Reexamining Our Claims: The Literal Historicity of Genesis 1–11

I recall with nostalgic fondness the festive atmosphere generated at Akoto, a little Nzema enclave in western Ghana, when the regional troupe of village historians arrived for the annual two-day Nzema oral history competition, which aimed at instilling pride about the Nzema people and their history. These festivities were planned to coincide with full moonlit nights, as our villages had neither electricity nor artificial sources of light. The two nights were grand communal affairs, as almost the entire village gathered in the market square under the bright canopy of moonlight to listen to the stories and exploits of our ancestors.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11761
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Wow, this is a breath of fresh air! Thanks Matthew!

Don’t tell Ted. He’ll have a fit and re-write the fundamental beliefs. Again.

Yes! Regarding the two creation narratives, did El create an unspecified number of humans - male and female - in the image of the gods at the end of the creation episode, as the pinnacle of creation (as it is claimed), or did Yahweh create one - the adam - first, so he could name all the things that were created as they were created?

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Bravo!! Is our faith in something to be built on inconsistencies, needing a fancy dance, or increasing our knowledge and understanding of events, times, methods, etc? Present truth continues to expand, past truth is just that, in the past.

Present, noun-the period of time now occurring

Me thinks that the definition has been long forgotten!

I always like to read something by Matthew Quartey. Somehow, I don’t see the link to, or description of, Hasel’s piece to which he refers. Can someone help me out for context? Thanks.

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There’s no link, but he states:

I looked it up. It looks like you have to buy it. It’s not posted online, as far as I can tell. How 1980’s. Really “gettin’ the word out”, right?

You can buy a paper copy here for $20: Biblical Hermeneutics - Biblical Research Institute

The Kindle version here for $10: Amazon.com

The shocking implication of this is that some church leaders have heard of Amazon.com. Wow!

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There was supposed to be a link to the BRI’s book that contains Hasel’s essay but it didn’t link correctly in the website system. The link to the book is added now—thanks for pointing that out!

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Thank you Matthew! An enjoyable, thoughtful read. A couple of comments:

I’m not sure I’d agree with the premise of historical faith/myth as I think you describe such as David in an iron-age society and God removes evidence of the iron. While I don’t have evidence I’d rather believe that (a) the event happened and we just haven’t found supporting proof yet or (b) the writer’s took creative license and the events did not happen as described. I think of God as a logical being and don’t see the logic in hiding the evidence from history of certain select items just because.

Second comment is about Biblical fundamentalists, the Bible must be taken whole-cloth, regardless of inconsistencies. God must have created everything in 6 literal days and rested on the 7th. Otherwise, there is no point for Seventh-day Adventists to exist. We are defined by the idea that God rested on that 7th day. If it doesn’t exist that way, then neither should we as a denomination. Kind of like the contradictions and issues regarding Ellen White. We must ignore it, or we can no longer consider her to be canon - and, what then is the SDA church based on?

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The irony is that we have the faith definition option available to us, which enables us to define history in ways that incorporate the supernatural. When we define history on faith grounds, no proof is needed for biblical assertions. The walls of Jericho could fall to prayers without any debris remaining. The throng of migrating Israelites could traverse the desert for 40 years and not leave tracks.

It’s worse because the problem is the counter-evidence against such claims. It’s the absence of data points along a chronological stream, and better explanations for those absences other than ‘God did it’. God might have hidden the tracks of all the Israelites - but he also would have to have hidden the depopulation of Egypt by approximately 1/3 (along with the economic and social consequences of all the plagues), and then hidden the fact of 2 million people entering Egypt-controlled Canaan with no discernible consequences or subsequent references to Egypt in the biblical texts etc., God is then required to have been very busy (or forgetful), and there is only so far that a reasonable mind is willing to stretch to.

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Yea. Sigh. And yet, somehow, Jews don’t have the same hang-ups. For them, it’s OK if the Pentateuch isn’t literal history. It’s OK if neither of the two creation (mutually exclusive) stories in Genesis are myth. And for many, it’s OK if science is right about our origins.

Jews have been struggling with this since the middle ages and the dawn of the renaissance. We’re late-comers to this game and rather shallow thinkers.

See…

From the article: In the late 1880s, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, wrote responding to the idea that all life evolved from one organism,

“…Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that notion, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures.”

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  1. We do not see in the Torah a transition from mythos to logos. Genesis 1-11 is steeped in logos, consisting of theological critique and moral instruction. The mythical elements we see in Genesis 1-3, for example, such as the anthropomorphic god, divine curses, magical trees, a talking snake, etc., suggest that there might be a mythical predecessor. But the text’s author is either very, very smart in hiding the people’s mythical past or there never was a mythical past, as there was in ancient Greece as embodied in the writings of Homer. In any event, logos predominates. Accordingly, it is hermeneutical error to characterize Genesis 1-11 (or any other part of the biblical text for that matter) as mythical.
  2. The biblical text (Genesis 1-11) is best characterized as history, but most SDAs have very little understanding of what history actually is. A historian cherry-picks among an array of facts and writes a narrative for the purpose of presenting a viewpoint. That is also what a writer of fiction does. History does not tell the whole story; we do not get “objective” truth in history but merely a perspective. And fiction is no less based on fact. You have it heard said, “I am doing research for my novel.” Classifying a text as history does not buttress the claim that the text is true, as SDAs typically think, because we don’t get the whole truth in history. The text could be fiction and be just as true as a text that is history, as illustrated in that Gore Vidal’s fictional account of Lincoln and the Civil War is just as true as a history book on Lincoln and the Civil War. History and fiction are just devices by which a writer presents a viewpoint. This is Hayden White 101. Understanding history and historiography are requisite to understanding hermeneutics.
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Did you ever consider that the raison d’etre of the entire denomination may indeed be built upon a faulty hermeneutical premise? IOW, if there is a better way to read and understand the bible, do we go with that, or stick with a defense of a poor hermeneutic in order to defend and justify an organization and its belief system?

Frank

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Phil, what is your definition of myth that you work with? The mythical elements, which you mention (talking snake etc.), could as well be textual elements of fairy tales or legends. Isn’t the combination of such elements in connection with transcendence a stronger hint for myth in distinction to fairy tale or legend? Are there exclusive mythical textual markers in your opinion?

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For me, myth just sits there in its raw form and does not mean anything more than what it says. Myth is an uninterpreted story. Mythos is a stage in human and cultural development in which there is no critical reflection about these stories. Theagenes’ allegorizing of Homer’s theomachy is regarded as the first extant example of ancient hermeneutics that marks the transition from mythos to logos in ancient Greece. The biblical text does not explicate a similar transition. It’s logos through and through. The theology, the level of thinking, and the critical reflection set forth in Genesis 1-3, for example, is comparable to what we find in the New Testament. We can infer that Genesis 1-11 (and the earliest biblical writings) effectuate a transition from mythos to logos, but the myths that might have been reworked are, unlike Homer’s writings, not available to us.

Gmirkin just put out (another) book arguing that Genesis reworks Plato, but I haven’t read it yet.

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Thanks. Myth as uninterpreted story… Similar like you, I think myth is a plot which can be narrated as a concrete version: as a visual image, text, oral etc. The definition of myth as uninterpreted story is in my opinion too broad because then even all modern short stories would be myth because they are uninterpreted and don’t aim at being interpreted. The only way out of this would be to limit this phenomenon to the ancient past, to a diffuse early time in earth’s history. And then we are full circle: No raw stories after? What makes a raw story a raw story?

A look at the function of ANE and Egyptian myths is helpful. Many of them aimed at creating reality by performative, ritual speech acts. It was not a stage of rawness; way too late in earth’s history for this. It was a stage of condensed story telling with very characeristic phenomena; and these stories spoken in a ritualistic setting were a proper way of addressing divine beings that could guarantee the proper functioning of life.

Hence, myths created reality. No need for interpretation (or explanation) of myths because they were experiential. Experiencing reality instead of hermeneutics of a text. Surprisingly, this sounds kinda postmodern, doesn’t it. :wink:

Therefore, I don’t think the Greek concept of mythos and logos is adequate for non-hellenistic cultures. It has to be modified. And we still have not figured out the relationship to Gen 1-11. Do monotheistic origin views resemble their contemporary polytheistic or henotheistic counterparts? To what extent? Fascinating.

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So often things are not as they seem to be. The January 6 protest will not be truthfully known until all video is released and reviewed. Until then, many of the innocent victims and their relatives will be chastised.

So very much has been discovered to validate the flood story and it is a blessing to have held on to the belief and faith of the Noah story. Much to learn from and confidence to be strengthened. Praise the Lord for His recorded scriptures.

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So how do we interpret the 4th Commandment based on the hermeneutic that allegorises Genesis?

No command for humans to rest is given in Genesis. That God is portrayed as resting on the seventh day, and that it is not described as having an evening or a morning, indicates an open ended state for humans. Rest was tied to not only completion, but to God now taking up his reign in his completed, and ordered creation. This was now the normal, ongoing state and function of things…what rest indicates in other parts of the OT as well. God’s reign, through his human image bearers, in his good creation, was now to be the normal, ongoing function of all creation.

Sabbath observance in the OT, was an acknowledgement of God and his reign in creation. This was part of the story of Israel as a people…which they tied to the creation story in Genesis. In the NT, this is all seen as a shadow pointing to Christ, God’s reign and new creation now being established in and through him, and through all, Jews or Gentiles, whether they are sabbath observant or not, who join with him by faith in God’s new creation project.

Frank

That’s a rhetorical question, right?. :grin:

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Three guesses minus two, Harry…:rofl:

Frank

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