Historical and Literary Background of Genesis Chapters 1 and 2

The following information is reprinted, from The Access Bible: an ecumenical learning resource for people of faith. This NRSV Bible provides brief commentary on the most important biblical texts. In this instance, this paragraph precedes Genesis 1: 1- 2: 25. Two Different Creation Stories: The Bible begins with two different versions of the story of the beginning of the world. The two versions arose at different periods Israel’s history. Most scholars would date the creation story in Genesis 2: 4-25 earlier than 1:1 to 2:3.The former was probably written during the time Israel had kings reigning in Jerusalem and before the exile to Babylon in 587 BCE. The usual scholarly designation for the earlier tradition, which extends intermittently throughout the Pentateuch* (Genesis-Deuteronomy) is the Yahwist or J. tradition. Most scholars would date the later creation story in Genesis 1:1 2:3 to a time after 587 BCE. and the exile to Babylon. It may have been written even later, after the return to Judah in 539 BCE during the Persian period. Scholars call this later tradition the Priestly or P tradition.The Priestly tradition also extends into other parts of Genesis as well as the Pentateuch, especially the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There are a number of differences between the Priestly (P) creation story and the Yahwist (J) creation story: the divine names (P– uses “God”; J– uses “Lord God”); the condition of the world before creation (P—watery chaos-1:2; J–dry desert); the sequence of creation (P–six days with both man and woman created at the same time; J— man created first, than animals, than woman); he manner of creation (P–the word of God—1:3, 6, 9; J–God “formed,” “planted,” “made,”; the depiction of the deity (P–more majestic and transcendent; J–more intimate and hands-on); and the recurring literary structure and refrains in P versus the absence of such repetitions in J. Allowing two different versions of the creation story to stand side-by-side suggests that the ancient writers were not interested in defining precisely how the world began in a scientific sense. Rather, they were interested in exploring larger questions of meaning and purpose through multiple perspectives on the same event of creation.Creation, Intelligent Design and Biblical Truth: A Synopsis By Carter Shelley Just a few days before Christmas a federal judge ruled that the Dover, Pennsylvania school board had been wrong in requiring that science classes include mention of “intelligent design” because that was an essentially religious claim about creation. (The 139 page decision by Judge Jones is available at http://www. pepperlaw. com/pepper/pdfs/DoverOpinion. pdf . ) (from George Murphy, The Immediate Word website for Jan. 1, 2006. www. csspub. om/tiw) Intelligent design posits that the processes that led to the many life forms and creatures that now live on earth are far too complex to be initiated by natural selection and evolution. Some intelligence design advocates maintain that the Bible is literally, factually true. Thus, Genesis Chapter 1: 1-2: 3 records how God created the world in 7 – 24 hour days and Genesis Chapter 2: 4-25 describes the origin and fall of Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman, from whom all humanity is descended.Other Christians believe the theory of evolution is compatible with the creation account presented in Genesis 1: 1- 2: 3, because the language used in Genesis affirms the fundamental truth that God created the earth and the universe. These Christians, among who are many mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, believe the Genesis creation stories do not provide a factual account of how God created the world but a faith affirmation that God is Creator of the entire universe including the earth.Thus, Christians often disagree on how our current world was created but not by whom. The issues at stake in the judge’s ruling against intelligent design Christians two weeks ago concerned whether religious beliefs about God and creation should be taught in science classes in public schools. Facts and truth are not synonymous. The video cameras that recorded of the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers offered a factual account of that attack. Through that videotape, televised throughout the world, Americans and others saw this tragic event.Granted, we saw it through the lens of someone else’s camera, so we see it as the cameraperson filmed it, but its factual record was soon reinforced as we learned the names of the individuals who died when the Towers collapsed. Later we learned more facts about the people who died that day. They had families. They had birth certificates, social security numbers and, sadly, death certificates. Facts can, and are interpreted, but most post Enlightenment cultures have criteria for what is factual and what is not that are shared by most 21st century societies.The video cameras that recorded of the 9/11 attack of the Twin Towers offered a factual account of that attack. Through that videotaped televised throughout the world, Americans and others saw this tragic event. Granted, we saw it through the lens of someone else’s camera, so we see it as the cameraperson filmed it, but its factual record was soon reinforced as we learned the names of the individuals who died when the Towers collapsed. From that information was added verifying these peoples’ lives and existence.They had birth certificates, social security numbers and, sadly, death certificates. Facts can, and are interpreted, but post Enlightenment modern culture has criteria for what is factual and what is not that most 21st century societies share. Lewis, Tolkien and L’Engle understood the differences among fiction, fact, myth, and truth. The Genesis creation texts (not our lectionary texts for Sunday, but definitely central to the ID premise) can and are read in each of these ways. An atheist might say these accounts are fictions made up to convince people there is a God who created the universe.A fundamentalist believes they accurately describe how God actually created the world. Scholars of ancient civilizations, classics scholars, and linguists like Lewis and Tolkien call these narratives myths. When the word “myth” is applied to a biblical text it is often heard to mean “fiction” or a lie. Yet myths often reveal truth more fully than do facts and eyewitness accounts. A Christian who reads the Bible as a faith document, that is, as a book that reveals to us truths about God and truths about humanity holds to those truths as tenaciously. C. S.Lewis found the fundamental truths of the Old and New Testament so compelling that he wrote six fantasy books for children that recount all of the Bible’s major themes: sin. forgiveness, sacrificial love, greed, remorse, salvation, judgment, etc. In fact, Lewis’ parallels between the world of Narnia and the Bible were so overt that his friend and colleague Tolkien disparaged the works as too obviously allegorical. It wasn’t the truths the Bible contained that Tolkien objected to but the overt way they appear in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc.It’s worth noting that Tolkien’s objections have not been shared by the many children and adults who love the books. It’s also worth noting that Tolkien’s own masterpiece The Lord of the Rings also contains numerous biblically based truths; however, the connections and identifications are less obvious and more thematic. Tolkien writes of good and evil, of darkness and light, but Tolkien also represents the multiple shades of gray and the many internal struggles a man, woman or hobbit must face within his own soul.Both Lewis and Tolkien found ancient myths, legends and fairy tales rich containers of truth and inspiration for their own research and writing. Neither man would have put such literature in the same category as the Bible. The latter for each man remained the central source of divine truth. As such the understood it to be divinely inspired and always relevant to human faith and life, but it did not need to be factual in all details to be true in its most essential ones. (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” etc. )Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction work The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth (Harold Shaw P: Wheaton, Illinois, 1993) addresses the literalism/ inerrancy view of scripture head on in her chapter titled: “Story as the Search for Truth. ” The exchange cited below took place between L’Engle and a member of the audience at Wheaton College where L’Engle was a guest speaker. The subject the woman raises is the inappropriateness of a Christian writer—a designation L’Engle resists—writing about a “medium” one of the characters in A Wrinkle in Time: “You are writing about a medium,’ one woman accused. “No, no,” I said, “She’s a happy medium. She repeated, “You are writing about a medium. ” “Meg was always accused of not having a happy medium,” I explained, “so I gave her one. It’s a play on words. It’s a joke. It’s funny. ” The students thought it was funny. The questioners didn’t. “You are putting Jesus on par with Einstein and Buddha,” I was told. The accusation was based on the page where the children are listing those on our planet who have fought against evil. They start with Jesus and then go on to name some of the other men and women who have sought truth. This, I felt was completely scriptural, in accordance with the marvelous passage of Paul’s:And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among brothers. I tried to explain that no, I was not putting Jesus on a par with Einstein and Buddha, and I tried to quote from Paul and was interrupted with the reiteration that I was putting Jesus on a par with Einstein and Buddha until finally I had to say, “Please will you let me finish quoting Paul,” which I was able to do only with further interruptions.When I managed to finish, the attacker simply repeated, “You are putting Jesus on a par with Einstein and Buddha. ” At that I replied, “Lady, I am not putting Jesus on a par with Einstein and Buddha. You are. ” Which the students appreciated. It was true. I wasn’t She was. But the saddest question of all was, “Do you believe in the literal fact of the Resurrection? ” I replied, “I stand with Paul: No Resurrection, no Christianity. But you can’t cram the glory of the Resurrection into a fact. It’s true! It’s what we live by! ” Had the questioner not heard a word of my talk?It’s not my week to provide illustrations, but as I reread the pages of Madeleine L’Engle’s book, I realized that her insights into the distinctions between fact, truth and faith are the ones that speak to me. Because my discipline of choice and training is literature and not science, L’Engle’s insights help me understand and explain why the Bible’s most sacred revelations about God, Creation and Christianity are revealed most fully in the figurative language, poetry, metaphors, parables, letters and heroes of the Old and New Testaments, and not through the “objective” historical critical analysis of biblical texts.The latter are essential to biblical exegesis and good preaching, but they do not persuade either biblical inerrantists or intelligent design proponents to reconsider their views. Truth is frightening. Pontius Pilate knew that, and washed his hands of truth when he washed his hands of Jesus. Truth is demanding. It won’t let us sit comfortably. It knocks out our cozy smugness and causal condemnation. It makes us move. It? It? For truth we can read Jesus. Jesus is truth. If we accept that Jesus is truth, we accept an enormous demand: Jesus is wholly God, and Jesus is wholly human.Dare we believe that? If we believe in Jesus, we must. And immediately that takes the truth out of the limited realm of literalism. But a lot of the world, including Christian world (sometimes I think especially the Christian world), is hung up on literalism, and therefore confuses the truth and fact. Perhaps that’s why someone caught reading a novel frequently looks embarrassed, and tries to hide the book, pretending that what he’s really reading is a book on how to fix his lawn mower or take out his own appendix.Is this rather general fear of story not so much a fear that the story is not true, as that it might actually be true? (89-90). The Bible is not objective. Its stories are passionate, searching for truth rather than fact, and searching in story (93). . . .One of the main discoveries of the post-Newtonian sciences is that objectivity is in fact, impossible. To look at something is to change it and be changed by it. Nevertheless there is still the common misconception, the illusion, that fact and truth are the same thing. No! We do not need faith for facts; we do need faith for truth (94).Fantasy writers C. Sc. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle understood the differences among fiction, fact, myth, and truth. The Genesis creation narratives can be read in each of these ways. An atheist might say Genesis 1 and 2 are fictions made up to convince people there is a God who created the universe. A fundamentalist maintains these texts accurately describe how God actually created the world. Scholars of ancient civilizations, classics scholars, and linguists like Lewis and Tolkien call these narratives myths.When the word “myth” is applied to a biblical text it is often heard to mean “fiction” or a lie. Myths recounting human behaviors, such as human beings propensity to sin, often contain more truth than facts do. A Christian who reads the Bible as a faith document, that is, as a book that reveals to us truths about God and truths about humanity may be much closer to understanding who God is and what God expects of us may be much closer to understanding divine truth and expectations than are other Christians.Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction work The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth (Harold Shaw P: Wheaton, Illinois, 1993) addresses the literalism/ inerrancy view of scripture head on in her chapter titled: “Story as the Search for Truth. ” Truth is frightening. Pontius Pilate knew that, and washed his hands of truth when he washed his hands of Jesus. Truth is demanding. It won’t let us sit comfortably. It knocks out our cozy smugness and causal condemnation. It makes us move. It? It? For truth we can read Jesus. Jesus is truth.If we accept that Jesus is truth, we accept an enormous demand: Jesus is wholly God, and Jesus is wholly human. Dare we believe that? If we believe in Jesus, we must. And immediately that takes the truth out of the limited realm of literalism. But a lot of the world, including Christian world (sometimes I think especially the Christian world), is hung up on literalism, and therefore confuses the truth and fact. Sermon closes with Faith and Fact Chart which is landscape design and appears below. Creationists/Intelligent DesignAtheistsBelievers- Old;Believers- New FACTFICTION MYTH/ TRUTH – 24 hour days to create the worldmade up story with nostory that explains aGOD created Creation:foundation beyond thephenomenon beyondthe world creative mind of thefact: GOD is Creator human author. Adam ; 1st man and woman, all are creative story, but fictionhow human sin begansin is an inescapable Eve:descended directly from them“mankind”human reality“mother of all living” GOD directly dictated everyHuman(s) wrote it fromfaith community first toldP—writing to preserve Authorship:word, like automatic writingstart to finishorally, wrote it as divinely(divinely inspired) inspired faith documentJ—oral tradition xplaining human sin and relationship to GodTRUTH is more powerful than facts. Does it matter which view of the Bible we hold? The fundamental beliefs are the same: GOD is the Creator of earth and the universe. GOD cares about humanity and chooses to be in relationship with us. Human sin separates us from God. Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins and reunites us with GOD. Yes, it does matter whether we read the Bible as a factual document or a faith document, because: ) The separation of church and state protects our right to believe and practice religion as we choose. 2) It is not the school’s job to teach children about God; it’s the church and family’s job to teach faith to our children. 3) Intelligent design imposes non-empirical methods on an empirical discipline: science. 4) The theory of evolution and the creation of the world by GOD are not mutually exclusive options. 5) God doesn’t need to be protected from science, philosophy, theology or any other intellectual searching.

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