Book of Genesis

From The Bible and Its Influence:

The Book of Genesis is peopled with fascinating figures, but no portrayal is more striking or memorable than that of God. Whether the reader sees the Bible as divinely inspired or as the work of human ingenuity (or both), the power of this text is undeniable. The God of Genesis is deeply etched into the culture and history of Europe and the Americas.

Where many creation stories from other cultures show the forces of order and chaos, or good and evil, locked in equal combat, Genesis 1 describes a God whose goodness alone is the source of all life and all form. The abyss – the primal chaos that is “formless and void”—before creation is not depicted as an evil force that must be overcome. Rather, the abyss needs to be ordered to reach its full potential.

Other origin stories tell of many different gods who themselves are created, and who work together or fight against one another, to create out of the remnants of previous creations. In contrast, the first part of Genesis describes one God who is self-sufficient, powerful, and benevolent. The God of Genesis, who needs nothing, chooses to create anyway. God creates not from leftovers but out of that chaos, or as the contemporary scholar Robert Alter translates it, “out of welter and waste.”

The description of God continues to expand throughout the Book of Genesis, gradually revealing a God who loves zealously, who chooses favorites, who inflicts terrible punishments, and shows mercy beyond measure—but who is never distant or detached. Genesis is the account of this very personal God’s powerful relationship with humanity.

Schippe, Cullen and Stetson, Chuck. The Bible and Its Influence. New York: BLP Publishing, 2006. Print. (29.)

Readings and web sites for fairy tales

Laura Gibbs on Aesop

Passage from:  Aesop’s Fables. Trans. Laura Gibbs. London: Oxford University Press, 2002.

In fifth-century Athens, however, there were no books of Aesop to be thumbed through, since the first written collections of Aesop did not yet exist. It is very hard for us as modern readers to appreciate the fact that Aesop could still be an authority whom you had to consult, even if he were not an author of books to be kept on the shelf. To ‘go over’ or ‘run through’ Aesop meant to bring to mind all the many occasions on which you had heard the stories of Aesop told at public assemblies, at dinner parties, and in private conversation. Aesop’s fables and the anecdotes about Aesop’s famous exploits were clearly a familiar way of speaking in classical Greece, a body of popular knowledge that was meant to be regularly ‘gone over’ and brought to mind as needed.

The rules

Jack Lynch, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers, author of The Lexicographer’s Dilemma, and creator of the website Getting an A on an English Paper:

When linguists — professional scholars of the language — talk about “rules,” they mean the principles that inform the way the majority of people actually speak. These rules are acquired by native speakers more or less unconsciously, and every native speaker knows them, even if they can’t express them. In fact every speaker follows remarkably sophisticated rules without even being aware of it. I like to give my students two examples of rules they know, but don’t know they know. The first is to say, “Both my and mine mean ‘belonging to me.’ So what’s the difference between them?” Most can’t answer, or can answer only after several minutes of thinking about examples — and yet none of them ever uses my or mine incorrectly. (Bonus points to any reader who can explain the actual rule in the comments.) The second is to say, “The ball is red; the ball is big. What is it?” They always answer “a big red ball” — no one has ever said “a red big ball,” even though I gave them the adjectives in that order. No one ever taught my students those rules, and none of my students had given the subjects a moment’s thought in their entire lives. But they all knew the rules perfectly.

These are examples of what linguists consider the real rules.

The “Rules”: Prescription, Description, and the Quest for a Middle Ground

Talking vs. writing, part 2

Linguist John McWhorter on talking versus writing:

Writing was only invented roughly 5,500 years ago with the emergence of cuneiform picture writing in Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey, whereas humanity arose a good 200,000 years ago, with language probably tracing back at least 50,000 years and most likely much further. According to one estimate, if Homo sapiens had existed for 24 hours, writing only came along after 11 p.m.

Thus spoken language is fundamental, while written language is an artifice. Not surprisingly, then, the earliest writing was based on the way people talk, and that meant short sentences with a direct logical throughline. Researchers have found that even educated people today speak in word packets of 7 to 10 words a pop.

Talking with Your Fingertips
April 23, 2012

Talking is old, writing is new.

(comma splice intentional)

Bird by bird

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott