From Fratricide to Forgiveness: the Ethics of Anger in Genesis

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In the first book of the Bible, every patriarch and many of the matriarchs have significant encounters with anger. However, scholarship has largely ignored how Genesis treats this emotion, particularly how Genesis functions as Torah by providing ethical instruction about handling this emotion's perplexities. This dissertation aims to fill this gap in scholarship, showing both how anger functions as a literary motif in Genesis and how this book offers moral guidance for engaging this emotion.

After an introductory chapter outlining the goals, methods, and limitations of this study (ch. 1), this dissertation draws on works in translation theory, anthropology, and cross-cultural psychology to lay a theoretical framework for analyzing emotion described in another language by another culture (ch. 2). Next, it appropriates the findings of cognitive linguistics to analyze the terminology, conception, and associations of anger in the Hebrew Bible (ch. 3). The following chapter evaluates the advances that have taken place in the field of Old Testament ethics in recent decades, supplementing them with insights from philosophical, literary, and critical theorists to formulate an understanding of ethics and narrative that aligns with the contours of Genesis (ch. 4). The next chapter employs a rhetorical-literary approach to examine how texts in Genesis provide a conversation with one another about anger and its moral perplexities (ch. 5). Various themes from this study are then collected and summarized in the concluding chapter (ch. 6).

This dissertation concludes that understanding Genesis' message about anger requires laying aside traditional Western assumptions about both emotion and ethics. Genesis does not, for example, provide a set of ideal principles for engaging anger. Rather, readers who experience Genesis' narratives view anger from a variety of perspectives and in different lights, gaining wisdom for diverse encounters with anger they may face. They acquire a deep sensitivity to human frailty, an acute awareness of anger's power, and a realistic range of possibilities for engaging this emotion.



Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Religion




Schlimm, Matthew Richard (2008). From Fratricide to Forgiveness: the Ethics of Anger in Genesis. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from

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