There’s a quote, attributed to James Barr, which is popular among young-earth creationists. Here is the quote:
Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience. (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.
The source (when one is given) is “Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated 23 April 1984.” That makes it rather hard to track down. Stephen E. Jones has online what he says is a transcription of a copy of the letter that was sent to him by Answers in Genesis.
I presume that what Barr was saying, if this quote is authentic, is that introducing long epochs into the days of creation in Genesis 1, or making the flood a local occurrence, is to introduce things into the text that were not what the author(s) of Genesis would have assumed to be the case. And if that is the meaning, I think that the quote from Barr is correct and would be correct today.
But do note what that does not mean. It does not mean that the timing or extent of the flood was necessarily the point of those stories. The firmament, the flood, and much else that is found in Genesis and does not match up with the natural or historical world as we now know them, were part of the author’s assumptions, and only become something to be emphasized, and assented to on faith in spite of evidence to the contrary, relatively recently. To try to read accurate science or history back into the text is to distort the text.
And the point is definitely not that the creation and flood accounts in Genesis can or should be accepted as factual. The firmament and the global flood, however much they may have been assumed to exist or have occurred by the author of Genesis, did not happen and did not exist in the manner described. One can treat Genesis as making other points, or simply set it aside. But the young-earth creationist approach simply isn’t an option, since it involves too much lying, ignoring not only a flood (hee hee) of scientific data but also inconvenient Biblical evidence as well.
I would particularly like to hear from Hebrew Bible professors about what Barr is quoted as having said. Does this quote sound like it is correct? And can anyone trace it to a verifiable source?