Commonly in Christian theology, the agreement between Adam and God (the Adamic covenant) and the agreement between the Israelites and God (the Old Covenant of Moses) are contrasted (the Noahide and Abrahamic covenants are given varying significance depending on who’s talking). Many, such as those holding firmly to the Westminster Confession, argue that the Adamic […]
Archive for the 'The Fall' Category
One of today’s posts on Science and the Sacred is called An Artist or An Engineer? The author argues that we shouldn’t expect the precision of an engineer in creation any more than we expect it in an artist. The article brings this out by raising the issue of what has elsewhere been called “unintelligent […]
I haven’t been posting much lately. To explain why, allow me give you a sketch of my relationship with theology, which has always formed the backbone of this site. First, a plea: don’t waste your time cultivating the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying theology until you know what the Bible is, nor until you’re willing […]
Damian at Castle of Nutshells found an interesting article by Mike Heiser on the subject of “Adam’s Sin and Old Testament Theology.” Heiser brings home the fact that “there isn’t a single verse in the entire Hebrew Bible [the Old Testament] that produces the theology put forth by the traditional interpretation of Romans 5:12.” This […]
Before I “took the road less traveled by” into historical linguistics, I was highly interested in ancient history, especially as it related to the Old Testament. I wanted to learn Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, and of course Hebrew so that I could study the Ancient Near East (ANE) and how it related to the Bible. The more I read on my own, the more I realized that such studies did not confirm the Bible as a purely divine record of history. ANE archaeology and history demonstrate the ANE heritage of the Bible; but once we acknowledge the ANE context of the Bible, we should not expect to see those aspects which differ from 21st century Western ideals to be omitted from it and should likewise not expect to see our modern ideals in place. Sadly, it is difficult for readers of literature to approach any text fully aware of the ideals, mindsets, and motivations of the authors even when contemporaneous with them, much less when separated by changes to culture, social context, and language wrought by millennia of intervening time; the unconsciously anachronistic depositing of ideas and concepts foreign to the author and original audience are also hard to identify and purge from our readings.
Readers of this blog should know that I believe the Bible is no less subject to anachronistic misinterpretation than other literary works, and I would point out to those who disagree that there are myriad cases in which they themselves make provision for this problem – any time they insist on doing anything beyond a surface reading that doesn’t take into account the history and culture of the people involved with the writing of the Bible. Educated evangelicals in particular have a tendency to eat up any book they can get their hands on that purports to show the Bible in its original context, provided the conclusion is “conservative” and is treated as upholding the historicity of the Bible. I myself tend to do this even today, and with some just cause: zealous secularist debunkers approach the text looking for erroneous information they suppose invalidates the message of Scripture. For most evangelicals, an appeal to historical/cultural contextualization is especially lauded when it is used to clear up apparent challenges to scientific inerrancy. Take for example Edwin Thiele’s observation of Judah and Israel’s alternating usage of accession and non-accession year dating in recording regnal lengths in First and Second Kings, a situation somewhat perplexing to anyone advocating the “plain reading” approach. This has caused some conservatives (especially fundamentalists) to attack Thiele’s explanation as an end-run around God’s intention to provide us all truth provided we use a plain, literalist hermeneutic (witness one such person reviewing Thiele’s book, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, on Amazon).
The “plain literalist” hermeneutic is useful for upholding the current ideals of historiography in the Old Testament narratives. The problem is that this is a dreadfully anachronistic endeavor: the modern genre of historiography was not developed before a Greek movement that took place centuries after the supposed origin of the stories, and even then it took quite a while for those ideals to saturate Greek historiography and then the rest of the world through Hellenism. It’s not that those before the turn of the first millennium A.D. were incapable or too ignorant to write history the way we expect it in our post-Enlightenment world. It’s just that they had different ideals for what they wanted from a story. Cold, dispassionate, scientific history without any foreseeable application failed to supply the meaning or entertainment they demanded from their stories. They wanted colorful stories that gave them meaning, not history for history’s sake. Modernists, however, tend to believe that an exact recounting of history is the highest or most important use of narrative. As I wrote elsewhere, “The difference between the ancient and the modern motivations for and method of speculation about unknowns is that the ancients used mythological stories in order to apply meaning to the subject of their speculation and we tend to use scientific enquiry to sever meaning from the subject, and are thus generally skeptical that any meaning can or should be applied. The ancients were content to be ignorant of the mechanics of how, as long as they knew why. Modernists feel satisfied to have discovered the natural causes, the how’s, and seem convinced that this abolishes meaning.”
But the use of mythology to convey meaning is not something that disappeared without a trace with the onset of the Age of Reason. Gordon Glover likes to point out that the American tall tales about such figures as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are not intended to explain topographical features such as the Grand Canyon, but they do acknowledge the existence of those features as integral aspects of the frontier and use fantastic stories about their creation as entertaining vehicles of meaning to illustrate character virtues such as strength and courage which have now successfully been associated with the frontiersmen who tamed the wilderness.
Would it be so scandalous if the Israelites, like all their neighbors, had little use for a cold recounting of geological, astronomical, and biological history, preferring stories chock-full of meaning? What would be wrong if God saw it fit to communicate the truths most relevant and significant to them in the way most familiar to them? The self-centeredness of the objection that this genre isn’t as relevant to us is readily apparent and needs no comment here.
ANE scholarship has long pointed out the similarities between the early Genesis stories and the myths of the ANE, from the obvious Utnapishtim/Noah parallel to shades of Enki and Ninhursag in the Garden narratives. Nevertheless, literalists have a few preferred methods of explaining these parallels away. First, they will deny any similarity of style between the Genesis narratives and the ANE myths. Other times they will insist that the similarities are merely chance or so general and vague that they are hardly significant. Lastly, when the parallels are undeniable, they break out their ace in the hole: they claim that Genesis is the original, historical basis for the ANE stories, regardless of the fact that the latter predate Genesis by as much as a millennium.
I want to share a few of my thoughts on these literalist responses.
Summary of Part One God the Gardener created a son (Lk 3.38) to tend the garden. God, as a father, was training up his children Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam was put in a garden for instruction because gardening requires faith: both faithfulness in tending day by day and faith that what is […]
In my explanation of man’s depravity from the view of a recurring, individualized (non-historical) Fall, I have argued that mankind’s natural separation from God was in origin a result of natural self-preservation instincts. These instincts progressed first into childish selfishness and then, with the onset of divinely gifted God-consciousness (Romans 1:18-21), those instincts gone unchecked […]