knowledge (3:4–5). We are not surprised that in the curse of 3:14 a particular point is made of the serpent’s mortality (“all the days of your life”).

2.52    The isotopy of knowledge

2.521 “Inside,” the man has no awareness, we may suppose, of the conditions of this life; he exists in blissful ignorance! But the instability of “inside” is shown in a droll way by the fact that Yahweh has to give the man knowledge of the consequences of eating of the Tree of Knowledge (2:17). Little is said of knowledge “outside”; the human pair know their nakedness (3:7) and their guilt (vs. 8). But the curses of 3:14–19 may at one level be read simply as the giving of information—Yahweh tells what life will be like “outside.” To exist “outside” is to know the conditions of one’s existence; painful knowledge vs blissful ignorance.

2.522 Here again, the “middle” is of importance. When in 2:18–25 the “outside” is presented to him, in the form of the animals and the woman, the man knows what they are and what to do; indeed Yahweh delegates to him the naming of them. The “outside” is the sphere of the man’s “natural” knowledge. But what are we to say of the “natural” knowledge that the serpent possesses (and, to some extent, also the woman)? The Gnostics often made the serpent the hero of the story, for it typifies the characteristically gnostic knowledge—knowledge which is its own object (Jonas). The serpent’s knowledge concerns knowledge itself; it knows that knowledge is being kept from the man, and how the man can get it! But the serpent does not know the context of knowledge, what it entails and with what it is incompatible. It does not know that knowledge is confined to the “outside,” and confines the knower there!

3. The Myth as Communication

3.1 The isotopy of knowledge has another level above the one I have analyzed; the level at which the whole text is an object-communication going from a sender to a receiver. At least at the mythic level of the text, sender and receiver are the same—the patriarchal Israelite culture-group. The structures of its “mindset” are projected as the structures of the myth.

3.2 The text is male mythology, striving to deal with the complexity of social life, and in particular with woman; and Israelite theology, striving to deal with the complexity of life under Yahweh. The simple agricultural life has been overtaken by these two levels of complexity—the social and the theological. This content of the myth corresponds exactly to its form (for the following remarks, cf. the discussion in 2.42); a simple narrative program (the main program) about agriculture, into which sub-programs have been drawn having to do with society and theology respectively. These sub-stories, of the union of the sexes, and of the Fall, are full of complexity and contradiction; they are also full of burning interest, and take away center-stage from the main program. Through these complexities, the text preserves, so far as possible, the semantic integrity of the man. His transition from “inside” to “outside” was an accident, or the work of a moment, or someone else’s fault. He acquired the fatal knowledge without seeking it. He only tried to please—both Yahweh and the woman—and inherited suffering.

3.3 As a myth about knowledge, it conveys a knowledge identical to that of which it tells. There was a Garden; the life we know is set over against another, from which we are excluded. But to know this, to hear and participate in the myth, is ipso facto to be excluded from the simple, ideal life; for knowledge itself, as the myth conveys it, belongs to “outside.” The simple life was the familiar life of agriculture, but free of its present hardships. Even in that ideal Garden, however, the Tree of Knowledge was ominously present! The “inside” exists in the communal mind because the myth evokes it; but unstably, for the myth can affirm the “inside” only by paradoxically implying the “outside.” The myth is a means of sorting out experience and dream, living with both, but opting for experience.

4. Myth and Theology

4.1 My mention of theology in the text raises a question against my treatment of it as myth. The role of Yahweh at the narrative level proved to be ambiguous (1:31), and at the semantic level I did not consider the man’s relationship to Yahweh, since the ambiguity allows no semantic oppositions. Only to a limited extent can Yahweh become a character in myth, for, in a consistent monotheism, he must be the ultimate sender of both sides of any opposition, including “inside” vs “outside” the Garden!

4.2 Yet the theology is erected on a mythic base, and it is to this base that my analysis has been directed. Some demythologization takes place; most obviously, perhaps, in the superimposing of action based on (theological) choice on the “inevitable” action of myth. Yet one senses the inevitability not far from the surface, and not even in the case of Yahweh is demythologization complete (e.g. 3:22–24). The “Fall” in the text is a syncretism between a mythic fall, from simplicity to complexity, and a theological fall. For the latter, Old Testament theology is the appropriate context; but for the former, the world of Cronos and Zeus, of Prometheus and Pandora. Theologically, the manifest text shows clear condemnation of the man, for disobedience to Yahweh, and the consequences as punishment. Yet Yahweh is also the sender of “fallen” human society.

4.3 These brief remarks scarcely touch the problem—a structural approach based on the opposition myth vs theology would be fruitful! But the text itself disallows a simple theological reading based on a (usually tacit) demythologization.

A Response to Jobling: The Necessity of Being “Outside”

James G. Williams

Syracuse University

0. Jobling’s analysis is clear and straight-forward; his argument is neither convoluted nor pseudoscientific. His semantic model permits results that are full of insight, although I am not sure what part his existential and theological presuppositions play in attaining the results. (See Polzin, 1977, on “deep subjectivity.”)

1.0 Critique of the Models

1.1    The Narrative Model

1.11 The narrative model is based on Propp’s and Greimas’s studies of narrative functions. The use of Propp seems to involve the employment of categories derived from analyses of “folktale” which are then applied to what Jobling calls a “myth” (0., 1.2, 1.3). Should these two be distinguised as literary genres or religious categories?

1.12 The more difficult problem is Jobling’s definition of his “main program” (1.). Since the main program is “to get a man to till the earth,” the route by which this is achieved is tortuous: the man must disobey or be made to disobey in order to realize the program, for he must be “outside” the garden, not “inside” where he would be at peace, obedient, immortal, etc. But what if “earth” and “garden” are not distinct until the primordial disobedience takes place? I suspect that certain creation myths represent the primordial earth and paradise as more or less synonymous, so that the “outside” becomes a possibility only when the paradise is disrupted. (Does “my holy mountain” mean the same as “the earth” in Isa 11:9?)

1.2    The Semantic Model

1.21 Jobling fruitfully employs the tension between inside and outside in all of the four isotopies that he delineates: culture, society and sexuality, vitality, and knowledge. Not that I think he is right in his analysis; it is simply that the story represents certain tensions in existence which can become the occasion of conflict and alienation, and Jobling discusses these tensions in an interesting manner.

1.22 The tensions in Jobling’s “semantic configurations” (the conflict of outside and inside in each isotopy) start from the assumption that human being suffers a radical transformation in the garden, i.e., there is a “Fall.” Jobling operates with some sort of prelapsarianpostlapsarian distinction. I do not question that ‘ādām changes, but the radical change from an immortal being to a mortal being is suspect in my estimation. Do we have here demythologized Christian theology lurking at the door? (See Jobling’s remarks on myth and theology, 4.)

2.0 Notes and Questions on the Text

2.1 Jobling understands 2:17b to mean, “You shall become mortal” (2.511), implying that hā’ādām was originally immortal. môt yāmût is an emphatic verbal phrase often used as a decree of punishment (see Gen 20:7; for the infinitive absolute with the hophal, Ex 21:12, 15, 16, 17). It is close to being a “performative”: the speaking itself is to bring about what is predicated—unless the decree is lifted. I think it more likely that another form of mwt would have been used if “eventual end of life” were the intended meaning. Either that, or the adverbial clause of the prostasis (“in the day”) would not be allowed to stand unqualified. If 2:17b meant “one doomed to die” it could have read: wē’ākaltā mimmennû wĕ’mēt ‘attâ (see Ex 12:33; Deut 17:6; Gen 44:22). Although this would still be ambiguous, it is in keeping with a formula that is not a performative.

Then why doesn’t Yahweh Elohim slay the couple when they eat the forbidden fruit? Well, it is characteristic of this God to relent, repent, and have compassion (see Gen 3:21, 4:9–15, 8:20–22).

2.2 There is little basis for holding that the animals are outside as opposed to no animals inside the garden (2:2, 2:3). Both man and animals are nepeš ḥayyâ, both are created from the ground (Gen 2:7, 19.) The only way to support such an argument would be to hold that everything except the garden is outside. Along these lines it would make more sense to see the narrative as presenting an unsuccessful experiment in which man was created outside from the dust of the earth, then placed inside the garden. This would make human being inherently outside, though having had a brief stay in paradise.

3. Concluding Comment

I do not think that Jobling successfully carries off his structural exegesis, although his insights, tenuously grounded in his structural categories, are interesting. I think his most perceptive statement comes at the end of his comments on the “myth of communication”:

“The ‘inside’ exists in the communal mind because the myth evokes it; but unstably, for the myth can affirm the ‘inside’ only by paradoxically implying the ‘outside.’ The myth is a means of sorting out experience and dream, living with both, but opting for experience.” (3:3)

On the other hand, the mortgage of the outsider’s existence is the price he had to pay for the conviction that there is an inside where he is not. As Kafka said, it was fortunate that man was expelled from Eden, “for had we not been expelled, Paradise would have had to be destroyed” (Kafka:29).

A Structural Exegesis of Genesis 2 and 3

Daniel Patte and Judson F. Parker

Vanderbilt University


The goal of this exegesis of Genesis 2 and 3 is to elucidate the system of deep values, or semantic universe, presupposed by the text. For this purpose the analysis proceeds in several steps (following the method presented in Patte & Patte, 1978a and b): the identification of the narrative levels; the establishment of the system of pertinent narrative transformations characterizing each level; the establishment of the symbolic systems corresponding to the systems of pertinent transformations; and the study of these symbolic systems, so as to show what are the deep values which give coherence to them and form the “meaning horizon” (or semantic universe) in which the text unfolds.

0.1 The Specific Goal of Our Exegesis.

Our exegesis follows a well defined method based upon a theoretical model of a part of the structural network operating in narrative texts (presented in Patte & Patte, 1978 a & b). Its ultimate goal is to elucidate the system of deep values, or semantic universe, presupposed by the text in its present form. These deep values (or symbolic values, or again convictions as “self-evident truths”) are elements of the vision of life and of the world held as self-evident or revealed by the author or redactor (whether collective or individual). They constitute the semantic framework within which the author thinks, speaks, acts, (and thus they must be contrasted to the symbolic system that the author dominates, transforms, and creates, at least to a certain extent). These deep values constitute the “meaning horizon” of the text. As such they are NOT the central values (or themes) manifested by the text’s symbolism. They are peripheral although foundational. They are not that upon which the text is focused, although they are what focuses the text, its visée. The deep values of the semantic universe should not, therefore, be confused either with the codes (studied by Boomershine) which are cultural systems used in a text, or with the semantic categories (studied by Jobling) which are semantic/symbolic themes.

0.2 These deep values are also termed symbolic values because they are manifested by certain symbolic dimensions of the text—namely by the connotations of textual elements, by metaphorical relations, in brief, by the text’s “symbolic system” (a technical term which does NOT intend to designate all the symbolic dimensions of a text). Both the system of deep values and the symbolic system are organized paradigmatically in such a way as to constitute a series of inter-related isotopies (we define isotopy as a coherent set of deep values). The quasi-logical relations of the semantic square are the fundamental principles governing their paradigmatic organization.

0.3 Our research has demonstrated that there is, in any narrative, a correspondence between the organization of the symbolic system and the narrative organization, despite the fact that these are governed by quite different principles (the former is paradigmatic, the latter syntagmatic). By virtue of this correspondence, the study of the narrative organization (usually an easier task) provides criteria for the establishment of the symbolic system of the text and for the study of the system of deep values. In fact, each step of the analysis can be verified by each of the others.

0.4 Our exegesis, because of its very goal, is exclusively focused upon certain aspects of the text: Those which manifest the system of deep values. Thus, we account for certain features, and certain features only, of the syntagmatic and paradigmatic organization of the text’s signification systems. We do NOT account for the textual manifestations related to the participation of the text in a communication process. In our view (cf. also Greimas and Courtès, 1979, 157–160) these later features, through which the text has a rhetorical and aesthetic effect, include a) the action sequences (studied by Culley), the narrative trajectories, and the unification of the syntagmatic organization in terms of characters, times and places; b) the paradigmatic organization in terms of (semantic) themes expressed in symbolic figures; and c) the correlation of these syntagmatic and paradigmatic figures by means of rhetorical devices (studied by Boomershine) and enunciative manifestations such as direct and third person discourses (studied by White). According to our method, all these features are better studied after the completion of the analysis which is aimed at elucidating the text’s semantic universe through a study of its symbolic system, which is, in turn, based upon a study of the narrative organization; yet we do not deny that they can be studied on their own.

1.0 Relevant Aspects of the Narrative Organization of Gen. 2 & 3

Our theoretical and methodological research has shown that the syntagmatic organization into “narrative levels” and “systems of pertinent transformations” corresponds to the paradigmatic organization of the “symbolic system” and “semantic universe”. In the narrow confines of this article, we cannot present either the method or the analytical process aimed at establishing the narrative levels of the systems of pertinent transformations of Gen. 2 & 3. (For the complete presentation of the method and an example, see Patte & Patte, 1978a, chapters II & III). A few remarks and the presentation of the results of the analysis will have to suffice here.

1.1    Establishment of the narrative levels

When one studies the narrative development, one can note among other phenomena, places where this development is carried forward on the sole basis of an interpretation (by a character) of the value of another part of the narrative. This is to be contrasted with the usual unfolding of the narrative development through the transmission of somatic or cognitive Objects (whether or not this process involves an interpretation). This phenomenon is significant because it signals a shift from one narrative level to another. Such a narrative shift corresponds to a shift from an isotopy to another. Thus, by identifying these interpretive prolongations of the narrative development one can break down the text into narrative units—the narrative levels—which correspond to units of the semantic universe.

1.11    The narrative levels of Gen. 2 & 3

In the text under consideration we have identified two narrative levels:

—Primary level: Gen. 2:4–15 and 3:22–24

—Secondary level: Gen 2:16–3:21

1.111 After the narrative development recounting the first creative acts and its “parallel” narrative about the rivers (primary level), Yahweh Elohim gives a command to the man (2:16) which presupposes a specific interpretation by Yahweh of the value of the first creative acts, and therefore introduces a secondary level. These values attributed respectively to the man and the garden (and its various components) demand that the two be in a specific relationship expressed in the command. In 2:18 we find a second interpretation by Yahweh of the same situation focused this time on the loneliness of man. The serpent’s interpretation presupposes another and conflicting interpretation of the relationship between man and garden. The narrative unfolds on the basis of these three interpretations, and this without changing level up through 3:21. (The status of 3:20–21 as belonging to the secondary level becomes clear only at the next stage of the analysis.)

1.112 With 3:22 an interpretation of what happened at the secondary level is presupposed: Yahweh Elohim’s statement draws the consequences from what happened. This narrative shift indicates either a return to the primary level or a passage to a tertiary level. The next stage of the analysis shows that the former option is the correct one.

1.2    Establishment of the systems of pertinent transformation

1.201 Each narrative level is a self-contained narrative unit insofar as it is the narrative space in which a series of polemical programs are overcome or neutralized by a corresponding series of principal programs. A number of programs are therefore opposed by pairs in that they manifest opposite “functions” (Propp’s and Lévi-Strauss’ term) or “transformations” (Greimas’ term). Since a transformation can be defined in terms of the actantial model as the relation between the Object and the Receiver, (O → R), there is opposition between two transformations when they belong to opposite narrative axis (principal and polemical) and when they have either contradictory Objects, or contradictory Receivers, or again contradictory functions (represented by →).

1.202 The analysis proceeds in several steps: a) a representation of each program according to the model, Subject (Object → Receiver), using appropriate abbreviations (their choice is somewhat arbitrary, the essential is that they be used consistently through the analysis); b) listing of these programs according to the axis to which they belong (either principal or polemical); c) the identification of the pertinent oppositions (.i.e., those opposed by pairs); d) the organization of the systems of pertinent transformation according to the order of the narrative development (which is not necessarily the textual order) on the axis which commands the narrative development. We give below the results of this analytical process (space requirements prohibit its description).

1.21    System of pertinent transformations of the primary level:

This system is represented in Table 1.

In this table one will note that the identification of some of these pairs of pertinent transformations has required that we evaluate the semantic relations of certain symbolic manifestations (e.g., the judgement that “edible trees” and “herbs of the field” are two representations of the same category “edible plants”). Note also that “garden” and “adamah” are shown to be representations of two opposed categories because of the oppositions of the principal and polemical programs concerning watering (same verb in 2:10b and 2:6b). This table is to be read from bottom to top.

Table I: System of Pertinent Transformations of Level I


Adam (cultivation → Adamah)



Adam (cultivation → Adamah)


Cherubim (guarding → tree of life)



Adam (hand of Adam → tree of life)


river(s) (moistness → garden)



‘ed (moistness → Adamah)


Y.E. (springing up → edible trees)



Eretz (springing up → herbs)


Y.E. (breath of life → Adam)



Adam (eternal life → Adam)


Y.E. (state of creation → Eretz)



Y.E. (not rain → Eretz)

1.22 System of pertinent transformations of the secondary level: 2:16–3:21

We represent the system of pertinent transformations of the secondary level in Table II. Two remarks are necessary. First, this system of transformations is articulated upon the system of level 1 through the opposition of 2:10b vs 2:6b (the last pertinent transformation of the story about the first creating acts). Second, this system becomes threefold towards its end: in the part corresponding to the threefold curse. Only a three-dimensional graph could allow us to represent the parallelism of the transformations related to the story of the man (3:19a, 3:18a vs. 3:6h and 3:19e vs. 3:4b) and those related to the stories of the serpent (respectively 3:14c vs. 3:1b and 3:15a vs. 3:13d) and of the woman (respectively 3:16b vs. 3:6e and 3:16e vs. 3:17b) which we write at the top of Table II. These three parallel sets of transformations do not correspond to each other narratively (their respective transformations are different) but they occupy the same place in the system of pertinent transformations since each of them prolongs the narrative development beyond the opposition 2:25b vs. 3:7b, c. The last transformation (3:21b vs. 3:7e) prolongs both the man’s and the woman’s story and not the serpent’s story.

Table II: System of Pertinent Transformations of Level II


her ish (domination → woman)



Adam (listening → woman)


Y.E. (labor pain → woman)



woman (pleasing fruit → woman)

b) Transformations of the woman parallel


Y.E. (emnity for the serpent → woman)



serpent (fascination for the serpent → woman)


Y.E. (greater curse than every beast → serpent)



Y.E. (greater craft than every beast → serpent)

a) Transformations of the serpent parallel


Y.E. (skin garments → ish and woman)



ish and woman (leaf aprons → ish and woman)


Adam (dust → Adam)



tree in middle of garden (not death → man and woman)

3:18a, and 3:19a

Adam (bread is sweat and thorns → Adam)



ish (fruit of tree in middle of garden → ish)


Adam and woman (not shame → Adam and woman)


3:7b, c

ish and woman (cognition of nakedness → ish and woman)


tree in middle of garden (death → man and woman)


3:5c and 7a

fruit of tree in middle of (open eyes → man and woman)


Adam (not fruit of tree → Adam)



woman (fruit of tree → her ish)

3:3b (=2:16a)

Elohim (command about eating and death → man and woman)



Elohim (command about eating of any tree → man and woman)


Y.E. (woman → man)



Y.E. (not matching helper → man)


river(s) (moistness → garden)



‘ed (moistness → Adamah)

Thus, the system of pertinent transformations of level II splits into three parallel narratives, two of which recombine, much in the sketch Table IIb:

Table IIb


2.0 The Symbolic System and the Semantic Universe

The identification of the systems of pertinent transformations of both narrative levels gives us an entry into the symbolic and semantic organization of the text. A symbolic and semantic field (what Lévi-Strauss would term a “state”) is associated with each pertinent transformation (what Lévi-Strauss called a “function”). By using Greimas’ actantial categories, we can say that this symbolic and semantic field is manifested symbolically by the Subject and its various qualifications, i.e., the investments of the actantial positions of Helper, Opponent and Sender. Thus our first task is to go back to the text and make a list of the qualifications of each Subject at the specific stage of the narrative development where the corresponding pertinent transformation is found. This list should include whatever, according to the text, the Subject uses or has when performing the program: will (vouloir), i.e., what motivates the Subject; cognition (savoir), i.e., what knowledge the Subject has; and power (pouvoir), i.e., what enables the Subject. Note that the Helpers include eventually the proper time and location, and often the possession of the Object which will be communicated. It is important at this point to include in this list only what is expressed in the text.

2.01 Among the numerous semantic connotations (or semantic features) that each bundle of qualifications has, the text selects a few pertinent semantic features by including them in transformations which are contradictory in one of the ways mentioned above (1.201). That the pertinent transformations in the text in turn disclose the pertinent semantic features of the text we regard as a major contribution of this method, and some futher remarks are perhaps in order.

2.02 Following a suggestion by Greimas, it has been shown (in Patte & Patte, 1978a, chapter II) that to a narrative opposition (an opposition of narrative transformations) corresponds a semantic opposition (an opposition of semantic features manifested symbolically by the qualifications) of contradiction (the “diagonal” of a semiotic square, such as A and non-A). For several theoretical reasons based on this principle, it appears that the bundles of qualifications associated with the transformations are in the proper position as terms of semiotic squares when they are organized as the system of pertinent transformations, although with an important difference: the polemical axis must be slid upwards so that the opposition corresponding to a narrative opposition be a contradictory opposition. (Once more, it is not the place to justify or to present this theory.) Thus, by studying the relations of contrariety, contradiction and implication among the bundles of qualifications, one can identify the semantic features which have been selected by the text for each bundle of qualifications so that the symbolic system of the text might be coherent. In this way, the system of deep values presupposed by the text can be disclosed.

2.03 When studying this mass of symbols, one needs to use the “cultural dictionary” (i.e., the mass of knowledge elucidated by historical research devoted to the text’s cultural milieu) in order to be aware of the potential connotations of these qualifications. Obviously, as New Testament scholars we do not pretend to have the necessary background in Old Testament research to perform fully such an analysis. Despite this limitation we hope to be able to identify the main categories presupposed by our text.

2.04 A full description of this twofold process would be too long in the limited space of the present essay. We simply provide tables showing the symbolic system of each level, that is, the network of relations among the bundles of qualifications corresponding to the pertinent transformations (the qualifications are suggested as concisely as possible). Without discussing the numerous relations which have to be considered so as to identify the pertinent semantic features, we shall merely present a second set of tables showing the semantic features which account for the three types of relations in the semiotic squares. The phrases we use in order to express these semantic features form a metalanguage which is, at best, an approximation. In fact, it is an attempt to express in a referential way, i.e, as ideas, what belongs to the connotative realm. On this basis we will draw some conclusions as to what characterizes the semantic universe presupposed by Gen. 2 & 3.

2.11    The symbolic system of level I

See below.

Table III: The symbolic system of level I


2.12    The System of Values of Level I

The symbolic system forms a series of interrelated semiotic squares (four complete squares and two half squares). The only semantic features which appeared to be pertinent (that is to account for all the relations which exist among the bundles of qualifications) can be represented in table IV.

Table IV: The system of values of level I


2.121 On the basis of this analysis it appears that the set of deep values (the isotopy) which undergirds both the narrative development and the themes and figures of this part of the text is a series of presuppositions (self-evident truths) related to the /power to create/ (we use “/ /” to make clear that our formulation of the semantic features is approximate: other terms could certainly be used to express them). In this phrase “power” must be read as a technical term designating a modality, i.e., a value which modifies the value of an action; “to create” must be read in the broad sense of “causing to be”.

2.122 By the phrase “power to create” we attempt to express the overarching value which is manifested in a more specific way by each of the symbolic/semantic fields of the positive axis. In 2:7b, Y.E. manifests a /power to give human life/; in 2:9a, Y.E. manifests a /power to produce vegetal life/; in 2:10b the river(s) manifest(s) a /power to give order to Eretz/; 3:24b the cherubim manifest a /power to give order to the cosmos/; 3:23b Adam manifests a /power to make adamah fertile/. Each of these values is further defined by their relations of contrariety and of contradiction with the negative values and by the relations of implication which exist among them.

2.123 Thus, the two semantic features of /power to give human life/ are further defined: giving human life involves /giving of oneself/; the power to do so is before all a manifestation of the /will/ to do so rather than the manifestation of an ability (force). This appears when one notes that the /power to give human life/ (2:7b) is contradictory with Adam’s /power to appropriate life for oneself/ (3:22g). Appropriating for oneself is /not giving/, or more specifically /not giving of oneself/, a feature that the text selects among the potential connotations of the symbol “(Y.E.) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”. This observation already suggests that the power to give human life is associated with the /will to give of oneself/ (giving of oneself is a matter of the “will” and not merely of a “power”). It is through this latter feature that this value appears to be in contrary relation with the qualifications of Y.E. in 2:5c: the absence of creation does not result from a lack of power, nor from an opposed power (nothing in this part of the text can be construed as having such connotations). The only limiting qualification is the temporal notation, טרם, a time “before” the (proper) day, i.e., a time which is not appropriate, a time when Y.E. has /no will to create/, /no will to give of oneself/, by contrast with “the (appropriate) day” when Y.E. has the /will to create/ (2:4b).

2.124 The /power to produce vegetal life/ (2:9a) which involves the /will/ to do so (as contradictory to 2:5c) is further characterized as being /for others/. This feature which sets 2:9a as contrary to 3:22g (/for oneself/) is symbolically manifested by the description of the vegetal life as “pleasant to the sight and good to eat” which makes it clear that it is not created by Y.E. for his own sake but for others.

2.125 Considering the relation of implications between 2:7b and 2:9a, it appears that the /power to give human life/ involves the conjunction of the /divine/ (Y.E. self) and /adamah/, thus human life is by nature both /divine/ and /earthy/ while the /power to produce vegetal life/ merely involves the use of /adamah/, /for others/, this second feature implying (i.e., manifesting in another way) the /divine/. By contrast the Eretz by itself which symbolizes something without the divine in either of its forms (this lack being symbolically represented as lack of rain) is sterile (2:5c and also 2:5b). Similarily, “in the garden of Eden” which qualifies the negative power of Adam in 3:22g (the /power to appropriate life for oneself/) must be read as symbolizing a /power exclusively based on the divine/. We shall see below that the connotation /divine/ or /divine realm/ appears as a pertinent feature of the “garden of Eden” (and of “Eden”) throughout our text.

2.126 The river(s) (2:10b) manifest(s) a /power to give order to Eretz/: its function is not only to water the garden but also to divide Eretz into various regions (cf. 2:10–14, note the repeated designation “Eretz”). By contradiction with Adam’s power (3:22g) this ordering power is defined as going out of Eden (as well as out of the garden): it has a divine origin (from Eden) bus is “outgoing”. Through its contrary relation with 2:10b, the powerlessness of Eretz (2:5b) is simultaneously defined once more as /not from the divine/, /not belonging to the divine realm/ or more specifically /without specified origin/.

2.127 The contradictory relation of river(s) (2:10b) and ‘ed (2:6b) shows that the latter symbolizes (among other things to be discussed below) a /lack of power to give order/. The connotations /undivided watery mass/ and thus /chaotic waters/ are therefore without any doubt pertinent. ‘Ed has here connotations similar to the corresponding Accadian term: “flood water” and not “mist” (cf. R.S.V.).

2.128 Since the cherubim (3:24b) manifest the values /power to give order to the cosmos/ (i.e., power to separate the human realm from the divine realm) which is derived from the fact that they /belong to the divine realm/ (a connotation which is shown to be pertinent because of the contradictory opposition to Eretz, 2:5b), the cherubim and ‘ed are in opposition of contrariety as /divine power/ vs. /chaotic power/. Yet this chaotic power is not defined as an active (evil) power but rather as a twofold absence of power: as a /lack of power to give order to Eretz/ (cf. the relation to 2:10b) and as a /lack of power to make Adamah fertile/ by contrast to Adam’s /power to make Adamah fertile/ (3:23b)—our way of formulating the power to cultivate Adamah.

Adam’s /power to make Adamah fertile/ (3:23b) is defined as associated with the fact that /man is in his own realm/ (no longer in the garden but with Adamah) by contrast with its contrary /man in the divine realm/ (in the garden) the situation of Adam in 3:22d. Both through the relation of contradiction with the “non-existent” Adam (2:5d) and the relation of implication with the cherubim (3:24b), Adam’s power is further defined as /having existence/ as a result of Y.E.’s creative act, and thus being the conjunction of a divine element and of Adamah. As such he is in relation with the divine realm but does not belong to it. In fact for man to be in the divine realm is to be a /power disrupting the order of the cosmos/ (by disrupting the distinction between the human realm and the divine realm, by being “like gods”) (3:22d).

2.129 These values, the main characteristics of which we briefly described (many details being left out for the sake of space), appear to be what form the semantic framework in which the text of the first narrative level unfolds its symbolism.

2.21    The Symbolic System of Level II

This table has to be read from bottom to top beginning on the next page.

Table V: The Symbolic System of Level II


2.22    The System of Values of Level II

Table VI: The System of Values of Level II


2.22 The set of values (isotopy) which gives unity and coherence to the symbolic system of the secondary level (cf. Table VI) endorses as proper a relational view of human existence and denounces as wrong various monolithic views of human existence. As such this isotopy develops one of the characteristics of the isotopy of the first level. The “power” (or “lack of power”) has often as its predicate “ordering”, i.e., /setting in specific relations certain elements/.

2.221 These two isotopies are articulated upon one another through the pair of bundles of qualifications 2:10b river(s) vs 2:6b ‘ed. In the context of our discussion of the first level we have seen that this contradictory opposition can be represented in summary from as /differentiated, and from Eden, power to order Eretz/ vs /undifferentiated, and from Eretz, chaotic power, i.e., lack of power to order Eretz/. In addition to features emphasizing in a specific way /power/ (the overarching values of the first isotopy), this pair also involves specific features expressing the importance of proper relationships within the creation (the characteristic of the second isotopy).

2.222 The river has the power to order Eretz because it is “from Eden” and “divided” (into four “heads”), while ‘ed lack such a power because it is “from Eretz” and an “undifferentiated mass”.

2.223 The following contradictory opposition (2:22d vs 2:20b) associates the semantic features /divided/ or /relational/ and /undifferentiated/ or /monolithic/ to views of human nature. Note first that if the animals and birds are not fitting helpers for Adam (2:20b) it is because each is a /totally earthly living nephesh/, i.e., /made with adamah alone/, a value contradictory to the value manifested by the woman (part of the bundle of qualifications of Y.E. in 2:22d) who is /made with the rib of man/ and thus shares with Adam his twofold nature as /made with adamah and the divine breath/. This first observation, which by itself would be quite tenuous, is confirmed by the other relations in which 2:20b and 2:22d are involved. The woman’s twofold nature (conjunction of the /divine/ and the /earthly/) is associated with a similar semantic feature manifested by the nature of Y.E.’s power in 2:22d: a power that Y.E. shares with man (who, through his naming, participates in the creation of the animals and of woman), that is, a /relational power/ (a power exerted in relation with others) which is contrary to the /monolithic chaotic power/ of the flood, an /undifferentiated power with total claim/ (covering the whole adamah, 2:6). Thus 2:22d serves as a first hinge between the two isotopies by linking the relational nature of human existence with the relational nature of Y.E.’s power. This link being established, the new isotopy can unfold its own network of values.

2.224 First we find that human beings are characterized as being related to the divine but not as an integral part of it. In 3:3b (2:16a) the pertinent qualification of Elohim (Y.E.) is his view of man (and woman) presupposed and expressed in his command. Man has his place in the garden; he can eat of every tree, yet he is not an integral part of it, he should not eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:17a) that is, from the “tree in the middle of the garden” (3:3b). The positive injunction manifests that man and woman /belong together with the garden (with the divine)/, while the negative injunction denying them access to the center emphasizes that they are not an integral part of it. This positive relation to the divine which is the main emphasis of 3:3b (2:16a) is contrary to the /exclusive relation to adamah/ of the animals (non-human beings) found in 2:20b.

2.225 2:17a manifests semantic features similar to those of 3:3b (2:16a) but with the opposite emphasis: the view of /man not integrally part of the garden (as earthly) although he is related to it/. Such an emphasis sets 2:17a in contradictory relation to 2:20b: man as/earthly although not totally/ vs /totally earthly/ animal. To be earthly is not to be man (2:17a) as well as not to be a woman (2:22d).

2.226 On the negative axis we find two new expressions of the monolithic view of human existence as contradictory to 3:3b (2:16a) and 2:17a respectively: the view according to which human beings do /not at all belong to the garden/ (they cannot eat of any tree) found in 3:1d manifests that they are /totally unrelated to the divine/; the view according to which human beings are /integrally part of the garden/ (they can eat of any tree) found in 3:6g manifests that they are /totally identified with the divine/, they are “like gods”. In 3:3e (2:17b) the “deadly” conjunction of the tree in the middle of the garden with the human beings manifests quite emphatically that such a total identification with the divine is a wrong view of human nature: /human beings do not belong with the center of the garden/. The “day” they would pretend to appropriate the divine for themselves they would be /annihilated/, /dead/ instead of “like gods”, although this does not mean that they do not belong together with other parts of the garden (contradictory relation with 3:1d).

2.227 As the isotopy unfolds what is implied by this twofold and relational view of human nature appears. The proper human existence involves separation from (i.e., non-identification with) any one element from which one originates: one’s parents as well as the divine. This is manifested by the relation of implication between 3:3e (2:17b) and 2:25b (a bundle of qualifications which includes the textual elements found in 2:23–24). The /separation from the center of the garden/ and thus /from the divine/ (3:3e) is correlated with /man’s separation from his parents/ (in which “separation” must be understood as “non-identification” according to the relations previously considered). This separation is the necessary condition for the realization of the proper interrelation between man and woman (and possibly, more generally, between human beings?). Indeed, the same relation of implication correlates /separation from center of garden/ and /from one’s parents/ with /man’s full union with woman/ the normal (shameless) relation which is /fulfillment of the human nature/, by contrast with /not being according to human nature/, i.e., /like gods/ (cf. the contradictory relation with both 3:6g and 3:7b, c).

2.228 The twofold human nature and the correlated non-identification with any one element from which one originates establish a “space” in which human beings have freedom of /choice/ (for lack of a better term). Yet this space is strictly delimited. This first appears when considering the contrary relation between 2:25b and 3:5c, 7a. In verses 2:19–23, (part of the bundle of qualifications of 2:25b) man’s role as choosing a name for each living nephesh and further as choosing among them a fitting helper has been strongly emphasized (to the point that this choice is a limitation to Y.E.’s power, cf. 2:22d). Thus the /choice to select a helper among the living creatures/ or more generally the /choice of an order for the world of the living creatures/is marked as a positive value. By contrast the “fruit” (which opens the eyes, 3:5c, 7a) is qualified as having been recognized as “good for food and pleasing to the eyes” by the woman who in this way has chosen among the trees, i.e., among the elements of the garden, what is “good and pleasing” over and beyond the order established by Y.E. (cf. 2:9). This involves the /choice of an order for the cosmic (and/or vegetal) world/ which is marked as a negative value and is contrary to the freedom of /choice of an order for the world of living creatures/ (a positive value) and also contradictory with the values manifested by Y.E.’s curses (3:14c, 3:16, 3:18a, and 3:19a). These curses manifest with utmost emphasis that any living creature including man and woman has /no choice regarding one’s nature/ even if it is “not pleasing”. Serpents have to go on their own belly but they eat dust (thus they have food); women have to suffer, and they bear children; men have to suffer hard work because of the hostile nature of adamah and they have food from it. In other word /man’s freedom to choose an order establishing the relation of each living creature to himself/ (2:25) is correlated with (and limited by) /Y.E.’s authority to establish the nature of each/ (3:14c, 3:16, 3:18a and 19a). It is illegitimate for /human beings to choose their relationship to the world/, that is, /to establish their own natures/ (3:5c, 7a). Thus the negative value /to be like gods rather than according to their own nature/ is progressively defined. The pertinence of these values (which could certainly be better formulated) is confirmed by the negative bundle of qualifications found in 3:1b, 3:6h, and 3:6e where we find once more the man and the woman choosing their relation to the world and, in addition, the serpent qualified as ערום a term ususally translated by “shrewd”, “subtle”, “crafty”, which must be understood as /having an excessive freedom of choice/.

2.229 The freedom of choice, which characterizes the existence of human beings (and the serpent) is strictly limited by their nature which involves that they are dominated. Indeed, each is/dominated according to one’s nature/ as expressed in 3:15a (for the serpent), in 3:16e (for the woman), and 3:19e (for the man). In the two latter cases, it is more specifically /to be dominated by that from which one originates/. The woman is dominated by the man from whom she has been taken; the man is dominated by the adamah from which he has been taken. (Logically the serpent should be viewed as being dominated by the woman … “from whom it has been taken”! Could it be in the sense that it is through the quest for the woman that it was created!?). At any rate, the wrong view of human existence, being like gods (expressed in 3:4b and manifested indirectly in 3:17b and 3:13d where the woman and the serpent are “like gods” because they are accepted as Sender instead of God), is /transcending one’s origin/, /transcending one’s nature as living creature/. In the last resort, human beings are thus defined as /belonging to the world of living creatures/, the “animal” world: this is one of the features of 3:21b (the view of man and woman presupposed by Y.E. who gives them “skin-garments”). It is in this world only that they have the freedom of choice, sharing one of Y.E.’s attributes, according to their nature. By attempting to transcend their own nature they end up not in the divine realm (like God) but alienated from the divine (in fear, and hiding from Y.E.) and /in the vegetal world/ (cf. 3:7–8: they wear leaf aprons, they hide “in the middle of the trees of the garden”, identifying themselves with the trees, and not “in the middle of the garden” which would have symbolized the identification with the divine). Human life is thus limited to the animal world, even though human beings dominate it through their freedom of choice which relates them to the divine realm. Human life is (exists as such) if, and only if, human beings maintain the proper relationship inside their own realm, the realm of living creatures. This proper relationship includes sexuality, the full, un-ashamed union of the man and the woman. It is in this relationship that the source of life is: Adam can see the woman as “the mother of all living”.

3.0 Our formulation of these deep values, in a metalanguage which certainly could be improved upon, attempts to account for the semantic universe, the “meaning horizon” of our text. Let us repeat it, these deep values are not that upon which the text is focused. The text which narrativizes these values is focused upon certain themes and figures which have rhetorical and aesthetic effects. These deep values are rather what focuses the text and its thematic and figurative dimensions. This analysis can serve as a basis for further study of the text’s symbolism. Yet in and of themselves these deep values have a special interest for us in that they are held as self-evident truths: they characterize most directly the faith of the author/redactor.

A Response to Patte and Parker

Glendon E. Bryce

College of the Holy Cross

0.1 The study by Daniel Patte and Judson F. Parker, which follows the model dealing with the structural network of narrative prepared by Patte (Patte & Patte, 1978 a & b), presents the system of deep values presupposed by the text, the semantic framework in which the author of Gen. 2 & 3 thinks, speaks, and acts. This framework is not to be identified with the thematic elements (Jobling), the cultural codes (Boomershine), nor is it to be confused with other types of analysis that produce organizations based upon the manifest content of the chapters (Culley, White). Rather, it represents the logical and symbolic framework that underlies the other dimensions of the text and through which they are articulated. Through this system of signification, contained within the deep structure, the interpreter can perceive how these other dimensions are contained within the “meaning horizon” of the text.

1.0 The specific contribution of the study to the application of structural methods is fourfold.

1).    It significantly probes the interrelations between the various levels of the narrative in Gen. 2 & 3.

2).    It shows how the paradigmatic structure of these different levels can be correlated in such a way as to reveal the symbolic system underlying the text.

3).    More specifically, the analysis of the semantic relations reveals how elements of apparently disparate semantic content may have, at the level of the deep structure, a single isotopy.

4).    It moves from structural analysis and from the “symbolic system” of the text to the articulation of deep values by which the world of the text itself is organized.

The analysis advances our apprehension of the possiblities opened by the structural approach, particularly by the way in which the structural interpreter can move from this analysis to the realm of symbolic values. Of course, the study is brief, it is based primarily upon the English translation of the text; and it focuses upon the semantic aspect more than the narrative structure. Nevertheless, it is a probing study, seeking to penetrate to the roots of the text and discover the system of signification controlling the text from its deepest level.

The Narrative Levels. Focusing upon the interplay between the primary narrative level and the interpretative narrative level, Parker and Patte indicate how complicated the relationship really is. The relationship between what Greimas has called the pragmatic and cognitive dimensions of a text in literary semiotics is not simply one to one (Greimas & Courtès, 1979, 40, 288). Not only do those passages that specifically belong to the cognitive dimension, such as Gen. 2:15–17, interpret what has preceded but also the narrative programs that follow and that form complete narratives in themselves add to the comprehension of the meaning of events or previous narrative programs. In this complex interplay a narrative may eventually bring the story back to the primary level, such as Gen. 3:22–24 does in relation to Gen. 2:5–6. By the gradual accretion of knowledge, even on the basis of an interpretation given by a character in the drama, successive narrative programs and interpretations continually re-evaluate what has preceded, thus filling out the global meaning of the text.

The Symbolic System. The analysis of this symbolic system of the text in this study is paradigmatic, structuring the two chapters according to the pertinent oppositions appearing in the functions. What is important to observe is the way in which Patte and Parker reduce the figurative content of the text, in all of its multiplicity, to abstract categories. Thus, the symbolic system hinges upon the categories /divided/ vs /undivided/ or /differentiated/ vs /undifferentiated/. The kinship of the method to the approach of Lévi-Strauss is evident at this point (Lévi-Strauss, 1967:207–227).

A Single Isotopy. The suggestion that the introductory chapters of Genesis are linked (3
ֶ 2 ֶ 1) and that chapters 2 & 3 present a single isotopy related to divided and undivided is similar to studies that have focused upon creation as division in Gen. 1 (Beauchamp, 1969). This suggests that all three chapters, as different as they are in content and form, have the same underlying isotopy at the level of the deep structure. If so, what does this say about the use of this redundant category from the creation to the fall and about the structuring patterns of the Hebrew text with respect to Hebrew mentality? Can this isotopy be extended to include other ancient New Eastern texts or is it distinctive, belonging only to this text or those narratives in the OT that deal with creation?

The Deep Values. By the manipulation of these semantic elements the authors suggest that the symbolic system can be brought to bear upon the decision faced by Adam and Eve in Gen. 3. Man’s and woman’s place in the world is determined by the mediation of two isotopies. Between the first, which is the power based upon the ability to separate human and divine and the lack of power within undifferentiated reality, and the second, which stresses the fact that man is related to God, is the hinge verse (2:22) that asserts the following: human existence is based upon and defined by the power of Yahweh. Man’s power is relational; it derives from the fact that he is related to God and is neither a god nor a creature of earth only. This forms the basis of the command concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil: man is not to partake of it because he is not part of the garden in an integral sense. It is illegitimate for man to try to determine his relation to the world by choosing either nature or the gods, for it is Yahweh who determines his nature.

1.42 This conclusion concerning the relation between man and God moves beyond the purely abstract categories that make up the underlying categorical structure to a specific kind of investment of the text with a symbolic value system. What needs to be stressed at this point is that this conclusion is not a moral truth nor a theological axiom. In fact, this is not what the text is focusing upon. Rather, it is the visée of the text, what focuses the text upon something else. It is this controlling symbolic system that enables the text to realize meaning at the figurative level, what organizes and creates the signification appearing in the textual manifestation. These categories, articulated in the structuring system, make up the symbolic values that control the figurative content even though they must be derived from this content. At this point a special difficulty presents itself to the authors, namely, to invest these categories with a semantic content in such a way that they retain their integrity as structuring elements and do not become confused with the figurative content of the text. How well they have succeeded depends to some degree upon the care with which the reader apprehends these elements as form and not as content.

1.5 With respect to another aspect of this study, the relation between the system of transformations and the actantial model (1.2), although treated only briefly, has a wide range of potential uses. At the level of the narrative syntax, a story may be described as a closed system in which an Object circulates among a group of actants. The reduction of this model to that of Object and Receiver (O→R) embodies the system of transformations that occur in the narrative. Each transformation creates a new state, and a state may be defined syntactically as the conjunction of an Object with a Receiver (e.g. he is rich = he has wealth). Positive states, of course, imply negative ones, so the transformations of a narrative may be plotted on a double track, according to whether the Object, the Receiver, or the exchange is positive or negative. In this way the augmentation or diminution of the powers of the actants may be tracked and a taxonomy of the elements in the text that represent the modal powers constructed.

2.1 Another important benefit deriving from the use of this model is its practicability in relation to other than narrative texts. In didactic texts, for example, the question concerning the Object sought is more complicated. If a didactic text can be reduced to a narrative model, the task is relatively more simple (Bryce, 1978:113–119). However, in most didactic texts, in contrast to narratives, the Object-sought is harder to identify because the situation of lack is not known until the end of the instruction. Until the student receives all of the knowledge that he needs to have to perform the task, he does not fully comprehend what his lack really is.

2.2 Using the model suggested by Patte and Parker, a wide range of possibilities can be deduced according to whether the Object and Receiver are positive or negative and whether the communicative process involves the Subject or the Anti-Subject. These possibilities provide a typological model capable of being used to analyze didactic texts. What does the teacher communicate negatively and positively? How does this affect the various competences? How can this be used to track the types of transformations desired by the teacher? Intriguing possibilities emerge from this more flexible understanding of the communicative axis, and they hold promise of assisting us in the understanding of didactic texts.

3. This study, no doubt due to its abbreviated length, constructs the symbolic system of the text by establishing a series of paradigmatic oppositions. Functions appearing in the primary sequence are set in opposition to functions appearing in the secondary or interpretative sequence. Detailed analysis of the narrative syntagm is omitted, and only a general framework for this is provided. Admittedly, the authors are aware of the fact that both dimensions of the text need full exploration and correlation. Although the correlations presented here are significant for both dimensions of the text, its categorical oppositions are paradigmatic and suggest a methodological approach similar to that of Lévi-Strauss (Bryce, 1977:317–318). Of course, where these correlations derive from the invested and posed content of the narrative, they do reflect the transformations appearing in the narrative syntagm. Nevertheless, the reduction of the text to its semantic dimensions and to the antinomies appearing in them needs supplementation and corroboration by a more complete syntagmatic analysis, showing the various levels and the correlations between semantic and syntactical elements appearing in the narrative syntagm itself.

4. The results of this study to provide a general framework for the value system present within the deep structure, a structure within which the concrete axiological system of the text is articulated. The move from this framework to the more concrete investment of the text with a set of values is already being made in the final section. The discovery of the signification system, of course, is already laying down the tracks within which the semantic content will be articulated. This system of relations represents the network of deep values, which, when invested with a figurative content, become the axiological system appearing at the level of the textual manifestation. This suggests that the relation between structural analysis and exegesis is a close one, even if the nexus between the two cannot always be clearly identified. At their juncture is a generative matrix where structures and figures meet, where deep symbolic systems supply certain textual constraints, and where relations presupposed commence the creation of actual value systems that appear at the surface of the text. Perhaps this is the most significant insight emerging from this study: exegesis ultimately presupposes structure, and structure makes exegesis possible. This combination is a symbiosis in which the network of relations and the junctures in the structures become critical for the understanding of the text.

A Structural Reading of the Structuralist Exegeses of Culley, Jobling, and Patte/Parker

Robert Detweiler

Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University

0.1 I will undertake a structuralist reading of the structuralist exegeses by the four critics, treating their essays as three different approaches to a single text that have significant elements of commonality. I will identify the critical strategies of the three essays—the unfolding of argument that constitutes interpretation—via a brief “horizontal” reading, but then pay more attention to a “vertical” reading—an identification of and commentary on main areas of emphasis that each critic reveals, largely implicitly, as the deep structure of his argument. This tactic is, of course, a turning of structuralist methodology upon itself, not to denigrate it in any way but to show that, through yet another kind of transformation, the endless game of interpretation can involve highly self-conscious considerations of method that at the same time illuminate the original text. My effort belongs properly to the recent structuralist-derived (some would say post-structuralist) approach called “intertextuality,” a mode stressing the acute interrelatedness of focal text and commentary texts, the influence of critical readings on each other in the interpretive process.

1.1 We can quickly establish a horizontal reading of the three essays—a brief summary of their exegetical “narrations.” Patte/Parker wish to expose the horizon of meaning of the authors/redactors of the Genesis passage, its set of deep or symbolic values assumed by the text’s composers that generate the text’s actual focus. They accomplish this goal by identifying two narrative levels of the text, a matching transformational system for each level, and aligning these to symbolic systems and values systems on each level that disclose the deep values behind and beneath the text. These values, which emerge at the end of the analysis, have to do with the human sense of creative power and authority in relation to the divine, a sense of separation and place in relation to the divine and human, and an awareness of the limitations on the human freedom of choice.

1.2 Culley’s analysis proceeds as an attempt to demonstrate that the Genesis passage can be broken down into basic narrative units called action sequences, which sequences in turn consist of a problem and a solution phase. The most important of the sequences here is the punishment or “wrong/wrong punished” sequence, and the central example is, as one would expect, the woman and man eating the forbidden fruit and subsequently suffering for their transgression. Two other sequences, “difficulty/difficulty removed” and “desired/taken” are connected to or incorporated into the main sequence to constitute the Genesis passage as a unified text. Culley views this successful division of the text into interrelated action sequences as a kind of test case that encourages one to apply such a method to other Old Testament narrative passages and to use it as a foundation for undertaking character analyses as well.

1.3 Jobling’s analysis focuses on two models that the Genesis text suggests to him—a narrative model concerned with the main program of getting a man to till the soil and a semantic model concerned with the “opposed semantic configurations” of inside and outside the Garden. A discussion of opposing semic pairs categorized according to four isotopies intends to show how the semantics of the story overloads the narrative and forces it to convey more than it can. Specifically, the narrative wishes to dramatize within the context of the Garden events that belong outside, but can do so plausibly only by permitting outside events to intrude partially into the Garden and thus “preview” the situation outside. An examination of the four isotopies of culture, society and sexuality, vitality, and knowledge, each exhibiting a semantic opposition of inside and outside yet with some mutuality introduced from outside to inside, gives evidence that the surplus of meaning in the passage enveloped in myth can be ordered and clarified.

2.0 The dramatic progression of these three horizontal readings—what I called the exegetical “narrations”—is not directed so much toward an elucidation per se of the Genesis passage (although such elucidation takes place) as it is toward a demonstration that certain structuralist tactics work to achieve such elucidation. This methodological self-consciousness dictating the progression of interpretation also hints at implicit programs guiding the analysis that can be identified through “vertical” readings of the essays. Such readings isolate four areas of emphasis in each essay that are not necessarily a direct result of the critics’ intention and that are present even though the four critics work on different levels and problems of exegesis. The four areas of emphasis are the assumption of concealment in the Genesis text or in the circumstances surrounding its composition, the discovery of isotopies consisting of oppositions and their attempted mediations, the incorporation of the isotopies into broader coherent units through a transformational process, and the creation of a metalanguage that illuminates both text and interpretative methodology.

2.1 First, regarding concealment, we can say that Patte/Parker, Culley, and Jobling implicitly recognize the role of concealment in terms of, respectively, pre-text, con-text, and intra-text.

2.11 Patte/Parker, through a series of intricate steps, work through the text, not from beginning to end but rather, one might say, from top to bottom to arrive at what is “beneath” the text: the meaning horizon of its composers, in hermeneutical terms, or what the phenomenologists would call an approximation of the composers’ life-world or the text’s “pre-text,” the symbol system of meaning and values that brings the text to being and meaning. The text does not intend to conceal its pretext; it does so simply because it, or any text, cannot simultaneously reflect and project itself—cannot dwell on its presuppositions and at the same time articulate itself, just as the individual in the cognitive process cannot think about what he is thinking. One can, therefore, discover the pre-text or the authorial life-world refracted—reflected obliquely—in the symbol system(s) of the text. What the text “says” thus stands in tension with what it hides, yet only in interpretation can what is hidden be brought to light, so that the text can say what it means.

2.12 The concealment for Culley is less subtle but just as operative. Action sequences are hidden in the flow of narrative. One dimension of narrative structure is seen to consist of the repetition and interconnection of few such sequences, so that what is concealed is also both the substance—the “thematic”—of the sequences and their patterns of interrelationship. Once the thematic and the patterns are established (and Culley does this establishing only tentatively), one can hope to use them as models for analyzing other Old Testament narratives and as the basis for developing a more complex and expansive technique. Whereas Patte/Parker look for the oblique reflection of an authorial life-world in the text, Cully searches for a con-textual set of patterns that emerges from the comparison of segments of a single text as well as from a comparison among different texts.

2.13 For Jobling, at least three levels of concealment mark the Genesis passage. The narrative hides, for one, a pattern of actants (which we recognize from the models of Propp and Greimas) of the sort that Culley is concerned with. Second, the narrative disguises a “main program”—getting a man to till the soil—through the more sensational sub-stories of the temptation, fall, union of the sexes, and expulsion from the Garden. In fact, it is largely these sub-stories, in the act of expressing themselves, that surreptitiously convey what Jobling calls the main program of the whole passage. Third, the passage as myth is, as Jobling puts it, “under pressure to conceal certain levels of its meaning.” I take these to be, according to the latter pages of Jobling’s essay, levels having to do with the anthropological, sociological, political, and theological implications of the story—a whole complex of issues accompanying the transition of early Israelite culture to more sophisticated forms embedded in the myth. The concealment for Jobling is intratextual; various components of the same text work against each other and in the dynamics of this opposition produce very diverse but unified meaning.

2.2 If the structuralist orientation of the four critics is evinced by their assumption that the text’s meaning yields to the discovery of deep structures corresponding to elements outside the text (meaning horizons, action sequences, actants), such orientation is further clarified by the critics’ common strategy of identifying isotopies that consist of oppositions and their mediation that a “vertical” reading of the three essays discloses.

2.21 Patte/Parker work most rigorously and consistently to present such isotopies, utilizing the theory of the semiotic square with two systems and two levels to elicit the patterns of contradiction that accrue to reveal the deep values beneath the text. Mediations between contradictory isotopies occur, then, through transformations that generate new isotopies.

2.22 Culley seems least concerned with producing isotopies constituted of opposing elements, yet one could argue that the action sequences he treats consist of binary oppositions (e.g., wrong/wrong punished, difficulty/difficulty removed) that together form a level of coherence identifiable as an isotopy. The action sequences do not lend themselves to mediatory efforts, however; nothing negotiates, for example, between wrong and wrong punished, although one could project a mediation occurring on a semantic or even a theological level, or, to continue with the wrong/wrong punished example, one could conceivably call the delay of the death sentence (man becomes mortal but does not die at once) as a mediation on the narrative level.

2.23 Jobling, since he deals with the Genesis passage as myth, presents most clearly the Lévi-Straussian pattern of binary oppositions and mediations between them. His discussion of the semantics of the “outside” invading the “inside,” of “mutuality,” and a “semantics of the middle” is a skillful adaptation of the Lévi-Strauss model.

2.3 A “vertical” reading of the three essays shows how the critics try to incorporate the isotopies into larger units through a transformational process. I have already called attention to this effort by Patte/Parker. Their transformational strategy not only produces a coherency of levels of the text but shows at last a glimpse of a unified world of values and belief that gives rise to the text. Culley concludes his study before undertaking the transformational process; his aligning of action sequences to each other and the discovery of action sequences embedded in others do not constitute transformations, but his projection at the end of examining roles and characters as another stage of narrative analysis could indeed involve transformations and lead to the inclusion of larger units in the interpretive venture. Jobling, on the other hand, without applying the logic of the semiotic square, in his treatment of the four isotopies allows the one to modulate into the next and also suggests the transformational possibilities in his discussion of the passage as myth and communication and as myth and theology.

2.4 The four critics in the three essays, finally, compose a metalanguage to reflect on the text as well as on their methodologies. Patte/Parker, in formulating a language of symbolic values permeating the text beneath the level of narrative, can show how to read the focused text by explaining the analytical process that delves into the text’s presuppositions. Culley’s metalanguage results from a resolute pursuit of one aspect of narrative that could be refined and expanded through application to other texts. Jobling’s metalanguage is one that comments on the text through a vocabulary of opposed semantics that explains the surplus of meaning concentrated in the text.

3. Through such an application of “intertextuality” procedures, then, one gains a sense of how an examination of three analyses of a single passage enriches the individual interpretations and contributes to the history of interpretive reciprocity.

Direct and Third Person Discourse in the Narrative of the “Fall”

Hugh C. White

Camden College of Arts and Science Rutgers University


The tentative and exploratory thesis being proposed here is that the fundamental tension which gives rise to the plot of this narrative is created by two passages of direct discourse which stand in an opposing structural relation: the prohibition given by Yahweh Elohim to Adam in 2:15–17, and the so-called “seduction” of woman in 3:1–5, which throws the prohibition into question. The conflict itself arises from the friction within the human characters between an open and a closed mode of subjectivity; one belonging to the addressee of an event of direct discourse, and the other characteristic of the object reference of the subject of third person discourse. The consequences of this conflict are then presented in 3:6–24. The introductory narrative in 2:1–15 provides the topographical order and the personages in their hierarchical relation, but does not provide any indication of the character of the actual conflict. This analysis will thus focus on 2:16–3. The precise nature of the relation between 2:4b–15 (as well as 2:24) and 2:16–3 must be taken up on another occasion. The theoretical foundation for this approach is not at all explained here, but is available elsewhere (White, 1978). It stems chiefly from the work of the philosophers J. L. Austin and J. R. Searle, and the linguist E. Benvéniste.

1.1 The prohibition in 2:17 is uttered directly to Adam by the disembodied divine voice at an unspecified place in the garden and coupled with a prefatory mandate. Since this is the first occasion in which Adam attains personal presence in the narrative, this establishes him subjectively as the you in the dual mode of addressee of a positive mandate (אכל תּאכל is a permissive introduced by an imperative which establishes an antithesis with the prohibition) and a negative prohibition. The prohibition customarily serves as an effective starting point for narratives because its propositional content expresses clearly two opposing semic systems which can be actualized in actantial roles and given figuration as personages engaged in conflict. The hero embodies the values connected with obedience to the prohibition and the villain those connected with disobedience. The hero usually receives the mandate for positive action. Here, however, the ‘hero’ who is given the mandate is also given the prohibition, and the traditional hero/villain conflict is set up as a potential conflict within a single open personage. As will be shown below, this internalization of the process of conflict ultimately deprives the narrative plot of any unambiguous (i.e. closed) heroes and villains.

1.11 Through the illocutionary dynamics of the joint mandate and prohibition, Adam is created as an open subjective presence in the narrative. As the addressee of these “performative” utterances (Austin, 1975: 4) he is offered the possibility of subjective actualization in the mode of obedience and limited freedom. Because he gains significance in the narrative primarily through his response to these performative statements, he is constituted as an open subject. The narrator does not attribute qualities to him in the narrative framework which define him so completely that his decisions would only represent the figurative representation of the semantic content of those attributions. Adam is permitted to define himself in his decisions, but in so doing to retain a certain openness which allows room for the new to emerge. The form of his subjective presence, or one could say, the horizon of his consciousness, is then shaped in the form of the “you” of the “you shall not eat X” and the “you” of the “you may eat Y.” But since it is performative statements that found his subjective presence, for him to refuse the mandate and violate the prohibition immediately would abort the narrative at the outset and thereby destroy him as a character. The threat of death which follows the divine commands seems to make this point dramatically.

1.2 But the meaning of violation for the subjective existence of Adam is already given in the name of the forbidden tree, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Here we move, from the literal to the symbolic level. The fruit of the tree is given a symbolic meaning having nothing whatever to do with its literal character. This makes the act of eating the fruit a purely symbolic act.

1.21 What this action symbolizes is specifically the entrance of the actor into a different mode of subjective existence characterized by the term: “knowledge of good and evil.” But while this term is arbitrarily related to the tree, it is not arbitrarily related to the act of transgression. The act of violating the prohibition would cause a shift in Adam’s mode of subjective existence from one whose meaning stemmed from his open, undetermined response to the divine “illocutionary” utterance (Austin, 1975: 99, 100) to one whose meaning stems from his self projected position as the knowing subject of the oppositions: good vs evil. Here the subjective implications of the act of violating a prohibition for one whose consciousness has been created as an addressee of an illocutionary prohibition is unmasked. The transgressor removes himself from the position of being subject to limits given in the prohibition, and, in the violation, projects himself as the subject who knows, i.e. determines for himself, those limits. Grammatically, he makes himself the object reference of the subject of the phrase “knowing good and evil,” i.e. he becomes “one who knows good and evil.” The system of meaning in which his identity would be defined would thus become the system of meaning characteristic of the predicates of non-performative constative statements—the sentence form that is the most characteristically third person (Austin, 1975: 3).

1.22 The result is that the barrier that, in the typical narrative, separates the third person discourse of the narrator from the direct discourse of the characters, is internalized and becomes a barrier separating two conflicting modes of existence within the subject. These are the two modes which Julia Kristeva characterizes as the “subject of the enunciation,” as compared with the “subject of the statement (énoncé)” (Kristeva, 1977: 252, 253).

1.23 By means of symbolic language the narrative thus succeeds in making explicit the mode of subjectivity that is fundamental to every subject who violates a prohibition, and makes that mode of subjectivity the prohibited object. This has the effect of posing the central conflict of the plot in terms of a conflict inside of the characters between two modes of subjectivity.

1.3 The relationship established between the divine voice and Adam in the utterance of the prohibition is a hierarchical relationship. The form of the prohibition does not involve necessarily the utterance of “I” by the speaker, and the divine “I” is not uttered here. The relationship is thus not one of mutuality between partners, but one involving the exercise of authority by a superior party over an inferior. Rather than an I-you relation, it is more precisely an (I)-you relation. Except for the clearly authoritarian judgement pronouncement in 3:14–19, the divine “I” is uttered only within the realm of divine self-communication to which the narrator has access, but not Adam (2:18).

1.31 Correspondingly Adam does not utter his “I” to God before the “fall.” God is the Prohibitor and communication between them is occasioned only by the violation of that prohibition. Adam speaks his “I” to God only in his defense and admission of guilt (3:10, 12). With no one on his “level” to whom he can speak his “I,” Adam is alone, as is immediately observed by Yahweh Elohim following the prohibition in 2:18. The aloneness of man is underscored here by the fact that God does not address his observation concerning man’s aloneness to Adam himself, but rather to the other persons of his own plural nature (see 3:22 as well as 1:26). God and man here do not move on the same level.

1.4 Because of this a barrier thus exists which separates the inner discourse of each realm from the other. But when parties within each level speak of a party in the other, as it is inevitable that they do, they must do so in third person terms which transform the other party into the object reference of a predicate which attaches qualities to them. This is not a matter of a neutral stylistic option, however, for it makes possible the creation of a semantically closed interpretation of personages and events which would enable the humans to impose closure upon the divine voice and the divine to impose closure upon the human characters.

1.41 In the first occurrence of this private discourse the divine speech takes Adam as its object. Yahweh Elohim attributes to him the quality of aloneness, and proclaims the judgement that it is not good. Here he describes man’s condition and exhibits the power to know good and evil which is forbidden to man. He then resolves immediately to correct the problem by exercising divine power to provide Adam with a “helper fit for him” (2:18).

1.42 The first person discourse about man by God thus sets up the conditions for the existence of an intra-human dialogue that corresponds to the intra-divine dialogue. Now man will not be alone just as presumably God is not alone.

1.5 But the central dilemma of the narrative now emerges. It is legitimate at this point in the narrative for the intra-divine dialogue to take man as an object of interpretation, and to make judgements about man which are hidden from him regarding good and evil. This is the divine prerogative (3:22) though it is later to be partially relinquished (18:17), and obviously is problematic with regard to the genuine openness of the narrative. But for intra-human dialogue to take God and his words as objects of speculative interpretation, and to make judgements with regard to their goodness or evil is itself a violation of the prohibition. Since the prohibition constitutes the form of Adam’s subjectivity, and must do likewise for his partner, it is inevitable that the first human “conversation” initiated by his partner be about God and the prohibition. The “vertical” God/human relation which gave rise to human consciousness through the prohibition would necessarily appear alien and thus threatening to the strictly human, “horizontal” world of discourse. Thus the third party who enters this network will inevitably violate the prohibition.

1.51 But since this would permit an authentic villain to enter the narrative, thereby externalizing the conflict into a confrontation of good vs evil characters, the narrator cannot move directly to the creation of the human partner. He first brings the animal world on stage, the realm that is anomalous regarding human speech and neutral regarding the prohibition. Humans can speak to animals significantly but the animals cannot become full conversation partners of man. When these are rejected by man as suitable partners, God creates woman from the body of man. When faced with her, Adam breaks into poetry utilizing the possessive first person pronoun: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (2:23). Adam thus has now one to whom he can speak his “I.”

1.6 Woman does not respond to this eloquent welcome, and nowhere later engages Adam in an explicit dialogue. Neither does Adam address her in the first person “I.” The first words of woman are uttered in response to the serpent. Thus woman before the “fall” is scarcely differentiated from man. For woman to speak (necessarily about God and the prohibition) would have made her the unequivocal violator of the prohibition, and the source of evil in the narrative. She would have been the archetypal seductress, purely and simply. But her silence means that the relation of man and woman before the “fall” remains truncated, incomplete, undeveloped. She is man’s possession, united with his flesh, and shaped subjectively by the prohibition given not to her, but to him.

1.7    Description and Interpretation in the Narrative Framework

At this point the narrator violates his own constraints (Auerbach, 1957: 7, 11) and makes a descriptive statement about man and woman in their unity. He describes the physical appearance of the human pair—”man and his wife were both naked”—and adds to it the condition of consciousness that corresponds to their outer appearance—”and were not ashamed.”

The intrusion of the narrator has become necessary because further obedience by humans does not lead to direct discourse of significance for narrative development, and violation, by its very nature, will bring about a third person interpretation of the divine within the human sphere that will rupture the relation with the divine. After the violation of the prohibition, if man and woman have become thorough-going opponents of Yahweh-Elohim, nothing remains to be said from the divine viewpoint. A violated prohibition brings the verbal relation based on such an illocutionary act to an end. Nothing remains for the narrator except either to allow the human characters to develop with God as the opponent, or for God to destroy the human characters and start over again (a possibility that is explicitly considered later in 6:7 and Exod. 32:10).

1.71 Thus an impass has been reached which can only be solved by an interpretation of the narrator. But in the same way that description of words of God spoken in his inner world threatens the narrative with closure, so too this kind of third person description and interpretation of man and woman in the narrative framework seems to impose closure on the human characters. This closure is minimized, though not entirely escaped, by the ambivalent nature of the condition of shame. Shame indicates neither good nor evil, but inner conflict that is not resolved. Thus human character comes to be fixed only in its internal instability. The narrator thus preserves a potential, if not actual openness in the human realm by maintaining the focus of the narrative upon the phenomenon of inner conflict within the subject. With this description of the human condition as both a culmination of the first phase and a foreshadowing device for the second, the narrator can now deal with the emergence of conflict.

2.0 The Emergence of an Independent Counter World of Discourse

Conflict is made to arise from the animal world. The animal world constitutes a third person realm which is the symmetrical opposite of the divine realm. Both exist inside and outside of the narrative, God having a voice in the narrative but no place, and the animal world having place but no voice. If God is the subject which cannot finally be predicated by the narrator, the animal world is the archetypal predicate object which cannot normally be made the true subject of speech or action.

2.1 By permitting an animal to speak, the narrator opens a new realm which is not under the prohibition, and thus makes possible the utterance of transgressive thoughts. Further, by permitting the transgressive thought to originate in the neutral arena of the animal world by means of a singular instance of speech by an animal, the source of evil is rendered totally ambiguous. Is the serpent subordinate to the human and therefore only a symbol of transgressive, inadmissible human thoughts, a principle of evil independent of both God and man, or subordinate to God? The writer thus avoids creating a traditional villain, and thereby throws the emphasis of the narrative upon the inner human conflict.

2.2 But in order to bring the serpent forward to play this important speaking role, the narrator is forced again to violate one of his cardinal restraints, i.e. to make a descriptive, attributive statement about the character of a personage, the serpent, which he now reports, “was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” (3:1). Yet this attribute is so painfully succinct and thoroughly ambiguous as to make it impossible to extrapolate from it any power that could be identified as the fundamental source of evil in the serpent. Even the word ערום can mean both cunning (Jb. 5:12) and prudent (Prov. 14:8).

2.3 Now the first discourse outside of the constraints of the primal (I)-you relation is possible, and it is not surprising that the content of that discourse is that primary relation itself, with God now being spoken of in the third person for the first time by personages. The process is initiated by the serpent asking woman a question. A question is an illocutionary act the meaning of which is incomplete without a response from the addressee. And further, the way in which a question is posed already dictates the terms of the answer. This question does not ask for a response in the first person, but rather seeks to elicit apparently neutral information which can be conveyed in the third person. It further requires that the addressee communicate meaning by means of a principle of identity and difference. The addressee must answer the question by asserting the identity of or the difference between two items—the serpents restatement of the prohibition and the original divine prohibition.

2.4 The neutrality of the information requested is underscored by the absence of any significant relationship between the position of the serpent and the question posed. It is from the question’s neutrality that its ‘seductive’ power arises. But the possibility now emerges for the first time that words might not mean what they appear to mean, that something is being withheld. Why is the serpent asking for this information?

2.5 The initial response of woman is in the first person. She refutes the error in the serpent’s question by translating the divine permission into a first person statement describing what she and man may do. Here she speaks as one altogether subject to the divine words having internalized them so that she can speak them in the first person. But this statement does not answer the question of the serpent which asks for the words of God not the words of woman. She must thus cite the prohibition, and consequently make both God and his words into objects of reference of a third person statement. Woman here enters a new mode of subjectivity. To speak in the third person suppresses reference to the first person of the speaker, and thereby separates the speaking self from the words spoken (Benvéniste, 1966: 255, 265). She assumes the position of a non-person behind the third person statement, “God said.” Further God and his word now necessarily become the object of woman’s speech and consequently of her judgment. She must distinguish between the true and false word of God on the basis of the principle of identity.

2.51 Woman does not cite the prohibition exactly as it is given in 2:17. She uses what appears to be circumlocution for “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” referring to it as the “tree which is in the midst of the garden.” She also intensifies the prohibition by adding, “neither shall you touch it.”

2.6 Having now been manipulated into the position of a subject detached from the divine words and a judge of their material content, woman is now prepared to receive the fully developed alternative interpretation of the prohibition that originates totally outside of the primary relation.

2.61 The serpent’s statement begins with a flat contradiction of the threat of death. Since this was the final element of the prohibition and the place where the illocutionary force of the prohibition materially pressed upon the subjects, it had to be contradicted at the outset. If violation will not bring death, then it becomes a possibility worth considering.

2.62 But verbally contradicting the threat of death is not sufficient in itself to persuade woman to transgress. She is then merely faced with two contradictory illocutionary utterances with no way of determining which of them has the most force. It is to this issue then that the serpent turns in his next statement.

2.7 Since the force of performative statements depends upon a transparent unity between the inner disposition of the speaker and his words, the most effective way to undermine that force is to point to a discrepancy between the words and inner thoughts which will make the words appear to be an attempt to manipulate the addressee through deception. The serpent thus now provides a third person interpretation of that hidden center of the divine subject to which man has not had access. He makes the realm of the divine first person, i.e. what God thinks to himself, the object of a third person statement.

2.71 What God “knows” which he has not told man is that eating of the forbidden tree will make man “like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 6). The prohibition thus is made to appear not in the interest of humans, but only of the deity. This deceptive discrepancy between what “God knows” and what he says is designed to dissolve the illocutionary force of the prohibition.

2.8 But why should woman accept the word of the serpent as more powerful than the word of God? Here the virtue of the third person form exhibits itself. The serpent belongs to the sphere of nature which is outside of the horizon of the prohibition—the sphere of the “it.” If there is a hidden interior to the serpent, it cannot be penetrated. Woman is left therefore with the sheer verbal force of a plausible third person argument. A certain illocutionary force thus stems from third person statements simply because the third person so thoroughly blocks access to the subjective position of the speaker that it is impossible to point to any incongruity between the inner disposition and outer words which might throw the significance of those words into question. In a direct confrontation of this sort, a third person assertion which takes the hidden dimension of the subject of a performative statement as its object is inevitably more powerful since it does not leave itself open to the same kind of attack. Its own subjectivity is hermetically sealed. There was thus a certain inevitability to woman’s fatal decision.

2.9 It is the content of the argument of the serpent that provides a necessary positive basis for the decision of transgression. Transgression will lead to God-likeness, i.e. knowing good and evil. Here we find the new “objective” form of human subjectivity presented which will replace relational inter-subjectivity based on the permission/prohibition. This objective mode is not something given in direct discourse, i.e. in relation, but something attained in individual action through which the personage becomes the object reference of a predicated subject. He thus would exchange an outwardly limited existence in subjective relation, for an outwardly unlimited existence in splendid solitude of the objective self. The limit that was imposed upon his exterior movement would be exchanged for an interior barrier separating his now hidden subjective self (his primary “I”) from the self attributed to him as a result of his deeds. He would now consciously exist only in his deeds, and acquire unlimited knowledge through experience. The first of these actions, the transgression, would cause him to acquire the attribute, “knowing good and evil.”

2.91 The objective self which founds its identity on likeness to other objective selves thus transcends all sense of subjective differentiating limits. It determines all limits (i.e. good and evil) and is no longer subject to limits. Any inescapable objective limits or differences such as e.g. sexual attributes would then become a source of acute shame.

2.92 The serpent does not directly give woman a mandate to transgress, but contradicts the threat of punishment, and provides the verbal basis for woman herself to make her own transgressive decision. Here the narrator enters to provide a third person account of what went on inside the mind of woman in response to the serpent’s words. In contrast to his depiction in the first person of the private thoughts of God about man in 2:18, here woman is presented as thinking entirely in third person terms about the serpent’s proposition, and arrives at a decision on the basis of impersonal deductive reasoning. Now that her eyes are “open” she can view the tree more objectively, i.e. see it for what it is apart from the prohibition. The attributes of the tree are then named in inverse order of importance beginning with the material value of its fruit as food, ascending to its aesthetic, physical appearance to the eyes, and climaxing with its chief symbolic quality: “it is to be desired to make one wise.”

2.93 Here the narrator portrays her as thinking not in the more forthright first person, “I desire it to make me wise,” but in the third person which blunts and deflects the egocentrism of the first person statement. (The hiphil form of שכל here makes possible the elision of the pronominal reference, meaning literally, to cause wisdom or to make [one] wise.) This indicates the inner division that has now entered her thinking. And more significantly, the inadmissible desire for Godlikeness is carefully concealed behind the admissible desire for “wisdom” thereby setting up a division in her consciousness between what she can articulate to herself as her desires and what she cannot. The serpent says, “You will be like God,” but she thinks, it is “to be desired to make one wise.” But here the desire for wisdom is radiant with ambiguity since it cloaks the inadmissible thought: “I desire to be like God.”

2.94 The decision which follows appears perfectly logical, but it reflects a shift in the mode of subjective existence. Now individual desire has become the force behind woman’s action rather than the illocutionary power of the word of Yahweh/Elohim. Further there is a division in her own consciousness between admissible and inadmissible desires that is the precondition for shame. Formerly she was a subject which existed fundamentally in and through a relation of discourse to another subject, but now she enters an objective mode of subjectivity in which she exists in terms of censured attributes that she predicates of herself as the outworking of desire. Thus a complex, divided self emerges. She is now presented by the narrator as thinking of herself in the impersonal terms of the third person. Her speaking self becomes the hidden non-person behind third person speech enabling her to elude thinking of her primary relational identity formed by the prohibition, and the consequences of violation to that identity. In this way the narrator can present her as choosing the new identity without rejecting the old. She becomes a transgressor but not a villain since her inner division will give rise to shame when her action becomes known by those with whom she is bound in primary relation.

3.0 The Two Worlds of Discourse Interact on the Human Axis Through Action and Reaction

This outwardly silent process is complete when the narrator laconically describes how woman provided her “husband” with some of the fruit and how he took it (without question) and ate it. Here woman and man finally are portrayed interacting with one another for the first time. Woman has not yet been portrayed as speaking to Adam, nor Adam as speaking directly to woman. Yet both engage in an action of absolutely crucial significance in complete silence. The wife does not offer persuasion nor does Adam seek her reasons. Silence at such a critical point cannot be without significance in a narrative that habitually places such importance upon dialogue and direct discourse. Adam’s silence here indicates that he tacitly recognizes and accepts woman’s private reasons for her action; by thus accepting woman’s right to hide a portion of herself from him, he also reserves the right to conceal his reasons for accepting the fruit. He thereby enters with his wife into a state of inner division. The act is laden with meanings which cannot be expressed because they contradict the terms of consciousness of man and woman which were based on the prohibition.

3.1 Next the effect of this action upon the consciousness of the personages is described. Actions whose meaning cannot be articulated by the actors exercise an effect on consciousness which must be expressed then by the narrator in the third person. This takes the form of a new experience of sight. As woman saw the tree differently once she was detached from the consciousness shaped by the prohibition, so now they see each other in a new light. But what they “see” is the other party as different. The inner narcissistic desire for God-likeness which cannot be expressed or even admitted into consciousness, constitutes a sense of difference. To experience difference in a world driven by a narcissistic desire for likeness makes difference a source of shame, and requires that this difference be hidden. This shame over inner division comes then to be attached to sexual differences—that which differentiates them outwardly. A symbolic division of the body into revealed and concealed areas thus corresponds to the inner division between that which can and cannot be thought (or said). Inner concealment spontaneously gives rise to outer concealment.

4.0 The Two Worlds Interact on the Divine-Human Axis Through Dialogue

The narrative has now produced two alienated realms of relationship and only the narrator has access to both. Things have happened which are hidden from Yahweh/Elohim. When the human subject transgresses, that transgression must be hidden from the divine subject. The line of open direct discourse is thus broken and God can no longer speak directly in an unmediated way to Adam as in 2:16, 17. God and the humans then become external objects to each other. This is a critical problem for the narrative because the divine had only a voice in the narrative and no position. When the direct communication between the human and God is broken, then God is in principle excluded from the narrative. Since that cannot be premitted, God must act to restore direct communication, i.e. he needs to acquire position in the narrative for the first time. The appearance of God now as he comes to “walk” in the Garden corresponds formally to the speech of the serpent, i.e. the serpent transgresses the barrier of language which normally confines him to the linguistic status of a third person referent, and enters direct discourse. God, who normally exists literarily only in direct discourse, correspondingly crosses the barrier of space and enters the objective mode of existence of his creatures.

4.1 God thus, by entering space, becomes now the object of a third person descriptive statement. But the mode of his appearance is made as illusive and ambiguous as the statement which attributes to the serpent the quality which justifies its transgressive speech. God appears only as a sound of footsteps heard by man and woman. Man thus still is related only to God through sound rather than sight. The word קול here can mean voice as well as sound and is thus illusively ambiguous with regard to its objective referent. Further ambiguity is seen in the phrase which Gunkel (1964: 18, 19) suggests refers to the wind in the early hours of the morning before the break of day. The encounter would then be shrouded in darkness, and awareness of the dual meanings of רוּח as either wind or spirit is heightened. Man and woman respond to this sound by hiding. But the voice is inescapable, asking first of all the disarmingly simple question, “Where are you?”

4.2 Adam does not answer, “Here I am,” as is customarily done in response to a call, but rather begins by recounting why he is hiding. He thus avoids disclosing where he is, leaving it unclear that he came out of hiding for this conversation. If this is the case then a reason might be provided for God’s provision of clothing in 3:21, i.e. to enable Adam and Eve finally to come out of hiding to enter God’s presence. This would correspond to the practice reflected in the command to Moses to provide clothing for the priests who were to enter the presence of God in the temple, “to cover their naked flesh” (Ex. 28:42).

4.3 But by verbally articulating his consciousness of being naked, he ironically discloses what he really is seeking to hide, i.e. that his consciousness has been changed so that he now perceives the world as divided between what can be disclosed and what must be concealed.

4.4 The direct question of God in response, “Who told you that you were naked?” points to this change in consciousness, and explicitly brings to the surface of speech the question of the cause of this change. Since the naked body was not something to be hidden from the creator of that body, there was only one possible source of the desire to hide, i.e. an alienated state of consciousness; and this could only have been caused by a transgressive act which had to be concealed. Thus follows immediately then the question, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (v. 11).

4.5 The logic of this narrative sequence is thus governed by the need to portray the process throught which human consciousness is changed from one of relational existence in the mode of totally open intersubjective trust (seen in obedience) based on an illocutionary utterance, to one of alienated existence in the mode of internal division and inter-subjective concealment (shame). This leads then to a form of existence based on the principle of division between the naked vs the clothed; or, in the visual, spatial realm, between the revealed vs concealed; and in the verbal realm between truth vs deception. From this point on, the words uttered in direct discourse by man and woman perform the function of further concealment and protection rather than direct reference. They acquire an indefinable aura of deception.

4.6 Man concedes his guilt, but only after defensively implicating both God and woman in the crime: “The woman that thou gavest to be with me, she gave me the fruit …” (v. 12). The first words uttered are defensive shields behind which man can hide. After taking refuge behind these words, he concedes, “I ate.” The thrust of the interrogation is thereby deflected to woman but at the price of alienating himself from her. Woman then responds to the divine question, “What is this that you have done?” by similarly taking refuge behind a third person descriptive statement which deflects the investigation to the serpent before she concedes, “I ate.” The source of evil has now been transferred back to the animal world, but at the price of the alienation of woman from her source of “wisdom.” The serpent who has no “I” cannot speak again and disclose the meaning of his “beguiling” words. The secret of the origin of evil is thus concealed, leaving its true origin shrouded in ambiguity. The emphasis falls then upon the state of alienation which has now crept into the relationship of all the characters.

4.61 The “I” of man is first spoken in weakness, solitude and guilt; “I heard … I was afraid … I was naked … I hid … I ate.” The “I” of woman is also first uttered in the admission of guilt to the divine judge rather than in a declaration of love to Adam.

4.62 The words spoken by man and woman which so quickly shattered the primal unity are metonymic displacements for that which cannot be spoken or even thought, i.e. the desire to be like God, and in fact to displace God as the unlimited source of good and evil. The words which create outer alienation reflect the deep inner division which has occurred in human consciousness. Now the words of man and woman have acquired a profound ambivalence. Their meaning can no longer be simply derived from their denotative content.

5.00 The Restoration of the Primacy of Divine Speech

This inner division and alienation is now extended by the divine curses into the outer structure of human life: snake vs woman; woman vs her own reproductive functions and her husband; man vs work. Finally it is extended into the topography when God sends them out of the garden and forbids them to reenter. The outer limits which man sought to transgress in order to make himself the source of good and evil are now reimposed in such a way that he cannot transgress them again. The narrator has provided, as a justification for this final exclusion and enforced prohibition, a comment made in the divine world that concedes that the serpent was right in asserting that the transgression would make man like God. Because he now shares the divine mode of consciousness, though inhabiting a limited material body, he must not be permitted to live forever by eating of the other symbolic (magical?) tree in the garden, the tree of life (3:22), and thereby also share the eternal mode of divine being. He thus must be driven from the garden and excluded from it forever.

5.1 The effect of the curses in direct discourse, and the statement in the divine world also in direct discourse, is to reassert the primacy of the illocutionary mode as the basis of human subjectivity. Now however, the limits which were originally experienced in the inter-subjective relation of direct discourse are interjected by the divine voice into the material reality of human existence. Man will experience the limits of his subjective existence not in the dignity of a divine word to him, but in the humiliating struggle with hostile animals, unequal social structures, the recalcitrance of nature, death, and the final elusiveness of utopia. Within the confines of these objective limits, he will have an unlimited mode of knowledge, but this he will experience as a source of perpetual alienation from himself, from God and from his brother.

5.2 The narrative has thus achieved a type of closure in that the characters appear to be fixed in their limited roles and condition. But the absence of heroes, and the thorough-going ambivalence stemming from inner division that characterizes each personage preserves a dimension of openness that will finally make possible the recasting of the narrative upon different foundations beginning with ch. 12. The curse which determines human fate, as an illocutionary act of the divine voice, assumes the primacy of a heterogeneous dimension from which new and different words may come to reopen, and regenerate the vitality of the narrative and its personages.

Felix Culpa and Foenix Culprit

Comments of “Direct and Third Person Discourse in the Narrative of the Fall” by Hugh C. White

John Dominic Crossan

DePaul University

1. Summary of Direct Discourse in Gen 2–3

The direct discourse and I-You phenomena in Gen 2–3 can be summarized as follows:

I-You and Direct Discourse in Gen 2–3




First Person

Second Person

Third Person

















































































































2. Analysis of Direct Discourse in Gen 2–3

2.0 There is one very significant feature of I-You discourse which Hugh White does not mention. When I speak within my own consciousness I can say to myself: “I think that You are wrong.” But if I wish to answer back and contradict myself, I can only do so by saying: “I think that You are not wrong.” That is: there can be no mutual and reciprocal I-You spoken within the same consciousness. For reciprocity and exchange of I-You identities there must be different consciousness and that means there must be differentiation.

When Gen 2–3 is read within this awareness, the careful control over the distribution of I-You reciprocity among the four personae (God, Man, Woman, Serpent) becomes very important.

2.1    God-as-We

God alone is above that rule just mentioned. In 3:22 God talks to God beyond singular or plural, beyond I or You: “Behold, the man has become like one of us …”

2.2    God-as-I

The Divine I is spoken to everyone as its concomitant You but with very definite emphasis: to the Male You four times (2:16–17, 3:9, 11, 17–19); to the Female You twice (3:13a, 16); to the Serpent once (3:14–15).

2.3    God-as-You

The Divine You is spoken to God only by Man, and that twice (3:10, 12).

2.4    Man-as-I

The Male I is spoken only to God, and twice (3:10, 12). The Male I is never addressed to the Female You. Note especially 2:23.

2.5    Man-as-You

The Male You is spoken only by God, and on three separate occasions (2:16–17, 3:9–11, 17–19). But note especially that it is not spoken in 2:18.

2.6    Woman-as-I

The Female I is addressed only to God, once (3:16). To the serpent the Woman speaks only within the Human We not with the Female I.

2.7    Woman-as-You

The Female You is spoken only by God, twice (3:13a, 16). The Serpent addresses the Woman only within the Human Ye (3:1b, 4).

2.8    Serpent-as-I

The Serpent I is never spoken to anyone and it is thus the exact opposite of the Divine I spoken to everyone.

2.9    Serpent-as-You

The Serpent You is spoken only by God (3:14–15). No Serpent You is ever uttered in the conversation with the Woman.

3. Interpretation of the Direct Discourse in Gen 2–3

3.1    God and Serpent

The omnipresence of the Divine I and the complete absence of the Serpent I bespeak a common consciousness (#2.0). Thus, God can speak in I-You discourse to the Serpent but the Serpent cannot respond. Note, also, that the divine questioning leads to a Male I (3:10), a Female I (3:13), but then stops lest a questioning of the Serpent might lead to a Serpent I to God after 3:13.

God is “beyond” differentiation since the Divine I speaks to itself within a Divine We in 3:22. But the Serpent is also “beyond” differentiation since it is at once animal, being numbered among them in 3:1a, and human, being able to speak in 3:1b, and divine, being correct about what is in God’s mind as a comparison of 3:5 with 3:22 will indicate. It should also be noted that the Serpent no more lies in 3:4 than did God in 2:17 since both play on the difference between immediate and eventual death.

It is only from absolute undifferentiation that one can “derive” differentiation.

3.2    Divinity and Humanity

Divinity has both eternal life and differential knowledge (wisdom). Humanity can have one or the other but not both (3:22–23). It can have one tree or the other but not both (2:16–17). Divinity gave Humanity eternal life without differential knowledge, that is, the tree of life was in the center of the garden (2:9). Humanity chose the alternative option, that is, the tree of knowledge becomes the center of the garden (3:3).

“Good and evil” does not mean immorality in general or sexual immorality in particular. “Knowledge of good and evil” is simply “knowledge of all things” (morality and sex included, of course) but summarized as a disjunctive totality, that is, differentiated knowledge. It is the equivalent, say, of “knowledge of right and left.” This is clear from Gen 2–3 because: (1) sex is openly celebrated in 2:24–25; (2) the Woman correctly paraphrases, in effect, the tree of knowledge of good and evil as the tree of wisdom in 3:6; and (3) above all, God also has such knowledge in 3:22.

The narrative can only indicate Humanity’s lack of differential knowledge by: (1) having the Man name the animals as if they were there before language just needing labels (2:19–20); (2) having sexual differentiation be unashamed (2:25). But as soon as differential knowledge arrives to Humanity there will be shame and covering. Humanity will cover itself and then say Divinity did it (3:8, 21), but not in direct discourse. Most of human history will seek to cover and deny this shameful fact that: In the beginning was the signifier, and the signifier was with the signified, and the signifier was the signified. Which if not shameful, is at least embarrassing.

3.3    Man and Woman

There is not yet adequate differentiation for any reciprocal I-You between Man and Woman. Thus: (1) 2:23 still traps Woman too much within the Male my; (2) 3:1–4 still traps Man and Woman within a common or undifferentiated Ye; (3) 3:6b allows no possibility of Man’s refusing or even discussing Woman’s offer of the forbidden fruit; (4) 3:8 and 3:9–12 reduce the differentiation of Man and Woman to Man. But the process of differentiation has begun and will expand thereafter.

3.4    Author and Story

Thus, I do not read Gen 2–3 as being about the origins of alienation as does Hugh White. But I see it as being about the origins of differentiation and especially about the basic one between divinity and humanity. But where alienation (sin?) seems a pejorative or avoidable phenomenon, differentiation is not only beyond alienation and non-alienation but also beyond good and evil since without it we could not make these or any other distinctions. Also, the origins of differentiation, and so of language and of writing, could only be expressed in a story riddled with ambiguity and paradox. The author is in strict collusion with the Serpent since, without it, there would be not only no story for writing but no writing for story.

3.5    Life or Knowledge

The story of Gen 2–3 is not a simple story of how Humanity disobeyed God and was punished, as told with appropriate moral disapproval by its author. It is much more a story of how God offered Humanity either life without pain or differential knowledge (wisdom) but with pain, and how Humanity was seduced by God’s Serpent to accept the latter and forego the former. This means that Gen 2–3 is, in both senses of the word, the first plot. Reverting, then, to my title, whether we accept Augustine’s “Felix Culpa” or Joyce’s “Feonix Culprit” the reading is the same. Gen 2–3 is the successful completion of a plot whereby Humanity is seduced into self-conscious differentiation. Had the sentence of 3:22–23 not been uttered, no other sentences would ever have been heard.

The Structure of Narrative Rhetoric in Genesis 2–3

Thomas E. Boomershine

United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio


The structure of Biblical narratives may be clarified by combining the methods of structuralist narrative analysis with the methods for the analysis of narrative rhetoric which have been developed in English and American criticism of fiction. The most comprehensive treatment of narrative rhetoric, Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, is assumed as a methodological background for this study. This essay will explore three aspects of Genesis 2–3: 1) the structure of the major rhetorical appeals in the narrative; 2) the narrative structure with particular attention to the shifts in the actantial function of the characters; 3) a sketch of the semantic structure underlying the narrative. The purpose will be to determine whether the combination of this approach to rhetorical criticism with a structuralist methodology may shed light on the structure and over-all meaning effect of the Yahwist’s creation narrative.

0. Rhetorical criticism in Biblical studies has developed in a variety of ways since Muilenburg’s original proposal (1969:1–18) but the concern with the techniques of poetic and narrative composition has remained constant (as in Jackson and Kessler, 1974). The proposal here is that the adaptation of the methods for the analysis of the rhetoric of narrative which have been developed in the study of fiction may also be useful in the study of the rhetoric of Biblical narrative. My methodological interests have centered on the exploration of this possibility.

1.0 A brief analysis of a particular story event will provide an introduction to some of the basic categories of rhetorical analysis and to the character of the structure of narrative rhetoric. One evening before bedtime, I read the story of The Three Little Pigs to my three-year old son. As you recall, the three little pigs go off to seek their fortune. The first two little pigs build houses of straw and sticks and the big bad wolf comes and blows them down. Two major appeals by the narrator are present in these episodes: to identify sympathetically with the two little pigs and to be alienated from the wolf. These appeals are based on typical narrative techniques for the control of distance in characterization (Booth:243–70) such as the establishment of sympathy and alienation in the norms of judgment that are inherent in the characters’ names: the big bad wolf and the three little pigs. At this point in the story my son was silently but appropriately responding negatively to the wolf’s hostile actions.

The third little pig builds a house of bricks. When the wolf threatens him, the narrator shifts his point of view and reports the little pig’s development of a plan in an inside view (Booth:163–69; 245–58). The little pig torments the wolf into coming down the chimney and the wolf is cooked in a boiling pot. The climactic reversal in the plot is celebrated by the three little pigs singing a song and doing a dance. The narrator’s invitation is to share their joy at the wolf’s defeat. But, at that point, something went wrong. My three-year old looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Was the wolf really dead?” For some reason, he had sympathetically identified with the wolf in his death. And, as a result, the story’s overall effect for him was sorrow rather than joy.

1.1 This experience made me aware of a structure of a narrative rhetoric. As with water pumps and spark plugs, one way of learning that a structure of narrative rhetoric has been operating is when it does not work. The narrator’s appeals had a simple structure. He asked for increasing sympathy with the good characters and for alienation from the bad one. The appeal at the end was for joy at the little pigs’ victory. The intended effect was a combination of relief and assurance. The fact that the structure did not work as intended only means that a narrator’s rhetoric is in fact a series of appeals or invitations which can either be accepted or rejected by the audience.

1.2 Four basic factors of narrative technique which shape the rhetoric of the narrative are among those which can be identified in this story: a) variations in the narrative point of view; b) norms of judgement (criteria of right and wrong as implied basis of the narrator’s attitudes towards characters and actions); c) dynamics of distance in the characterizations (the degree of sympathy or alienation, involvement or detachment between narrator, audience and characters of the story); d) the plot (including establishment and reversal of expectations).

1.3 The possibility which this essay seeks to explore is that an investigation of narrative rhetoric will reveal the structure of relational dynamics in the narrative. The delineation of that structure may in turn shed light on another aspect of the deep structures which shaped the formation of this narrative.

2.0 The Rhetorical Structure of Gen. 2–3

The rhetorical analysis will follow the narrative’s surface structure. The narrative will be analyzed in five sections: the creation of man and the garden (2:4b–17), the creation of woman (2:18–25), the transgression (3:1–7), God’s discovery of the transgression (3:8–13), and the punishment and expulsion (3:14–25).

2.11 Gen. 2:4b–17 The description of the earth and the watering of the earth is a scenic narration which moves to a detailed close up description of the man’s creation, all from the perspective of an observer. The analogy of a panorama scene in a movie which moves to a close up is appropriate. Yahweh is the only active character. His characterization is positive. The creation of the man is a narrative appeal for appreciation of Yahweh’s kindness in the giving of his breath, the breath of life, to the man.

2.12 The primary dynamic in the creation of the garden occurs in relation to Yahweh. The moving of the man from the desert to the garden and its trees is a further gracious action. The effect of the images is similar to finding an oasis in the middle of the desert. The narration of this good gift further heightens the narrator’s invitation to approve of Yahweh and his actions.

2.13 The description of the rivers is an extended narrative comment in which the narrator interrupts his description of the action and directly addresses his audience. His comment explains the connection between the garden and the rivers which are assumed to be familiar to his audience. Von Rad’s comment (:80) is germane: “Here we find what we missed above (see at v. 8): a connection between the earth and the garden on the one hand and the historical world of man on the other.” Though God is in the background, he is still the primary character. The narrator’s appeal is to recognize that God was the source of the water and, therefore, of the fertility of the land.

2.14 The parallelism in 2:15 to the initial creation of the garden (2:8) recalls the positive associations of the man’s being moved from the desert to the garden. The prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the first potentially alienating element in the characterization of Yahweh. The prohibition and the threat of death on the same day are reported objectively without narrative comment.

2.21 Gen. 2:18–25 The search for a helpmate is introduced in the narrative’s first inside view. Inside views generally reduce distance to the character because they present the character’s point of view on the action. This insight into the mind of Yahweh, as he identifies the man’s central problem and searches for a solution, is an unusually powerful inside view. Its effect is to set the prohibition of the tree in a sympathetic context. Yahweh’s delegation to the man of the power to name the animals is the first development of the man’s characterization. It is also positive and invites a degree of identification with the man.

2.22 The description of the creation of the woman is an intimate and detailed narrative close up. The parallelism with the earlier description of God bringing the animals to the man (2:19) heightens the delight of God bringing the woman. The man’s first words are also the narrative’s first poetry. His poem of ecstasy expresses his response to the woman. The norms of judgment in relation to the woman are overwhelmingly positive. She is a totally attractive character. She is worthy of adoration and unambiguous approval. Her arrival in the narrative is the culmination of the search. Thus, the narrator’s petitions for approval and identification with all three characters reach a high point in this episode.

2.23 At the end of this section (2:24–25), the narrator once again interrupts the action to comment on the story to his audience. And, as with the comment about the rivers, these comments directly connect his audience’s experience with the events of the narrative. The first comment relates the story of his audience’s experience of the culmination of marriage in sexual union. It is an invitation either to anticipate or to remember the honeymoon. The comment is also the narrator’s implicit expression of his approval of God’s gift of sexual union. Regardless of whether or not the narrative comment describes the physical union of the man and the woman, its effect is to evoke thoughts of becoming “one flesh.” The second comment ends with an inside view of the couple’s feelings about being naked. An implicit request in this comment is to note the difference between feelings about nakedness then and now. This is one of the implicit contrasts between life before and after the expulsion from the garden (or, perhaps more accurately in terms of the underlying structure, another instance of the tension between “outside” and “inside” the garden; cf. Jobling’s above essay).

2.24 The narrator’s invitation is to share with him the delight of remembering the primordial bliss of the garden.

2.31 Gen. 3:1–7 The narrator continues his commentary to the audience in his introduction to the serpent. He warns his audience to beware of the serpent. The norm of judgment, ‘ārûm, is somewhat playful because of its verbal connection with ‘arûmîm in the previous sentence. It is, however, the first note of narrative disapproval in relation to any character. The comment thereby asks for a degree of suspicion in relation to the serpent. The woman’s distortion of Yahweh’s prohibition also enlists a slight degree of distance. But this is only a slight modification of the complete identification with the woman which was established at the end of the previous section.

2.32 The serpent’s response once again picks up the key word from the woman’s statements and changes it. He directly contradicts both the woman and Yahweh. He accuses Yahweh of an empty death threat and an unworthy motive for the prohibition. With this confrontation, the narrative’s central conflict is joined.

2.33 The description of the transgression is almost totally an inside view. The narrator’s description of the woman’s perceptions of the tree and the couple’s realization of their nakedness is the most intensive treatment of the internal perceptions and feelings of the characters in the entire narrative. The function of this shift in narrative point of view is to give the audience an experience of the actions of the episode from the perspective of the man and the woman. The inside view tends to reduce the distance to the characters.

2.34 The implicit norms of judgment, on the other hand, are wholly negative. The eating of the fruit is associated with the prohibition of the fruit by Yahweh. The negative judgment which is thereby solicited tends to create condemnation and increased distance. Therefore, the dynamics of distance in relation to the man and the woman pull in contradictory directions.

2.35 In the phrase “her man with her” (le’îšāh ‘immāh) which reverses the earlier term, “his wife” (‘išttô), the characterization of the man has negative connotations for the first time. The norm of judgment implicit in this phrase is that no man should become subject to his wife. The implicit request is to disapprove of the man and to disassociate from him to some degree. And, of course, the major appeal for disapproval is in relation to his eating the fruit of the tree.

2.36 The reversal of expectations in relation to the knowledge gained from eating the fruit is also reported in an inside view: “they knew they were naked.” Their eyes were indeed opened but they knew only that they were naked. This major reversal of expectations is also created by the antithesis between this inside view and the climactic inside view, “they were not ashamed” (yitbbōšāšû), at the end of the second section (2:25).

2.37 These inside views are a major factor in the rhetorical dynamics of the episode. They engage the audience with the characters and their internal perceptions during the narration of actions that are unambiguously wrong and that would create a high degree of alienation if reported from a purely objective point of view. The inside views induce the audience to maintain a close identification with the man and the woman during this critical turning point in the narrative.

2.41 Gen. 3:8–13 Yahweh’s reentry into the narrative is reported from the point of view of the man and the woman: they hear Yahweh walking the garden. The possibility that the audience might share the fear of Yahweh implicit in their hiding from him is balanced by the extremely anthropomorphic and “down to earth” portrayal of Yahweh. The narrator’s description encourages his audience to remember their earlier positive associations with the character. This relational dynamic is in tension with the fear of him implicit in the couple’s hiding from him. Thus, the dynamics of distance in relation to Yahweh are also in tension.

2.42 The synonymous parallelism between the two reports of the couple hearing Yahweh (3:8, 10) sets the interrogation in the context of their fear of him. The possibility of immediate death is evoked by Yahweh’s question in regard to his earlier command (2:17). The dynamics of distance implicit in the narrative’s rhetoric reach their highest level of contradiction in this section.

2.43 The confessions are signs of the rupture in the previous quality of the relationships between the male and the female. The irony of their confessions is created by the disjuncture between their efforts to blame others for their actions and the implicit assumption by the narrator that they are fully responsible. The man’s effort to blame Yahweh and his wife for his action is a continuation of the same pattern of weakness that was present in his implicit acceptance of subordination to his wife. The woman’s explanation of her offense is equally ironic because of the audience’s memory of her meditation on the tree and her consequent decision to eat its fruit.

2.51 Gen. 3:14–25 The curses are rhetorically simple. The implicit norms are that Yahweh’s judgments are just. The high degree of identification with the woman tends to create an equally high degree of sympathy with her sentence.

2.52 The reversal of expectations in the curse of the man is that Yahweh condemns him only to death in the future rather than on the same day (2:17). The comparison between the curse of the woman and the curse of the man conveys an implicit invitation to recognize that the man was the one who was finally responsible for the transgression. An almost inevitable result of the curses is an increase in alienation in relation to Yahweh. While just and even compassionate, Yahweh’s judgments are associated with pain and death for the audience.

2.53 The two sentences after the curses interrupt the flow of the action and have the effect of narrative comments. These comments sound two notes of reconciliation and are an implicit appeal for the reduction of tensions. The man’s giving the woman a second name evokes the memory of the first name which was given at the climax of the search for a helpmate. It is an affirmative action which, in the context of the man’s earlier accusation of the woman, reestablishes a positive relationship between them. Thus, the function of the naming is to solicit a higher degree of sympathetic relationship in relation to both the man and the woman. Yahweh’s clothing of the couple is related to the motif of their shame. The gesture creates an atmosphere of reconciliation between Yahweh and the couple and thereby an increased degree of positive response to Yahweh.

2.54 Yahweh’s description of the situation after the transgression, while apparently addressed to other gods, is similar in its narrative function to his statement to himself about the man’s loneliness. As a result, it has the effect of an inside view. The tone of the statement is grief and loss. The narrator’s implicit manner makes it likely that the rest of the section was also told in the same mood. Yahweh’s replacement of the man with the cherubim to guard the garden (2:18) is the final note of grief. This implicit insight into Yahweh’s feelings about the expulsion from the garden has the same appeal as the inside view following the prohibition of the fruit. The narrator invites his audience to be reconciled with Yahweh.

2.6 A summary of the narrative’s rhetorical structure is now possible. In the creation of the man (2:4b–17), strong appeals for positive relationship with Yahweh are established. These appeals are heightened along with an invitation to identify sympathetically with the man and the woman in the creation of the woman (2:18–25). The violation of the interdiction (3:1–7) created major tension in the distance relationships because of strongly negative norms of judgment but a high degree of identification with the man and the woman is maintained by the extensive inside views. Extreme tension in relation to Yahweh as well as the man and the woman is invoked in the discovery of the transgression (3:8–13). The enforcement of the curses and the expulsion from the garden (3:14–24) is associated with narrative appeals for reconciliation with the man and the woman and with Yahweh. Thus, the dynamics of the narrative’s rhetoric move from appeals for a high degree of sympathetic identification through high levels of tension to an appeal for the reestablishment of positive relationship in an atmosphere of loss.

3.0 The Narrative Structure

3.01 My interest in structuralism has grown out of acquaintance with two strands of structuralist study. The first is the work of Greimas and his disciples, most notably, for us in America, Daniel Patte. In its adaptation and development of Propp’s pioneering work, Greimas’ methodology awakens the hope of a comprehensive framework within which the forms of Biblical literature could be studied as an integral rather than instrumental element in the meaning-effect of the particular works (see Beardslee: 4ff.). This connection is not coincidental since, as Scholes has noted (77–79), major elements of the concerns that have motivated the development of methods for the analysis of narrative technique, such as the difficulties surrounding point of view, were also primary concerns of the Russian formalists. As I have studied the work of Greimas, Calloud, and Patte and used their methods, there has been a growing realization that the often confusing language and diagrams of structuralism may be helpful in clarifying the underlying connections between the forms and techniques of the various stages of Biblical narrative.

3.02 The second strand of my interest has grown out of the anthropological research of Claude Lévi-Strauss and, in Biblical research, the work of Robert Culley on oral tradition (1976). Their investigations of oral literature and the exposure of the underlying structures of widely divergent stories has raised the possibility that there are also aspects of rhetorical structure in oral literature.

3.03 This analysis will identify some aspects of the narrative structure as defined by Greimas and used in Biblical criticism by Calloud (1976) and Patte (1976). It will focus on the actantial functions of the characters.

3.11 Gen. 2:4b–17 The extended description of the earth at the beginning of the narrative is a classic description of a situation of lack (Propp: 35,92). Since the man is absent during this description, the implied receiver is mankind or the people. This relationship between Yahweh and the people as sender and receiver is reinforced in the description of the rivers which directly relates the narrative to the present experience of the Yahwist’s audience. Thus, the man is the means or subject by which Yahweh gives life to the people:


3.12 The narrative function of the prohibition of the tree is to mandate a condition which is implicitly accepted by the man. The tree is thereby associated with evil. Because of the actantial framework which has been established, this contract is, by implication, mandated to and accepted by the people. The issue is what shall and shall not be eaten. The punishment for violation of the contract is clearly stated. With the interdiction, the first correlated sequence of the narrative is completed. A social order has been established between Yahweh, the garden with its waters and trees, the man, and the people.

3.21 Gen. 2:18–25 The new section begins with the definition of another lack, a helpmate. The narrative function of this section is the establishment of a search. The goal of the search is to move from the disjunction of the man’s loneliness to conjunction with a helpmate. Actantial analysis reveals a further aspect of the positive characterization of the man. In naming the animals and the woman, the man becomes a sender of names to them on the axis of communication:


This momentary assumption of the actantial role which Yahweh occupies in the main program of the narrative is a sign of the growth of the stature of the man which takes place in this section.

The over-all program of this section is the successful culmination of the search for a helpmate. The actantial model is a classic instance of the introduction of a helper:


The actantial model also makes clear the structure of communication in the narrator’s comments at the end of this section (2:24–25). With the use of diachronic methods, the narrative is ambiguous about the culmination of sexual relationship between the man and the woman. A synchronic investigation shows, however, that the over-all effect of the comment is precisely to describe the joining of man and woman in one flesh. The narrator’s comment reports Yahweh’s gift to the people of sexual joy without shame. The narrator’s implicit claim is, therefore, that Yahweh is also the giver of sexual relationship. This is important data for the semantic analysis.

3.31 Gen. 3:1–7 The serpent is introduced with a warning and is immediately cast in the role of opponent. The narrative function of this section is a test which occurs on the axis of power. The serpent establishes a counter program: eat the fruit and become like gods. In his implicit recommendation of this program as well as in his interpretation of Yahweh’s motive for the prohibition, the serpent becomes a sender in relation to the woman. He, in effect places himself in the role of sender in his claim to know the meaning of Yahweh’s command:


The history of religions research on the symbol of the serpent in the ancient Near East (see Coppens: 92–134; also Joines) has established that one of the primary connotations of the serpent was as a phallic symbol in the fertility cult. The actantial analysis reveals, therefore, that the serpent is a male symbol who takes the role of a god in relation to the woman.

3.32 The serpent’s counter program is accepted by the woman. As the rhetorical analysis has revealed, the narrator maintains a high degree of identification with the woman during this action by the use of inside views. In the woman’s giving of the fruit to the man, another major shift in actantial roles occurs. The woman becomes the sender of the fruit to the man. She takes the same role in relation to the man as the serpent took in relation to her:


Thus, the casual structure which leads to the eating of the fruit is in both instances the substitution of a male/female symbol in place of Yahweh as sender. The serpent’s counter program is, therefore, associated with a reversal of the actantial roles.

3.33 Actantial analysis may throw additional light on the persistent problem of the significance of the knowledge of good and evil in the narrative. Bailey (144–147) has given an excellent summary of the major options which have emerged from critical work on this problem. The two major options and the scholars who have argued for them are: 1) the eating of the fruit symbolized knowledge that was primarily or exclusively sexual in character thus being associated with sexual initiation (Coppens, McKenzie, Gunkel, Boehmer, Gordis and others); 2) the fruit was associated with inclusive knowledge meaning “everything possible” (Humbert, Eissfeldt, Gordon, Cassuto, von Rad, Renckens, and Buchanan).

3.331 Most scholars agree that the phrase, “the knowledge of good and evil,” as well as the figure of the serpent had at least some major connections with wisdom. And I find the linguistic arguments of the advocates of the inclusive knowledge option persuasive. However, against this position’s exclusion of a primary sexual connotation, the eating of the fruit is shown by actantial analysis to be associated with the acceptance of male/female symbols in the place of Yahweh. The worship of gods and goddesses whose primary function was sexual was the basic pattern of ancient Near Eastern religion. In this context, therefore, the tree in the Genesis account would have been associated with sexuality and with sexual roles. It is probable, therefore, that there was a sexual element to the meaning of the “knowledge of good and evil.”

3.332 But, in contrast to the sexual interpretation of the knowledge of good and evil, there is no association between sex as such and sin in the narrative. Sexual symbolism and the evocation of sexual life is established immediately after the creation of the woman as the culmination of the description of primordial bliss. Nor does the eating of the fruit associate sexual initiation with the fall. The possibility emerges that the connection between wisdom and sexuality is, therefore, the connection between desire for inclusive knowledge in order to be like the gods and the transformation of male/female roles as creations of Yahweh into the roles of gods and goddesses. Thus, in the light of a structuralist analysis, that most desired possibility is present that both may be right.

3.34 The climax of the section is a further reversal in which the realization of nakedness results in shame. The immediate association of the violation of the contract, therefore, is a disruption of the sexual relationship between the man and the woman. This is a major reversal of expectations in the narrative. An operating assumption of the audience is thereby challenged. The structural analysis reveals the possibility that the introduction of shame in the couple’s sexual relationship is the reversal of an implicit assumption by the Yahwist’s audience that the eating of the fruit would improve the couple’s sexual relationship. Crossan’s diagrammatic model for representing the reversal of audience expectations (1975:72, 76 y) both clarifies the surface reversal as well as uncovering the implicit expectations that lies beneath the surface:


Thus, the audience expects the eating of the fruit will lead to a better sexual relationship between the man and the woman but, in the story, the opposite happens. As the diagram reveals, the implied reverse correlation is that not eating the fruit and being obedient to Yahweh is associated with sexual shame. But, in the story, the man and the woman lose Yahweh’s original gift of sex without shame by their violation of the interdiction.

3.4 Gen. 3:8–13 With Yahweh’s reentry into the narrative, the program for the rest of the narrative is his counter-counterprogram (cf. (Jobling, 1977: 185–6). The narrative function of this section is to describe Yahweh’s search for the man and then for information about the disjunction in relationship that has taken place. This once again involves a shift in actantial relationship in which Yahweh is the subject of a search. The interrogation of the man and the woman is a direct confrontation which leads to their confessions.

3.51 Gen. 3:14–24 The curses reestablish the actantial relationship that existed before the violation of the mandate. In effect, the results of the violation in the rupture of the relationships are incorporated into the punishments. The reversal of roles between the serpent and the woman is countered by the serpent being cast into the role of perpetual opponent. The woman’s reversal of roles in relation to the man is changed by the imposition of the helper role upon her. The man’s acceptance of the woman’s reversal of roles is transformed into his being made subject to the earth. The major reversal of expectations is that the man’s punishment is eventual rather than immediate death. The curses end, therefore, with a limitation of the punishment (Jobling, 1977:179, 183 a similar motif in the limitation of Miriam’s punishment in Numbers 12).

3.52 The naming of the woman and the clothing of the couple are set in the context of the disruptions in the couple’s sexual relationship after the eating of the fruit. The woman’s sexual role is honored by the new name which she is given. (The evidence cited by Isaac Kikawada in his comparison of the naming of Mami in the Atra-hasis epic with the naming of Eve is worthy of note. In both stories the women are given three element names in the context of the birth of mankind at the same position in the narrative’s development. But, as Kikawada notes (35), “whereas the great lady in Atra-hasis who receives the honorific name is the creatress, the honored lady in the Bible is the created, the first woman.” The analysis here suggests that the tension of the process of demythologization may be visible in Gen. 2–3.) The woman’s new name is also an affirmation of her status as a woman rather than as a goddess. The clothing of the couple by Yahweh takes away the shame of nakedness and gives them a measure of dignity. It also reestablishes Yahweh in the role of the sender of good gifts to the people. Thus, in the context of the restoration of positive relationship with Yahweh, the implied correlation between obedience to Yahweh and sex with dignity is confirmed. Thus, although there have been major losses for the man and the woman, the expulsion from the garden takes place in the context of the restoration of the previous framework of actantial roles.

4.0 The Semantic Structure

A comprehensive analysis of the semantic structure is beyond the scope of this essay but a sketch of the major outlines which can be identified in the rhetorical and narrative analyses may clarify some aspects of the semantic world which shaped this narrative. Jobling’s more extensive discussions of the Yahwist’s codes (1977: 189–99; above 2.1 to 2.5) are an essential foundation for this analysis.

Alimentary code. The narrative’s one law is a dietary law about what is and is not to be eaten and, therefore, about the opposition of pure and impure foods. The law is associated with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree is the only forbidden tree prior to the ending. This establishes an antinomy between this tree and all other trees. The tree is associated with knowledge of all things and the desire to be like the gods. There are also associations of the knowledge of good and evil with sexuality (2 Sam. 19:36). As the analysis of the narrative structure has shown, an assumed correlation between the eating of the fruit and sexual ecstasy may be operative in the narrative. The consequences of eating the fruit are sexual shame in the man/ woman relationship and fear in relation to Yahweh because of the threat of immediate death.

The code of the animals. The opposition between all of the animals and the serpent is related to the actantial roles. The other animals are subject to the man’s authority. The serpent, in contrast to the other animals, becomes a competitive male figure in relation to the woman. He takes the role of Yahweh as sender in relation to the woman. The oppositions in the narrative, therefore, assume a primary association of the serpent with the fertility cult in which the serpent was an animistic god and a phallic symbol. The serpent is also associated with the recommendation of the fruit of the tree and thereby with the promise of wisdom and eternal life in becoming like the gods (Joines: 9). The opposition between the serpent as a competitive deity and Yahweh is decisively resolved in the curse of the serpent as the lowest and most hated of the animals. The semantic code of the animals, therefore, is an antinomy between animal worship and the worship of Yahweh.

The sexual code. The basic opposition in the sexual code is related to the antithetical programs of Yahweh and the serpent. The antinomy is between the male/female as creations of God and as a competitive god/goddess. Thus, the eating of the fruit is associated with the possibility of the man and the woman becoming like gods. The realization of this possibility functionally takes place in the narrative by the acceptance of male/female symbols in the actantial role of sender. Yahweh’s acknowledgement that the man and the woman have become “like one of us, knowing good and evil” (3:22) is another instance of this antinomy.

4.32 The opposition is also correlated with underlying assumptions about the relationship between the competitive programs and the quality of sexual relationship. In Yahweh’s program, sexuality is first associated with primordial innocence and absence of shame and then later with the granting of sexual honor and dignity. The underlying code of which this is a reversal is an association between Yahwism and sexual repressiveness and shame. Likewise, the results of the serpent’s program, shame and pain, are a reversal of an assumed association between the fertility cult and freedom from sexual repressiveness and shame. Thus, the narrative’s sexual associations move from primitive innocence in Yahweh’s program through shame and pain in the serpent’s program to honor and dignity in the restoration of Yahweh’s program.

Life and death. Life is associated with the creation of the man in the desert by the breath of Yahweh, the garden, and water. The most consistent association is between life and a right relationship with Yahweh. Death is connected with eating the fruit of the tree and thereby with the program of the serpent and the fertility cult. As a result of the transgression, the man’s access to the possibility of eternal life is cut off. Thus, exclusion from the possibility of eternal life is also associated with the violation of God’s interdiction. Yahweh’s reduction of the punishment from immediate death to eventual death is also a further granting of life in spite of the implied contract. Thus, while removing the possibility of eternal life, Yahweh grants the continuation of life.

4.5 The conclusion to which this analysis leads is, therefore, that the underlying semantic code has been definitively shaped by the antinomies between Yahwism and the Caananite fertility cult. The correlations are not precise and areas of major ambiguity remain. Nevertheless, the summary which follows may indicate some aspects of the basic semantic field:



Fertility cult

Alimentary code

Prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

Animal code

Acceptance of the serpent as an animal and as a creation of Yahweh

Acceptance of the serpent as a male god symbol in place of Yahweh

Sexual code

Woman as helpmate

Woman as female goddess in place of Yahweh


Sex with honor and dignity

Sex with shame and mutual recrimination


Promise of continuing life

Threat of immediate death

Conclusions. A synthesis of the three analyses can now be attempted. This proposal about the structure of narrative rhetoric and the over-all meaning effect of Gen. 2–3 is advanced as both a possible framework for interpretation and as a hypothesis for future synchronic investigations of the structure of other Biblical narratives.

5.1 The appeals for identification with Yahweh in the first two sections of the narrative (2:4b–25) are directly related to the identification of Yahweh’s gifts of life, water, and sexual partnership and to the establishment of the original social contract. The test by the opponent and the transgression of the interdiction (3:1–7) are associated with a transformation in actantial roles in which the serpent as opponent and then the woman as helper take the role of Yahweh as sender. This tension is heightened by Yahweh’s discovery of the transgression (3:8–13). The punishment and expulsion (3:14–24) is associated with the restoration of the original framework of relationship. The appeals for reconciliation with Yahweh and with the man and the woman are, therefore, set in the context of an appeal for reconciliation with the original structure of actantial roles. Thus, the rhetorical dynamics of sympathetic identification, tension, and reconciliation are associated with the establishment, reversal, and reestablishment of a basic pattern of relationship between Yahweh and the people. The story has, therefore, the basic structure of covenant establishment, rupture, and removal.

5.2 The over-all effect of this narrative structure is an appeal to the audience for repentance in relation to the symbolic area of action indicated by the interdiction.

5.3 Taking a very different route, Jermoe Walsh (177) has arrived at a similar conclusion about the over-all effect of Gen. 2–3:

Narratively, the story deals with origins; but on a deeper level, every hearer identifies with this “man and his woman” not filially but personally. The sin depicted is not simply the first sin, it is all human sin; it is my sin. And I who hear the tale am forced to acknowledge that my sin too has cosmic dimensions; my sin too is an attack on creation and an establishment of moral chaos.

5.4 The appeal is for repentance in relation to eating the fruit of the tree which is, in turn, associated with some form of participation in the fertility cult. The structure focuses on repentance in relation to the tendency to transform either male or female symbols into a god or goddess and thereby to change the basic structure of relationship with Yahweh.

5.5 A further aspect of the meaning-effect implicit in this structure is an appeal for reconciliation and covenant renewal with Yahweh in relation to the areas of possible alienation resulting from the punishments which are presently experienced by the audience. In this narrative the appeal is for reconciliation with Yahweh in relation to the experiences of hard labor, pain and humiliation in sexual relationship, and the inevitability of death. An appeal for reconciliation implicit in the narrative structure is also directed toward the covenant renewal of the relationship between man and woman in which honor and dignity in their sexual relationship is given and received.

5.6 A concluding hypothesis is that some form of this narrative structure was an underlying framework of narrative thought within the religion of Israel. If this structure did exist in the deep structure of Israel’s religious experience, one would predict that some form of this structure will also be found in other Biblical narratives.

Response to Boomershine: Structure and Narration. An Enunciative View

Gary Phillips

College of the Holy Cross


0.1 This response focuses upon T. Boomershine’s “Structure and Narrative Rhetoric in Genesis 2–3”. Our purpose is to show that Boomershine’s wedding of traditional rhetorical analysis and narrative structural analysis calls for grounding upon a structural linguistic model of text as a “macro-sign.” It is claimed that rhetorical analysis and narrative structural analysis proceed on different levels of the text-sign and that we can clarify the narrator’s functions at each level with a model of text enunciation (text as a product and process of enunciation). An enunciative description distinguishes rhetorical analysis from narrative structural analysis so that a synthesis of the two is made possible.

Questions of Epistemology and Methodology

1.1 Boomershine’s intention of clarifying the structures of biblical narrative by combining the methods of narrative structural analysis with rhetorical analysis raises a number of epistemological issues. With respect to the first, these two types of analysis as distinct yet complementary methods illumine different aspects of the phenomen text; they pursue different objects of knowledge. The fit between or synthesis of knowledge objects suggest a congruence of methodological presuppositions, goals and methods. Such a congruence is provided by an encompassing model of text as both a communicative (or enunciative) process and product: namely, text as a sign enunciated. As a text-centered method, rhetorical analysis describes the narrative devices used by the narrator to produce and give unity to the text; narrative structural analysis describes the composition of the text as a meaning-effect based upon a linguistic model that accounts for the different levels of constraints (of both expression and content) of the whole text and the narrator’s role in communicating the text-as-message.

1.2 Following Hjelmslev, text may be defined as a “macro-sign”: cf. figure no.1. The text-sign is made up of two planes: the levels of form of expression and substance of the expression and of form of the content and substance of the content. Both planes are isomorphic yet distinct and the knowledge objects associated with each level are distinct. The study of the form of the expression focuses upon the text’s surface literary patterns (or genre); study of the substance of the expression addresses the utterance; study of the form of the content addresses the text’s narrative structure; study of the substance of the expression addresses the semantic universe or complex of semantic features presupposed by the text’s sender and audience.

Figure No. 1


1.3 The proposed complementarity of rhetorical analysis and narrative structural analysis arises from their specific focus upon different yet interrelated levels of the text-as-sign. Rhetorical analysis focuses mainly upon literary patterns (form of the expression) as they relate to the semantic features constituting the text’s semantic universe (substance of the content); importantly, the directional flow methodologically is from expression to content, from signifier to signified. By contrast, narrative structural analysis focuses mainly upon the structures of the text’s signified plane particularly as they are manifest in the expression. The directional flow is from content to expression, from signified to signifier.

1.4 By grounding Boomershine’s proposed synthesis of methods upon a model of text as macro-sign, we are on the way towards an archeology of knowledge (in Foucault’s sense) of biblical research methods. And by establishing the knowledge objects of the text generated by each method within the framework of a structural model, we can see how the fruits of each method are complementary within a more encompassing system. Far from being reductionistic, a structural linguistic model of text-as-sign guarantees the distinctiveness and legitimacy of traditional and non-traditional models in their quests for different objects of textual knowledge.

Enunciation and the Role of Narrator in Rhetorical Analysis and Narrative Structural Analysis

2.1 From a structural linguistic perspective the meaning of a text is an effect (effet de sens). Meaning is the product of a structuring process; it is the creative interface of the sign’s several levels of forms and substances. This structuration we may call the communicative or enunciative process: the production and exchange of signs. Texts-as-signs are thus social objects circulating between sender (enunciator) and receiver (enunciatee). This production of textual meaning is thus dialogic (Volosûinov); it is a discoursive event (Ricoeur).

2.2 The enunciative circuit is made up of enunciator, text-as-sign (message) and enunciatee. The enunciator is text-producer, the presupposed “I” of the text, and occupies a dominant role vis-à-vis the enunciatee, the implicit “you.” The enunciator and the enunciatee are implicated at all levels of text structure.

2.3 The enunciator holds a pivotal position in the structure and structuring of the text. At the level of expression the enunciator assumes the role of organizer of the utterances and manifests a “narrative point of view” (or perspective). On the level of content the enunciator functions as the authority and source for the semantic universe, i.e. the semantic world of the text. In the first instance the enunciator is equivalent to the traditional “narrator”; in the second the “implied author” (W. Iser).

2.4 When we apply this distinction to Boomershine’s analysis we can clarify the “narrator’s” functions in Genesis 2–3 at different levels of the text. We find that the function of the enunciator on the signifier level is the concern of rhetorical analysis while the role of the enunciator at the level of the signified is the concern of narrative structural analysis.

2.5 Benvéniste and Jakobson have shown that the enunciative structure is manifested in a variety of ways: the pronominal system, verbal tense forms, deictics, organization and patterning of utterances, modalization of message content and the like. When we pay close attention to markers of enunciative presence/absence we can distinguish two different enunciative functions within the text: at the level of the form of expression narrational enunciation organizes and gives continuity to the narrative flow of events (e.g., providing narrative voice, plot structure, perspective); at the level of the form of the content discoursive enunciation relates to and manipulates the enunciatee (text-receiver). In the first instance the process of enunciation structures the surface logic of the text and guarantees its coherence; in the second it structures the global communication between text-sender and text-receiver.

Narrational Enunciation in Genesis 2–3 (The Rhetorical Focus)

3.0 Boomershine’s rhetorical analysis yields a five-part segmentation of the text. At the juncture between segments we locate enunciative markers which, we suggest, explain and substantiate this division. In 2:4 the marker is manifested as the interface of two types of narration; one where the enunciator-as-narrator is overtly present (Benvéniste’s “discours”) and the other where the enunciator-as-narrator is overtly absent (“histoire”). V. 2:4a displays a deictic and anaphorical connection with 1:2ff. Vv. 2:4–18 manifest few deictic or temporal markers, including personal pronouns. In 2:18 the וִ plus introduction to direct discourse marks a shift in narrative flow to discourse (énonciation énoncé). Here the enunciator-as-narrator becomes a separate narrative character: the “I” is both Lord and narrator of Gen 2–3. In 3:1 we have an important contrast with 2:24. The interpretative אל, which has a discoursive enunciative function as well, signals an evaluation by the enunciator-as-narrator within the story. In 3:8 וִ signals another shift in narrative action followed by a discoursive reference (I-you). Finally, at 3:14 an extended discourse in the second person begins. When taken together with other surface features (chiastic patterns, poetic structures), the presence/absence of enunciative markers provides important clues at first approximation to text organization, segmentation and, finally, interpretation.

Discoursive Enunciation in Genesis 2–3 (The Narrative Structural Focus)

4.1 Enunciative markers functioning at the level of the form of the content signal the manipulation of the text-receiver by the text-sender. Enunciative markers provide clues to the text’s overall semantic structure or, in van Dijk’s terms, “macro-structure.” Boomershine refers to these elements of the global structure when speaking of the narrator’s appeal or invitation to the reader, which is either accepted or rejected. However an adequate clarification of the narrator’s function is lacking. We must grasp a global macro-structure before the sense of the subordinate features and their signification can be fully assessed.

4.2 Discoursive enunciation is present at two key places: 2:24 and 3:23. In 2:24 אל signals the enunciator as being “outside” the narrative flow of events, “looking down” from above. This interpretative distance marks a modalization of the narrative with respect to what should or ought to happen (“devoir”) and what is true, false, secret or a lie (“véridiction”). These semantic values rest at a second order or meta-narrative level where the shared semantic values of text-sender and text-receiver are to be found.

4.3 The manipulation of first order semantic values (the “coded” narrative events as articulated by the enunciator-narrator) plays upon the creation of a subject-reader with respect to his willingness and/or competence to know and/or do in relation to the text. The discoursive enunciator modalizes the content of his message and effects a manipulated enunciatee. The meaning-effect is the one of creating a discoursive enunciatee who is not only cognizant of the meaning of the narrative as a whole but is persuaded to the goodness, truth, necessity, etc. of the narrative actions. Here we locate the “performative” power of the text to transform and so create the reader.

5.0 In conclusion, T. Boomershine’s rhetorical analysis and segmentation and his perceptive narrative-semantic analysis can be strengthened (1) with the use of a structural linguistic model of the text and a proper locating of methodological interests and (2) by an examination of the narrator’s activities in terms of different modes of enunciative presence. As a preliminary critique this response calls for greater attention to the enunciative or communicative structures as a means for grounding the synthesis of methods advocated by Boomershine and for explaining various narrative properties of biblical texts.

Structure and Narrative Rhetoric in Genesis 2–3: Reflections on the Problem of Non-Convergent Structuralist Exegetical Methodologies

Brian Watson Kovacs

Centenary College of Louisiana

0. The papers in this issue of Semeia represent a variety of different ways in which one may attempt to convert systematic Structuralism into a critical and exegetically-relevant method. I shall focus my attention on three of these efforts: the papers by Robert Culley, David Jobling and Thomas Boomershine. I will suggest in addition that other ways may be inferred from how these papers deal with the problem of “structure.”

0.01 While the pure structuralist wishes to banish meaning from consideration at the “grammatical” stage of analysis, one has the feeling that meaning has—hermeneutically—intruded itself upon these efforts. This issue, and the resultant apparent conflict with the program of structuralism, raise questions about the nature and goals of the structuralist enterprise in actual application. Do structuralists have a realizable program? What may we expect from the actual conduct of a structuralist analytic? Is “exegetically-relevant” exegetically relevant here?

0.1 From many structuralist claims, one would expect one and only one analysis to result from a structuralist analytic. Certainly, we have been aware of the diverse character of “structuralist” studies undertaken in biblical fields. Heretofore, we could forgive at least the more extreme with the observation that they know not what they do.

0.11 More realistically, we should probably expect structuralist analyses to converge somehow, rather than to agree. That is, as the method is refined and as intrinsic diachronicity is stripped away, especially the (socio-cultural) diachronicity of the exegete, analyses of the same narrative material should begin to show convergence with one another. Since we are still at an early stage in the development and, more particularly, in the dissemination of structuralism, its methodology and methods, perhaps we should expect the initial convergences to be comparatively low.

0.12 In the project at hand, our goal is identification of the underlying grammar of the narrative material. Synchronic exegesis is culture free and time-invariant; only so can it ground the necessary intersubjectivity of communication. The synchronic grammar is the sine qua non of communication per se. Thus, it is prior to any hermeneutic and ultimately beyond doubt, or apodictic.

0.121 Freed from post-hermeneutic diachronicity and from the superficial and variant meaning structures of the text, the synchronic deep structure emerges. In other words, two things must be stripped away. First, the analyst must free him or herself from the milieu—social, cultural and psychological—within which the study takes place: the student’s or exegete’s own diachronicity. Second, the structure of the text must be set free of its meaning overlay, a superstructure that conceals the synchronic substructure within the text itself. The grammatically objective and extra-temporal structure must be separated from and set interpretively prior to the subjective, temporal meaning of the text.

0.122 Here, we approach the Aristotelean distinction between form and content, which some structuralists, like Derrida, embrace with considerable enthusiasm. We see this tendency in two ways. First many structuralist analyses represent the narrative structure of the text in terms of quasi-mathematical formulism, which suggests that meaning derives from formulaic substitution within a pure formal structure. These formulae become ever more arcane and complex. Second, other theorists, often influenced by folkloristic studies, look for a denumerable set of basic narrative structures. Given an exhaustive list, derived in purely formal ways rather than from textual analysis except as a device of heuristic convenience, one can fit any given narrative within one of the forms found there. The text becomes an instance of pure form in either case, but as narrative, apart from its past and present subjective diachronicity within the communication event as such.

0.2 The emphasis on the synchronic character of structuralist analysis, however, obscures the question whether such pure formalism results and must result in only one analytic once the methodology has been properly converted into method. Thus, a claim for convergence methodologically is not the same thing as the claim for convergence of a method. Level is not meta-level. Claims made at one level of analysis are not automatically valid at another—and may even serve to obscure the fact that the claim cannot or should not be made at all.

0.21 The fact that there may be some grammar, structure or apodicticity which underlies and grounds a narrative text does not entail that such grammar or structure may be unambiguously identified and re-presented in another text—purely formally and free of intruding diachronicity. Any communication about structure must occur in a text of re-presentation. In fact, even the awareness itself amounts to an implicit re-presenting text. The student of a text must present his or her findings in another text which has a grammar—synchronicity—of its own and a temporality—diachronicity—of its own.

0.211 If the result is to communicate meaning, as in an exegetical interpretive analytic, rather than simply present pure form utterly free of any context, which is probably impossible even conceptually, then it is doubtful whether a pure synchronic structuralist analytic is possible. Meaning will intrude into every text, if only in the context of the representation of its form. Reports of structuralist analytics are not and probably cannot be purely synchronic and structural as such. While the structure is pre-hermeneutic, the report of the structure is not.

0.22 This consideration opens up the possibility that either structuralist analytics may not readily converge or that there may be more than one valid and methodologically sound structuralist analysis of a given narrative. If so, the diversity of reports before us may not necessarily be as disquieting as at first it may seem.

0.3 Further, we face the question where the pure structure itself actually should be located—a quasi if not purely ontological question. While the existentially or neo-pragmatically oriented structuralist may reject this issue out of hand as a pseudo-question, to the more traditional and Aristotelean structuralist it is not idle. If the pure structure is located in the narrative text itself, then structuralist methodology ought to be linguistic and grammatical (e.g., Culley). Locating the structure in the text itself also most strongly invites, but does not require, convergence. Second, one may locate the pure structure somewhere within the consciousness of the communicator, in his or her status as a consciousness (Jobling). This approach is Phenomenological. Third, one may locate pure structure within the heritable order of human consciousnesses as human (psychostructure: Boomershine). This approach can be psychostructural or archetypal, perhaps even psychoanalytic. Content/meaning also most conspicuously intrudes here. I miss among these papers, but can readily imagine, a fourth view: socio-structural. The pure structure is located within the socially communicated learning of which language is a constituent. The form of the analytic might resemble Alfred Schutz’ Phenomenology of the Social World and Structures of the Life-World. A distinct fifth analytic also might be possible, along the lines of Jean Piaget’s work.

0.31 These ontological questions are inextricably bound up with the problem of structuralist epistemology. Eventually, we must deal with the way in which structuralist reports may be said to have and convey meaning. Again, it is not clear that adherence to one or another structuralist point of view entails adherence also to a particular theory of meaning. Many structuralists talk as if one may take a denotative or referent theory of meaning for granted. Yet, simple reference theories make the present non-convergence of structuralist analytics rather poignant. It is epistemologically incomprehensible. Convergence implies some kind of approximation theory of meaning. Functional, operational, and isomorphic theories of meaning would also work.

1.0 Culley’s narrative-grammatical approach locates the Genesis account within the folkloristic tradition of narrative study. The text is a composite of conjoined and subjoined narrative units in standard forms. By implication, the structure is the composite sum of the basic narrative-formal building blocks of which it is composed.

1.1 Culley’s paper raises the question of the relationship of actantial units to over-all narrative structure. If a narrative is comprised of a series of formally equivalent actantial units con- and subjoined to one another, is structure the simple sum of the individual units? What happens when two actantial units succeed one another? What happens when one is “interwoven” within the other?

1.11 In trying to express this problem, I find the mathematical model intruding itself repeatedly into my thoughts. If the basic actantial unit is the basic mathematical variable, how are the variables to be joined together to produce an equation. Simple addition? That option seems naive. Moreover, it threatens to run afoul of precisely the objection that Güttgemanns raised against form criticism in an earlier Semeia volume (volume 6, 1976), that the sub- and conjoining of formal units violates the structural integrity of the text from the viewpoint of narrative-structural analysis. Stories do not come into being diachronically by appending unit to unit. If we cannot string beads on a chain diachronically, why may we synchronically? The danger is atomization of the text. We thus threaten the text’s prima facie meaning structure which structural investigation is supposed to ground, not disintegrate. In other words, can the text be synchronically disintegrated into actantial units, or is some other analytic also necessary to preserve the integration of the text. Mathematically, if the operation is not addition (multiplication being equivalent), then what operation joins the units? (Not all mathematical operations have the same properties, e.g. commutativity, associativity, identity, and so on.) Is there synchronic narrative integration of actantial units? if so, how, and how would that affect the narrative analytic?

1.12 Second, it is clear from the three papers that this text acquires meaning, formally (!), by a process of multivocality. The structure of the text is such that it may be taken to have a variety of different meanings, each quite distinct from the others. In fact, meaning inversion seems characteristic of this particular text. Not only are things not what they seem, one can usually infer that they are the opposite from what they seem. Opposition is a basic actantial structural feature, as inversion. This text is replete with inversion. The actantial structure of this text is the basis of a confusing array of meanings whose ultimate interrelationships may be undecidable (deliberately). The text is open—a characteristic of folk speech. How do we represent the pure structure of the text which is designed not to close a text by grounding it as a communication but which opens the text and ungrounds the supervening meaning structure. Conjunction-subjunction is compatible with either kind of text, and yet the difference between a closed text and an open one is drastic. It is precisely the structure which creates the difference! How do we identify and represent this pure structural function?

1.13 I am somewhat uncomfortable with the location “wrong/wrong punished” in representing units of actantial structure here. “Wrong” as a term does not adequately represent the prohibition feature of such sequences. The narrative creates a universe of meaning. One grounding structure of that particular universe is a prohibition, known to and perhaps only to the reader. The actor violates that feature of the reality and must necessarily experience the consequence of such violation. It is a little like violating the law of gravity: it hardly matters whether you have been informed of it; it is a feature of the universe. Ignorance of the law.… Violation of such a prohibition is not punished strictly speaking; the consequence requires no overt human agency. One thinks of the much bruited “synthetic view of life” or the “Tat-Ergehen-Zusammenhang.” The use of an agent to bring about the consequence does not make agency necessary. The reality is so ordered that it could not happen otherwise—the agent could not have but acted so. Agency is a narrative embellishment. Further, the act is not in any way moral or ethical: what is violated is an order of reality not an order of a person. Again, confusingly, even though an agent stipulates the order, the order is that of reality’s structure, not the intentional expression of an agent—a feature of such actantial units.

2.0 Jobling’s analysis seems to have been influenced by the Promethean themes of the narrative: he emphasizes the lack-liquidated basis of the text, rather than prohibition or wrong-punished. His approach seems Phenomenological to the extent that he turns to space as the basic arena of opposition and inversion. He seems to be building from the spatial and temporal structures of human consciousness reflected in the narrative, which could suggest other kinds of oppositions and inversions that one might look for within the text.

2.01 Such an analysis at least suggests the possibility that grounding the structures of the text within the apodictic orders of individual consciousness results in the actantial units of the text becoming projects of consciousness. Their pro-jected spatial-temporality then would be the mode through which other orders of consciousness would also make their appearance. In other words, the actantial units and apparent isotopies of the text represent objective (narrative) pro-jects of the subjective, in its apodictic ordering. To the objective structure would correspond a subjective structure.

2.02 Further, the inversions of the text, the reversals of valence appearing in its actantial structure, would correspond with the dialectic. The inversions represent Aufhebungen, which constitute an inherent dimension to the projection of subjectivity into the objective domain.

2.1 Jobling concentrates on the inside/outside distinction. Most of the story’s oppositions are represented spatially. Yahweh stands over against the world; the Garden against the rest of the world; the Two Trees over against the rest of the trees, and each other as well; generic man over against the beasts; male against female; snake against Yahweh; and so on. Yahweh seems to be the creative source of this dialectic. Ultimately he is the source of his own Aufhebung, since dialectical oppositions must result in integrative resolutions, seen Phenomenologically. To Yahweh belongs the special power to create dialectic polarities. Yet, they are distinctively and peculiarly resolved in human consciousness, not divine—itself dialectic and Aufhebung!

2.11 Oppositions are inherently unstable. To wax existential, out of the ground of pure existence, Yahweh creates unqualified being. Sartrean: Being-in-itself arises out of the nihilation of primordial nothingness. Such a creation is stable, even with the potential intrusion of the outside realm in the form of the Two Trees. Yet, Yahweh puts man into this world, as for-itself, as it were. Man can nihilate simple existence in reflectivity. Man has the potential to bring the outside inside because he is not simple being, but reflective being in its active prereflective state. The Trees are the means whereby man comes to full self-reflectivity, nihilating the opposition represented by the Garden. Man is destroyer (Siva more than Prometheus) in that reflectivity once won cannot be undone. Here, the story presents man’s coming into being as a consciousness, which is transcendent and transcending like Yahweh’s but at the same time an over-throwing of Yahweh’s, therefore an Aufhebung. In this sense, the actantial structure revealed by the dialectic of inside-outside would be:

unified primordial state → (objective → subjective dialectic) → Aufhebung into reintegrated reflectivity

2.111 Inside-outside can be seen as a projection of the spatiality of consciousness. In this case, the development of consciousness as subjectivity is narratively projected. The objective narrative actantial structures are grounded in the actantial dialectic of consciousness. Here, the subjective structure is more important to the story than the objective.

2.112 Time is implicit as a nisus. Once the process of emergence of reflectivity has begun, it cannot be reversed or halted. The situation created by Yahweh must lead to the emergence of self-reflective humankind. While man forever loses the simple being without qualification of the Garden, s/he gains self-reflectivity: knowledge-of. It is a fall from innocence into self-reflective knowledge—of good and evil. Loss is gain and gain is loss: all valences reverse. Man looks wistfully at a then which cannot be now.

2.113 In this light, the now-ness offered by the Tree of Life is a contradiction. To come into self-reflective being, one must be aware of death. Life is gained only at the cost of death, which is an inversion and an Aufhebung. To eat of that Tree would contradict the awareness which is essential to man’s new state. Life would then become death, another inversion. Man must be expelled to live in-the-world appropriate to his or her new state. S/he has brought the world outside the Garden into it and must be sent out to restore a semblance of balance: the outside must be banished from the inside. Yet, Yahweh himself brought the outside inside and set up this inevitable conflict. Inside equals cognitive; outside equals reflective.

2.114 Other opposition/inversion dialectics might be found in the spatial representations of up-down, mine-not-mine, here-there.

2.2 What is apparent from Jobling’s analysis is the inversion of valences. Things are not what they seem. The actantial structure lends itself to semantic openness, not closure. It is a grammar of openness. How do such grammars differ from grammars of closure? What signals the difference?

3.0 Boomershine’s study charts the multiple valences of the narrative, largely as a series of codes. His interpretation of these codes draws heavily on psychostructural categories. The semantic significance of the story is structured sexually, bridging many of the valences. Boomershine invites us to look for multiple valences through the presence of isomorphisms. The structure of the text is isomorphic with other things, not necessarily narratives or accounts as such, whose semantic value is appropriated to the text through the syntactic or structural isomorphism. Such isomorphisms include the conflict between Yahweh and the fertility cult within the history of Israel to that time. Another isomorphism is the archetypal relationship between man and woman.

3.01 Implicitly, Boomershine proposes a theory of meaning—or meta-theory of meaning—based on isomorphism, cf. Carnap. I would propose that the task of structuralism is to re-present the grammar of the text’s polyvalent isomorphism. Like its isomorphism, the monovalence or polyvalence of the text—its openness or closure—is a structural, grammatological, feature of the text: synchronic, not diachronic.

3.1 Boomershine’s introduction of four elements of narrative technique also points up several areas within which reversals of valence are apparent: point of view, norms of judgment and distance. The apparent point of view, omniscient observer, conflicts with the sentiments and identification of the audience. The story functions in a different way because the audience does not accept the apparent perspective and identifies with a position, as the narrator would expect, that inverts many of the story’s superficial valences. The norms of judgment differ from those stated in the narrative: good and bad invert with abandon. The story overtly invites one distance relationship and covertly invites quite another. One is invited to identify with Yahweh, valuing from that position, yet one forms an alliance with man and woman—though more man—and values from their position.

4.0 These three studies present different approaches to structuralist methodology applied as exegesis. The absence of a high degree of convergence coincides with a difference in the location of structural grounding. The openness of meaning in the text depends upon reversals that are part of the narrative structure; yet, some reversals are open while others are closed. We still look for converging methodologies that cope with the text’s polyvalent isomorphism.

Synchronic Texts and Diachronic Critics

Clarence H. Snelling, Jr.

The Iliff School of Theology


This methodological essay does not respond to the structuralist methods used by the several writers of the preceding studies. Rather, the other “half” of the semiotic circle is examined. That is, several structuralist methods of analysis and description are presented which, together, offer an understanding of the interpreter across the developmental cycle. It is suggested that appropriate hermeneutical effort requires that the structuralist critic apply several (in this study four paradigms are presented) structural methods of interpretation to the self as well as applying one or more structural methods of interpretation to the text. The paradigms described include Piaget’s model of the development of logical reasoning, the Kohlberg/Wilcox description of the development of social perspective, Perry’s description of the movement of students from multiplicity to relativity and from external authority to internal commitment, and Fowler’s model of faith development.

0. The studies of Genesis 2:4b–3:24 presented in this issue provide useful illustrations of several of the structuralist methods available to the exegete. Linguistic and grammatical analysis is provided in the essays by Culley and White. Literary narrative analysis—semantic (Jobling), literary narrative analysis—rhetorical (Boomershine), and literary narrative analysis—symbolic (Parker and Patte) provide contrasting and complementary studies. To these might have been added other examinations of “deep structures” such as psychoanalytic or psychosocial. Comparative structuralist studies could have presented this text with similar texts from other cultures or religious traditions. Or categories might have been appropriated from transformational grammar or from the sociology of knowledge for still other types of structuralist studies.

0.1 However, there is another “half” to the semiotic circle. These methods only explore structures within the text side of the circle. The interpreter side of the circle also stands in need of analysis by means of structuralist methods. Four such paradigms are available to the exegete which have not been appropriated in published critical work on biblical texts. These paradigms are provided by a group of structural-developmentalists, building on the research of Jean Piaget.

0.2 Even as the hermeneutic circle leads the interpreter into an understanding of the text which in turn provides an understanding of the self, so structuralist exegesis would appear to provide its own semiotic circle in which the study of the sign (or narrative) ultimately provides an understanding of the self. The four paradigms presented below may provide stronger clues as to the nature of these circles of understanding. To a degree, they might come to be seen as “circles of the mind.”

1. Piaget has provided the most complete research into the study of mental operations ever attempted. His model includes painfully detailed accounts of the development of schema, the dialectic of assimilation and accomodation, the function of cognitive conflict, the effectiveness of and severe limitation on stimulation, the sequential nature of such genetically based yet socially excited operations, normative age/stage ranges in children, and a general theory of the development of logical reasoning. Replication has been carried out in some fifty-five cultures using larger and more randomized samples, thus suggesting generalizability. The model describes four stages: Sensory-motor (infancy), Pre-Operational (pre-school years), Concrete Operations (grade school to adult years), and Formal Operations (puberty to adult years).

1.1 The Sensory-motor and Pre-operational stages would seem to be experienced prior to exegetical interests. However, the stage of Concrete operations may be found in adults, indeed has been found to a very slight extent in our own studies of theological students. The ability to do specific problem solving is present. Concrete reasoning persons are even able to use sophisticated methods if sequentially presented. They are able to rank, order, categorize, define, identify, follow rules, follow recipes, imitate and reproduce memorized material. However, the ability to project, hypothesize, theorize, create new solutions, invent procedures, or to think about thinking is not present. These later mental acts are properties of abstract reasoning and only appear as one enters the period of Formal operations. Most interpreters of texts are adults or youth who may be expected to reason in formal modes, with varying degrees of ability. However, the individual who lacks this mode of reasoning through normal age/stage maturation or because of some developmental lack will be unable to use the concepts of deep structure, the theological content of most texts, the self-consciousness of the critic, or a number of the linguistic tools available to the structuralist interpreter. At best, the concrete reasoning person will be able to follow the rules laid out by another structuralist, if the procedure does not digress from the measurable linguistic mode and all terms are defined and empirically present (cf. Pulaski, 1972).

2. Building on this pioneering work, others have explored specific areas of human reasoning. Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard has produced a six stage model of the development of Moral Reasoning, describing three levels. The Pre-Conventional corresponds to Piaget’s Pre-operational and Concrete operational stages. The Conventional and the Post Conventional require Formal Operations, that is, abstract reasoning. These stages of moral reasoning are paralleled by a series of descriptions of Social Perspective. The fullest presentation of these categories has been made by Mary M. Wilcox of The Iliff School of Theology (cf. Wilcox, 1979). These include role-taking, bounds of social awareness, understandings of authority, law, community, etc.

2.1 Role-taking is a required characteristic of the interpreter of texts. A description of this category might serve to explicate these models in reference to structural exegesis. At stage one the pre-school child will sympathize with but be unable to take the physical perspective of another. At stage two, the concrete reasoning child or youth will normally be able to take the perspective of but unable to empathize with another. At stage three the youth or adult will be able to empathize on the basis of one to one relationships. At stage four the adult will be able to empathize within a systemic framework, to hold an institutional stance or define ideological positions of self and another. At stage five an adult will be able to empathize cross culturally, from within one system with another in another system, accepting each individual within their own stage of development and within their own cultural constraints. There are no published criterion judgments for determining stage six in current Scoring Manuals (cf. Moral Education Center, 1979).

2.2 It should be self-evident that the stage three reasoning person will distort a text in favor of inter-personal relations, will overlook systemic elements in the text, and will be unable to transcend cultural perspectives, values, norms, etc. All such categories are tacitly accepted at this stage. The majority of adults in American society use this mode of reasoning. The stage four reasoning interpreter will be able to deal with a number of self-conscious rational factors but will still be unable to extend self beyond the bounds of cultural identity. It is not until stage five reasoning appears that an interpreter may be expected to accomplish role-taking in its fullest, inter-cultural, inter-subjectivity. Only a small percentage of adults have been found to have achieved this stage of moral reasoning and social perspective. (Only 26% of our first seminary sample showed any evidence of this level of reasoning in a research project in curriculum development and teaching methods supported by the Association of Theological Schools, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and the Iliff School of Theology, conducted by Clarence H. Snelling, Jr., H. Edward Everding, and Mary M. Wilcox.) The empathetic stance, the transcultural understanding, the distance from self which allows self-conscious action and choice, all of which are required of the exegete, are not available to many persons who attempt to interpret texts or whom we attempt to teach to do so.

3. William Perry of Harvard has also produced a model of the movement in a developmental pattern through nine positions in reference to factors such as: multiplicity (unrelated plurality) and relativism (relational, systematic understanding), authority, absolutes, and commitment. Perry has made no claims to generalizability, but the data are quite convincing. The interpretation of multiple views, facts, or opinions is settled in terms of an absolute which may be the authority of a person, method, dogma or God. In later positions persons will view the multiplicity of facts or opinions as variants within a relational system. The self and the self’s rationality are seen as the appropriate decision maker, rather than an external absolute. Now authority is invested in a set of internalized values which are described self-consciously as a commitment system, held in degrees and frames, providing an identity, and evidenced in a describable life-style (cf. Perry, 1968).

3.1 Unless an interpreter has achieved positions six through nine in Perry’s model, there will not be a sufficient degree of self-consciousness, acceptance of personal responsibility, ability to accept variation of opinion among scholars, or objectivity toward values, for the result to be considered as appropriate by scholarly standards.

4. Perhaps the most integrated approach to the structural-developmental description of human growth has been explored by James Fowler, formerly of Harvard, now at Emory. His model of Faith Development includes all of the Piaget, Kohlberg, and Wilcox factors, plus other items which lend insight into the task of the interpreter of religious texts.

4.1 Fowler has discovered that whenever the stage three reasoning person is faced with tension, paradox, polarity or opposites, compartmentalization will be used to resolve that tension un-selfconsciously. The same need in a stage four reasoning person will be resolved by dichotomizing. Stage five reasoning holds the polarities in dialectical tension, while stage six reasoning, if empirically found, would synthesize from a larger perspective. Noting the tendency of most structuralists to use binary systems, bipolar categories, and other forms of dichotomous descriptions, one would discover that until stage four reasoning is present, structural exegesis cannot be understood.

4.2 Fowler’s most helpful contribution to the interpreter of texts is found in his description of the developmental pattern in the understanding of the function of symbols. Stage one reasoning interprets all symbols, symbolic acts, theological material, and value statements in a magical mode. Stage two reasoning will, like stage one, be undifferentiated in holding symbols, meanings and referents as one. This person will interpret all symbolic material literally (with either a conservative or a liberal bias, depending on content and experience). By the time a person is using stage three reasoning, the symbol and its meaning or referent are recognized but tacitly held together. One facet or dimension of meaning is held (another form of compartmentalization). Symbols are naively appropriated, and the tie is primarily emotional bonding. Stage four reasoning allows the person to see the multi-faceted nature of all symbols. This is a rational, definitional, self-conscious stage in relation to symbols and values, a period of ideological formulation. Stage five reasoning begins the task of integrating the symbol with its rational, emotional and even aesthetic meanings. The symbol is seen as multi-dimensional in meanings and interpretations. Theoretically, stage six reasoning holds the total transparency of symbols to the reality of being to which they point (cf. Fowler and Keene, 1978).

4.3 Since all religious texts freight symbolic meaning and content, contain theological and value oriented material, or at least depict symbolic statements, gestures, or acts, the process of interpretation will be controlled by the level of faith development, or mode of construing the world, held by the interpreter. The first empirical study of this phenomenon was reported by Everding and Wilcox in 1975 (cf. Everding & Wilcox, 1975).

5. In the light of these four paradigms, the text from Genesis was read to a variety of persons for whom developmental data were available. The following quotations indicate some of the aspects of the developmental models described above.

Stage One:

“God was mad because they ate it.”

“They shouldn’t run in the bushes naked.”

Stage Two:

“They invented farming, and clothes.”

“They got more important things to do, like farming and having children.”

Stage Three:

“I identify with Adam; a girl might with Eve though. It might be good to be the smart snake.”

“They really shouldn’t have disobeyed. They failed in God’s plan for them. We should never give in to temptation.”

Stage Four:

“This is an explanation of how human sin entered human consciousness. Human beings have always had difficulty in keeping rules and being obedient.”

“The Garden is our environment and the sin is failure to be good stewards.”

Stage Five:

“I think of this as a dramatic poem, a story, which places human beings in the ambiguity of life, confused by conflicting values, afraid to accept personal responsibility for our choices.”

“Its a beautiful statement of the God/human dilemma; God created humans; God tempted humans; and God punished humans. Yet we trust God.”

6. The mathematical structuralists in France have reduced all equations to three types. Does this describe the universe of number or the universe of mind? There is no point outside the latter from which to test the former. The developmental theories described above present the interpreter as a lively, maturing, active person, perhaps experiencing transformation of consciousness and perspective through time. The interpreter is a diachronic critic. But as a structuralist, the critic holds the text as synchronic. However the text may be controlled, the interpreter is unable to control the self or the hearer. The interpreter’s own developmental profile will provide a prior understanding (self-conscious in some stages, not so in others); it will determine the deformation of the text in the process of interpretation, and it will create a limit to the appropriation of self-understanding through participation in the process of the hermenuetic and semiotic endeavor.

Works Consulted

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1975    “Themes and Variations in Three Groups of OT Narratives.” Semeia 3: 3–13.

1976    Studies in the Structure of Hebrew Narrative. Semeia Supplements. Philadelphia: Fortress Press and Chico: Scholars Press.

1978    “Action Sequences in Gen 2–3.” Pp. 51–60 in SBL Seminar Papers, vol. 1. Chico: Scholars Press.

Eco, U.

1976    A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press.

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1975    Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development and Biblical Interpretation, unpublished paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education.

Foucault, M.

1975    The Birth of the Clinic. New York: Vintage Books.

Fowler, James and Sam Keene

1978    Life Maps. Waco: Word.

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1974    The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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1978    On Moral Fiction. New York: Basic Books.

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1966    Sémantique structurale. Paris: Larousse.

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1970    Du sens: Essais sémiotiques. Paris: Seuil.

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1979    Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. Paris: Hachette.

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1975    The Thread of Discourse. Janua Linguarum: Series Minor 207. The Hague: Mouton.

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1974    Bileam SANT 38. Münich: Kösel.

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1977    Linguistische Textmodelle. Uni-Taschenbücher 130. Münich: Wilhelm Fink.

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1964    Genesis. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

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1974    Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg. Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press.

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1977a    “A Model for Narrative Structure in Oral Literature.” Pp. 99–139 in Patterns in Oral Literature. Eds. Heda Jason and Dimitri Segal. The Hague: Mouton.

1977b    “Der Zinsgroschen: Analyse der Erzählstruktur.” Ling Bib 41/42: 49–87.

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1977    “A Structural Analysis of Numbers 11 and 12.” Pp. 171–203 in SBL Seminar Papers. Chico: Scholars Press.

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Joines, K.

1975    “The Serpent in Gen 3.” ZAW 87: 1–11.

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1961    Parables and paradoxes. New York: Schocken.

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1972    Semantic Theory. New York: Harper & Row.

Kikawada, I.

1972    “Two Notes on Eve.” JBL 91:35.

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1977    Polylogue. Paris: Seuil.

Leach, E.

1976    Culture and Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lees, R. B.

1957    “Review of Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky.” Language 33: 375–408.

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1967    “The Structural Study of Myth” in Structural Anthropology. Trans. Claire Jacobson. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.

1969    The Raw and the Cooked. Trans. J. and D. Weight man. New York: Harper & Row.

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1976    “The discourse Structure of the Flood Narrative.” Pp. 235–261 in SBL 1976 Seminar Papers. Chico: Scholars Press.

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1978    “Field Analysis of Discourse.” Pp. 103–122 in Current Trends in Textlinguistics. Ed. Wolfgang Dressler. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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1954    “The Literary Characteristics of Genesis 2–3.” TS 54: 541–72.

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1978    Meaning in Texts. The Historical Shaping of a Narrative Hermeneutics. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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1979    Scoring Guide. Graduate School of Education, Harvard University: Cambridge.

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1969    “Form Criticism and Beyond.” JBL 88: 1–18.

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1978    “A Structural Exegesis of Genesis 2–3.” Pp. 141–159 in SBL Seminar Papers, vol. 1. Chico: Scholars Press.

Patte, D.

1975    What is Structural Exegesis? Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Patte, D. and A. Patte

1978a    Structural Exegesis: From Theory to Practice. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

1978b    Pour une Exégèse structurale. Paris: Seuil.

Perry, W.

1968    Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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1977    Biblical Structuralism: Method and Subjectivity in the Study of Ancient Texts. Semeia Supplements. Philadelphia: Fortress Press and Chico: Scholars Press.

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1968    Morphology of the Folktale. 2nd ed. Austin, Texas: University of Texas (1928; 1st ET 1958).

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1972    Understanding Piaget. New York: Harper & Row.

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1971    Exegese als Literaturwissenschaft. Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht.

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1974    Structuralism in Literature: An Introduction. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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1974    Elischa in den Kriegen. SANT 37. Münich: Kösel.

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1970    Speech Acts. Cambridge: University Press.

Silberman, L. H.

1977    “Between Chaos and Creation: A Survival Myth.” Journal: Central Conference of American Rabbis, Summer 1977:107–119.

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1975    The Sword of His Mouth. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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1975    Kerygma and Comedy in the New Testament: A Structuralist Approach to Hermeneutic. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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1972    Genesis. Philadelphia: Westminster.

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1977    “Gen 2:4b–3:24: A Synchronic Approach.” JBL 96: 161–77.

Weimar, P.

1977    Untersuchungen zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Pentateuch. BZAW 146. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

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1956    Theory of Literature, new revised 3rd edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Westermann, C.

1974    Genesis. BKI, 1. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag.

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1978    “Direct and Third Person Discourse in the Narrative of the ‘Fall’.” Pp. 121–140 in Seminar Papers: SBL, 1978, vol. 1.

Wilcox, M. M.

1979    Developmental Journey. Nashville: Abingdon.

Wilder, A. N.

1976    Theopoetic. Theology and the Religious Imagination. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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1964    Gesammelte Studien zum Alten Testament. München: Chr. Kaiser.

Published: December 3, 2014, 09:05 | Comments Off on GENESIS 2 AND 3, KALEIDOSCOPIC STRUCTURAL READINGS – a theopoetic hermeneutic – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
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