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Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Biblical, Evangelical Critique of Answers In Genesis' abuse of Scripture

Young-earth creationists refer to many Scriptural texts as proof for their view. They say that people who disagree with their view are “compromisers” and unfaithful interpreters of Scripture. The author of the article below disagrees. If anything, he says, it is the young-earth creationist interpretation that does violence to the biblical text as written. Indeed, he says, if we read the Bible in context (which includes its literary and cultural contexts), we find that much of what most of us evangelicals were taught to think of as “literal” is actually figurative, or, as someone I once read suggested, it is “truer than mere literality.” (And to unpack that particular phrase, let me note what our pastor quoted from D.L. Moody last Resurrection Sunday: “Some day,” D.L. Moody used to say, “you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don't believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now!”)

For years, I have been concerned that there is almost no biblical scholarly work being done to address the myriad problems of a young-earth creationist view (or, for that matter, the myriad problems associated with most old-earth “interpretations” of Scripture). Both old- and young-earthers engage in modernist (i.e., modern “scientific”) eisegesis (bringing into the text what isn’t there) rather than careful literary exegesis (truly finding in the text what is there).

Of course scientific inquiry can help us determine some matters with respect to the meaning of the biblical text. For example, we can be sure that there is no solid dome that encapsulates the Earth. I.e., science “proves” that whatever the word raqia (formerly translated firmament) means, it is definitely not referring to a solid object.

But whether the authors of Scripture (let alone the Author of Scripture) were intending to refer to a solid dome—or to something else—needs to come from sources other than science. And whatever-it-was that they were referring to: that, too, has to come from a source outside of modern science.

Ben Stanhope, here, attempts to address the biblical text and context concerning not only the raqia but several other troubling items. . . .

NOTE: I have edited what follows and post it here with permission of the author. You can find the original by clicking on the headline of the article, below. 

In case you wonder why I edited the original--i.e., the bias with which I edited it: From my perspective, the author inserted acerbic, sarcastic phrases in almost every one of his points. Such acidity helps him play to those already converted to his viewpoint. But I prefer to speak to a wider audience—and, most especially, those who have never heard anything like what he is talking about. . . . His content is far too important, I believe, to let the acerbic barbs turn away those of us who would listen if only his speech were kinder. And so I have attempted to "improve" his language through mild emendation and elision. . . . 



Posted: 02 Apr 2016 05:42 PM PDT
Read my original exchange with AinG’s scientists here.

We modern Evangelicals have to deal with certain data most of church history didn’t have access to. That’s not a Voldemort circumlocution for dreaded Lord Evolution or his side-kick Geology.  I’m talking about the discovery and translation of things like the Gilgamesh Epic, Enuma Elish, the Ba’al text, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptian literature. You know, all that “context” stuff we evangelicals
say we take seriously.  If we really take the context of scripture as seriously as we love to expatiate about, then hopefully I’ll be able to put a rock in your shoe about the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum.

If that invitation to read your Bible through the eyes of an ancient Israelite scares you, feel free to quit reading. I’m not going to protect anyone from their Bible.

1) Leviathan and Hebrew Grammar

Answers in Genesis thinks plesiosaurs could fire-breathe because Leviathan does in Job. According to this plug for their dragon exhibit I attended, “Certain beetles shoot out burning chemicals, so is a fire-breathing dragon really that far-fetched?” One detail the museum conveniently ignores is that this fire-breathing dinosaur also has multiple heads in Psalm 74.  I mentioned this to Ken Ham. I was later informed by someone that Ham made a Facebook post about my article in which comments like these were made:
The only problem with this sort of “when I read that I think of” hermeneutic is Hebrew grammar. Here’s Psalm 74:

Hold tight, this paragraph is about Hebrew morphology, but I promise it won’t hurt. In the construct package ראשי לויתן the term ראש appears in the plural state in conjunction with the singular noun לויתן.  This type of sere-yod plural noun construction to a following singular noun is extremely common.  If you’ve taken a semester of Hebrew, you hardly need to be told this.  If you haven’t been masochistic enough to take a semester of Hebrew, a very close grammatical phenomenon is visually apparent in a text like Micah 3.9: שִׁמְעוּ-נָא זֹאת רָאשֵׁי בֵּית .  Notice, the plural “heads” is joined by the same construct ending to the singular “house of Jacob.”

Yes, a museum that spent over 27 million dollars on premises like Leviathan being a plesiosaur didn’t care to have a first semester Hebrew student flip through a concordance.

It only gets worse from here.  Leviathan existed in older texts outside Israel. We know Job is referencing the pagan mythological sources because passages like 7.12 and 9.13 refer to Yamm, Tannin and the god Rahab.  

It just so happens Leviathan also appears at Ugarit, a Baal worshiping city which spoke the closest language to Biblical Hebrew we know. In these, Leviathan has the exact(!) same consonant-for-consonant titles that he has in the Bible.  Here’s one such text:
Did you catch the reference to the 7 heads?  Othmar Keel, the great German scholar of iconography has even collected ancient images of the chaos dragon:[1]

When the Psalmist, Job and Isaiah use Leviathan, they aren’t being literal. Psalm 74 tells us point-blank it’s polemicizing against the Babylonian myth by having Yahweh instead of Marduk crush Leviathan’s heads during the act of creation.  If this is literal, why is God beating up a poor dinosaur?

Isaiah tells us Leviathan was killed in conjunction with the creation of the world but that he will be killed (i.e. “punished”) again at the eschaton. That notion is contradictory if Isaiah has a member of the animal kingdom in mind.  

Job tells us he is operating with this context in mind when he refers to other chaos gods like Behemoth and Rahab.  (Behemoth isn’t a dinosaur either, and Jason Colavito has shown that evidence for Mokèlé-mbèmbé  has been abused.)  The Biblical authors were smarter than you think.  They’re allowed to be literarily clever and use metaphor.

But don’t worldwide dragon legends prove that dinosaurs and man coexisted?  

I don’t care in this article if they coexisted, but this is a bad argument for that position because we have proven many of these worldwide dragon myths are based in the reality that people have been finding dinosaur fossils since ancient Greece. In China, rural people still sell dinosaur fossils as dragon bones in traditional medicine.

2) Unicorns.  Yes, unicorns.

According to this AinG article and this video, the ראם (translated unicorn in the King James Bible) might be a prehistoric creature called an elasmotherium, since it had only one horn.  The author tells us, “There is ample support for the possibility that the creature in view here really did have just one horn.”  She also says, “The linguistics of the text cannot conclusively prove how many horns the biblical unicorn had.”

Again, despite having a medical degree, the author’s ignorance of Hebrew grammar is obvious.  In Deut 33.17 our old friend the plural noun construct continues to be a banana peel for AinG. The singular ראם in that passage is bound to the plural word for horn, קרן. It has multiple horns. It’s therefore grammatically impossible for the elasmo-whatever to be in view in this passage.

3) The Global Flood

I’m going to play my cards on the flood. But first, a commercial Break!

What about all those world-wide flood legends?
I think a global flood would be really cool.  There are plenty of real flood legends around the world.  The vast majority don’t exactly have spooky similarities to the Bible, but they do at least exist.  I wanted to show you creationists can be gullible (read: lazy) with how they abuse these legends. Maybe Noah’s flood did extend to North America (it didn’t), but . . . Ad Fontes (Latin for “back to the source”—JAH)! (I know you Calvinist people are all about ad fontes.)

A Hawaiian Noah?
“Hawaiians have a flood story that the world became a wicked…place. Only one good man was left, and his name was Nu-u. He made a great canoe with a house on it and filled it with animals…only Nu-u and his family were saved.”
Not cool, guys.  According to this article I found in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at the time this legend was recorded “many Hawaiian had become Christianized and familiar with Biblical history.”  It comes from Fornander’s collections published in the early 1900’s.  We have records of the older version of the legend before the Biblical additions were inserted.  I dug up William Ellis’ Hawaii travel journal from 1823.  (You can read the whole thing online.)  On page 333, Ellis interviews some Hawaiian who told him “their fathers…had never before heard of a ship, or of Noah” like the later Christianized Fornander version of the myth. Someone should have checked this before throwing it up on the new Ark Encounter website.

A Hindu Noah?
What about those myths that were written before Christ like that Hindu flood legend this AinG article refers to?

The problem here is that these versions, like the Manu fish story, often side with Mesopotamian mythology against the Biblical story.  For example, the seven antediluvian apkallu who deliver culture to humanity are similar to the seven rishis in the Hindu myth.  Amar Annus has proven in a groundbreaking article in the JSP that Genesis 6 was intentionally polemicizing against the apkallu tradition stream.[2]  For this reason, scholars are convinced the Hindu myth developed from Mesopotamian trade, something that we know was going on during that period. No universal flood necessary.[3]

You can’t have global floods without globes.
Jason Lisle: "What species is this?"
Ham: "Uh, velociraptor"
Lisle: "You bred raptors?"

Take that food out of your mouth so you don’t choke.  Cover little Billy’s ears. I’m going to tell you something many Christians can’t handle:  The Hebrew authors were not scientifically special.

I know that’s going to take most of you a long time to come around on that, so take your time. They believed in the same general cosmology as everyone else in their ancient world—a round, flat earth with an over-hanging solid sky which retained primordial waters above.  I can say that with certainty because I’m on the other side of Walton’s books and Wayne Horowitz’s doctoral thesis on this.

Israel had no category for a spherical earth. (More on that coming.) Go count the table of nations in Genesis 10.  There are only 70 contiguous with Mesopotamia and the Near East.  

If we asked an ancient Israelite about the extent of the flood, he would likely tell us it was world-wide.  The problem is his world didn’t include the existence of any of the countries outside of his ancient, flat cosmology.

Don’t quote me Greek philosophers. I’ll be showing you Jewish texts that prove this.  There’s no reason to assume the Bible teaches a universal flood when its geographical categories were limited to the Near East. For some odd reason, God chose to speak to Israel where they were instead of giving them knowledge that would scientifically hurdle them thousands of years ahead of all their neighbors.

4) But what about Isaiah’s circle of the earth?

After what I just said, some of you are about to whip out Isaiah 40:22 on me like it’s Perseus’ decapitated gorgon head. People like Jason Lisle have taught you Isaiah’s ‘circle of the earth’ passage proves the Israelites knew the earth was a sphere.  “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…”  

What Lisle doesn’t seem to realize is there are plenty of pagan ANE depictions older and contemporary with Isaiah which describe the earth as a flat circle.  I’ve blogged some of these texts here.  

Principally, the Babylonian map of the world (and Isaiah was writing in Babylon roughly around the time this map was made) is a stone drawing which depicts that flat disk of the earth encircled by the primeval sea.  Did Marduk appear to the Babylonian priesthood and inform them the earth was a sphere too?  Nein!  According to Ulla Koch-Westenholz’s introduction on Babylonian astrology, the Babylonians never discovered the earth was a sphere, “even in the latest and most advanced stages of Babylonian mathematical astronomy.”[4]   This sort of cosmology in the picture above is what Prov. 8.27, and Job 26.10 have in mind when they say God “has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters.”

5) Their entire museum is probably based on an obsolete translation of the first word of the Bible

Sign in the creation museum

If the creation museum was the death star, its translation of Genesis 1:1 would be its conveniently vulnerable nuclear reactor. I mentioned this in my original critique of the museum. With the disembodied, wizened voice of Robert Alter guiding me in the cockpit, I will now attempt to fire a warhead at this reactor.

Grammatically, Genesis 1.1 doesn’t care about the age of the universe itself or the age of the materials from which the earth was made. It’s a relative temporal clause.  
“Because” grammar. Other Biblical texts seem to teach creation ex nihilo and the idea is philosophically necessary, but Genesis 1.1 itself has the materials of creation already on the table in parallel with other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts that Genesis has in its crosshairs. For this reason, AinG is wrong when they think they can estimate the age of the universe itself from the English.  (If you doubt me on this, go read Mortenson’s bad attempt to salvage the dating from other texts.)

Robert Alter at California University has produced what may be the best translation of the book of Genesis in the English language.  He translates this verse, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, and the earth then was welter and waste…”  

Modern Semitic grammarians have known for a long time that this passages allows for pre-existent material.  You can find it held in the work of scholars like Martin Baasten at the University of Leiden, Mark Smith from NYU, Ellan van Wolde from Radbound, Robert Holmstedt’s Wisconsin-Madison doctoral thesis or Michael Heiser’s lectures. (Heiser oversees the academic side of Logos Bible software [Logos is an evangelical company!—JAH] and does a fantastic job of explaining all this here in a video in lay terms.) Holmstedt has a published Brill article on this for those of you trained in Hebrew.

6) The waters above

Jews believed in a solid sky
Paul Seely, in the Westminster Theological Journal has demonstrated that prescientific cultures almost always conceive of the sky as a solid vault and that the Bible is no exception. Job 37.18 is one of the more explicit examples of this idea.  Most translations read something to this effect:
“Can you, like Him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?”
Prov 8:24 talks about when God, “made firm the skies above.”  Amos 9.6 says God “has founded his vault upon the earth.”  Jacob had a vision of a stairway literally reaching to heaven in Gen 28. Answers in Genesis must obfuscate the clear meaning of these passages.  They try to make them ‘poetic’ because they don’t believe God should be allowed to inspire them.  What’s next! Is the resurrection only figurative because it disagrees with modern science?  (See what I did there.)  NO ancient Jew agreed with their interpretation.  The Greek Bible the NT authors used translated this vault στερωμα, a noun related to the common word for “firm” “hard” or “solid.”

Using the Biblical text as a basis, Jews speculated what the firmament was made of. The 3 Apoc. Bar. (3.7) which was written in the 1st -3rd century AD injects this inquiry into the Babel story:
“…when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits.  And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying, “Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron.”
Pesab 49a shows how Jews tried to calculate its thickness and Midrash Rabbah collects half-a-dozen quaint traditions on this:
“The thickness of the firmament equals that of the earth: compare, “It is He that sits above the circle (חוג) of the earth;” And “He walks on the vault (חוג) of the heaven (Job 22:14);” the use of חוג in both verses teaches that they are alike. Rabbi Aha said in Rabbi Hanina’s name:” [It is but as thick as a metal plate.] Rabbi Joshua, son of Rabbi Nehemiah said: It is two fingers thickness. The son of Pazzi said: The upper waters exceed the lower ones by about thirty xestes [for it is written] “And let it divide the waters”…The Rabbis said: They [the upper and the lower waters] are half-and-half. (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2.)
 1 Enoch 33.1-2 says, “I went to the ends of the earth…I saw the ends of the earth whereon the heavens rest.  And the gates of heaven were open, and I saw how the stars of heaven come out.”

Origen’s First Homily on Genesis calls the sky, “without doubt firm and solid.”[5]  Josephus calls it “crystalline,” “standing by itself” (Antiquities, 1.1.30) much like Eze. 1.22-26 and Ex 24.10's depiction of it as blue pavement, and Augustine (who, like Origen is totally irrelevant to Biblical interpretation, but I quote because you theologians waaay overrate him as an interpreter) states it was an “impassable boundary.”[6]

The waters above the sky in Genesis:

Texts like Ps. 104.2-3 and Jer 10.12-3. Describe the ocean above the sky vault. I won’t bore you with the etymology of the
רקיע [transliteration: raqia—what used to be translated as firmament and, in many modern English translations is rendered expanse—JAH]. It comes from a root referring to stamping or beating out (ex. a piece of metal).  (Here’s every hit of the root in the Bible if you care.) I’d rather just go for the jugular and show how the Biblical רקיע fulfills the same cosmological function as other neighboring texts.  Moses grew up in Egypt and we have no shortage of Egyptian texts teaching the sky is solid.[7]  Also, Genesis was edited in Babylon and one of the better parallels is Enuma Elish:
[Marduk] devised a cunning plan.  He split [Tiamat] like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he established as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman.
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
On this tablet Marduk has just defeated the chaos dragon (sound familiar?) and splits her in half to fashion the earth and sky.  With the top half, he forms the heaven and secures it, stationing a watchman in order to retain her waters above from escaping.[8]  In the waters beneath he stretches out the other half of her carcass “and makes it firm as the earth.” (Tablet V.62)  Like the Bible, the Babylonians often used tent language to describe how this vault was spread.  In Genesis the רקיע has the same function of retaining “the waters above:”
And God said, “Let there be a vault (רקיע) in the midst of the waters, and let it divide between the waters. And God made the vault, and divided between the waters which were under the vault and between the waters which were over the vault. (My translation)
 Why the Vapor Canopy Theory stinks:
DON'T ever google this video

In order to explain away the above passage scientifically, entire books filled with ridiculous graphs and mathematical equations have been written on the “pre-deluvian vapor canopy.” Even AinG warns people this is stupid.  

For the uninitiated, the vapor canopy was basically an aqua-shell around the earth that was alleged to sort out all those sucky UV rays, allowing Methuselah to live neigh unto 1,000 and spry as a hound. It was depleted to create the great flood. (We needed it out of the way several thousand years later for the space program, anyways.) That’s the theory. Unfortunately, a widely ignored psalmist sent hundreds of pounds of creationist literature to the flames when he assumed the “waters above” were still loitering up there over the sky vault after the flood:
“Praise Him, heavens of the heavens and the waters which are above the heavens!” (Psalm 148)

But I thought this was a critique of Answers in Genesis
The Bible means the same thing its geographical neighbors did when it talked about the waters above.  In other words, that new technical paper you read on the AinG homepage last week which argues that the waters are at the edge of space-time as “a possible explanation for the cosmic microwave background radiation” (really?!) is an exegetical wet sandwich.  And yes, I’ve read that Younker and Davidson article that paper cites. It tries to identify the “waters above” with clouds.  

This is impossible because v. 17 opens, בִּרְקִיעַ וַיִּתֵּן [“and placed . . . in the raqia”—JAH] regarding the celestial bodies. Identifying clouds with the “waters above” would require Israelites being stupid enough to think clouds were more distant than the moon and stars.

7) They think Seraphim are pterodactyls

Creation museum gift shop

“There is also mention of a flying serpent in the Bible: the ‘fiery flying serpent’ (Isaiah 30:6). This could be a reference to one of the pterodactyls, which are popularly thought of as flying dinosaurs, such as the Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or Ornithocheirus.”
Isaiah 30:6 isn’t the only place where Isaiah refers to the “’fiery’ flying serpent.” Read the below “Seraph” entry in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (written by the famous scholar T. N. D. Mettinger):
If you were reading closely you probably noticed that the Hebrew term used for “serpent” in these Isaiah passages is similar to the term Isaiah uses in the throne room scene of chapter 6 to describe a category of divine beings called seraphim.  If you’re catching my drift, and you think it’s weird I’m suggesting the “fiery, flying serpent” of Ham’s passage is actually a divine being, hold tight. I’ll let you in on a secret:

The seraph divine beings of the Bible are best understood as serpentine beings.
As a noun, the term means “serpent.” Numbers 21.8, which depicts Moses raising up the bronze serpent, is a more explicit example of seraph referring to a snake. If the suggestion that seraphim are winged serpentine beings still seems crazy to you, consider this other portion of Mettinger’s entry:
The fiery flying serpent Isaiah associates with Egypt is a symbolic divine being represented by voluminous iconographic examples from Egypt and is well attested on Israelite seals. (Here are some.)  No dinosaurs needed.  Those who wish for further reading on this will enjoy Karen Joines' article (Samford university) published here in the Journal of Biblical Literature.
Serpent in the creation museum
Why is Satan a snake?
This is actually a big part of the reason why I don’t buy the traditional idea the snake in Genesis is literal like the museum shows. Michael Heiser makes a strong case(PDF) (video presentation) the author of Genesis is doing something far more supernatural and far more clever than being literal. [Heiser is a straight scholar; Brian Godawa is unbelievably scholarly, but he writes with greater verve, in my opinion. And his When Giants Were Upon the Earth: The Watchers, The Nephilim, and the Cosmic War of the Seed and Myth Became Fact: Storytelling, Imagination & Apologetics in the Bible (especially Chapters 2, “Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmos, Combat, and Covenant,” and 3, “The Universe in Ancient Imagination”) do a masterful job of developing the bigger worldview issues involved, here.—JAH]

8) The days of Genesis

Genesis is poetic but that doesn’t matter
I disagree with my friend Brandon at his Pilgrim and the Shire blog when he claims the opening of Genesis isn’t poetry.  It’s rhythmic, numerological and crawling with layers of word play and literary games.

The primary reason the authors wrote poetically was to convey ideas with more emotive tangibility than narrative is appropriate for expressing.  By way of illustration, when Chandler said that a guy ‘had a cleft chin you could hide a marble in’ he was being rather poetic.  I personally find the poetry of this phrase more effective in conveying his meaning than if he had yanked out a caliper, inserted the depth probe into the man’s chin and diligently reported back to us the millimeters to the third decimal place.  (Unfortunately, AinG favors the caliper approach and ends up finding pterosaurs in that chin-crack.)

What the seven days really mean

As I said, the hands that produced Genesis were a lot smarter than Christians secretly think.  One example of this its numerology. One of the better articles you will ever read in this area is Jeff Morrow’s (Seton Hall University) “Creation as Temple-Building:”

Gen 1.1 contains 7 words; Gen 1.2 has 14 words (2 times 7); God occurs 35 times (5 times 7), earth 21 times (3 times 7), heavens/firmament 21 times, “and it was so” 7 times, and “God saw it was good” 7 times. The terms light and day are found 7 times in the first paragraph, and there are 7 references to light in the fourth paragraph.  In the 7th paragraph which deals with the 7th day, there occur three consecutive sentences which each contain 7 words and the phrase “7th day” in the center.  Moreover, the words in the 7th paragraph total thirty five (5 times 7).  The list goes on. In fact, Genesis breaks its own patterns in order to contrive these numerological sets of 7.

If you’ve read any commentary on the tabernacle, you know all of its elements were meant to represent creation.  In fact, the tabernacle’s consecration process lasted 7 days. Long story short, when God told Israel he created the world in seven days, he was communicating the idea that creation is his temple.  If you buy the parsing of inerrancy I will be defending at the end of this article, there’s no reason to overextend the text to circumscribe scientific teachings its authors didn’t care about. Geological history ain’t the point of the number 7.

9) Genealogies

The lifespans of the patriarchs are clearly numerological contrivances with mathematical parallels in the Sumerian King list. Ken Ham tried to spank Jim Stump at Biologos for “arrogantly” claiming they have theologized significance.  I’m sorry Ham, but the fact that the vast majority of the 30 lifespans are divisible by 5 and the rest end in a 7 or a 2 (with one exception that can be derived by adding multiples of 5 and 7) is significant.  These sorts of statistics don’t occur at random.  That’s not my theological opinion; it’s math. The probability that Gen 5 represents a natural genealogy has been calculated at roughly one in a billion.[9]  I thought good Christians weren’t supposed to play the lottery.

The fact that the genealogies appear next to the numerological cathedral of the first chapter is significant; the fact that Genesis’ mathematical affinities are shared by the Sumerian Kings list is significant; the fact that Enoch’s lifespan is 365, the days in the solar calendar, is significant; the fact that Enoch and Enmenduranna, both in the 7th position in the Biblical and Sumerian list, were both said to have been taken to heaven is significant; the fact that Enmenduranna was also associated with the sun is significant; the fact that Lamech, the 7th born in Gen 4, dies at 777 years is significant; the fact the total number of names in the genealogies correspond with numerology is significant.

If you don’t care what scripture is clearly doing here because you’re bringing your scientific agenda to the text and you need them to be “exact” and “literal history,” you aren’t submitting to the context God chose to inspire his word in.  You’re being liberal.

Stump is correct that we haven’t cracked the theological code in the genealogies, but we’ve made significant progress.  If you want to know what’s going on here Denis Lamoureux has made some fantastic intro videos here. Lamoureux acquired three PhDs with the original goal of becoming a creation scientist. For those more interested in published scholarly material here’s Llloyd Bailey’s academic article "Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte" published in the Journal for the Study of the OT. Heiser describes it as the best he’s read on the subject.

10) Misunderstanding inerrancy

Israelites went with their gut

The Bible has no clue what the human brain does. A unique term for brain never appears a single time in the text. They thought the heart and kidneys were the seat of emotions and intellect like all of their ANE neighbors. I’m not over-inflating the data on this.  Here’s a formal journal article which contextualizes it.

When David prays in Ps 26, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my kidneys...” He literally thinks his psyche resides in his kidneys. The same goes for Ps. 16.7; Ps. 139.23; Ps. 7.9; Jer 17.10; Prov 23.16 and Jer. 11.20. If a person says these passages are only poetic
, their theology has censored the Bible’s meaning.

Do kidneys disprove inerrancy?

If your atheist friend tries to debunk inerrancy with these texts
, he’s uneducated or foolish.  Ps 26 doesn’t care about nephrology.  Quit playing his game and quit being liberal with scripture.  You might as well be writing feminist interpretations of an Ikea assembly manual if you’re going to publish astrophysical papers on the Psalms.

B. B. Warfield. At the whisper of his name
, Baptist theology professors swoon and tremble like French girls in a cologne commercial.  While readers line me up on the edge of the bridge to shoot me with cliché non-sequiturs about inerrant slippery slopes, I might as well chain the old boy to my leg and take him down with me to keep each other’s ghost company.  He also believed the inspired author may
“share the ordinary opinions of his day in certain matters lying outside the scope of his teachings, as, for example, with reference to the form of the earth, or its relation to the sun; and, it is not inconceivable that the form of his language when incidentally adverting to such matter, might occasionally play into the hands of such a presumption.”[10]
[1] Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, (Eisenbrauns: USA, 1997), 53-4.
[2] Amar Annus, “On the Origin of the Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19.4 (2010): 277–320.
[3] Ed Noort, “The Stories of the Great Flood: Notes on Gen 6:5-9:17 in its Context of the Ancient Near East” in Interpretations of the Flood (Brill: Leiden, 1998), 11-2.
[4] Ulla Koch-Westonholz, Mesopotamian Astrology: An Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination (Denmark: Museum Tusculanum, 1995), 20-21.
[5] Quoted by Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above,” in The Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-40.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] See Wayne Horowitz’s commentary in Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, 1998), 262. 
“Explicit statements that the heavens are made of water are found in Babylonian texts.  Examples include Ee IV 137-46, where Marduk builds the heavens out of the watery corpse of Tiamat and Inamgisuanki, where the Akkadian name for heaven, same, is explained as sa me ‘of water’ (Livingstone 32:6; see p. 224).  In Ee IV 139-40, Marduk stretches out a skin and assigns guards to keep the waters of heaven from draining downward onto lower regions of the universe.  These traditions may be compared with Genesis 1, where the primeval waters are divided in two, with the upper waters positioned above the firmament (רקיע), and Psalm 104:3 and 148:4, which speak of waters above the heavens.”
[9] Carol A. Hill, “Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55 (Dec 2003): 244.
[10] Quoted by Seely. Originally found in B. B. Warfield, "The Real Problem of Inspiration," in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948) 166-67.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Genesis 1 and 2: "Straightforward historical narrative"?

I have been following Dr. Joel Duff's Naturalis Historia blog for some time.

Yesterday, he offered what I called a "concise summary of some key issues" that divide young- and old-earth creationists one from the other.

The post has generated a fair bit of discussion. And, because I thought Dr. Duff's comments were so useful, I have been "listening" and participating in the discussion.

Anyone who has followed the debates between young-earthers (à la Answers in Genesis) and most old-earthers will recognize the concerns expressed by someone who calls himself "LAR-15" who protests Duff's analysis of some of the issues:
It seems you have misidentified the foundational assumption. It isn’t that the earth is young; it is that the Bible is the Word of the God who cannot lie, and therefore it must be accurate. The young earth is a conclusion from that revelation.
Those who affirm the OEC and the authority of the Scripture have very great difficulty as is seen in the lengths to which they must go to try to defend both. In the end, the Genesis creation account is straightforward historical narrative, in terms of its genre. To read that as some sort of framework or poetic device flies in the face of everything we know about Hebrew grammar and syntax. The only way out is Waltke’s position when he said years ago that Moses intended 6 24-hour days, but that wasn’t what actually happened. But nonetheless, the assumption is that the Bible is right.
To bail out with the claim that the Bible doesn’t intend to teach us about science is akin to an newspaper article saying 2+2=5, but it’s not really wrong because it wasn’t intended to teach math. And that assumes that Genesis wasn’t intended to teach us how the world got here, something that is a prior assumption taken to the text and then the text is read in light of the assumption. No other conclusion is possible. (Just like you accuse YEC of doing.)
Since I feel a great affinity toward what I believe LAR-15 was trying to say, and, yet, since I also find myself objecting strenuously to several of his claims, I wrote the following response.
LAR-15: I would question the factuality of your fifth sentence ("In the end, the Genesis creation account is straightforward historical narrative, in terms of its genre"), the meaning you intend to convey by your second sentence ("the Bible is the Word of the God who cannot lie, and therefore it must be accurate"), and, then, whether your third sentence ("The young earth is a conclusion from [God's biblical] revelation") is a NECESSARY conclusion (based on your intended meaning in your second sentence and the problems associated with your fifth sentence).

The key, however, is your fifth sentence. And so I will seek, here, to respond to your claim.

As Miller and Soden point out, in In the Beginning . . . We Misunderstood,
Genesis . . . was written more than 3,000 years ago, and it was written in Hebrew. To understand it fully, one must read it first in its original language and try to understand it in relation to its original author (Moses), in relation to its original readers (Israel recently released from slavery in Egypt), and in relation to the culture, worldview, and literary genre of the text. This is an issue in the debate on origins that is often--perhaps usually--ignored by Christians. For those who would ignore it, the meaning of the text is self-evident: "The real question involved in this debate is, Do we accept the plainest meaning of the Bible, or do we insist on a reinterpretation in light of the prevailing opinion of scientists?" The plainest meaning . . . is indeed what we want to find, but the issue is, the plainest meaning to whom? We must start with the plainest meaning to the original recipients. (p. 48)
And when you look at those original recipients in their cultural context, you realize that the language God-through-Moses uses in Genesis 1 and 2 is not at all "straightforward historical narrative" as you and I might expect from any modern text. Not at all.

But/and when you do consider the original recipients' cultural context, you realize God-through-Moses is seeking to answer questions very different from what any of us modern American readers tend to ask. The historical questions themselves are different. And the answers really and truly have virtually nothing to do with the physical universe (or cosmos/cosmology) with which we are familiar. they do, indeed, have to do with the cosmos/cosmology, but they have to do with a cosmos/cosmology with which ancient Egyptians--and recently emancipated slaves of said Egyptians--were familiar.

As Miller and Soden note, however, the cosmos/cosmology presented in the Bible is very similar to the cosmos/cosmology of Ancient Egypt, and yet it is presented in a dramatically new and different manner. FOR EXAMPLE, while one finds all the same basic "players" in the Bible as one would in the Egyptian cosmos, the "gods" of Egypt (and the "gods" of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cosmologies) are shown to be without power (much as the Egyptian gods are embarrassed in the narrative of the 10 Plagues in the Book of Exodus).

The sun and moon are "gods" in the Mesopotamian and Egyptian contexts; but "the Genesis account does not name the luminaries and thereby does not name any of the gods of the ancient Near East, whether Mesopotamian, Egyptian, or Canaanite. While the general purposes for the luminaries are the same between the biblical and ancient Near Eastern perspectives, in the biblical account the lights are not deities. They are merely parts of God's creation, doing his bidding and accomplishing his will. They do not have independent rule or power in creation but are completely under God's control, doing his bidding" (p. 132).

This is not a place for me to develop Miller and Soden's full thesis. Their book is relatively brief and exceptionally clear. I encourage you to read it on your own. I did--and do--want to point out, however, how great the divide is between the world into which the Genesis account was released and our world today.

But I would like to quote one more section from Miller and Soden with respect to the cultural context:
[T]he ancient Near Eastern world did not sharply distinguish between their stories of cosmology and "history." Neither cosmology (how the universe came to be) nor cosmology (how one understands the universe, including the relationship of the gods) in the ancient world was understood in scientific or historical terms but as symbolic, metaphysical explanations or as a means to "articulate the incomprehensible and the marvelous, while attempting to express such phenomena in a rational manner." (p. 156) [Final quoted text is from Vincent Arieh Tobin, "Mythological Texts," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (p. 459).]
And finally. About those "clear" references to seven, literal, 24-hour days, listed in Genesis 1. Miller and Soden point out three "very interesting" features of those days to which my attention has never otherwise been directed by any other authors whose works I have read.
  • "There is no known record of any other society framing creation in seven days, so the use of it in Genesis 1 does not appear to be directly dependent on Israel's ancient Near Eastern mind-set. The use of a seven-day period of time, however, commonly appears in ancient Near Eastern mythology, legend, and cultic practice. . . . The number seven was . . . not always intended to be a literal number; instead, it carried symbolic significance, being generally understood to express the ideas of completion, perfection, or fulfillment." (pp. 155-156).
  • "Most translations of Genesis 1 do not accurately represent the Hebrew text when it comes to the numbering of the days of creation. Most translations refer to 'the first day,' 'the second day,' 'the third day,' and so on. In fact, the Hebrew text lacks the article 'the' on days 1 through 5. It should read as the New American Standard Bible translates: 'And there was evening and there was morning, one day' (v. 5); 'And there was evening and there was morning, a second day' (v. 8), and so on through day 5. . . . It is only when we come to day 6 that the definite article is used: 'And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day' (v. 31). This detail of the Hebrew text is significant because it is very unusual. The normal way of indicating the 'first' of anything is with the Hebrew word for 'first' (the ordinal) and not the Hebrew word for 'one.' The Hebrew phrase used here is almost always translated and understood to mean 'one day' in its other uses in the Hebrew Bible. . . .

    "[W]e must wonder why it is written in such an unusual way if it is to be understood as a simple consecutive twenty-four-hour period. The sixth and seventh days do have the article ('the sixth day' and 'the seventh day,' 1:31; 2:2-3), although day 7 does not use the summary formula, 'There was evening and there was morning, day x.' Clearly the sixth and seventh days are set apart as distinct in the listing of the days." (pp. 49-50)

    Miller and Soden note that this strangeness in the text may seem insignificant. After all, "It still tells us that there were seven days, doesn't it?"

    "The point is," they respond, "Genesis does not state the sequence like a Hebrew reader might have expected. Instead, it uses a very unusual way of expressing the days and makes a significant change in the last two days. It is as if the writer is telling the reader to pay attention because this is not a normal week. . . . There is clearly an intended sequence. But the arrangements may be logical (or theological), not necessarily chronological (or scientific). And perhaps there is even more significance, or a different significance. . . . The point here is the unique presentation, suggesting to the original readers something other than a normal or straightforward reading of a simple week." (pp. 50-51).
And, finally,
  • Miller and Soden note that "if we were reading [Genesis 2] independently of any other text, we would naturally assume that it is giving us a chronological timeline for creation.

    "If Genesis 2 is taken most naturally (chronologically), however, as the creation of all the plants, the animals, and the birds, then it contradicts the order of creation in chapter 1. . . . Furthermore, chapter 2 implies only one creative day. There is no reference to any other days and, in fact, the chapter begins with reference to a single day (Gen. 2:4 literally states, 'in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens'). . . ." (p. 55)

    Miller and Soden note that the standard evangelical "solution" to this apparent conundrum is "simply" to "explain" that "the author intended to give a non-chronological order in chapter 2 in order to make a theological point (for example, mankind is seen as central to creation rather than as the climax)." But, say Miller and Soden, "If chapter 2 is out of order for theological reasons, why must chapter 1 be in order chronologically? The only reason for this assumption is because it makes sense to us and because we have assumed that the enumerating of the days requires it. [But i]f the lack of the article on the first five days shows us otherwise, then a strict, linear chronology of Genesis 1 is not necessarily required." (p. 56)

    Ultimately, then, they conclude, "The point is that one cannot take both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 'literally' without creating contradictions between the creation accounts. This is a final clue from the passage itself that it is not meant to be taken literally, or as if it is scientific information." And then, finally, "When we come to recognize some of these clues that the original audience would have intuitively noticed, we realize that our naively 'plain' meaning was not plain in the same way to the original audience." (p. 57)
And so. IF the language God-through-Moses uses in Genesis 1 and 2 is not "straightforward historical narrative" as we modern Americans might expect, THEN the fact that "the Bible is the Word of the God who cannot lie, and therefore must be accurate" is kind of beside the point when it comes to deciding whether the Earth is old or young. And, finally, it is illegitimate to claim that "The young earth is a conclusion from [God's biblical] revelation." Rather, it is a conclusion from someone's (potentially faulty) INTERPRETATION of the Bible based on that person's (potentially faulty) ASSUMPTIONS about the intended meaning of the text of Scripture.