The Beginning of the End: The Eschatology of Genesis
This dissertation examines the book of Genesis as a functioning literary whole, orienting
post-exilic Persian-era Judeans toward their ideal future expectations. While many have
contrasted Genesis' account of origins with the prophetic books' account of the future, this work
argues that Genesis narrates Israel's origins (and the world's) precisely in order to ground Judean
hopes for an eschatological restoration. Employing a speech-act linguistic semiotics, this study
explores the temporal orientation of Genesis and its indexical pointing to the lives and hopes of
its Persian-era users. Promises made throughout Genesis apply not only to the characters of
traditional memory, but also to those who preserved/ composed/ received the text of Genesis.
Divine promises for Israel's future help constitute Israel's ongoing identity. Poor, sparsely
populated, Persian-ruled Judea imagines its mythic destiny as a great nation exemplifying (and
spreading) blessing among the families of the earth, dominating central Palestine in a new pan-
Israelite unity with neighboring Samaria and expanding both territory and population.
Genesis' narrative of Israel's origins and destiny thus dovetails with the Persian-era
expectations attested in Israel's prophetic corpus--a coherent (though variegated) restoration
eschatology. This prophetic eschatology shares mythic traditions with Genesis, using those
traditions typologically to point to Israel's future hope. Taken together, Genesis and the prophetic
corpus identify Israel as a precious seed, carrying forward promises of a yet-to-be-realized
creation fruitfulness and blessing. Those who used this literature identify their disappointments
and tragedies in terms of the mythic destruction and cursing that threaten creation but never
extinguish the line of promise. The dynamic processes of Genesis' usage (its composition
stretching back to the pre-exilic period, and its reception stretching forward to the post-Persian
era) have made Genesis an etiology of Israel's expected future--not of its static present. Because
this future will be fully realized only in the coming divine visitation, Genesis cannot be attributed
to an anti-eschatological, hierocratic establishment. Rather, it belongs to the same Persian-era
Judean synthesis which produced the restoration eschatology of the prophetic corpus. This
account of Genesis contributes to a canonical understanding of Second Temple Hebrew literature;
prophetic scrolls and Pentateuchal (Torah) scrolls interact to form a textually based Israelite
identity, founded on trust in a divinely promised future.
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