Category Archives: History
Genesis chapters 1-11 continue to intrigue because, for all their “under-determination” of meaning for us moderns, and their mythic style, they keep resonating with details of the most ancient human history. And so, quite apart from any theological reasons, I can’t go along with those who regard them as ahistorical, nor have much sympathy with the idea that they are purely late, exilic, additions – they wear their great antiquity prominently.
It’s my impression (which admittedly may be mistaken) that the Reformed churches in America, at least, find it hard to avoid agnosticism on matters of creation and origins. Or when they don’t, they find it theologically necessary to cut across what they see as the current opinions of science, leading to a degree of cognitive dissonance. They’re not unique in that, of course – some Evangelical theology nowadays seem to be based on cognitive dissonance as a virtue.
At this point in the series, let’s move on to consider the world outside Eden, and perhaps before Eden, by summarising what I’ve already concluded from adopting the “compositional strategy” of the Pentateuch or Torah proposed by John Sailhamer, and applied to the beginning of Genesis by Seth Postell. I put this overview in list form in the previous post, so please refresh your memory there if you need to.
I’ve just finished Seth D Postell’s 2011 book, Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh, which although perhaps a little scholarly (ie interactive with the “academic literature”) for the average reader is a great eye opener in considering the whole question of understanding the first chapters of Genesis.
I’ve commented more than once on how the accusation “You don’t understand evolution” gets slapped on practically everybody, from Fundamentalists to senior evolutionary biologists. If you already know your ignorance you’ll be used to hearing it should you ask the wrong questions at places like BioLogos (I’ve had it thrown at me there twice this week already, though I’ve studied it a bit over the last 50 years or so). Even if you’re highly trained, though, you are not immune (as my piece linked above demonstrates). In both cases, the ultimate reason is probably the same.
Our house, according to our neighbour (who was there) was built in 1969, but on a 2½ acre plot that was already surrounded on three sides by traditional “devon banks”, and on the fourth by a lane. So it’s a field with some kind of history, but mostly unknown to us as we’ve only been here eight years.
Back in May I did a piece on how the profound (and fascinating) changes in lower Mesopotamian topography over the millennia can endorse the broad historicity of the Genesis 2 narrative. But I did leave one or two loose ends then, some of which I might be able to tie up here.
The recurrent pattern of the slowly ongoing discussion on Hebrew cosmology at Biologos is interesting. An allusion to Seely, or to some other secondary source, is adduced to assert that such and such a nation believed without exception in a solid firmament and a celestial ocean “just like Israel”. I refute this from primary sources or specialist literature. Rather than being withdrawn, the claim then gets transferred to another nation, a bit further downstream from ancient Israel, and round we go again.
One of the common practices in building dubious Hebrew cosmologies is to take an elaborate concept from some non-Hebrew ancient source, and apply it wholesale to sparse references in the Bible. One example would be the Babylonian Apsu, the subterranean watery realm, which is pretty well described in cuneiform texts, and which is mapped uncritically to the Hebrew tehom, which usually means the seas, and sometimes the depths from which freshwater springs come, in order to construct an infinite abyssal ocean never mentioned in Scripture, as in this “Hebrew Cosmology”:
There is debate nowadays as to whether Genesis 1 teaches ex nihilo creation, or whether it implies that God used pre-existing materials to create. To some extant the answer hinges on whether v1 is a first act of creation, making a formless heaven and earth which he then organises; or whether v1 is a summary, like the subsequent toledot introductions to sections of the book, and that the formless earth is the material he begins to work on. The two interpretations of this verse have been contested (amiably) since at least the time of St Basil, though the question of creation from something pre-existent seems only to have arisen with … Continue reading