Browsed by
Tag: Genesis

Quote of the Day – on Genesis 15:6

Quote of the Day – on Genesis 15:6

… In the Tanakh, faith does not mean believing in spite of the evidence.  It means trusting profoundly in a person, in this case the personal God who has reiterated His promise.

(from The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation, page 35.)

I think that’s an excellent statement of what faith is and is not, and might also tie the usage of faith between James 2:23 and Galatians 2:15ff as it relates to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:6 starting in Galatians 3:15.

Interpreting the Bible IV – Scientific Statements

Interpreting the Bible IV – Scientific Statements

In my daily reading I encounter many different types of literature, each of which relates to the science I know in a different way. For example, I might read a newspaper, in which case the question is just what is an article about. Is it about art? I will look at it through one set of glasses. A report on a scientific discovery? My expectations change substantially. I might read a book of fantasy, in which case I expect very little relationship to real science. If I read a science text, however, I am going to judge it very critically on how well it conveys scientific information.

In each of these cases, what constitutes a “mistake” is going to differ greatly. “The sun sets in the west” is very proper in popular speech, in art, or in poetry. It’s questionable in a story about science, and in general would only be used as an example of how inaccurate popular speech can be in a science text.

If one criticized a poem for its scientific inaccuracy for such a statement, one would be viewed as odd. Viewing the Bible that way is pretty standard. Now I’m not denying here that the Bible has different types of literature in which scientific statements might be seen differently. What I will say, however, is that the Bible has nothing in it that qualifies even as a popular news story about a scientific discovery. It certainly has in it nothing close to a textbook on a scientific topic.

Yet many people expect a specifically scientific type of accuracy when they read the Bible. I believe this comes to some extent from the modern view of scientific knowledge as the best type of knowledge available. We want scientific proof that God exists or that miracles happen, because we believe that’s the best category of evidence available. We think the Bible should talk about science in some way, because science (in the modern science, not the older “general knowledge”) is the best type of knowledge there is.

Of course, God may have a different idea. Personally I would argue that God does talk about science, and he does so in the fabric of the universe. We hear that message through scientific study. I don’t want to get into the details of such a view here; suffice it to say it exists.

But we still must be careful in saying that the Bible does not make scientific statements. I’ve gotten into trouble on this before, because people often hear that as “The Bible doesn’t say anything correct about the physical world.” That’s not the case and it’s not my point. What I mean is that the Bible doesn’t make statements either with scientific precision, i.e. intended as testable hypotheses properly qualified, nor does it attempt to advance specifically scientific knowledge.

Now there’s a lot of room for disagreement there. Just how precisely must the Biblical statements agree with a modern scientific view? Laying aside the question of whether the modern scientific understanding of any topic is correct (what will people think of our current knowledge in another 200 years, not to mention 2,000 or 4,000?), one can at least divide that between those who believe that the Bible need not agree with scientific knowledge in any particular way (though it may) or those who believe that where the Bible makes a statement that impinges on science in any way, it must be accurate.

Let’s take a quick example, which I already mentioned previously. We know that the Bible is not a mathematics text, yet it almost accidentally mentions the ratio that is PI, though not providing us with a number calculated to any decimal places in 1 Kings 7:23:

Then he made the molten sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely. (NRSV)

I know of some Biblical critics who are embarrassed that people bring this up as an objection to the Bible, and well they should be, because it really causes nobody any actual problems. On the other hand, it illustrates what I am talking about quite nicely.

There are several things that one might think about this statement:

  1. The writer is using approximations in his numbers
  2. The brazen sea isn’t precisely round, but perhaps oval, another type of approximation
  3. These are not builder’s plans, and thus the precise number is unnecessary
  4. There is no particular reason for the writer to provide us with the value of PI

All of which are quite possibly true. Some others have brought up issues such as measuring from the outside or the inside of the rim. I would note that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t have an easy means of expressing decimal places, and fractions are a mite wordy. So what is the difference here? PI is 3.1416, which is itself rounded from 3.14159, which is rounded from… Why do I choose a particular precision? I do so according to my need, in this case my need to show how we approximate numbers on a regular basis.

One could quite reasonably read the passage as “The sea was round, about 10 cubits across and about 30 cubits around the rim.”

My point? The precision of our statements of such topics depends on the need. I heard a similar example yesterday in a store. One of the clerks was giving directions. He said, “You turn right and then go 2 or 3 miles, and you’ll find Walmart on the left.” Is he giving lousy directions if Walmart is 3.3 miles? 2.7? 1.9? Actually, if he follows the directions he’ll find where he’s going.

Now compare this to directions I got about a year ago to find someone’s house. I was told to turn right and then check my odometer, because I needed to go precisely 1.1 miles and turn right on a road that didn’t have a clear road sign. I did so, and at 1.1 miles I turned right onto the specified road, and only saw the sign with the road name on it after I made the turn. The clerk’s directions were good for his circumstances, but would have failed for mine. On the other hand, giving a precise number to the tenth for finding Walmart would simply be distracting.

To get back to Genesis 1, if one assumes it is intended as a scientific treatise, one should be concerned with things like how days would be calculated before the fourth day when the sun was created. (Though I would note that one does not have to conclude from the text that the sun was actually created on the fourth day; it might be a case of revelation.) One might also be concerned with what “day” was before the fourth day. After all, the sun is created to “rule the day” suggesting that “day” already existed before the sun was there. But now I’m descending into silliness.

If, on the other hand, Genesis 1 is liturgy, there is no reason to expect a logical and scientific progression in the events. But between these views we have any number of senses in which Genesis might be heard as a form of narrative history, in which case, while it need not make scientifically precise statements, it could well make statements that would impact scientific data. For example, if the story says, “the sun set,” even if we allow the non-scientific nature of the way of indicating the end of the day, if there is no sun, the statement would be false–no sun, no setting.

In each case one must look at the particular genre and the nature of what the author is trying to communicate within that genre (witness my two instances, both of giving directions, but with different requirements), in order to determine what type of statements to expect, and the precision one must expect of them. A man describing the temple has no need to communicate the precise value of PI, while someone celebrating God’s creation of the world has no need to describe orbits or solar fusion.

Now I personally believe that not only does the Bible not make scientific statements as I have described, but that it speaks its message into a context of the knowledge of the audience. In other words, as God wishes to communicate things about his order, his control of creation, and his plan for humanity, he doesn’t distract them by saying that they don’t understand yet that the world is a sphere (though they did think it was round like a dinner plate), that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the reverse, or that stars were light years away.

Those points, as interesting as they would be to us today, would be a distraction. In fact, I would suggest that they would completely take over the more important message that the Bible has to deliver.

We think scientific knowledge is the most important; God doesn’t agree, and he communicated according to his priorities, not ours.

Bill Arnold on the Composition of Genesis

Bill Arnold on the Composition of Genesis

I have written quite a bit about this topic on this blog, and am also doing a series related to it on my Threads blog, so I was glad to see another summary article (HT:  Dr. Platypus).  Most lay people are not well acquainted with critical theories about the Pentateuch, as they get the briefest of descriptions followed by either a dismissal from one side or an assertion of scholarly consensus on the other.

Bill Arnold’s article is very useful for several reasons.  He outlines the overall theory very well along with traditional dating of the various sources.  He discusses some of the possibilities for the history of those sources, and alternative dating.  He does take up some non-traditional views, but in several cases (looking at the dating of P, and some of what he says on H), I happen to agree.  It’s always nice for the non-specialist to find some fine scholar agreeing with his much less sophisticated opinions!  I was convinced by the linguistic arguments from Dr. Jacob Milgrom in his Leviticus commentary from the Anchor Bible series, whose praises I sing from time to time.

Having said all that, I commend the article to those who would like to know more about this topic.

The Bible Does Not Contain Science

The Bible Does Not Contain Science

Jason Rosenhouse has a post at EvolutionBlog responding to an essay by Owen Gingerich in Frye’s Is God a Creationist?.

In that essay, Gingerich makes some interesting claims, suggesting some special advance information provided by God in the words of Genesis 1. Rosenhouse quite correctly comments and then asks:

It’s people like Gingerich I don’t understand. He cherry picks two verses that he wants us to take very seriously. In verse three we find that God begins by creating light, and, hey!, that’s kind of like what modern cosmology says. Then he turns to the end of the stroy and tells us we should ruminate on the verse that asserts we were created in the image of God.

And the twenty-three verses in between? Where the Bible enumerates, in great detail, a sequence of events that is utterly fictitious? Well, just ignore that part.

And right there is my major problem with several approaches to apologetics in Genesis 1-11. There is a common thread of trying to preserve the idea that God somehow provided scientific knowledge ahead of time, and described the origin of the universe in ways that would not have been known to the ancient world in which this literature first appeared.

Sometimes, as in young earth creationism, interpreters take Genesis at face value as narrative history (I discuss what I believe the actual genre is here, and then demand that reality conform to their view. When reality fails to play nice, they simply deny it, or claim that in the future we will find out they were right all along.

At other times, old earth creationists try to find ways of reconciling the statements of the first 11 chapters of Genesis with science, not in the strict sense of scientifically worded statements, but in the sense that as a narrative history, they don’t contradict science. Rather, they can be viewed symbolically as going along.

Finally, we have the approach of Gingerich, which is to claim glimpses of great scientific ideas in the prose of the chapter. Admittedly, this requires reading past a great deal, and requires some imagination, but that has not prevented numerous people from trying and from publishing what they believe they have found.

When I deny scientific content in Genesis, I am frequently confronted by someone who has read somewhere how closely aligned Genesis is with science, and they will point to some area of agreement. But these areas of agreement, even if one has the imagination to accept them in the first place, are very small, very narrow, and are surrounded by areas that are puzzling at best from the scientific perspective.

I would apply here a standard I demand in comparative literature and comparative religion: Compare both the similarities and the differences. I also use a related requirement to search out what is regarded as critical within either the piece of literature or the religion in question. For example, to an evangelical Christian who believes firmly in salvation by grace received through faith, and regards that as central to his faith, the fact that another religion teaches love is only a minor point of similarity. It doesn’t make the two religions equal.

So in comparing Genesis 1 and 2 to science, it is not valid so simply list points of contact without also listing points of dissimilarity. One interesting thing here is that those who point out that “let there be light” is in one of many ways similar to the big bang do not also note the spirit of God, or God’s wind moving across the waters before the light appears. One has to posit a strange mix of symbol and literal physical data to make this work.

When Genesis is compared to scientific data as we know it on a broad basis, looking for both similarities and dissimilarities, it doesn’t come out so well. In addition to looking at both, it’s a good idea to look for accidental similarities, such as information that would be common knowledge anywhere. A reference to sunrise and sunset in two distant cultures would not be regarded as evidence that they had communicated, for example, because both would have observed the same phenomenon.

To support the claim that the Bible contains science, one would need to find statements of physical fact stated in a well defined and testable way, in other words, statements made the way scientists might make them. You may believe I am putting too high a standard here, but to use such a thing as evidence one must eliminate other explanations, especially more plausible ones.

If one thinks that the “waters” in Genesis 1:2 make some sort of statement of the place of H2O in chemistry, an implausible suggestion on its face, one should also consider the place of the waters or the deep in related ancient near eastern creation myths. Is it more probable to assume that the statement came from an unknown chemistry, or that God chose to cryptically convey information, information that would not be recognized until it was discovered in other ways, or that the waters here come from the same pool of mythological symbols used throughout the ancient near east?

For me, this issue settled into place when I started to read this material in the context of ancient near eastern literature. It is not surprising that even one of my professors in graduate school, a Seventh-day Adventists school and fairly strong on young earth creationism and associated interpretation, was extremely concerned that I would not see Genesis as coming directly from God in its current form.

Reading Genesis as ancient near eastern literature worked. It fit. I didn’t have to explain numerous loose ends. It was also something that the original hearer and/or readers might well have understood. There really wasn’t anything left to explain.

Over time I learned to read Genesis again as theology, and specifically as theology suited to its time. It expresses, in the context of ancient near eastern cosmology, the relationship between God and the universe. Even that expression is time and culture related.

Now I don’t expect atheists to like my position that much better. I know that they generally look down on views of inspiration that don’t result in error free texts with hard knowledge. After all, why couldn’t God get it right? But I think a better question is why would God get it “right” in that sense?

Spirituality involves communion with God, and the Bible reflects that communion as experienced by my community and its antecedents. Every piece of scientific information people claim to have gotten from the Bible can be found elsewhere, better expressed, and more reliable. But as a Christian this is the core of the experience of my community.

That doesn’t provide me with the means to convince others that my (or our) scriptures are better than others. That would have to work through the lens of the community. But the attempt to find scientific data is sure to be a failure.

Doubtless the Bible will get some facts about the physical universe right, but unless those facts are more than incidental, they demonstrate nothing, and high claims for them can only result in a negative judgment on the text in which they are found.

Genesis Links

Genesis Links

I started collecting links through clips on my bloglines account (yes, the blogroll is public), and one thing I’ve found is that I collect a remarkable number of links and I comment on only a few of them. There have been a number of good posts on Genesis recently, and I want to provide links even though I won’t have time for more than a sentence or two in comment. These all relate to creation or the flood and related issues, so we’re really talking about the first 11 chapters.

From James McGrath, I found Doctor Who: Journey’s End, Creation’s End, God’s End?, which discusses some of the difficulties of the flood story. Reflecting on the flood story’s origins he says:

But when an ancient Israelite author tried to co-opt that story (which was too familiar and could not simply be discarded) into monotheism, it created the ultimate theological conundrum. How does one account for a single God both destroying the world and saving humanity? . . .

You’ll have to go read the entire post to get the picture. He also links to a number of other good posts and discussions here, though unfortunately I haven’t had time to get involved.

Moderate Christian Blogroll member Monastic Mumblings shares a good quote on Genesis.

Those cover it pretty well for now.

Sermon Today on Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Sermon Today on Genesis 1:1-2:4a

I want to recommend another sermon from the senior pastor at our new church, Pensacola First UMC, Dr. Wesley Wachob. I should note that they usually post audio from a different service than the one I attend, and he doesn’t follow a precise written text, so there may be some difference.

There were two reasons I wanted to commend this sermon. I’ll go with the lesser one first. I always appreciate a sermon in which the relationship between science and religion is discussed. Dr. Wachob very clearly stated that Genesis 1:1-2:4a is not science, but theology. He also rejected the term “mythology” and I would agree with him for the precise passage, but there is material in Genesis, 2:4b through the end of chapter 4 in particular, that carries most of the literary characteristics of myth. Nonetheless he also called Genesis 1:1-2:4a liturgy which is what I believe it is. He only spent a minute or two on this.

The second point is really more important, however, from my point of view. He preached a solid sermon with a spiritual lesson from Genesis 1:1-2 without making it a debate about historical and scientific issues. Some people have a very hard time preaching from this chapter. They spend all their time either affirming or denying it as narrative history. Dr. Wachob makes application to daily life and practical Christian living.

There’s a link to the audio on the Pensacola First UMC site here. Look at the left hand side of the page toward the end of the pastor’s message.

Literary Types in Genesis 1-11

Literary Types in Genesis 1-11

Pardon me for using “types” where “genre” would be more precise, but I frequently do so in teaching in order to avoid having to explain details. Further, “genre” doesn’t maintain the same meaning across all critical disciplines.

In my previous post on the historicity of Genesis 1-11, I wrote as though one could establish a single literary category that would cover all 11 chapters. But those who have studied this passage will realize this is not so. At a minimum, Genesis 5 and 11:10-32 (genealogies) differ from the remainder. Chapter 10 is also in a category of its own, and its relationship with the rest of the book could provide some interesting discussion.

I personally accept the general outlines of source theory, and thus see a combination of multiple sources in both the stories of creation and the flood. But those fault lines, as interesting as they are, are not what I’m talking about now. Whatever one believes about the background, somebody, somewhere felt that the material fitted together.

If we assume that the person who did so was not an idiot, then they probably had some idea how things connected. Assuming that blatant chronological issues are the result of oversight is questionable at best. The author or final redactor, whichever you prefer, probably understood the text in such a way that it didn’t blatantly contradict itself.

Because of this, it would be worthwhile to see the difference between Genesis 1:1-4a, which I would see as liturgy, and Genesis 2:4b-25, which is much closer to myth in its literary character. Which of these is more likely to be concerned with chronology? Well, Genesis 1 seems to say more about it, but Genesis 2 is more likely to have that as a concern based on its form. Even myths are concerned with sequence.

So we can identify at least four types of literature, liturgy, myth, genealogy, and a more generalized tribal genealogy along with some geography in Genesis 10. In deciding historicity we need to address each of these types. I do acknowledge that others might disagree on the categorization, which is precisely how it should be. Those are the questions of which good historical study of the Bible is made.

Historicity of Genesis 1-11

Historicity of Genesis 1-11

I think those of us who are not all that conservative, as in moderates and liberals, do everyone a disservice with the admonition, “Don’t take it so literally.” Unless, of course, we break down “not literally” a bit further. The word “literal” has gotten muddied in the public understanding, and is often taken to mean “true,” so “not taking it so literally” is “not taking it so truthfully.” But more importantly, literal is (or should be) a fairly narrow category and “not literal” involves quite a number of possible types of literature.

But there’s another question that non-scholarly readers of the Bible have pretty regularly: Just what is it that I’m supposed to get out of this? I’ve heard this many times teaching groups of United Methodist laypeople, well educated folks, but not Bible scholars. They’re pretty well convinced they shouldn’t take it too literally, but they are often uncertain where to go from there. Then they hear anyone who doesn’t take it literally condemned as one who doesn’t believe the Bible at all.

To narrow that down again, just what historical information might one get out of a non-historical passage of scripture? In the case of Genesis 1-11, I have frequently noted that it is not narrative history. But “narrative history” is not necessarily equivalent to “no historical value at all.” There is more of a continuum (one of my favorite words) of possibilities for historical values, and a number of twists and turns.

For example, I could say that a book is a work of fiction. Does that mean that it has no historical value? Consider these examples:

  • A fantasy novel/series, not set in the real world, such as Lord of the Rings
    One might extract information on the time of the writer, but vanishingly little information about the real world. Even extrapolating to the time of the writer based on his themes would be a difficult proposition.
  • A generic novel set in the real world, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
    This book is intentionally set in an indefinite future (from the time of writing) with generic titles for government officials such as head of state rather than president, for example. There are incidental references to real historical figures, numerous references to real places, but also numerous references to things that don’t exist. One would get a very skewed view of the United States if this is one’s source. Yet one would find historical data embedded in it.
  • A novel set in a realistic historical period, Rand’s The Fountainhead, for example.
    I’m distinguishing this category from historical novel in that presenting historical information is not part of the author’s intent, yet the setting is intended to reflect a specific period.
  • A historical novel
    Often a fictional story intended to present a realistic view of a period of history. While the actual characters and character-specific events are fictional, the background and the major historical events are generally intended as accurate.
  • A biography
    Generally this is intended as true, yet dialog and information about the subject may limit the general historical value.
  • A history with a mission
    Portrayal of a period of history intended to present a particular philosophy of history, or the viewpoint of a particular group or something similar.
  • An objective (wishfully) history
    In this case, the author intends to write a sequence of events from an objective point of view in order to correctly portray those events, not accomplish some philosophical goal. Absolute objectivity is impossible, I believe. I’m speaking about the intent.

That gives a kind of summary of some of the levels of historicity that one might find. Consider the gospels briefly. It is fairly common in a course in the gospels (or one particular gospel) to note that the gospel writers did not set out with the intent of writing history. They are presenting a picture of Jesus. Many things that an objective historian (remember: intention!) might present are subordinated to the picture the writer is trying to portray. Some people here this comment as a statement that the gospels contain no historical information, or no reliable historical information. That is certainly never my intent in making the statement. I’m simply pointing out that we should expect the needs of the historian to be thoroughly subordinated to the needs of the biographer and even more so to the theologian.

So let’s briefly look at some historical options in Genesis 1-11 now that we have some loose collection of ideas to which to compare.

The first option, of course, is to regard this portion of scripture as narrative history. Many Christians have done so. This assumption leaves a number of details to be discussed. How detailed is that history? Is it chronological? This latter question can come in two parts: 1) Is it intended as sequential or descriptive in another sense? and 2) Is it intended to portray the passage of time accurately?

Young earth creationists (YEC) would answer that it is narrative history, that it is intended to be sequential, and that the passage of time is intended as an accurate portrayal. This involves two aspects of the text. First, we have the days of Genesis 1 & 2. In the YEC position, these are literal, 24 hours days. But secondly we have the years in the genealogies of Genesis 5 & 11. Here the YEC position is that the years are real years, are accurately portrayed, and that there are no gaps in the genealogies, in other words they are complete.

That’s a substantial number of claims. I would simply note that if you start from level ground, looking at the story in the context of ancient near eastern literature, none of these things is obvious. Nonetheless it is not my purpose to evaluate, so much as to point out the possibilities.

Old earth creationists (OEC), differ from this in that while most of them would hold that the sequence is intended as true, the flow of time in the narrative is not even. For example, between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:6 there would be nine billion+ years, while between Genesis 1:6 and 1:11 there would be a bit less than 4 billion years, while starting with verse 14 we have some difficulties with sequence. The genealogies are assumed to contain gaps so as to provide a longer history following Adam and Eve.

Some OECs read the passage more symbolically, i.e. it contains valid historical information, but this information is presented in the form of symbols. Thus sequence, consistency of timing, and referent can be adjusted substantially while still maintaining that there is historical content.

Finally, Christians who accept evolution, but not all theistic evolutionists, most commonly see the passage as mythology, i.e. God presents truth through the medium of the cosmology and the way in which such information was presented in that culture. Now one might think this means there is no historical information in the passage, but again that is not the case. It will still present information about how the world was understood in its time, and how the authors understood themselves and their relationship to God. That is historical information, even though that is not what is intended.

Note that there are some Christian theistic evolutionists who would also see these passages symbolically and find some sense of a presentation of the way it happened in the passage. Thus there are a variety of views on the historical content of the material, and those views don’t precisely match. I have been extremely brief here and probably have left some holes. Hopefully readers will quibble with me in the comments to some can get filled in.

Two additional notes:

  1. I don’t regard any of this as an issue with inerrancy. I know folks who accept Biblical inerrancy who have no problem with the idea of regarding a passage as symbolic or as myth, provided that one is assuming that was the way God intended it to be presented. Then the portion that would be inerrant is whatever message God intended to present in that medium. I don’t accept inerrancy, but I like my debates over the topic to relate to actual disputes!
  2. I distinguish here Christian theistic evolutions as there are numerous other options for those who are theists but not Christians, including ignoring the Bible completely. Deistic views of evolution similarly have no need of discussing how Genesis is understood. This is strictly a Christian or Jewish enterprise, and is different in nature for each of those groups.
The Myth of the Absent Husband

The Myth of the Absent Husband

The story of the temptation and fall (Genesis 3:1-7) is one of the stories that sustains some complentarians and advocates of male leadership and authority. I use “myth” here in the partial technical sense of a story that explains and reinforces a cultural norm.

In particular, people point out that Eve was taken in by the snake because she didn’t as her husband or because he wasn’t with her. I’ve heard sermons based on these points. Don’t leave you husband! Follow his leadership! Look what happened to Eve! The same sorts of things can be said about consultation. But these views are not supported by the text itself. They are, I believe, examples of reading the white spaces.

The problem is that nowhere in the story is it specified that Adam was not present, nor is it stated that Adam did not discuss the matter with Eve. The story itself is typical of Hebrew narrative, especially in the Pentateuch. It is short and to the point, with no unneeded words.

When Eve does share the food with her husband, it says that she gave it to him “with her.” Now it’s interesting that when I was taught this very early, I remember being told that Eve went to look for her husband and then passed him the fruit, thus reinforcing her aloneness and leaving open the option that male leadership principles have been violated. In case you think I’m making this up, and since I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, let me quote Ellen White on the matter:

The angels had cautioned Eve to beware of separating herself from her husband while occupied in their daily labor in the garden; with him she would be in less danger from temptation than if she were alone. But absorbed in her pleasing task, she unconsciously wandered from his side. On perceiving that she was alone, she felt an apprehension of danger, but dismissed her fears, deciding that she had sufficient wisdom and strength to discern evil and to withstand it. . . . (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 53)

And again:

. . . And now, having herself transgressed, she became the agent of Satan in working the ruin of her husband. In a state of strange, unnatural excitement, with her hands filled with the forbidden fruit, she sought his presence, and related all that had occurred. (ibid, p. 56)

That is, of course, entirely gleaned from the white spaces. The text actually suggests that the two of them were together, and gives no indication that Adam objected, or was any more concerned than his wife. The idea that Adam was tempted by Eve comes not from the story of the actual temptation, but from Adam’s excuse.

J. Barton Payne on Theistic Evolution

J. Barton Payne on Theistic Evolution

A friend of mine e-mailed me a link to this post on Higgaion. It’s an interesting discussion, and Payne’s attitude is far from dead today. To the excellent article, I would add only a couple of questions.

First, on what basis do people determine that Genesis 1 & 2 must be narrative history? I am regularly asked to prove that it is something else, as though by default it must be considered narrative history. But the way one usually identifies a literary genre, especially in the ancient world where things didn’t come labeled “mythology,” “history,” or “fiction,” is to build an acquaintance with related literature. Ever since I became acquainted with a much broader range of ancient near eastern literature, it has always seemed to me that this process should be reversed. Why should something that looks so very much like other ancient near eastern creation myths be regarded as narrative history?

Note here that I do not regard it as identical to those other myths, nor as directly copied from them. Rather, I regard it as the same general type of literature, which often shares common elements of cosmology and other symbolism. If we did not have the current Genesis creation account, and we found it inscribed on clay tablets in some ancient near eastern city, we would have no hesitation identifying it as a new creation myth. (Note also that I think the genre is more precisely “liturgy” for Genesis 1:1-2:4a, and “myth” for Genesis 2:4bff. See my essay Genesis Creation Stories – Form, Structure, and Relationship.)

Second, and closely related is this: Why do we have a prejudice against fiction and myth as a way to convey spiritual truth/value? One potential answer to my first question is that we Christians believe the Bible is inspired, and it must contain truth (or be true), and fiction is false. For protestants, I think there is some loss through lack of exposure to the apocrypha. Reading Judith or Tobit can help one gain appreciation for the use of fiction in the ancient world.