Back to the Present – Genealogies and The Flood

Dr Laurence Turner

After an evening with the Bishop last week, the Lent Lecture this week is again a total change of direction, with a session talking about Old Testament Theology from Dr Laurence Turner, in particular looking at the Genealogies and the Flood narrative in the book of Genesis.

This was the first appearance of a laptop and the digital projector of this years lectures, so apologies for the slightly gloomy picture.

It was definitely a very interesting evening, and certainly a lot of information to take in during the time. Luckily, the material was in part taken from Laurence’s book, Back to the Present: Encountering Genesis in the 21st Century, of which he had some copies available, so I’ll be able to take a look in more detail.

First of all he started by looking at the Genealogies – the book of Genesis has a number of these, and as he said, they are usually regarded as pretty boring. However by looking at several of these he highlighted patterns in their construction. For example the first genealogy in the book is right at the beginning, and is the ‘genealogy’ of the elements of creation, where God creates on the first six days, and then the seventh is left holy. The significance of the number seven is repeated in other genealogies in various ways. The significance of the number seven continues into the New Testament too. The key point that he is making is that by merely looking at the genealogies as some sort of family tree we are missing a lot of the significance. The sections – even down to the ages – are carefully constructed in terms of the pattern so that when the pattern is broken it indicates something significant.

He then looked at the story of Noah and the Flood – a story that is well known, but again is interesting in how it is written, in particular the fact that it interrupts one of the genealogies, and also due the symmetry of the story. Based around a key verse, that being the beginning of Genesis Chapter 8, the story can be divided up into a number of sections, all of which are arranged in a mirror image in the two parts of the story, so for a simple example the flood begins and the waters rise in the first part of the story, the waters fall and the flood ends in the second part – obvious – but the mirror extends throughout the whole story, with for example the violence in the world being mirrored by God’s covenant of blessing and peace. And the key verse around which the whole story is centred, “But God remembered Noahâ€? – the point where Noah is saved by God.

Certainly it was an interesting and eye-opening evening, and I shall certainly be reading the book and hopefully understanding a bit more about the significance of some of the familiar and not so familiar parts of Genesis. What the evening really highlighted is that reading the book at a shallow purely literal level, you miss a whole load of more subtle information and meaning. Much as with the structure of the Gospels, how the book is written and arranged tells us much more about what the stories are trying to say – in the same way as apparently simple New Testament parables such as the Good Samaritan encapsulate much more complex ideas and meaning, the familiar Old Testament stories do the same.

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