Evolutionary Creation 8 (RJS)

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

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

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.

  • Tim

    I’m with Lamoureux on most every aspect of the literary genre of Genesis 1-11, though of course the last aspect, inspiration, has to be taken on faith.

    In “account” in particular, I appreciate his acknowledgment that the authors of these accounts really did intend them to be literal history. I think some who rightly reject Genesis 1-11 as historical then go on to rationalize that the authors NEVER would have intended these accounts to be taken as historical and the Hebrew audience at the time NEVER would have understood them as such. I think even within a broader ANE context, and not just examining the text through our modern lens of interpretation, this type of thinking is not exactly intellectually honest. Again, it is refreshing to see Lamoureux acknowledge the literal authorial intent here (though of course acknowledging as well the poetic nature at the same time of course).

    That said, I does appear that Lamoureux is trying to draw a literary distinction between Genesis 1-11 and the rest of the OT. This is something I’m still working through, but my initial reaction is to say that if there is a distinction, it likely isn’t one between literary forms steeped in myth and poetry and literary forms of journalistic accounts of history, but rather between more myth and legend (with legend transitioning to ancient historiography as you approach the Davidic dynasty). I mean, I think its very possible that the story of Abraham, for instance, and perhaps even Joseph, have some nuggets of real historical truth to them. But based on what one would expect of mostly oral records at that time circulated among a semi-nomadic people, I would be surprised if the original stories evolved into anything other than legend (thinking here the Gilgamesh legend that still had a nugget of historical truth behind it).

  • Rick

    RJS- “The message of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is conveyed sufficiently in this manner and humans are proficient to understand the message.”

    Tim- “have some nuggets of real historical truth to them.”

    Chaplain Mike, over at Internet Monk, is talking about the related position held by TED prof Grant Osborne.
    CM writes:
    “Osborne is saying, biblical narrative (and I would argue all narrative forms of communication) involve a complex interplay of factual information and authorial or editorial interpretation. They are both history and theology (interpretation). Furthermore, they are a reflection, not only on historical events, but also on the theological movements and perspectives that shaped the world they are writing about…Narratives in the Bible, however, interpret events that the authors believe took place in this world of space-time history. Nevertheless, they still write about them in creative, interpretive ways that bring out what they consider to be the significance and meaning of those events. In a nutshell, I would call it history presented in an interpretive framework.”

    I like CM’s “historical interpretive framework” wording, so if I were going to call Gen 1-11 a specific genre, I may build off that. But since Gen 1-11 has a style that differs from other narratives, I would add in something related to, and mentioning, “ancient” and “origins”.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Is Genesis 1-11 a different genre from Genesis 12-50? If so, what in the text alerts us to this?

  • David

    Where do you think his views differ or cohere with John Walton’s contention that Genesis 1 does not present a material ontology but rather an ANE functional ontology?

  • rjs

    David,

    I think that Lamoureux disagrees with Walton – they both agree that ancient science is incidental to the text, but disagree on authorial intent. Walton proposes that the intent of the author was to teach function not material origins. Lamoureux proposes that the intent of the original author was to teach material origins, but that the message of the Holy Spirit is clear nonetheless.

    Neither see scientific concordance in Genesis 1, neither feel that the text rules out evolutionary creation as a Christian position.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    In response to Jeff Dole’s questions, #3: “Is Genesis 1-11 a different genre from Genesis 12-50? If so, what in the text alerts us to this?” I can’t speak as a Bible scholar, but as a general reader. One of the things that strikes me in the stories about Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his family, and Joseph and his brothers, is how real these people seem to be. Prior to Genesis 12, the people serve as prototypes but have no depth of character. But Abraham and Sarah and the rest behave as we’d expect real people to – they act selfishly at times, altruistically at others, are jealous and petty.

    This by itself does not prove that these stories are based on historical people, as opposed to the mythic prototypes of Genesis 1-11; it could be that the author is a skilled novelist on the order of Flaubert or Dostoevsky. But they do come across as people whose adventures and relationships were remembered and passed down through the generations. The author or authors of Genesis would have believed that Adam and Eve were real people as well – but their stories lack the fullness of humanity that we see in Abraham and the rest.

    I’d like to respond a little to RJS’s question in the previous post as well :”Does the incarnational model lend insight to the nature of scripture as the inspired Word of God?” When I read Evolutionary Creation, this was the concept that opened up my understanding of scripture. I had believed both that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and that modern concepts of astronomy and evolution are true as well, but I was hesitant to try to reconcile these apparently discordant beliefs. I feared the implications of the idea that the Bible is “wrong” about human origins and other matters.

    The incarnational model of scripture – that God accommodates human understanding and speaks to us using concepts that we understand – opens up the possibility that the biblical stories about human origins reflect divine intent rather than archaic, mistaken notions. God finds us where we are; we don’t have to climb any lofty mountains, intellectual or spiritual, in order to communicate with Him. Understanding these concepts has strengthened my faith; for me, at least, that’s one of the great strengths of Lamoureux’s work.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Nancy Says – “that God accommodates human understanding and speaks to us using concepts that we understand”.

    Yes. If God spoke to people and said things that made no sense to the hearer, then those things would most likely be rejected. I wish all those ANE Israelite and nearby contemporaries realized that genocide was one of the things that did not make sense.

  • normbv

    David #4
    4.Where do you think his views differ or cohere with John Walton’s contention that Genesis 1 does not present a material ontology but rather an ANE functional ontology?

    I think this is a huge difference between Walton and Lamoureux if it is accurate as RJS states “I think that Lamoureux disagrees with Walton”

    This has been at the crux of my problem with Lamourux and Seely’s view all along. They do all of us a great service from their work but drawing the wrong conclusions is the “death” knell for understanding Genesis properly IMO.

    The idea that Genesis was written from an ancient material perspective is almost laughable when you start examining the literature and realize how it is apocolyptic in nature by and large. The ancients were behind us but they weren’t stupid as they were masters of symbolic literture. Trying to equate their literature to ancient science is like attempting to decipher Aesop fable literture analytically thinking it was a realistic views of the medieval times.

  • Nancy Rosenzweig

    I’m with you, DRT, re #7. In John 14, Jesus explains that he and the Father are one: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

    Which means that the God who gives his people this command in Deuteronomy 20:16: “[I]n the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes,” is the same God who says, in Matthew 5: “39 do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

    I accept that understanding the ways of God is beyond my limited understanding. There must be some way to reconcile these two images of God, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

  • Tim

    RJS (5),

    I was under the impression that Walton’s functional vs. material analysis was confined to Genesis 1. Has he extended this position to cover Genesis 2-11 as well?

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Nancy @6. Thanks for your response.

    As I compare Noah and Abraham, it does not strike me that Abraham is more real than Noah. We see the warts of Abraham as well as his faith, but the same thing is true of the account of Noah. And Noah does not strike me as any more of “prototype” than Abraham. There is certainly more written about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, but I don’t think the amount of text devoted to them, as compared to Noah or Terah or Shem is indicative of a change in genre.

    What I am looking for is actual indications in the text that signal a shift in genre, if any, between Genesis 1-11 and 12-50. Emotional impact, how it “strikes” the reader, is not sufficient grounds for me. For many other readers, how the text strikes them may vary quite a bit from how it strikes you. So I’m looking for something a more objective reason if I am to believe that Genesis 1-11 represents a different genre from the rest of the book.

    One thing that causes me to think that Genesis is all of one genre is the use of elleh toledoth (“these are the generations”) found throughout the entire structure of the book. It appears a number of times in both Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50.

    So, however we talk about the genre of the book, it seems to me that it is all of one genre. I have not seen any objective, textual evidence that indicates a sudden shift.

  • rjs

    Tim,

    Walton’s book was on Genesis One – and I am not sure how he views the text beyond this point.

    Jeff,

    I think there is a break between Gen 11 and 12 because the text focuses on Israel beginning with chapter 12. It isn’t an abrupt break of course because the text we have is a composite put together by an editor (or editors) as a whole. There are some connecting themes and forms throughout. When Lamoureux says that the form of Gen 1-11 is “of the Hebrews” … it is quite clear that this theme becomes the dominant theme in the presentation of the story of the patriarchs in Gen 12-36.

    To elaborate just a bit, without accepting hook, line, and sinker, the JEDP dissection of the text, the form of the text as edited composite appears quite clear. There are breaks in the text and several places, even in Gen 12-36, where is is clear that pieces have been brought together from different sources. The repetitive element within the story of Abraham and between the stories of Abraham and Isaac are clues to the nature of the text. The Joseph story in Gen 37-50 is connected to, but distinct from, the form of the narrative of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    RJS, the text does not focus on Israel in Genesis 12. It focuses on Abraham, and continues with him for the next 10 chapters, then gradually shifts to his son Isaac. A few chapters about Isaac, and then it gets into Esau and Jacob, eventually focusing on Jacob and his sons, especially Joseph. At the end of Genesis, they are all in Egypt, but certainly not as the nation of Israel. I don’t think we should suppose that each time Genesis introduces a new person, that is the signal of a genre shift.

    Genesis 12-50 does, of course, focus on the ancestry of the people that became the nation of Israel. But Genesis 1-11 likewise gives us the ancestry of Israel. I mean, Genesis 12:1 begins with Abraham, but Genesis 11:27 tells us about Terah, Genesis 11:10-26 gives us a line of ancestors back to Shem, and we could follow the line all the way back to Genesis 5:1, the “elleh toledoth” of Adam. Certainly the book can be broken down into sections, particularly about each patriarch, but I don’t see that there is any real shift in genre between any of those sections.

  • AHH

    On Walton & Lamoureux disagreeing some on Genesis 1, I think it is important to note that this disagreement is not very important in the context of “origins” issues in the church.

    While they may disagree on the extent to which the inspired writers affirmed the cosmology in the background of what they were writing, they both agree that the inspired message being communicated was not one of cosmology or material origins.
    They both agree that trying to read Genesis 1 as a science text, insisting that true scientific knowledge must line up with the Ancient Near East cosmological picture we see there, is a major mistake and a misidentification of genre.

    If the church could just get this point (regardless of which author is right about the detail of the exact genre) and cease foolish efforts to read Genesis 1 as science, that would go a long way toward repairing our damaged witness in this area.

  • Tim

    Rick (2),

    “Narratives in the Bible, however, interpret events that the authors believe took place in this world of space-time history. Nevertheless, they still write about them in creative, interpretive ways that bring out what they consider to be the significance and meaning of those events. In a nutshell, I would call it history presented in an interpretive framework.”

    I can’t agree with you here Rick if I understand you correctly. I don’t think interpretative license can entirely account for departure from true factual history on the part of authorial intent. For instance, the author of the flood account in Genesis likely truly believed there was a global flood. The fact of the matter was that they were simply wrong. Sure they might have also taken interpretive license with the story, changing around details to better convey their theological message. But such license doesn’t account for why they erroneously believed that a global flood happened in the first place. This was myth accepted as fact in the region, and they imbibed it just like everyone else at that time did. I think that’s fairly straightforward actually.

    I see no reason to expect that the Abraham, Joshua, etc. accounts are any different, except insofar as they may represent actual nuggets of historical truth turned legend.

  • rjs

    Tim,

    I don’t think Abraham, Joshua, etc. are similar to the story of Noah in any significant fashion.

    From Abraham onward we have a specific tale of a specific people, a tale that assumes some of the views and forms of the surrounding culture but does not seem to incorporate literary forms and common stories in the same fashion on any level. These histories (however told and transmitted) are distinct to Israel (or the people who became Israel).

  • Tim

    RJS,

    I disagree in part. Noah was a specific person. His family is described in great detail, and his genealogy is described in great detail. Sure the literary context is different, in that the Noah story clearly taps into mythic roots pervasive in the region, whereas the Abraham story likely taps into historical roots particular to the Hebrew people (or their ancestors anyway). That is why I said that if there was any difference between Genesis 1-12 and the rest of the OT leading up to the Davidic dynasty, it was likely a distinction between myth and legend.

    I can’t imagine why someone would claim historical accuracy for the Abraham story. You can claim supernatural inspiration, that’s fine. But I have yet to see any backing for the claim that God supernaturally preserved historical information anywhere in the Bible that would have otherwise been lost or distorted via more “human” means of authorship.

  • http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure Denis O. Lamoureux

    Just for the record:
    John Walton is a dear friend, and it’s very difficult for me to say that I profoundly disagree with him. He first mentioned his functional thesis to me in his home some ten or so years ago. It didn’t make any sense to me then, and still doesn’t today (even after reading his book). Suffice to say that in the 30 years of reading Gen 1-11 commentaries, I have never come across anyone who thinks Gen 1 is about the creation of functions only. That should concern everyone . . .

    Happy New Year to all!
    Denis

  • Tim

    Denis (18),

    I share your sentiments regarding John Walton’s stripping Genesis 1 of any material creative acts. He makes it clear, at least at one point, that of the creation of the firmament, that his reasons for denying claims of material creation according to ancient cosmological views stem from his belief in Biblical inerrancy (according to the Chicago Statement).

    It’s a shame to see that really, as in every other respect Dr. Walton is a first rate scholar. I do agree with his drawing attention to the functional aspects of Genesis 1 and other ANE creation accounts, however. I do believe he is right on that, as well as identifying the literary genre of Genesis 1 as a temple creation text.

    I would say that for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he was so intent on denying the material side of the creation coin, but again, it’s clearly that (to me absurd and intellectually untenable) inerrantist (Chicago Statement) hermeneutic rearing its ugly head.


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