Conrad Hyers on the Narrative Form of Genesis 1

Chaos (cosmogony)

Chaos (cosmogony) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is something few people get, or accept. It is also why I don’t buy Young Earth Creationism and yet still maintain a high view of Scripture. The language of Genesis 1 (different in order and style from Genesis 2) cannot be removed out of the ancient context.

A basic mistake through much of the history of interpreting Genesis 1 is the failure to identify the type of literature and linguistic usage it represents. This has often led, in turn, to various attempts at bringing Genesis into harmony with the latest scientific theory or the latest scientific theory into harmony with Genesis. Such efforts might be valuable, and indeed essential, if it could first be demonstrated (rather than assumed) that the Genesis materials belonged to the same class of literature and linguistic usage as modern scientific discourse.

A careful examination of the 6-day account of creation, however, reveals that there is a serious category-mistake involved in these kinds of comparisons. The type of narrative form with which Genesis 1 is presented is not natural history but a cosmogony. It is like other ancient cosmogonies in the sense that its basic structure is that of movement from chaos to cosmos. Its logic, therefore, is not geological or biological but cosmological. On the other hand it is radically unlike other ancient cosmogonies in that it is a monotheistic cosmogony; indeed it is using the cosmogonic form to deny and dismiss all polytheistic cosmogonies and their attendant worship of the gods and goddesses of nature. In both form and content, then, Genesis I reveals that its basic purposes are religious and theological, not scientific or historical.

via The Narrative Form of Genesis 1: Hyers.

This is why any debate on interpretations of Genesis 1 must begin and end with an examination of the passage, including context, language, and canonical parallels.

This originally appeared in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36.4 (1984) 208-15.

Universalism* in Sodom and Gomorrah?

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a paint...

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, a painting by John Martin (painter), died 1854, thus 100 years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not like the term “universalism” for several reasons.

  • It smacks of (Reverse) Calvinism
  • It smacks of white privilege
  • It doesn’t do justice to the wrath of God, judgment, and sin

However, I can’t think of a better term right now. So, universalism* it is.

In reading the notes in The Jewish Study Bible, I caught several statements (drawn from Jewish Tradition) that helped to highlight the text.

  • In Genesis 18.24, forgiveness and preservation for the several cities lead by the Twins is not found in the act of the sinners, but in the righteousness of the innocent.
  • This hope from God is found in Jeremiah 5.1 as well.

We can look at 1 Corinthians 7.14 in the same manner.

So, if a small measure of righteousness can ward off the wrath of God and save a city, what then can the wholly righteous act of the death of Christ do if in the Church the Body of Christ and the Spirit remains?

Good analogy on reading Genesis 1

You read a book like Anna Karenina, for example, and those characters and those situations will be like parables such that they will live in your conciousness for your whole life, and as you mature and have different experiences, you will see those same scenes and reexperience those parabolic experiences form different angles with different lighting, and so on. They will grow, thrive, and live entire lives inside your life and continue to turn out more wisdom about love as you come to learn your own internal language about love.

via Genesis: Did That Really Happen? : Celebrating Evolving Creation.

A friend sent this, and I’d thought you like to see it too.

Let me always recommend John Walton‘s Lost World of Genesis One.

Homeschooling – Exposing the Differences in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3

So, we are homeschooling our children for a few weeks during the move and vacation, etc… Today’s assignment (yesterday was to read about religion in Rome) is to read both Creation stories (Genesis 1-2.4 and 2.5-3), detailing five differences, followed by two sentences describing what the differences mean to the them.

The fact is, is that my third and fifth grader will have a better theological grasp of the stories by the end of today than Young Earth Creationists.

Why? Because by comparing the details of the story, we will explore what the different authors wanted to say about Creation(s), and how they see it as applying to them (theology). Yes, there are wrong answers. For instance, if they come back and say that they are the same, just one is expanded, not only will they be grounded, I will deny them their college education, and quite possibly break their toys. Seriously, if they, I will explain to them that if they have any respect at all for Scripture, they will see the differences and appreciate them for what the original authors and redactor is trying to tell us about the way they see God, Creation, Humanity, and the relationships exiting between those realities.

Thoughts?

A Challenge to Young Earth Creationists

This is from a guest blogger… 

Young Earth Creationists frequently complain that science can’t really tell us much about the distant past because it relies too much on unproven assumptions. However, whilst some details may be unknown, there are multiple independent lines of evidence that all point to a scientifically undeniable conclusion that the YEC version of the planet’s history (as inspired by the Bible notably the early chapters of Genesis) is utterly incorrect and that Earth is very old. Even if a YEC suggests that scientists have failed to ‘add God’ to the mix, that cannot magically eliminate or disprove the conclusion that the Genesis account – taken literally without any embellishment or ‘reinterpretation’ – of precisely how every major aspect of the natural world came to be has been undermined, probably fatally. That of course does not prove the Bible totally unreliable or Christianity false – though it does I believe raise a question about God’s power, knowledge and truthfulness (assuming he exists).

However YECs still insist that a 6,000 year old Earth (and universe), and a catastrophic worldwide flood inundation around 4,500 years’ ago, both ‘have’ to be true if Christianity is true – which of course they say it is.

My question is this. Could and would ANYTHING falsify your claim that mainstream science is ‘wrong’ over these two issues? If so, can you suggest any examples? Any scientific hypothesis has to be potentially falsifiable. If it is not potentially falsifiable then it is not really science but simply faith-inspired dogma – and therefore it should NEVER be taught to anybody as part of ‘science’ in any school or other formal educational setting (including by parents when ‘home-schooling’ their children).

If there really was a global flood only 4,500 years’ ago I would not expect to find this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15749757

Replies to the above can either be sent to my email box or added here: http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2820

Thank you for reading this.

Mr A Haworth-Roberts

The Lost World of Genesis One – Personal Thoughts

This is my third and final post on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One from IVP-Academic. You can read my posts on the author and contents: here and here. Thanks again to IVP-Academic for sending a review copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. First, John Walton is an expert on the conceptual world of the Ancient Near East. His expertise is apparent from the titles of many of his previous works, and it shines through in The Lost World of Genesis One. He displays the breadth of his knowledge most clearly in the chapters concerning the functional, rather than material, orientation of ancient cosmologies and in the chapters concerning divine rest taking place in temples. Readers may disagree with Walton, but I don’t think they can do so because they feel he hasn’t done his homework.

Second, Walton communicates in clear, ordinary language. If you have paid attention to recent posts on this blog, you may have seen Joel mention Walton’s forthcoming academic work on Genesis 1. Academic writers sometimes experience difficulties writing books intended for a wider audience; Walton has avoided this problem. As a result, The Lost World of Genesis One is a book on the first chapter of the Bible that I would not hesitate to recommend to an interested lay person in my parish.

Third, I appreciate the author’s forthrightness concerning Genesis 1, the theory of evolution, and public education. Walton declares:

The concern of this book is neither to tell scientists how they should or should not do science, nor to determine what scientific conclusions are right or wrong. It should be noted that this book is not promoting evolution. The issue I have attempted to approach concerns what scientific ideas or conclusions that the believer who wants to take the Genesis account seriously is obliged to reject … Biological evolution is the reigning paradigm, so we have asked whether this view requires the believer to compromise theology or biblical teaching. We have concluded that there is nothing intrinsic to the scientific details (differentiated from the metaphysical implications that some draw) that would require compromise.

Amen. Now I only hope that Walton can keep his job.

I will conclude with one critique that I did have of the book. I could mention that I would have liked to have seen more discussion of Genesis 1 as polemic, but other scholars have taken on that task elsewhere. My main concern was with the front and back covers. Although I realize words like “new” and “landmark” help sell books, I think they were overdone on this one. While many readers, especially pastors and lay people, will find this book helpful, I wasn’t blown away by the newness of it all. The cultural climate makes the work timely, and Walton certainly adds to the discussion about Genesis 1, but “landmark” (see back cover)? I don’t know. Maybe I have drunk too deeply of Qohelet’s teaching (Ecc. 1.9).

Overall, I highly recommend The Lost World of Genesis One. The combination of Walton’s expertise and his ability to communicate in ordinary language makes for a beneficial, easy read. I also look forward to reading Walton’s academic treatment of Genesis 1 forthcoming from Eisenbrauns.

*** update – I have been informed that the forthcoming title had already forthcome when I wrote this – you can also find it here

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Young Earth Creationists Just Don’t Get Temple Imagery or Theology

I know I have earned a reputation for pronouncing beliefs that I do not affirm about Genesis, especially, with my Questions in Genesis series at Political Jesus.

Here is what I do affirm; my congenial response to Ken Ham on Joel’s Post: More Discrediting of Ken Ham, I advocated this view:

“The clear teachings of Scripture include where humanity was at the time of creation, yes? And since we were not there, we shouldn’t claim to know the whole story. For example, the first and earliest book of the Bible is actually Job, YHWH asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Who created its boundaries, it’s dimensions?” (Job 38:4-5) Obviously, this is a rhetorical question, for no one was with with the Creator. So, what creationists and evolutionists both get wrong with their reading of Scripture that Genesis 1 & 2 has anything to do with history at all. What it is about, first and foremost, is about theology, and God ordering creation in 6 days, resting on the Sabbath, and then continuing to create.

I noticed one of your commenters on facebook said that the Bible is the context, and I think they are right. The Bible is the context in which we should examine Genesis. Just how does Genesis 1 -3 fit in with the rest of the Torah? The answer is simple. The same Hebrew verbs used in God’s order for Adam to till (abodah) and keep (shamar) only appear in the divine demands for the Levitical priesthood attend to God’s sanctuary in the midst of the Israelites, the tabernacle (Ibid). Also, like the Garden of Eden’s imagery in Genesis 1-3, God walks (hithallek) and dwells among the Hebrews just as He does with Adam and Eve. God is also accompanied by God’s guardian angels, the cherubim, which coincidentally guard the inner sanctuaries of the tabernacle and temple.

Genesis 1 and 2 are different and complementary. In Genesis 1, God is creating his tabernacle/temple (the world, creation), and in Genesis 2, God constructed the sanctuary. What creationists and strict evolutionists do not get about the images in the first three chapters in Genesis, is that it has to do first and foremost with YHWH, the God of Israel, and theologies of the temple. Any scientific observation, Christian and/or secular, that avoids this imagery and mystery, is not following the biblical text, but their agenda.

Therefore, from all I have seen from AIG, you are not following your text, but your own agenda and reading that into the Bible.”

Now, in addition, anyone can pick up the Old Testament, yes English translation, and find the very few and rare circumstances in which the imagery of Cherubim arrives on the scene (See 1st Kings 8, for example). When does it happen? In the context of the prophets writing about experiencing God in the temple, as well as King Solomon building a temple. We cannot understand the creation narratives in Genesis 1 & 2, apart from temple theology. Temple theology is not about our modern views of history, but about teaching human beings where our places are in the world. It is not about historic events where we use linear logic to gain access and master the sacred text, but it is about gaining entry into the presence of God, with God ordaining time as sacred. The six-day structure is about God ordering and structuring the world in six-days, as being of great significance theologically and ceremonially.

Far from undermining our faith in YHWH, evolution is compatible with Scripture, but only if we realize that the creation stories are primarily, first and foremost, doxologies of priestly theology, spoken and passed down in times of Jewish rites (as the Bible testifies itself, that the priests lead worship). Young Earth Creationists’ obsession with time and history both does damage to the text, and the Christian understandings of Creation, and the New Creation.

For more on this, please read A Theological Introduction To the Old Testament.

The Lost World of Genesis One – Contents

This is my second post on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One from IVP-Academic.  You can read my introduction to the author here (and also check out an interesting video of the author). I will follow this post up with my personal thoughts on the book.

Walton arranges the contents of the book uniquely. Rather than extensive chapters developing a train of thought, he divides the book into eighteen propositions. The propositions do follow a logical order, but this means a significant number of short chapters.

I’m ambivalent about the arrangement. On the one hand, I like the fact that I can sit down and read one or more chapters in a sitting. I didn’t find myself having to stop in the middle of a chapter only to pick the book back up and have to try to remember where I was in the overall scheme. I think short chapters also give a reader the feeling that they are getting somewhere. On the other hand, when I had longer blocks of time to read, I felt like this structuring lead to compartmentalization of the propositions. So, I suppose this arrangement will please some readers, while turning others off.

The propositions fall into two different categories.  First, the larger bulk of the propositions deal with the interpretation of Genesis 1 in its original context.  Thus, Walton includes chapters on the Hebrew word bara’, the beginning state in Genesis 1, and the seven days among other topics. Second, after dealing with Genesis 1 in its original context, Walton discusses current debates concerning Genesis 1 and public education.  This discussion is much shorter, taking up only four of the eighteen propositions. Walton bookends the propositions with an introduction and a summary followed by some frequently asked questions.  I like the FAQ section.  When I saw that, I felt like Walton or IVP gave the book to some ordinary people to see what questions they had before putting it on the market.

Overall, the book is a short, easy read, especially for those who are familiar with Genesis 1.  Minus the endnotes, the book is 172 pages. Finally, I’ll include an important link–I didn’t want to mention it first so as to make you reading this post unnecessary–to the table of contents. The full table of contents is available at Google Books.  You can actually read snippets of the book there too.

Stay tuned for my personal reflections …

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The Lost World of Genesis One – Author

This is the first post in a series of three on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One from IVP-Academic. In this post, I will introduce the author followed by posts overviewing the contents and sharing my personal thoughts. Thanks to IVP-Academic for sending along a copy.

I have high expectations for this book because it comes from someone whose work sits on my desk. The privilege of sitting on my desk is actually a big deal for a book, in case you didn’t know. That means I want the book handy, not wanting to walk the extra five feet to the bookshelves in my office. I have the IVP Bible Background Commentary set on my desk for which Walton was a contributor.  Of course, as a two volume commentary, it is not the most in depth reference work, but I find it helpful if I’m reading daily lectionary readings or something similar.  Otherwise, I’ve read Walton here and there for papers and the like at seminary.

Others of you might remember Walton from, this:

Well, at least we know Walton has a sense of humor.

The back cover of The Lost World of Genesis One lists Walton as a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. I’m not sure there are many more prestigious Old Testament faculty positions as far as evangelical colleges go. He has also written or edited a considerable number of books on the Old Testament and ancient world, including co-authoring an introduction to the Old Testament with Andrew Hill, a commentary on Genesis, a book on the cultural context of the Old Testament, and now another Bible background commentary.

Considering the Walton’s teaching background and the number of books he has written, The Lost World of Genesis One has the potential for being a good book on the first chapter of the Bible from an evangelical perspective. The timing also works out pretty well for me to read this book since my Old Testament introduction will start Genesis shortly.

I can already see that one of my preconceived ideas about the book emerging from thinking about the author’s background will prove unwarranted. I left the evangelical world a number of years ago, so when considering Walton’s background, I would imagine him taking the discussion of evolution in a particular direction.  And, that certainly doesn’t turn out to be the case. I’m glad. But, for that you will have to wait for the overview of contents and reaction …

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What evolved first? Investigation into Genesis 1 or Darwin?

The first chapter of B'reshit, or Genesis, wri...

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Ken Ham and others who are leading the liberal Creationist agenda would have us believe that over the last 150 years, Christians have compromised the ‘bible’ (what is this singular Greek book of which they speak?) because of Darwin. Anyone with any sorta of historical integrity could debunk that radical, liberal, notion that Darwin can first and that suddenly Christians everywhere were shaken in their foundation of the truth. The radical liberals, such as Answers in Genesis, would have us “take back our religion” from Darwin and return to a “literal reading of Scripture.” The problem is, is that in their liberality, they have turned from the Truth. David Carr shows that an early version of source-criticism actually appeared long before Darwin. Of course, if one has read the Language of Science and Faith they would note that before Darwin, Christians were questioning the sometimes usual interpretation of 6,000 years old. Of course, Hebrew scholars, and other ANE scholars, have noted that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 are different in basic sources, and that the language of those chapters do not reflect a scientific meaning.

The year 2011 marks the 300th year after the publication of Henning Bernard Witter’s path-breaking discovery of criteria for uncovering a specific source behind the biblical book of Genesis. In 1711, this well-educated pastor in Germany published “Jura Israelitarum in Palaestinam Commentatione in Genesin perpetua” (Israelite laws in Palestine, comments on the eternal Genesis…), where he noted several important differences between the seven-day creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and the story of the garden of Eden in Genesis 2:4-3:24.

 

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Straw Men Created by the ‘Historical Adam’ Debate

Depiction of Adam and Eve being cast out from ...

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Statements like this – all the gospel will be lost if – has been uttered and repeated time and time again when those entrenched against new information cannot handle it and create fear scenarios . Dr. Mohler writes,

Thus, the denial of a historical Adam means that we would have to tell the Bible’s story in a very different way than the church has told it for centuries as the Bible has been read, taught, preached, and believed. If there is no historical Adam, then the Bible’s metanarrative is not Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation, but something very different.

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.

Adam and Eve: Clarifying Again What Is at Stake .

The issue is, is one of of intellectual dishonesty. This is not a slight against Dr. Mohler. This happens all the time and is natural – see the theory of motivated reasoning. What happens is you start with a position, A, and you reject anything that changes it, or outright dismisses it. You don’t challenge or otherwise defend against the evidence – in fact, all that is happening is that one has set up a position as unchangeable and defends that position by not allowing any contrary facts to exist.

The fact is, is that John Walton has placed along side the so-called ‘plain reading’ of Scripture Scriptural facts and evidences that the aforementioned reading is wrong. Yet, because that changes a particular narrative, it is not considered, or not considered fairly. This is what is happening. It is not that the Gospel is at stake – it wasn’t at stake at Nicea; it wasn’t at stake at the Great Schism; it wasn’t at stake in the Reformation. It’s not at stake now. What is at stake is entrenched interpretations – as the above mentioned moments in Christian history – and those who needed them to believe the Gospel. The fact is, is that with Walton’s evidences, the Covenantal theme becomes that much more clearer in Scripture. Perhaps, then, that is what troubles so many. Perhaps a change in the narrative is what is troublesome.

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