Attacking Genesis

Attacking Genesis August 2, 2014

A Facebook friend shared a post of mine on his wall, and it led to interesting discussion. I wrote the following in a comment:

Why not pay attention to the clues to the genres of the texts that we find within them, correlating them with other literature? When we encounter a text with a talking animal in it we know what kind of literature it is – only if we have been taught to ignore such information about genre when it comes to the Bible do we try to turn Genesis 1-3 into history. Treated as a symbolic story about Human, it is insightful. If we try to claim that it is about two first humans in a particular place, it turns out to be scientifically false. It saddens me that people who turn an insightful analysis of human nature into an easily-disproved text about science think that they are upholding rather than attacking the Christian faith.

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  • PrairiefireOriginal

    Yes! I’d go even farther. For anyone who is serious about the Bible and other sacred texts being truly SACRED–that is, revealing Divine Wisdom beyond our mere mortal capability to figure out on our own–it is sacrilegious to insist that their value derives in any way from mere historical or scientific facts.

    I’ve read (Karen Armstrong and others) that those who originally recorded our sacred stories were much more comfortable with the true nature of sacred texts than we are. They knew the details of the stories were subject to being made relevant by subsequent revelations. They knew their value was in meaning, not objective accuracy (they might not even have known what we mean by ‘accuracy’.)

    When modern-day Christians insist on applying our current standards of factualness to sacred texts, we are responding not to the texts themselves, but to the massive effect the Age of Enlightenment had on Western ways of thought.

  • Gary

    “Human work week”…2And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made… God must get tired, too!

  • TomS

    Didn’t Origen somewhere say that some of the impossible elements were deliberately added so that we would be cautioned not to take the stories literally?

    • Yes!

      • TomS

        By coincidence (:-) someone just added that quote to the Wikiquote page for Origen.

  • David Evans

    “When we encounter a text with a talking animal in it we know what kind of literature it is”

    Yes, and when we encounter a text with a named man visiting the Moon we know what kind of literature it is (or at least, we did until the Apollo program).

    Not a fair parallel, of course, but isn’t it possible that God did certain kinds of things in history, but so rarely that texts describing such things are usually not to be taken literally?

    • Anonymous Coward

      Practically anything is possible. Why is it relevant that that particular thing could be possible?

      • David Evans

        Perhaps I should clarify myself. I am sympathetic to James’s proposal that we should look at Biblical texts, and compare them with other literature, to see what genre they belong to. I just think it would be dangerous to adopt a syllogism

        This text refers to an object or event of type X
        Texts which refer to X’s are usually not intended to be read factually
        Therefore this text is not intended to be read factually.

        To do that would be to rule out any textual evidence that God did a particular thing only once. As it might lead a far future scholar to decide that the Moon landings never happened. After all, most stories of Moon landings in our libraries are clearly fictional and intended as such.

        • Anonymous Coward

          If that textual evidence is the only evidence we have, then though I know this is a bitter pill to swallow, _even if it actually is a record of something God actually did_, even then, we have no good reason to believe it. It would be an unfortunate case, to be sure. But worrying about outside possibilities like this is a poor way to construct a logic for use of texts as evidence. Do you see what I mean?

          I’m always emphasizing the importance of realizing how often “we don’t know” isn’t just acceptable, but _the correct_ answer. This is another case relevant to that theme. There’s a tendency to feel like we have to be able to come down one way or another on something, and that methodologies which rule out this possibility are to be avoided. But no–methodologies which give us “we don’t know” when, in fact, we should not think we know, are actually good methodologies.

          And in a case where God did something once, and it was recorded only in a text which in every other way resembles works of fiction, our best methodology should lead us NOT to say we have good evidence that God did the thing.

    • TomS

      How many think that (1) the Bible says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, and therefore it is true (2) except for the last chapter of Deuteronomy because they think that it is too much to believe that Moses wrote of his death, burial, and his stature among prophets?
      As far as I know, no one thinks that the Bible makes an exception for non-Mosaic authorship of Deut. 31. Somefew Bible do not allow mere human judgment to deny Mosaic authorship.

  • guest

    Yes, days don’t really exist in the context of the universe as a whole. If God was outside time and space, why would he be affected by the Earth’s motion around the sun? The sun wasn’t even invented before the fourth day…
    Day and night happen at different times around the globe anyway. It’s day it Sydney and night in Paris. And if there was no light before God said ‘let there be light’ what would ‘day’ mean anyway?