We’ve been working through Denis O. Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution – a book that describes a way to move beyond the creation and evolutions debates. Chapter 6 of the book works through Genesis 1-11 considering the nature of the texts, the genre of the various stories told, the logical inconsistencies present within the text when interpreted in a literal historical fashion, the relationship of the text to literary forms and conventions common in the ancient Near East (ANE), and the problems with any attempt to find scientific concordance between the text and what we know today of the nature of the material world.
Quite frankly, all attempts to find nontrivial scientific concordance and most, if not all, attempts to find historical concordance in the text of Gen 1-11 fail quite badly. An ark the size of a football stadium could not have held a significant proportion of animal species (a problem apparent even in the eighteenth century if not before). There was no bottleneck in population 4000 years ago, no unified language a mere few hundred years or less before Abram (who, according to Gen 11, was born less than 300 years after the flood – with all of his forefathers from Noah to Terah still living, 11 generations together).
Chapter 7 provides Dr. Lamoureux’s vision of the means to move beyond conflict and concordance. In this chapter he discusses the literary form of Genesis 1-11 asking if the form is fable or make-believe; parable or allegory; legend, epic or folklore; myth; narrative; poetry; science; history; theology; literal; true. The answer is not simply to pick out the correct answer to the neglect of all other possibilities, but to look at the elements of the text and how they conform or fail to conform to the various forms and literary genres. This leads to a key question, one that many within the church are wrestling with.
What is the literary genre of Genesis 1-11?
Dr. Lamoureux proposes that the genre of Genesis 1-11 is an ancient origins account.
More precisely, the Bible opens with the ancient origins account of the Hebrews inspired by the Holy Spirit. A closer examination of each component in this proposal explains further this complex and unique literary genre. (p. 270-271)
He proceeds to unpack this (pp. 271-272):
Ancient. … These chapters feature ancient science and ancient history. They are built on recycled ancient motifs and reflect ancient traditions of an ancient pre-literate society. …Eventually written down using ancient poetry and literary techniques, the original sources were put together through ancient methods of redaction to become the first chapters of the Word of God.
Origins. … It outlines the beginning of the universe and life, including humans. Special attention is directed to the formation of the Hebrew community. These chapters also present the origin of harsh realities in the world. … As well roots of political tensions are offered … In this way, Gen 1-11 is both a science of the origin of the cosmos and a history of the origins of humanity and the Hebrews.
Account. Genesis 1-11 is an orderly account. Its purpose is to inform, explain, and justify. … They were intended by the inspired authors and the later redactor to be, for the most part, a literal record of origins. Genesis 1-11 is also etiological. … Like other accounts of origins, Gen 1-11 looks back into the past in order to understand the present and offer hope for the future.
Of the Hebrews. Genesis 1-11 is distinctly Hebrew. It strips away pagan religious beliefs and values from ancient Near Eastern motifs and replaces these with a radical theology: The Hebrew God is a Holy Creator in complete control of the world. In particular, He created the Hebrew community to be His chosen instrument through which all the nations on earth are blessed. Accommodating to a tribal understanding of community formation, the Holy Spirit discloses that the Creator actually enters into history for the benefit of humankind.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1-11 is the Word of God. It features the foundation of a Divine Theology that is authoritative for every man and woman. These chapters are the beginning of the revelatory process inspired by the Holy Spirit, and they anticipate further development and fulfillment. Intentionally accommodated by God to the level of the ancient Hebrews, Gen 1-11 is a sufficient divine revelation and each generation has been proficient in grasping its life-changing Messages of Faith.
The original authors intended both “scientific” concordance and historical concordance between the origin account and “real” world. The message is intentionally conveyed in such a form because it was the appropriate way for God to communicate with the original audience and succeeding generations. The term ‘appropriate’ is not a modern judgment that it ‘had to be‘ this way, but an empirical conclusion from the observation that this is what God did. The message of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is conveyed sufficiently in this manner and humans are proficient to understand the message. The ancient history and ancient understanding of the material world is incidental to the message and is not inspired truth.
What do you think?
Is Dr. Lamoureux’s proposal for the genre of Gen 1-11 reasonable?
Are there aspects you would question or qualify? Why?
It you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
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For those who find the full book (400+ pages) somewhat daunting Dr. Lamoureux has condensed the book into a more accessible version, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. He also provides audio and slide summaries of each chapter of Evolutionary Creation online.