Interview on Generations of Heaven and Earth

Peaceful Science has just published an interview-style article on the last book here. Hope you’ll find it helpful.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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22 Responses to Interview on Generations of Heaven and Earth

  1. Robert Byers says:

    Funny they included HOUSE ARREST! Not the type to question anything in governments or establishments! Anyways very minor p[oint but the garden was just a place WITHIN EDEN. The garden was not called EDEN. Adam got tossed from the garden but was still in Eden i think. Unless to the east of Eden. why east? indeed if the whole world was a paradise what is the importance of Eden? Yet there must of been something. I do simply just see the account as what we were meant to understand. not mythical at all. anyways a interesting interview.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      You’re right that Eden is not the garden. I use the term, usually, as shorthand for the whole Genesis 2-4 narrative, which of course begins and ends outside the garden.

      My book is, essentially, about the very difference between the garden and the rest of the pre-fall world, which is about the distinction between the old and new creations, the partitioned temple and direct access to God. And so all the things that Jesus came to bring the world have their origins in the garden of Eden.

  2. Hanan says:

    Hey Jon,

    Great interview. Very happy for you.

    I am going to bring up the same thing I always do, so forgive me. One of the things you bring up is rooting Eden in history. Why do I have such a hard time accepting Eden is history? I appreciate the theology of how Adam is not the first human but a unique human, but I simply can’t get past the idea that this story is not rooted in historical truth. So what happens next? Is the whole theology and narrative destroyed if one does not accept a historical Eden (and by extension Adam)?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      So what happens next?

      You either come to change your mind, or manage without! My book gives various arguments against the need for a-historical interpretations of the Eden narrative (not to be confused with the likelihood that it is “mythicized” history in genre). And in the end, the way to “get past” problems is evidence of one kind or another: otherwise most of our problems can often come from soaking up the zeitgeist of contemporary doubts.

      But questions of the ancient past are never cut and dried. I may be wrong, and the author of Genesis may have invented Adam as a mythical antitype of Israel, or against the history of genre he may be an “Everyman” allegorical figure, or any of the other explanations that have been proposed. Many of those, of course, have been devised in the light of the apparent impossibility of Adam because of deep time/evolution, which the Genealogical Adam concept has debunked (as, increasingly, do other understandings of genetics proposing an ancient Adam – see Bill Craig and Joshua Swamidass’s emerging work on that).

      None of those make orthodox belief impossible – they have often been devised by faithful folk – but in my view they create difficulties (most famously with Paul’s New Testament understanding, but that arises from second temple assumptions anyway, such as what is written in Wisdom).

      The wider problem is that Judaism and Christianity are both historical, not primarily philosophical faiths – they deal with a salvation history through Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus, not the evolution of big ideas about God. So many of the major themes of the Bible have their roots in the Eden story, so for it to lack historical foundation means those themes have to float in the air too. Solomon’s temple has no foundations!

      That tends to result in the need to change the faith to remove the history: God is the kind of loving God who intervenes in history, but actually hasn’t: discuss.

      • Hanan says:

        What is confusing is when i hear words such as “genre” or “ANE backdrop”. If all this is true, what relevance is there to all these things? The author is writing true history, plain and simple. Yet we are often told in fact, that the only way to understand Eden is through ANE backdrop. If that is the case, then the Eden story is flavored or molded not by history, but more of cultural baggage.

        I have read the book “Adam as Israel”. It is a phenomenal book laying out the connection between Eden and Israel’s story, along with their ultimate failure. But why do we need an actual Eden story to have happened? Why couldn’t salvation be real, and God oriented, but with Eden being a made up story meant to sort of highlight what an ultimate goal would look like; man and God together in holy place.

        I have been in touch with Ronn Johnson.,
        He is friends with Mike Heiser. One of the questions he brings up is, how can we discern of something is important to the biblical writers? He says you can often tell by how much a topic is brought up to the writers. So unlike Abraham, Moses and David, just how much ink is placed on Adam? Are garden motifs in Ezekiel specifically about Adam, or, is the symbols of those days to describe holy place? Another thought that sort of Heiser once said in a comment is that the Israelites coming out of Egypt most likely would never have knew about the Genesis story. Ok. So what would they have thought of THEIR salvation? What is it connected to? Just Abraham?

  3. Hanan says:

    BTW, what does one do with the table of nations? The table of nations is professed (unless I am wrong) to be where all nations come from. But if we are to take literally the idea that Adam was one of many humans, but simply placed into Eden, then what became of the rest of humanity?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      You need to read my latest book, Hanan, where I discuss the Table of Nations in detail, and suggest that the idea that it is about the origin of every nation is wrong – I believe it is about the proliferation of the Adamic line amongst the nations.

      On your previous post, one of the things I’ve worked on over the years is how there is no such thing as “plain and simple history.” There are all kinds of ways of selecting significant events from the past and telling them in ways that make sense of them. “Historiography” as a specific discipline is a Greek invention (like the cosmos!), but was preceded by millennia of epic poetry, etc, recording the important events of the past. “Important,” of course, meaning important in their terms, not in modern historical terms of politics, economics or whatever. It has never been simply “Just give me the facts, Ma’am” – even the modern stress on objectivity is a bit of a myth – according to my Russian historian cousin, most histories of the Soviet Union have become obsolete not because new facts emerged, but because the ideological viewpoint of the authors failed along with Soviet Communism.

      In antiquity, big themes require big treatments – but that’s even so now, if you see how, say, the Second World War has rapidly become reduced to broad brush strokes to express what our culture believes is significant. The same is true of the Exodus cycle, where much confusion is caused by trying to use modern historiographic conventions where they don’t belong.

      How much of early Genesis was known to the Israelites in Egypt is speculative – if, as many scholars believe, Gen 1-11 is “The Old Testament of the Old Testament” those stories could have been circulating widely early on, with or without their theological agenda. Even more so the patriarchal narratives, of course.

      But if we take your suggestion that they knew of Abraham, but not Adam, I see no problem: the promise of nationhood and covenant would have been sufficient motivation for them to act in faith. But the writing of Genesis allows subsequent reflection on why it was necessary for God to call a nation in the first place.

      A parallel is how many Christians, especially in newly-contacted people groups, come to faith only knowing about Jesus from the NT. But to understand Jesus in any complete way it is necessary to understand Israel, which is why the greater portion of the Christian Scriptures is the Tanach. It follows that if the whole covenant history of Israel is fictional, Jesus loses his entire context and meaning, and becomes (as in much liberalism) only a kind of universal ideal.

      • Hanan says:

        Let me reply to your last couple of paragraphs first because they are important and where everything is hinged upon. You are right that if the whole history of Israel is fictional, the part that comes after (Jesus), loses the context. So therefore I understand that if I only believe in Abraham, but not Adam (or even Noah to add), then there is no context of believing in Abraham’s call.

        That is where I am stuck.

        But let me narrow down on this sentence:

        “But the writing of Genesis allows subsequent reflection on why it was necessary for God to call a nation in the first place.”

        But if it is not historical fully, then what is the purpose of such reflection? If it is a made up story (granted with noble aims) then how could the Israelites or even us know for certaintly that THAT is the reason God chose to call a nation in the first place?
        This once again calls into the issue that I said before about the Genesis story laced with ANE baggage (as Heiser would like to say). But why should it? If it is true history, then there is no baggage. It is simply true (or not).

        Here is what I am looking for: I can accept that a specific genre could take a TRUE historical story, and weave it into a tale based on said genre. But what is needed, is history first.

        So if you and I, strapped ourselves into the exact cool time machine that was in HG Well’s Time Machine, what would we see if we went to the past? If we went further back past Abraham, would we see a global deluge? Would we see an old man building a giant boat? Going even further, and landing on Mt. Hermon, would we see a group of angels coming down and taking wives? And then going back even further, would we see far beyond the horizon a garden?

        My problem is I feel two voices are constantly trying to speak into the mic at once. What I mean is, let’s take Heiser, he is always talking about how true all this is, but at the same time, speaking about how these stories are based on ANE concepts of the world. That without understand ANE context, you can’t understand these stories. To me, those are two contradictory ideas.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


          I’m not sufficiently familiar with Mike Heiser to know how he integrates his stuff with history as opposed to “universals of faith,” but I agree that biblical theologians (take Seth Postell as an example) have a tendency to concentrate on demonstrating the internal consistency of the narrative, at the expense of its setting in the external world. I refer to the popular form of that as “Flannelgraph religion,” in which God raises up Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar to do his will, but cannot be conceived to raise up Putin or Trump.

          So I also agree with you that a story with a consistent internal world is not the same kind of truth as it would be if it touches real history at its key points. A novel is not history. That’s a major reason I wrote Generations, taking my cue from the way that Genealogical Adam makes that character consistent with what we know from science and ancient history.

          And so starting with Abraham… (as an aside, the patriarchal narratives are a unique genre in ancient literature, telling a spiritual biography of a non-royal family. Their historicity must be gleaned from their congruence with their cultural setting, which is high and increasing – have you seen the work on the identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom, and the evidence for its destruction by an asteroid air-burst?)

          Starting with Abraham, then, we have a set of traditions (which he may even have carried from Ur) which have close links to the very oldest Mesopotamian stories. As Ken Kitchen points out, they form an equally valid alternative to the latter. Do those traditions describe a global deluge? Literally they can’t because there was no concept of “globe,” or even “cosmos.” It’s extremely unlikely that the traditions of either Sumer or Israel arose from belief that a universal Flood had occurred – the key point about the Noachic Flood is that it targets Adam’s line – which as you know from Postell is the core focus of Genesis.

          There was a big discussion, involving me, Joshua, and some decent Bible scholars, on the “Sons of God/Sons of Men” passage, over at Peaceful Science. The fact the 1 Enoch takes it as angels impregnating women does not make it so (even Rabbinic traditions have different understandings). In fact, if my contention that “Moses” wrote Genesis in full knowledge that he was talking about Adam’s line amongst an existing worldwide humanity holds, then Gen 6 acquires another set of plausible interpretations. Even apart from Genealogical Adam, though, folks like Richard Middleton have argued for quite plausible scenarios not involving angel-biology.

          So much depends on how you approach the text: start with Gen 1 as an “ancient science” history of the creation, with Adam as an alternative or expanded form of the beginning of the world, and you’re looking for cosmic wonders. But start from a historical tradition of not only national origins, but God’s theological dealings with mankind, and suddenly is as much about a wonderful God acting in a prosaic world as is, say, God’s special dealings with David and his line.

          In fact I begin my book (buy my book!) by showing how little of the whole proto-history requires a “magical” understanding: even the talking Serpent, as you’ll know from Mike Heiser, makes sense as a member of the divine council, once you accept a sacred space in which Yahweh undertakes a unique encounter with Adam and Eve. Nothing is that implausible about such a sacred space, if we explore the text more than the tradition. The Temple was such a holy place at a later time: Isaiah and John’s father Zechariah both encountered the living God there.

          So you’re with me, I think, in thinking that an historical faith like Judaism, likewise Christianity, needs its roots in history. My conviction, and my argument in GHE, is that the historical basis of Genesis 1-11 is actually not that problematic, given the questions of genre in which we seem to have reached agreement, the fact that we are far removed both in time and culturally from those times, and the under-termination of the text (like any ancient literature) in pinning down individual events to the scraps of secular history we have. We can’t prove it, but there are insufficient grounds to deny it.

  4. Hanan says:

    Hey Jon,

    I think we are going to have to disagree about Gen. 6. As Heiser has demonstrated, the ANE evidence that the Israelites understood it to mean angels mating with women is overwhelming. I belive there are even New Testament verses that deal with women covering their hairs…..on the account of the angels sinning. This makes sense if you read Gen 6 as Heiser suggests.

    Anyways…. Regarding this statement:

    “But start from a historical tradition of not only national origins, but God’s theological dealings with mankind”

    Can you elaborate on that? How does God have theological dealings with manking unless certain events as the Bible portrays them, actually happened in history. It’s one thing to say there may have been a man and woman that we all share geneology with, it’s another to suggest that there is a garden somewhere out there in the fertile crescent that is being protected by a cherub.

    I come back to this point. How can we use terms such as “history” and “ANE stock language” or “genre” in the same breadth? George Washington crossed the delaware not because there may be mythical stories about heroes crossing bodies of water. We say he crossed it because it actually happened. So I never includes like “genre” to describe that 18th century event.

    I know I am going in circles, but we both agree this is important.

  5. Hanan says:


    Out of curiosity, does your book touch upon some of these questions?

  6. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    My objections to the sexy angels explanation is because there are alternative explanations, and because it seems creationally unlikely for disembodied beings to be given procreative abilities with embodied humans. But in the end, if that’s the way God planned it, there’s no more reason to think it impossible than the angels themselves.

    My point on history is that it is itself a genre, or more properly a range of genres depending on the cultural setting. Facts that “matter” are always selected from the mess of events, and told in ways that match the historian’s cultural norms and aims. One random instance – my “Oxford English History” describes King Edward VI as “the boy bigot,” probably because the author is Catholic, whereas to the early Puritans, he was “our King Josiah.” Neither description is either entirely wrong or actually factual (Edward was not really Josiah reincarnated) – but both serve the purposes of historiography in telling history.

    Let’s suppose for the moment that Homer’s Iliad was based on the actual history of the people for whom it was written. Those people wanted it told in epic and poetic terms, to stir them to similar exploits, and to describe how the gods helped or hindered that history, because that was how they understood history to work. It could even, like the biblical histories, be based on royal chronicles of events, but it only became worth listening to when the bard made its significance clear through literary conventions.

    So, a garden guarded by cherubs – not impossible, since angels appear regularly through both Testaments. But what it means in physical terms that would please a secular modern historian is another matter – King David was granted a vision of an angel with a drawn sword, but do we need to understand from that that angels actually fight with swords, or are we not willing to grant that the appearance was tailored to the recipient?

    What (if I remember without checking!) I do include in GHE is some discussion of “myth” as stylistic genre as opposed to “myth a fiction.” I certainly have done so recently on the Hump, in the piece about how the English part of World War 2 has been distilled into mythic form in terms of Spitfires, The Great Escape, the Dam Busters, the Blitz spirit and a few other things that are true, but stylized and, potentially, misleading for a recent event whose less-obvious ramifications are still with us. For example, portraying Hitler only as an embodiment of pure evil can hinder our ability to see the next one looking like a good guy as he arises (the Christian figure of Antichrist appears as an angel of light, and it as that we are warned to be alert, not for an obvious monster).

    So the question to ask of the Eden narrative is what spiritual significance gives it the form it takes, and I argue (in the book) that it would work very well as a historical narrative shaped for its literary purpose. If that purpose is to show the paradigmatic state of mankind through our Archetypes, Adam and Eve, then it it serves a “mythic” purpose, just as the Exodus, as history, serves as the foundation “myth” for the Jewish people, remembered each year in the Passover.

    As I’ve said before, the principal aim of GHE, apart from extending the Genealogical Adam paradigm, is to explore how biblical history makes sense in the context of real history. Obviously I’ve not covered the entire history of the world, but I’ve tried!

    • Hanan says:

      So how would you respond to a statement like this:

      “The point of Israel’s election is to bring back the world BACK to its Edenic origins.” That is a good paraphrase of Heiser’s contention. By saying “Back” it presumes that there was a time where it existed. So what is your opinion on someone that says they believe in the Election of Israel, but that the Eden story, though serving a theological end, but that it never really happened. Therefore…..what is the purpose of Israel’s election? Is this a place where you have to accept the whole story or it starts crumbling?

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        I agree, essentially, except that I’d not see Eden as the original state of the world, but the original state of the new world, the new creation, and in itself only a seed for the transformation of the old.

        But in terms of historical truth it amounts to the same thing: the foundation of an historical edifice (the calling of Israel) rests on sand.

        I’d see the problem as of the same kind as the liberal Christian one if the Patriarchs and the Exodus is denied: Jesus is the promised Messiah to restore the covenant of Abraham to the nation of Israel (and beyond), but neither of those have any real hsitorical basis – Abraham is a legendary character, and Israel a motley collection of Canaanites that developed, somehow, monotheism.

        Or, again, Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, but we can still believe the gospel of salvation he brought. On what basis, except some kind of vague universal principles that are by no means evidenced in the world. Judaism and Christianity are both more than philosophical monotheism.

        One useful book I referenced for mine was Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? by Hoffmeier and Magary.

        • Hanan says:

          Sooooo it appears to me – unless I am misunderstanding you – that either I accept Gen 1-11 as historical……or my belief in the actual election of Israel by God has no foundation.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

            I didn’t (quite)say that! There are folks who embue the proto-history with a universal non-factual mythical purpose: i just find it hard to make sense of that in a profoundly historical faith.

            Wherever you put your first historical moment, you’re bound to ask how that arose. Abram was called from Ur by God: but why, and how did he get there? He’s called to bless not just his own offspring, but many nations – but why do they need Abram’s blessing in the first place? And why should Abram’s tribal god get involved?

            As many commentators have pointed out, Gen 1-11 sets up so many truths about God, the world, mankind, Missio Dei and so on. In my book (literally and figuratively) they set up the story on which the world is running to its conclusion. If they’re not true (in the culture-sensitive way we’ve been discussing) then it’s hard to know what the story’s about.

            • Hanan says:

              Regarding your last paragraph, it sounds like you are talking about the internal consistency of the book, but you already said earlier, that a consistency of a story does not make it historically true.

              Let’s drop adam and eve for the moment. THe story of the tower of Babel. How does that relate to history? Well, we know about ziggurats. We know about Babylonian religion, but what does that have anythign to do with the bible? THe bible makes claim that all man spoke one language about 4500 years ago and all concentrated in that tiny region before being dispersed. So how does THAT story relfect in true history? You already have made a scientific case for the possibility of a geneological Adam, and how it does not contradict the genetic history of man. So what tools would you use for the Babel story given that anthropology, archeology etc already tells us man was dispersed long before this story WOULD have taken place. Whether across land bridges, or other parts of africa into Europe and Asia.

              • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

                I see the Babel story, in Genesis context, as paradigmatic. It is the narrative culmination of the proto-history, showing a suitable egraphic xample of the end result of Eden, to which the call of Abraham is the beginning of God’s response. And so “making a name for ourselves” is contrasted with God’s making a name for Abram.

                So in our interpretation, we look for how the human behaviour at Babel is “typical,” rather than unique, and also how it suits the literary genre, before thinking about the historical aspect. A sort of parallel is the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges, which is there to demonstrate the increasing need for a godly king, rather than one world-changing moment.

                There are good reasons for thinking that the Hebrew is not actually implying a single world language beforehand: apart from anything else, the Table of Nations has already casually referred to each nation and its own language.

                Richard Middleton argues that it’s really about the imposition of a single language at the time of the first Empire, that of Sargon, and that the story would originally have been understood as a polemic against centralized despotic power, and God’s breaking up that empire as he regularly does. In favour of that is the peculiarity of vocabulary: scholars have long disputed what “of one lip” actually indicates.

                True or not, Middleton’s thinking shows we need to question what we think texts say: the “tower” is assumed nowadays to be a ziggurat, simply because archaeologists discovered them in the right place: but it actually may be more indicative of military architecture.

                A little more on this is in the book.

  7. Hanan says:

    I ordered your book. 😀

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