One of the most foundational elements of an intelligent and thoughtful engagement with biblical texts is calibrating one’s expectations. If one truly desires to try to begin the task of understanding the messages of the biblical authors then he or she must ask the appropriate questions from the text and expect it’s ancient authors to address particular issues in ways that make sense within their circumstances. Furthermore, a thoughtful student of the Bible should have a firm enough grasp of the history of thought to understand where modern expectations, assumptions, and perspectives differ from ancient ones. If we don’t calibrate our expectations then our observations concerning the Bible are likely to be little more than assertions of our own belief structures and opinions and in many areas we will misunderstand the unique messages of biblical texts.

Calibrating expectations is an ongoing task for us all; no one ever does this perfectly and individuals from every ideological position do it badly or not at all. Yet, a recent blogger kerfuffle provides me with an opportunity to illustrate two ways in which we can calibrate our expectations of biblical texts in order to avoid gross misinterpretations and hopefully understand the Bible better.

Now to the kerfuffle: Kevin deYoung wrote a post in which he outlined “10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam” which generated responses from T. Michael Law and Christopher M. Hays (Chris Tilling purred approvingly) and, taking a respite from Dr. Who and Star Trek postings, James McGrath. There are many elements to this discussion but let me reflect on two aspects in particular which relate most acutely to calibrating expectations. We could address several misconceptions in point number two of deYoung’s list but he reveals at least two ways in which he has failed to properly calibrate his expectations:

  1. Our expectations of biblical texts must be calibrated in accord with ancient conventions. deYoung states: “The biblical story of creation is meant to supplant other ancient creation stories more than imitate them. Moses wants to show God’s people ‘this is how things really happened.’” The first sentence is little more than an unsupported opinion but I guess to some extent that is what you get with top ten lists. The very last idea, though, reveals that deYoung really doesn’t know how ancient cosmology worked. In fact, at this point he is guilty of his own point number one, that is, of importing post-Enlightenment thought onto the Bible but I digress. A while back, almost a year ago, I wrote a post which I titled “Was an Ancient Israelite Dumber than a Swede?” in which I tried to recalibrate expectations that we bring to biblical cosmologies but it appears that large segments of the world population didn’t read it (then why do I blog…?). You can read the whole thing but what I persuasively demonstrated, I think, is that ancient peoples never intended their cosmologies to state “how things really happened” in scientific or historically accurate ways.
  2. Our expectations of biblical texts must be calibrated in accord with the narrative world of the Bible. The last two sentences from point number two reveals that deYoung did not do this either: “The Pentateuch is full of warnings against compromise with the pagan culture. It would be surprising, then, for Genesis to start with one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE.” Again, much to critique here but why would he think that it is surprising for the Bible to condemn paganism yet describe–and even prescribe–things similar to what pagans do? There are many examples I could give to illustrate  why this is incredibly unsurprising but let’s pick just one of the most prominent examples of this very thing. In many places the Bible forbids divination yet at the same time it authorizes measures that under most circumstances are exactly what “pagans” did in divinatory rituals. The Ummim and Thummim are likely little more than “yes or no” query devices which were extremely common all throughout the ANE. The only difference between how they are described within biblical texts and their use in cognate cultures was that outside of the Bible “yes or no” queries were generally directed toward the sun-god Shamash while the Bible tells Israel to direct them to Yahweh. Therefore, it is not surprising in the least if Genesis started out with “one more mythical account of creation like the rest of the ANE” (I’m not comfortable with this phraseology but since they are deYoung’s words I’ll let it stand for the sake of this discussion). Furthermore, how else would they start it? Does deYoung expect that in a pre-scientific world it would make sense for someone to break all conventions of how people understood and described the universe and say: hey, I know it will take a few thousand years for people to adopt a hyper-scientific expectation of how cosmologies must work and I know that you have no categories for this kind of thinking but here it goes anyway–this is ‘how it really happened.’?
If we don’t calibrate our expectations of the biblical texts in these two ways we will do little more than bring the expectations that we form from our own life experiences. Accordingly, in large measure the unique voice of Scripture will be squelched and thoughtful biblical study will never rise above a recapitulation of our own self-generated perspectives and opinions.

About the author

Charles Halton

24 Comments. Leave your Comment right now:

  1. Pingback: Did the Ancients Interpret Their Cosmologies Literally? « James’ Ramblings

  2. by Jason G

    Charles,

    I think the issue comes down to different views of inspiration, which is why someone like you and someone like DeYoung see things quite differently. To focus on the ANE context is to focus on the human author(s) (as you put it: “would [it] make sense for someone to break all conventions of how people understood and described the universe and say . . .”). DeYoung’s view seems to assume that God revealed Genesis 1-3, thereby focusing on the divine author. For him, it would be hard to imagine that God revealed something that was less than accurate (historically, scientifically, etc). His view of inspiration is much more simplistic, ignoring the possibility that (1) God accommodated his language to the limitations of the ancient Israelites (if you prefer to keep the idea of “revelation”), or (2) that these were Israel’s traditions about how Yahweh, their God and indeed the God of the whole cosmos, brought the world into existence (if you prefer to avoid the idea of “revelation”). In either of these scenarios, I think one can affirm that the scriptures are inspired or “God-breathed.”

    In sum, you and DeYoung have fundamentally different views of inspiration, one that recognizes some ways in which the Bible is a product of the ancient world and another that doesn’t recognize the possibility because the Bible is “God’s word.”

    Any thoughts?

  3. Jason, I don’t think it is an issue of a difference in inspiration. On paper we are both historically orthodox in our views on this (I say on paper because methodologically we go about things differently, as you imply, with where we put the emphasis (some of this is due to me trying to correct a perceived imbalance and likely deYoung’s pastoral concern) but it seems to me that at many times conservatives don’t sufficiently integrate and think through the human element of inspiration into their conceptions. But Christians have always held to a complex view of inspiration as opposed to some more one dimensional formulations as in Mormonism or Islam, for instance).

    Rather, I think our differences are due to several factors: I don’t think deYoung understands much of the context from which the OT arose, he seems to be unaware of some pretty basic issues in biblical studies (for instance, he refers to “the creation account” while it is pretty clear that Gen 1 and Gen 2 convey different orders of creation–which translations like the NIV obscure), he seems to be fuzzy on the history of ideas and philosophical movements, and we differ on the way in which God communicates in the OT.

    Let me elaborate on the last point. This was also an issue with my disagreements with Niehaus’ book a while back. Stephen Dempster and I talked about this point extensively because he also wrote a review of Niehaus’ book, for the Gospel Coalition’s Themelios no less (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/35-2/a-member-of-the-family-or-a-stranger-a-review-article-of-jeffrey-j-niehaus-ancient-near-eastern-themes-in-biblical-theology). I agree completely with Dempster on his view that God takes concepts that people are already familiar with and uses these to communicate his messages (of course this does not preclude tweaking and reshaping) and he doesn’t start from scratch with completely different categories and entire ways of thinking. But this is also a traditional theological category sometimes referred to as “accommodation” so it’s not anything revolutionary. However, the way in which it is applied, especially to the OT, is different depending upon the scholar.

    Anyway, does that make sense?

    • by Jason G

      Charles, I think we essentially agree.

      But I’m not sure why you’re hesitant to call it a difference in how one views inspiration. You seemed to say as much in your response: “it seems to me that at many times conservatives don’t sufficiently integrate and think through the human element of inspiration into their conceptions.” That is precisely my point. It can still be that both of you affirm “inspiration” as a theological category, but you seem to have fundamentally different ideas of what inspiration means (or entails).

      I could stop there, but I’ll press further a bit: many evangelical versions of inspiration presume that because the Bible is “God’s word,” he must have revealed every verse to the human authors. If so, it would be hard to imagine that Gen 1-3 could be inaccurate (in a scientific sense or otherwise), because God would “say it like it is.” (Such a view has no concept of accommodation.)

      A view of inspiration as direct revelation may be true for the prophetic books, which more or less claim as much (“thus says the Lord”). But why should we think the same applies for all genres of literature, and what about Genesis 1-3, 4-11, or 12-50, etc.? Goldingay, for example, has pointed out that many evangelicals apply a “prophetic”-type understanding of inspiration to the whole Bible. An analogy: We tend to acknowledge that the gospels are the accumulated eyewitness memories of Jesus committed to writing, which involved a very human process of testimonies -> oral stories -> writings -> canonical gospels. In the case of the gospels, then, inspiration need not involve “direct revelation” in any sense. So why not something similar for, say, Gen 1-3, which then would be Israel’s account of creation and therefore characterized by its limited perspective resulting from its ancient context.

      • The reason why I am hesitant to say there is a difference in our views on inspiration is because when it comes to the NT I think that deYoung would probably accept most of this stuff. That is, I don’t think he has a problem with the gospel writers representing the same quotations of direct speech with different words and I don’t think he is troubled by the fact that the author of the Apocalypse had a shoddy grasp of Greek. Yet, when it comes to certain OT texts the same sensitivities and understandings no longer apply.

        I think what we have is, from my perspective, an essential broad agreement but an underdeveloped understanding when it comes to methodological considerations particularly for the OT. However, I do think that there another element is in play also. I doubt that deYoung has much understanding of the real ways in which OT texts reached the forms that they now take. My suspicion is that if he knew more about this that (or maybe embraced it), while keeping the same essential perspective, some of these issues wouldn’t be problematic. Because even prophetic texts, as our good friend Dan Block has explained in his Ezekiel commentary, go through a multi-staged and complicated process to reach their canonical forms. So, possibly even his view of how prophecy came about needs development but I still don’t see this as a *different* view but merely an expansion and deeper understanding of the same, classically Christian view of the Bible as simultaneously a divine and human product.

  4. by Angela Erisman

    I have a hard time comprehending why some Christians – who believe that God took on human form in a particular social and historical context – have trouble with the notion that scripture is also “incarnate.” It seems to me that the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

    Excellent piece, Charles.

  5. Pingback: Literal Genesis, Metaphorical Jesus | timothymichaellaw

  6. Well said, Charles. I think the whole issue of “calibration,” whether of expectations (you) or of genres (Enns)—although ultimately I think it all boils down to the same thing—is something a lot of evangelical/conservative Christians have never really considered. It’s time they started, and this is a good first step.

  7. Pingback: What Were You Expecting? | Dr. Platypus

  8. Hey Dr. Halton,
    Thanks for these stimulating thoughts. I’d like to share what’s come to my mind (and see if you can respond) as the reason why I think evangelicals (like DeYoung) insist on seeing Gen. 1-3 as historical and there then gets to be a lot of rub (for whatever reason) with some OT scholars and the claims of modern science. It seems to me that it mostly has to do with the way the NT shapes the way evangelicals read the OT, and the NT seems to assume that Adam was an actual person. Thus, when we read Gen. 1-3 we assume that it is, to a significant degree, history. The NT also describes Jesus doing things like stilling a storm and raising folks from the dead with a mere word. Thus, when we read in Gen. 1 that God speaks and stuff happens we don’t have a hard time imagining it to be what actually happened “in the beginning”.
    In other words, maybe it’s not so much that evangelicals try to force our reading of Gen. 1-3 into a hyper-scientific framework, but the NT has set the tone for understanding Gen. 1-3 as events that actually happened. Thoughts on this? And something I’d really like to hear you comment on is how much being a Christian should effect us as interpreters of the OT? Or should it all?
    Thank you for your service through this blog.

  9. Hi CT, good to hear from you. My comments on this post apply specifically to Gen 1–since I focused on cosmology in my mind I had restricted the discussion to this passage (as you may have discerned it is clear to me that there are two creation stories in Gen 1-3).

    I don’t think that Jesus stilling the storm or raising people from the dead through speech has a bearing on the specific way in which we should interpret Gen 1. Obviously, theists a priori has no problem with supernatural elements represented in the Bible, however, that does not negate further genre and interpretive questions on specific passages. This is particularly true when internal textual features indicate that a passage should be interpreted in a symbolic/theological way as is the case with Gen 1.

    Re: “Thus, when we read in Gen. 1 that God speaks and stuff happens we don’t have a hard time imagining it to be what actually happened “in the beginning”. ” Maybe you don’t have a hard time imagining this but the real question that you should ask is: is this really what is going on and what textual warrant do I have to say this? Often times modern imaginations are far different from what ancients had in view.

    The New Testament does have a bearing on the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament but this is a hugely complicated and involved topic that, at the moment, goes beyond my finger strength. Some of the issues involved in this are taking a step back and making sure we really understand what the NT authors are doing and not doing with specific texts and how that relates to their particular pastoral context. Again, I see a lot of people *assuming* that their interp of a NT text is the only possible reading and the reading that naturally makes sense when, at times, I think they may be mis- or over-reading. Maybe I’ll try to address this in more depth in the future.

  10. by Mike B.

    I have to say that I get a little uneasy whenever anyone claims to know what the authors of myths like those contained in the first chapters of genesis intended, or how they were likely to be read. I’m still building my bibliography on the study of myth, but it seems to me that we just don’t know how these ancient texts were written and received. Your article commenting on the mural in Stockholm city hall certain raises some good points, but the situation is complex. Maybe the Babylonians didn’t believe that that Babylon was the actual geographical center of the world. Maybe the ancient Hebrews didn’t literally envision the Earth resting on something like a series of Doric columns. But they did believe, for instance, that the Earth was flat, and that the heavens were fixed, like a dome over the Earth. They believed that the sun moved and the Earth stood still. Their picture of cosmology was, at least in part, drawn from their best naked-eye “scientific” observations about the world, and they cosmogonies, while perhaps not an attempt at history per se, reflect their understanding of the structure of the cosmos, and place upon their gods the task of forming it into that structure. The fact is that we can’t read their minds. We don’t know if they were listening to these stories and filtering out the deeper cultural meaning from the specifics of the cosmogony.

    For my money, this is how I envision it. Whoever authored Genesis 1 certainly did not have any reason to think that they had access to privileged historical information about the formation of the heavens and the Earth, but he probably had every reason to believe that his account was an eminently plausible rendering of what had happened. After all, all he was doing was taking his existing cosmology, his understanding of how the universe was structured, and putting his god in charge of it all, in charge of the task of putting chaos into order. The order he envisioned was already part of his cultural assumptions. Why shouldn’t he think that this is more or less how it “really happened?”

    Chapters 2-3 of Genesis are more complex, more inventive, and probably were written by a different author. Am I as confident that this would have been received as a plausible historical account of the beginnings of mankind? Not exactly. But I see no reason to believe that the basic framework (that humankind began with one man and one woman, that they began in a state of innocence, etc.) wouldn’t be seen as plausible and correct.

    It’s not so much that the primary function of these myths was to tell literal history. Nevertheless, they are rooted in basic assumptions about the world as the mythmakers knew it. Whatever information in them could be considered scientific or historical (recognizing that these are imported modern terms), probably was taken seriously, even if it was recognized to have been creatively embellished.

    • Hi Mike,
      I agree that we don’t have access to the mind and inner thoughts of ancient authors. However, through constraints embedded in the text as well as our recreations of the likely cultural environment of the audience I think we can gain a reasonable sense of what the plausible range of interpretive possibilities would have been accepted as valid within the ancient contexts.

      You are right that ancients did build their cosmologies on certain conceptions they had of the world but part of my point was that they viewed these things in ways far different that we did. The culmination of Babylonian “science” was liver extispicy and discernment of omens and astrological signs. So, they put dinger signs in front of the word for rivers and so on. Certainly, there are nuances to all of these discussions and there was a diversity of thought within the ancient world but I was trying to say that they viewed their surroundings in fundamentally different ways that we do and this must inform our expectations as we encounter biblical cosmologies. Nonetheless, I agree with you that to some extent there are probably elements of these cosmologies that were perceived as realia in ancient minds.

      Last thing, while we might not understand all of the ways in which these texts were understood there are textual clues that indicate their purpose and this should guide our expectations as well. For instance, Gen 1 again, it’s primary question it was addressing (at least originally) was not “how the earth was really formed” but why, in the present, did Israel observe the Sabbath.

  11. by Mike B.

    Thanks for your response. I think we probably agree on more points that we disagree. One thing that I find interesting about some of these texts is how multifaceted they are. The second creation account, for instance, contains an etiological account of the origin of marriage. But it contains many other aspects as well, seeking to explain things like the origin of agriculture and the painful labor women endure in bearing children, and perhaps most significantly, mortality. It reflects on themes like innocence and enlightenment, as well as mankind’s place in the cosmic order. It is complex enough that it is impossible to say that it is about any one thing. I completely agree that the first chapter of Genesis has as at least one of its goals, an explanation for the Sabbath. But this does not necessarily mean that it is the only thing that it is about. Could it not also be about how the Earth was formed, as well as about the place of Israel’s god in the cosmic order (that it to say, at the top of it)?

    • Sure, I agree that many if not most texts have multiple goals and meanings.

      • by Mike B.

        So in that case, can we really say definitively that it was not supposed to function as an account of how the Earth was formed? This is where I differed from your position originally. I don’t entirely buy the idea that the text was never supposed to function as an account of a primordial history.

        • by Crayton

          There seems to me three purposes of Genesis 1:

          a) Confirm that a seven-day framework existed since the very beginning

          b) Egyptian creation stories are subsumed into a monotheistic post-Egyptian creation story

          c) Adam (and by extension humanity or Israel) is given a purpose: to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

  12. Before this discussion goes any further, I really should say that the ancients showed no sign of believing the earth to be a sphere, a planet. They didn’t even know that the planets were planets, but called them wandering stars. Neither did they know that sun was a star, but instead it was a major god, a great lamp created and set in the sky by a god or other such descriptions. And ancients also demonstrated continually that they believed heaven and earth were two parallel planes and/or that they met at the horizon, and that the sun literally moved through the sky rather than the earth spinning, and the sun was a god or a great lamp that God could stop moving, and at night it had to hasten to return to the place where it rose each day. And an ancient Greek philosopher was accused of blasphemy for saying the sun was a huge firey rock, and another ancient Greek philosopher astonished his fellows by suggesting that the sun might be as large as the land of Greece itself. People simply didn’t conceive of things like we did. Meanwhile, speaking of the Babylonian Map of the world, it agrees with the literary work, Sargon’s Geography concerning the limits of the world known by the Babylonians. And ANEasterners like the Babylonians placed heaven directly overhead, the place where the gods lived, it wasn’t light-years away. It could be reached, per stories, by riding on the back of an eagle. And the land of the dead lay beneath the earth (which the sun passed through at night on its way back to the far horizon to rise again).

    Paul Seely has published works outlining the cosmologies of primitive people, and the flat earth view is seemingly unanimous.

    In Egypt they also held less anthropomorphic views of the stretched out heavens, instead of always showing a goddess with her feet and toes on opposite horizons, they also used a ring-circle view, and the view that heaven was supported by four pillars at the far corners of the earth. In the Babylonian creation epic heaven is created by stretching out the body of a defeated goddess, and heaven is connected with the earth in various ways, in fact the Babylonian creation epic suggests that heaven is tethered to the earth in order to hold the earth up above the underworld and the watery chaos beneath.

    Also in such ancient views there were vast waters above the firmament (also in the Babylonian creation myth as well), and vast waters beneath the earth. It was the job of creator-deities to hold back primeval waters, to set the boundaries of the sea, and of the waters of the deep, and of the waters above the firmament; and to maintain the stability of the sky and of the earth, that it shall not be moved. The prologue to the Babylonian laws of Hammurabi state that Marduk makes firm the sky and earth.

    Please read my chapter, “On the Cosmology of the Bible,” in The Christian Delusion and note my references to both Catholic and Evangelical scholars on these matters.

  13. Ed, did you read the post? *How* to interpret this kind of imagery is what we are discussing. We all know it exists I just tried to avoid thinking about it simplistically.

  14. @Charles, I discussed elsewhere my opinion of “how” to understand the Adam and Eve story, and the story of the expulsion from the garden. Allegorically of course. And one can pick and choose favorite aspects of any story, but the aspects that seem to stand out in my opinion are the way God is portrayed — as not wanting humans to have knowledge like He does, nor eternal life like He does, and how God placed curses on them and hustled them both from the garden. A father who curses his first two children and turns them out of the house into the cold cruel world after their first disobedient actions. “They have become like one of us! Let us turn them out before they also eat of the fruit of the tree of eternal life [and become even more like us].” Instead they are cursed to return to the dust out of which they were created. Simple story. God wins, man loses. Later Christian interpretations aside, the story remains an embarrassment concerning the kind of God it portrays. Same thing concerning the Flood story. God drowns all his children but eight of them. And the tower of Babel. God doesn’t like what those bricklaying city and tower builders are up to and confuses their tongues. God knows why. But things really get heated in the last book of the Christian Bible where drowning the world isn’t good enough for Adam’s children, because now they are tossed into a lake of fire. What kind of madness is this?

    The serpent wound up O.K. though. It was the wisest beast of the field that the Lord God had made, and it’s only curse appears to be that it can no longer talk. The other so-called curse of crawling on one’s belly and eating dust are simply what serpents do. But to the ancient Hebrew mind, and their bi-pedal gait, I guess crawling on one’s belly and eating dust would seem like a curse. But to serpents it’s how they are able to sneak up on their prey. It’s how they survive. Neither do they literally eat dust any more than any other worm, insect or mammal that lives in or near the ground. In fact the snake’s tongue flicking action is how they smell scents in the air. It’s not a curse. Their nasal passages aren’t geared for picking up scents because they have to eat with a wide open mouth that would prevent them from breathing except for their peculair nasal system that’s compressed, which means they flick their tongue in the air and then press it against the roof of their mouths to smell what’s in the air. So the serpent came out O.K. and it’s only Hebrew distaste for belly crawling that makes it appear like a “curse” to them.

    I really don’t think the story in Genesis relates to Christianity or the Christian God in a good way at all, regardless of fanciful allegorical interpretations. The main point that’s hard to deny is that God’s a jerk in Genesis. And neither is Satan anywhere to be found there.

  15. by Angela Erisman

    Ed, despite what it may seem on the surface, God drowning all humanity but Noah and his family is not an effort to characterize God as a bully or as someone who does not care for humanity. Theodicy is a main theme in the flood story, and God’s first response to rampant injustice in the world is to un-create it. (Note the water imagery in creation stories like Genesis 1; flooding the earth symbolizes the return of chaos.) And God does this in his profound disappointment at how a creation that he intended to be good went so horribly wrong. (If it’s hard to grasp this, think of a draft of an essay or some other project you had high hopes for that turned out terrible; you feel like completely scrapping it and starting over, no?) Of course, there’s also some character development to God in this story, and by the end God has opted for a different and more desirable solution to the problem of injustice that involves salvage. For more details and context, you might want to check out my forthcoming article: “Mythologizing Exile: Life, Law, and Justice after the Flood,” The Biblical World and its Impact: Precept and Praxis (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns).

    In any case, the Flood story is one that speaks profoundly to our own world about what it means to be human, how to manage our penchant for injustice and violence (which is rampant in our world; all you have to do is open a newspaper), and how to steward this planet on which we live – but only if you avoid facile readings of it and truly get to the bottom of how the story is constructed.

  16. by Ed Babinski

    Hi Angela, I quite agree that the Flood story involves a return of the world to watery chaos because God is angry at human beings (and my WHAT anger! Kill one man you are a murderer, kill a thousand you are a hero, kill them all, you are a god).

    And I quite agree that God appears to learn from that lesson and his character continues to develop throughout the Bible (though not develop very much since he sends an angle to kill Moses at an inn and fails, and later tells Moses he wants to kill all the Israelites and start over just with Moses).

    And I quite agree that humans also may learn from studying these tales about “God’s educational development.” Because humans too can learn from them how to develop their own character rather than reacting impulsively and violently (rather than say, tossing one’s own children out into the cold cruel world after their first act of disobedience).

    But, and here’s the big but, you are treating God like a patient on the couch of a Jungian psychotherapist (see Jung’s Answer to Job). Like Jung and Joseph Campbell who could find psychological truths in myths of all sorts, including polytheistic myths (why limit yourself only to recognizing the profundities of monotheistic mythologies?).

    And I never doubted that people’s minds are so flexible that they can find profound meaning even in the most gruesome tales, including Grimm’s original Fairy Tales.

    In fact I don’t doubt that countless generations of Christians have found profundity even in the tale about people being tossed into a lake of fire whose smoke rises forever (in Rev.).

    But if all of the above is what you understand by “divine revelation,” then I say that the special status Christians wish to afford to their “inspired tales” is no longer as special as Christians have promoted it to be these past two thousand years. Neither are my readings “facile” while yours are “profound.” There is plenty of ignorant animal-like uncivilized all-too-human tales of anger and vengence and barbarism in ancient works, including the stories in Genesis. I laugh out loud at the tale of God guarding his precious fruit tree of knowledge, threatening his creation with death if he should eat of it, and then hustling him from the garden as soon as he has, “For [heavens to Betsy] the man has become like one of us, now before he eats of the tree of eternal life and becomes more like us, let us cast him out,” and remind him that he shall return to the dust out of which we created him.

    “The story of the fall of man in Genesis seems originally to have been one of the sardonic folk tales of the Near East that explain how man once had immortality nearly within his grasp, but was cheated out of it by frightened or malicious deities [i.e., Adam and Eve were hustled from the garden by such deities before they could eat of the “fruit of the tree of life” and “live forever” like them]. We have earlier versions from Sumerian times on that are less rationalized than the one in Genesis…The Genesis account permits itself a verse (3:22) in which God seems to be telling other gods that man (after eating of the “fruit of the tree of knowledge”) is ‘now one of us,’ in a position to threaten their power unless they do something about it at once, with a break in the syntax that suggests genuine terror”.
    — Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature

    And if one wants to get into the psalms, they are rife with accolades about how God providentially provides food for every animal, but the psalmists neglect to point out that God also feeds animals to other animals, sometimes to their own mothers, sometimes to parasites and microbes as well. It’s all the same to God. And nature freezes or starves the rest. It’s almost like the psalmists were blind to nature’s most obvious ways because they feared upsetting His Grumpiness by denying it continual praise for “providing food.”

    Neither did humans have the food production ability back then as they do today, since the domestication of animals, the invention of the wheel, the plow, irrigation techniques, crop rotation, fertilization of the land, insect control, cross-breeding species for higher nutrition and hardiness in different climates, and refrigeration of food, etc., such knowledge being gleaned over millennia of struggling against “the vagaries of nature’s ways,” and not chalked up to continual prayer and Bible reading. Like the old joke goes, Man speaking to Farmer: “God sure has blessed you with a nice farm there, what large potatoes and long rows of beautiful tomatoes!” Farmer’s response: “Yes, it’s sure nice looking now, but you should have seen it when only God had this land.”

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