DTS Debate about Genesis and Myth

UPDATE, 1/16/12: I recently had a very helpful conversation with Dr. Gordon Johnston, and he was very gracious to answer the questions that I had after attending the presentation (see the questions below). In no uncertain terms, Dr. Johnston affirmed the inerrancy of scripture (as he did in his initial presentation), he affirmed the historicity of Adam and Eve, and he affirmed that Genesis 2 is a faithful narrative of what happened in history. He also reiterated that his view is not a ‘mythical’ reading of Genesis 2. Despite my earlier questions, Dr. Johnston assured me that these affirmations have been his position all along.

Last Tuesday, I learned of a debate that was to take place between two DTS profs about Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation (see yesterday’s post). So after reading the book, I showed up for the debate which occurred last Thursday evening on the campus of Dallas Theological Seminary. It turned out that the discussion was not really about the argument in Enns’ book, though the debate certainly was related to its subject matter.

Gordon Johnston, professor of Old Testament, represented an Enns-friendly interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:4. Elliot Johnson, professor of Bible Exposition, defended the view that Genesis 1-2 presents a narrative description of historical events. The format consisted of 30 minute presentations by each professor, followed by a Q & A with the audience.

Elliot Johnson went first with a presentation titled, “Creation Narratives as a Literary Composition of What Actually Happened.” His reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is fairly straightforward. The creation narratives of Genesis are historical descriptions of what happened when God created the world. Johnson argued that the two creation accounts (Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:4-25) are not “easily harmonized,” but neither are they “contradictory.” They are literary descriptions of God’s “acts of creation,” and they describe “what actually came into existence.”

Gordon Johnston’s presentation was an adaptation of an article that recently appeared as “Genesis 1 and Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths” in Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 178-94. Since Johnston was not able to fit his entire presentation into the allotted 30 minutes, I will try to describe his views in light of the fuller treatment that appears in his article. Johnston argues against the widely held view that regards Enuma Elish as the conceptual background of the Genesis 1 creation narrative. He argues that parallels between Genesis 1 and Egyptian creation myths are much more compelling and should replace the older critical view which links Genesis 1 to later Mesopotamian myths.

Johnston regards the Genesis 1 creation account as a “Yahwhist redaction of the culturally shared Egyptian prototype” (p. 192). In layman’s terms, that means Genesis 1 derives from an Egyptian myth. But the biblical writer has substituted the true God for the pagan gods of Egyptian tradition and thereby has subverted the pagan account of creation. Thus “Genesis 1 was originally composed, not as a scientific treatise, but as a theological polemic against the ancient Egyptian models of creation which competed against Yahwism for the loyalty of the ancient Israelites” (p. 194).

The debate was fascinating, to say the least. My specialty is New Testament, and many of the issues that were discussed are not on my front burner. So I benefitted a great deal just by being there. For instance, I was unaware of a rising tide of Old Testament scholars and Egyptologists who no longer read Genesis against the backdrop of Babylonian myths, but who read Genesis as a polemic against the much earlier Egyptian myths. If Genesis is read against the earlier Egyptian myths, then it puts to the lie the notion that Genesis 1 was written later in Israel’s history by a mysterious “Priestly” source. In other words, it dates the composition closer to the time of Moses, the traditional author of the book. Yet for all the supposed benefits of the mythical reading, I did leave with some unanswered questions.

First, how does Johnston’s “Egyptian myth” hypothesis affect our understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1:1-2:4? Johnston said that the mythological approach does not render Genesis 1 unhistorical. He affirms the historical existence of the first man, the first women, the fall into sin, etc. Yet it is difficult to understand why one would affirm such things if the Genesis accounts amount to nothing more than Egyptian myths with Yahweh’s name plugged in here and there. If everyone agrees that the Egyptian narratives are fanciful, then why do the stories all of the sudden become “historical” when the true God’s name is inserted? It seems to me that affirming historicity is a non-sequitur if one is working from the Genesis-as-myth point of view.

Second, what exactly are the doctrinal implications of reading Genesis as a myth (whether Egyptian or Babylonian)? Although both presenters affirmed their belief in the inerrancy of scripture, it was not altogether clear how the newer hermeneutical approach cohered with such a confession. That’s not to say that it doesn’t cohere. It’s simply to observe that issue wasn’t even discussed. I think the confusion on this point was reflected in many of the questions that students asked during the Q & A time. They simply weren’t sure how the Genesis-as-myth approach should impact their belief in the inspiration of scripture.

Third, how do we square the mythical approach with what other biblical writers say about Genesis 1 and 2? As David Howard has noted, “The modern focus on the events, or happenings, of history is important in the Bible’s case because the Bible makes numerous claims—explicitly and implicitly—concerning the factuality of the events it records” (An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, p. 35). Both OT and NT writers treat the Genesis creation narratives as if they were straightforward historical reports. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, the apostle Paul comments on the Genesis narrative by saying that the “serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness.” In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul cites the order of creation in Genesis 2 as the basis for his instruction about gender roles (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:8-9). These are just two examples, but more could be cited. Is it proper for Christians to regard Genesis 1-2 as myth when OT and NT writers clearly do not? (See also, 1 Chronicles 1:1; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8; Luke 3:38; 1 Corinthians 15:45.) This is no small point since the evangelical doctrine of scripture has always been based to some extent on scripture’s testimony about itself.

The DTS debate wasn’t about Enns’ book, but many of the same doctrinal questions were at stake. Enns’ book and the DTS debate are but two instances of a larger debate that is going on right now among evangelical scholars and theologians. I have a feeling that this conversation is just getting started and that evangelicals have some work to do going forward. For many evangelicals, the nature of scripture’s inerrancy is very much an open question. I for one will be paying attention to how that discussion unfolds. Stay tuned.

64 Responses to DTS Debate about Genesis and Myth

  1. Keong April 15, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    I do not see any contradiction seeing Genesis 1 as both historical and using the Egyptian myths as the basis of God’s special revelation. God is a wise God and man is always rebellious against Him after the Fall. Hence, a lot of myths ‘generated’ by different cultures are both rebellious against God and ‘invented’ by general revelation.

    God can use all these myths to His advantage. Yet it did not distort the historical reliability of the Scirpture. I can quote Chinese myths as an example to substantiate my point. Chinese has its unique folklore and myths that is very similar to the Genesis 1 – 3 account.

    Therefore, I would advise that we should not be too alarm and jump into quick conclusions that the impact of the Egyptian myth on Genesis 1 is ‘destructive’. I would say it futher prove that our God is a dynamic and powerful God.

  2. Michael Metts April 15, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    As an undergraduate and just getting my feet wet in this large pool of Biblical studies there is one thing that really bothers me and it’s the lengths that critics go to and the great skepticism that is always being put forward.

    Take for instance the OT prophets. They are criticized for their accuracy and, despite how some conclusions fly in the face of reason, the prophets have continued to be torn apart. They are vaticinium ex eventu. Or they are expressing mild Greek grammar. Or they were not written down at one time but worked on again and again. And some are not thought to be unified works. Even OT scripture itself, through the school of thinking that puts forward the Deuteronomistic History teaching, have put half the OT in the hands of “the Deuteronomist” since the theological ties and threads are too hard to reconcile.

    The Gospels are not treated much differently. I’ve read pieces from books both conservative and liberal that say things which mostly amount to a huge reduction in the credibility of the Gospel narratives, especially the resurrection, because the differences are either “amazing”, or “irreconcilable”. Are they really? I mean, because each Gospel author has a different title on the cross, all of which do say the same thing (some are minimal, others are more elaborate) and other minor differences we should throw out the credibility of the witnesses? You’d think that the authors might have had real differences in their texts. Such as claiming a different person as the Messiah, or perhaps having the events take place in different places. Or something else that is truly “amazing”. I think some skeptics are easily amazed! How do liberal scholars sincerely get away with their language used to describe small differences in the Gospels?

    The Egyptians are credited with monotheism. Gilgamesh, the flood. Good grief, God’s chosen people are left with nothing. And now they give creation to the Egyptians. Critical scholarship is the only thing that amazes me.

  3. scott April 15, 2008 at 10:26 am #

    I’m no expert in this area, but why can’t the myths and the Gen account both have found their inspiration in the actual events? I’m sure this must be considered, but I haven’t heard it discussed?

    For example, let’s pretend that the account of Gen 1-3 actually happened, or something similar to it. The first generations of human beings would have known this story, and passed it on. As tribes and cultures separated, the stories might start to diverge, but they would still have quite a bit in common.

    In other words, just because we see similarities between Egyptian and Genesis account of creation, who is to say which influenced which? Perhaps their similarity owes to the fact that they were both rooted in the same actual events of creation.

  4. Paul April 15, 2008 at 10:40 am #

    Call me a horrible liberal, but why can’t we look at Genesis as Moses trying to explain events that no human, especially in 4000 BC, could have possibly understood?

    That the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Jews all essentially came up with the same idea about the fall of man probably speaks to the idea that there’s something to be said there for the fall of man almost immediately after humankind made it’s debut.

  5. Michael Metts April 15, 2008 at 11:06 am #

    Then perhaps I am seeing it incorrectly. Paul, you seem to be saying that because of the commonalities in the ancient cultures, then it argues further for the historicity.

    I might be seeing it more critically in that, more and more of the OT is discovered as being “borrowed” from neigbhoring cultures and this can be a movement in itself that can slowing eat away at inspiration. I’m a far cry from a scholar but I don’t think that the critics are playing so nicely. Insofar as this particular topic, ok, it seems reasonable. But as far as these grand contributions to Bible study overall, it looks like one large effort to blur the lines of inspiration.

  6. Michael Metts April 15, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    EDIT: “slowing” should be read as “slowly” in above post.

  7. Rick April 15, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    These kinds of studies do not translate into the simplicity of devotion to Christ. They do not produce the fruit of the Spirit. They do not produce impacting Christians in a world screaming for relevance.

    Why does Christian academia focus so much time on issues like this and less and less time on teaching men and women how to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves?

    We should revisit again and again what it means to study to show ourselves approved, workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth. While all the time remembering that the goal of our instruction is love, not academic excellence.

    Shades of early twentieth century Germany.

  8. Ben R April 15, 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    It seems to me that, far from blurring the lines of inspiration, scholars are attempting to ask hard questions of what it means to be inspired when there are obviously similar stories going around in other cultures. As Denny pointed out the in the previous post, it is not clear who influence whom, but the question is valid nonetheless.

    I’m not convinced that having a legitimate question that results in blurring the lines of inspiration is either a conspiracy or bad. If the question is legitimate, and we vilify it because it makes us uncomfortable, then that leaves us in the same position that Enns is warning against – minimizing the evidence to support our own position.

    In wrestling with these questions it seems to me that we “might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” and “peer in a mirror dimly”. Bold assertions about inerrancy or inspiration not tempered by the unknowns of ANE scholarship seem to undermine our epistemological position in the face of an infinite God.

  9. AJ April 15, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    <>

    The event was neither billed as a “debate,” nor as over Enns’ book. As a matter of fact this presentation was originally scheduled to take place before the news of Enns’ suspension became news for public consumption. It had to be postponed due to inclement weather.

  10. Michael Metts April 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm #

    Ben, you do realized you said, “scholars are attempting to ask hard questions of what it means to be inspired”, right?

    Where did the story of creation become inspired: on the hand of Moses in the day he wrote it, or does it lie in the histories surrounding ancient near-eastern cultures?

  11. Brett April 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    Genesis 1-2 never claim to have Moses as its author. This is just tradition that says this and is backed up by no evidence.

    I personally think things like this mean a great deal to us. They help us read the text in its historical setting instead of reading it like it’s a polemic against evolution. It was not written to combat evolution, but to show who the true creator of all things is…the one true God Yahweh. We cannot impose our 21st century scientific demands on the text b/c it does not seek to answer any of those questions which we ask it. It is sad how some people even make a living by trying to defend that it’s a scientific, young-earth account.

    In reality, it helps us to revere the word of God much more. I say this b/c being untruthful about the word of God when the evidence leads otherwise is not revering the word, and reading the creation accounts against their ANE backdrop help us to place it in its setting and not read things into the text which aren’t there.

    Oh, I mean, “You flaming bunch of liberal scholars. If you just believed the Bible and remained biblical in your scholarship then you would know the earth was created in 4004 B.C. You lead people away from the truth and disrespect the word of God by not taking it literally. You’re all going to hell.”

  12. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi Denny,

    I’m trying to keep a cool head in entering this debate, and I daresay it is rather difficult. For there are many armchair theologians glibly cheerleading the dismissal and relocation of a good man and his family. It is personal to me, in that in my own journey in the faith, I have been led to similar conclusions as Enns, without which I may have ended in doubt and despair, and for lack of which I see many students at my university losing their faith year after year. Furthermore, learning to read the Bible in an incarnational manner has proven to be so enlightening, so deeply true, and increased beyond measure my love, appetite, and reverence for the scriptures and for Christ. So I take the assaults on Enns personally – for I see them as an assault on my ability to read the scriptures with integrity, to encounter their truth, and indeed to keep hold of the Christian faith itself in the challenges of our time.

    I’ve never read Enns’ book (it’s on backorder on Amazon), but from summaries from both his critics and his defenders, I recognize the view of scripture therein. I recognize it as the view that has brought such vitality and depth to my soul. It is my own.

    I’ve struggled with this topic before, in my own journey through the Bible:

    Mommy, What’s a Myth?
    Myths in Our Bible?
    Fighting with the Bible

    I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding here, on the part of Enns’ critics. All they see is a slippery slope to liberalism – of a chipping away at the trustworthiness of scripture. I think the fears are misguided; more than that, I think the fears keep people from engaging and wrestling with the very Bible they seek to defend. The comparison to Job’s comforters is apt – we may find ourselves, in an attempt to defend God, actually to be defending something questionable in the name of God, and be offering only maxims of ashes and proverbs of clay.

    The questionable thing I refer to is the modern privileging of technical precision and raw data – “scientific knowing” if you will – to be the highest form of knowing and the measure of truth. Myth becomes synonymous with lie. We speak of “the truth behind the myth” – the truth being what a journalist and a video camera would have recorded at the actual event. Everything else is subjective and sentimental at best, and deception or fabrication more likely.

    It is here that liberals and fundamentalists find themselves locked shoulder to shoulder in complete agreement. Fundamentalists say the Bible has no myths and is therefore true. Liberals say the Bible has myths and is therefore false. But both are squarely modern in their contempt for the art of mythology, and their conviction that, whatever his methods, no God worth worshipping would employ such an imprecise vehicle in his revelation to man.

    It is here that I wish every critic of Enns was deeply familiar with the writing and thought of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton (particularly The Everlasting Man). For these giants stood defiant against the steamroller of modernity, and held that myths can not only be true, but truer than “historical fact”. For God to employ the vehicle of mythology in opening his great story of revelation was not only acceptable – it was actually far superior to him choosing to begin with the technical and scientific precision we crave. The scriptures are not, after all, subject to our preferences, and if we moderns are to learn from them, we must submit even our epistemology to them.

    We are moderns, and thus need to be taught how to read a myth. And the way to read is to read it as a story, a true story even, but not a precise or technical story. Myths are often historical, but the truth is seen most clearly in the integrity of the story and not the clarity of the historical setting. Thus, we can say (and the ancients would say) that Homer spoke the truth about the sack of Troy (having thus been inspired by the muses), and yet a journalist might confront homer with his video of the event that differed from his account. I doubt blind Homer would have skipped a beat – of course mortal eyes would miss much that he described, but so much the worse for the mortal eyes. Homer has the muses – all you have is the stupid video camera.

    Similarly, we can speak unflinchingly about the truth of Genesis. We can see God separating the waters above from the waters below, lifting the land out of the sea, and bringing out the starry host by name. We can know that Adam and Eve at the fruit, and that the world was nearly destroyed but for the faithfulness of Noah. But it is folly to ask “where did Cain find a wife” or “how did the dinosaurs fit on the Ark”. In terms of what the video camera would have seen, myths are a glass darkly. Though there is doubtless history there, revealing these sorts of details just isn’t the point.

    More than that, reducing a myth to what we call “history” (as opposed to what they called “histories”) almost guarantees that we will miss much of what God is telling us.
    For the story of the flood, in the language of antiquity, is not merely the story of a mass killing. The language of the land being swallowed up again by the chaos of the sea, while the heavens pour down again closing the expanse given, is nothing less than the language of cosmic collapse. It is the undoing of what was done in Genesis one. God has looked on what was meant to be good, and sees only evil continually. It is the destruction of creation; the end of the world.

    Noah being righteous in his generation saves the world – it shows the Lord that the creation itself is worth saving. For the waters that were meant to destroy all end up receding, and we get a new beginning. The promise of the rainbow is a sign to God himself to commit himself to his creative project, to redeem it despite its evil, to roll up his sleeves and do what it takes to restore and renew all things – including chief of all the heart of man.

    What we are to learn isn’t primarily about a historical flood, global or local as it may have been (local, if the geologists are to be believed). We are to learn about the nature of the God we serve, the people we are, and the creation we represent. We learn that our evil warrants the destruction of God’s good creation, and yet the righteousness of a savior warrants its salvation. We are to learn of a God who is committed to the salvation of his creation, who will roll up his sleeves to save it despite the intentions of our hearts being sinful from our youth. And here, in the grand but cloudy veil of the mythological language of antiquity, we are to see the silhouette of Christ – the image of God, he who is “very good”, he whose righteousness makes us all worth saving, and who will make all things new.

    We can learn to see all this. Or we can use a dry modern hermeneutic to pit fights with scientists and watch our young people reject Christ when confronted with these issues because they cannot in good conscience accept the picture this hermeneutic paints, and indeed, call an Auto da Fe on anyone who tries to equip them to do otherwise, all the while worshiping the beautiful pages of a book that we dare not read.

  13. MatthewS April 15, 2008 at 3:22 pm #

    Two thoughts. First:

    We (meaning conservative believers) aren’t completely honest about how we relate the authority of God’s Word to what we experience with our senses. Consider Copernicus. If I understand correctly, the church resisted the Copernican model on a theological level, claiming that it attacked the authority of Scripture. But if you ask Denny, “Is the earth at the center of the universe?” I assume he will say “No!” out of hand, based upon his scientific knowledge.

    But this means that Denny’s cosmology is based upon what he sees and hears – it is not based upon his reading of Scripture. Further, he is a heretic and an enemy of God’s Word according to the 16th century church.

    I would hate for us today to repeat the mistake of the 16th century church by rejecting facts based upon a well-meaning but mistaken theology.

    Based on this, I think we need to be careful to not too quickly reject historical findings, such as may relate to the historical context of Genesis.

  14. MatthewS April 15, 2008 at 3:30 pm #

    Second (following #14):

    Denny, I appreciate some of your thoughts in this review. I share your concern in losing Adam, Eve, the Fall. It seems that too much of the theology of the Bible flows out of them being actual people and events to let them go.

    I also agree that Paul refers to Genesis as fact. The OT is said to be given for our instruction. If it is not “true history” then it seems the object lesson loses much of its power.

    Finally, I have read a number of creation myths (there is a fascinating book in our library that is a collection of many of them). Such myths are often clearly fanciful. For example, several include some character singing a song that begins to take shape and turns into the earth and animals and people. These myths read nothing like Genesis. I realize the debate at hand here is pitting Genesis against other writings than these, but my point is that when an old Hebrew prof said that Genesis reads as sober fact, not as legend or myth, I am inclined to believe him.

  15. Brett April 15, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    Well said. Herein lies the tragedy in my mind; our children are not losing their faith when they go off to college because of some “liberal” who coerces and manipulates them to believe otherwise, but because conservative evangelicals have done an absolutely horrendous job of equipping their young people and wrestling with the evidence we currently have.

    We really need to get out of this “the Bible is magical” stage, because it’s really doing more harm than good and causes us to have a rigid hermeneutic and faith to come crashing down when the evidence goes against it. For goodness sake, just look at the differences between each Gospel, or between Samuel/Kings and the Chronicles. I dare say it, there are many contradictions in there, and our rigid hermeneutic and defenses of them being “complementary” with “not a single contradiction” might work with some uneducated folk who never look for themselves, but when people are told by non-Christians about them or they begin to look for themselves, it creates a distrust, loss of hope, and loss of faith in everything we’ve ever been taught and believed.

    Conservatives have failed miserable in this regard, and I commend Enns for being honest with the text and the evidence. Some are afraid it’s a step toward liberalism and will causes some to lose their faith, but in all actuality it will strengthen more people’s faith than the crap we hear from the pulpit or in our Sunday school classes b/c he doesn’t shy away from the problems.

    Thanks for sharing Wonders…I feel the same way and am in the same boat you are. If I did not have legit scholars at my school that did not walk me through some of these issues, then my faith would have crashed long ago b/c of the hermeneutic and method I was taught and exposed to growing up.

  16. Michael Metts April 15, 2008 at 4:23 pm #

    Criswell College and my Bible say:

    “The grass dries up, the flowers wither, but the decree of our God is forever reliable.” (Isaiah 40:8; NET)

  17. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    Michael,

    You haven’t heard a word I said.

  18. Ben R April 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm #

    Michael (#11):

    You ask where the story became inspired, but you don’t define inspiration. I’m betting we probably don’t agree on the definition. Here’s my crack at why.

    In short, inspiration is often the critera by which some call the scripture “foundational” and therefore inerrant in matters of faith. One can believe the Bible in the face of contradictory “facts” because the “facts” of the Bible are more foundational than other “facts”. This early modern way of thinking has been under attack for quite some time because, as I see it, the assumptions that need to be made for the Bible to be properly foundational are too far fetched.

    At least for the OT, inspiration (depending on one’s definition) is tricky. What if the majority view is correct in that Moses didn’t write all of the Pentateuch (cf Deut. 34)? At what point did inspiration (or inerrancy, which I what I think you really mean) attach? Were the things Moses wrote partially inspired and the final redactor fully inspired? The issue gets worse with historical books like Kings. At some point, someone compiled the (probably) already written histories. Were the pieces inspired or was only the final redacted version inspired? (Not to mention MSS vs LXX vs DSS variants. To what level to we even have the “inspired” text?) My point is that, apart from ANE issues, OT inspiration is already tricky.

    When we factor in ANE literature the real question is what inspiration means when the creation story is remarkably similar to other ANE creation stories. To assume that inspiration occurred when “Moses” wrote is to assume that you already know what inspiration means. (What does it mean to say Moses was “inspired”? By whom? For whom? To what extent? Does that exclude all human resources for language and imagery?) My view is that the work of Enns and others are pointing out that inspiration is already a cloudy issue and that we should be honest about its cloudiness while trying to navigate between pitfalls. To Enns, and myself, and others, that honesty means taking a fresh look at the meaning and function of myth as it relates to the OT narrative. Honesty also means taking a look at other extra-biblical evidence, such as is provided by the natural sciences. What makes more of the pieces fit? (Or, if we don’t care about the pieces fitting, we need to be honest about one set of evidence outweighs the other.)

    But let’s go further. In my view (which will be unpopular on this blog, though well in line with Wonders’ post in #13), inspiration of the scientific details only vaguely matters. In fact, Christ, not scripture, is the mediator of eternal life (John 5, esp 5:39-40). Scripture is that which points to the Way, which can only be followed in the Spirit. Scripture is not the Way in itself, but points us towards Christ. With that in mind, I struggle with how much historicity actually matters vs the mythic literature that point us towards the new Adam. This gets to the “where” of inspiration. Is inspiration “in” the scripture, or “in” the Spirit that also indwells us? My bias should be obvious.

  19. david h April 15, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    Brett and wonders,

    If you start to question parts of the bible being a myth instead of fact because of science where do you draw the line. Science will tell you a man can’t walk on water, feed five thousand people with a loaf of bread and a fish, or walk out of a grave after being dead for three days. 2 Timothy 3:16 says all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching so I believe I can teach the kids in my youth group that Genesis 1-2 is how God created the Earth and it will be good for them. If that makes me uneducated in some people’s eyes thats ok, but I ask that you do not refer to what is preached from the pulpit of my church “crap.”

  20. Paul April 15, 2008 at 4:51 pm #

    Michael,

    does it really say anything against God or the Bible if the account of the first man is a myth?

    I don’t think it does. The Bible is first and foremost a philosophical book. To try to make it a science book does the Bible a disservice. Especially because I can’t assume that it was ever intended as such.

    Is the Bible contradicted if the story of creation is a myth? Again, I don’t think so. Yes, Paul refers back to Adam and Eve, but he could have well been doing that because it’s a story that everyone knew, and could draw wisdom from.

  21. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    If you start to question parts of the bible being a myth instead of fact because of science where do you draw the line.

    I draw the line in trying to understand what the scriptures are saying, rather than trying to pound the round peg of myth into the square hole of modern science. You are assuming that I am advocating dismissing these parts of scripture: on the contrary, they are more central to me now then they ever were to me before.

    It’s not scripture that I’m challenging – it’s modern epistemology.

    Science will tell you a man can’t walk on water, feed five thousand people with a loaf of bread and a fish, or walk out of a grave after being dead for three days.

    Science tells us nothing of the sort. But it does tell us that the Earth looks a great deal older than 6000 years, and that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

    2 Timothy 3:16 says all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching so I believe I can teach the kids in my youth group that Genesis 1-2 is how God created the Earth and it will be good for them.

    When did I ever suggest that Genesis 1-2 wasn’t profitable for teaching? The first eleven chapters of Genesis are among the most important in the Bible. If anything, I advocate going deeper into these pivotal chapters. But this involves holding back for a moment modern questions, and instead looking to ask the questions that the scripture itself is addressing.

  22. Bryan L April 15, 2008 at 5:27 pm #

    Paul said, “does it really say anything against God or the Bible if the account of the first man is a myth?”

    That is a good point Paul and one of the problems I see in this debate is that people only hear the word myth and don’t ask what the purpose of it is or what truth myths communicates.

    If there were never an actual Adam and Eve who were deceived by a serpent into eating fruit and were then cast out of the garden by God, does that mean then that we are not fallen and sinful beings who are in need of a savior? Does sin no longer exist if there is no Adam and Eve? Is it it possible that that story still communicates a truth such as man has been convinced by the Devil to live life autonomously apart from God and we are doomed to be separated from him forever unless he does something about it?

    There are other obvious myths in the Bible such as God defeating the leviathan or the chaos monster with his sword(or whatever). Do we believe that is literally what is going on or is ti a myth that communicates the fact that God brings about and keeps order in the cosmos and in our own lives and that Satan and his kingdom cannot overcome God with disorder and chaos?

    BTW Rikk Watts, professor of NT at Regent College has been arguing for an Egyptian background to the Genesis story. It’s really interesting. You should give it a read. (I split it so it would paste in here)
    http://www.stimulus.org.nz/
    index_files/Stim12_4RikkWatts.pdf

    Another view that I find particularly compelling is from John Walton in his NIVAC Genesis commentary.

    Bryan

  23. Nathan April 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    I am a new poster but frequent reader of these discussions, but felt obliged to thank everyone for the sincere and peaceful dialogue in a hotly debated topic. Frankly I get a little annoyed sometimes by the condescending sarcasm thrown about by both sides, but with the exception of Post 12 there has been none.

    Wonders, thank you for your great thoughts and clearly earnest words. An argument is much better received when it is given in humility.

  24. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 8:06 pm #

    Bryan and Brett,

    One thing that I would make clear, is that something being a myth doesn’t by itself speak positively or negatively for historicity. Calling Genesis 1-11 mythological in nature is not saying that there was no historical Adam, historical Noah, or historical flood. What it is saying is that the story is not one for which historical precision is a chief concern – the story is more important than the “facts”.

  25. Bryan L April 15, 2008 at 9:02 pm #

    Wonders,
    I disagree. If historical precision is not an important part of myth then that tells me that when we call something a myth then that speaks negatively towards it’s historicity, or else we wouldn’t call it a myth.

    Can you think of historical situations that we call myth? Can you think of myths outside the Bible (since that is under discussion) that we consider historical in any meaningful way?

    These are different genres and sure there might be a little overlap (an actual person named Noah or Adam) but if we don’t think the event being told about them really happened but are instead kind of fantastic and unlikely then we call it a myth and ask what else it’s trying to communicate (assuming it’s not just a false story trying to deceive us). It’s precisely because an events historicty is in doubt that we look to the genre of myth to help explain it. If its historicity was not in doubt then we wouldn’t even consider that genre.

    Bryan

  26. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 9:39 pm #

    Hi Bryan,

    Well, the folks on Denny’s side of the isle may rejoice! You and I now find ourselves in total disagreement. 😉

    Can you think of historical situations that we call myth? Can you think of myths outside the Bible (since that is under discussion) that we consider historical in any meaningful way?

    Absolutely – in fact, I would say that for something to be a myth, and not merely a fable, there must be a sense in which you understand the story to have happened. Examples of myth that have history behind them:

    The Illiad
    The Story of King Arthur
    The Song of Roland
    Robin Hood
    Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone
    Washington Crossing the Delaware
    The Flag Raising on Iwa Jima

    Each of these lose something essential if the teller does not understand them to have actually happened. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a historian who doesn’t believe all of these people and stories to have a historical root. The difference is that the myth is about more than the history, and the historical details themselves are not the point. Myth gives a controlling story for the hearers to understand not only King Arthur and Davey Crockett, but through them who they themselves are as English Nobility or American Frontiersmen.

    Writers of myths may have access to historical data, but the chief source of their inspiration is nearly always attributed to something akin to the divine hand guiding the imagination. The epic poems of old invoke the muses, and Milton invokes the Holy Spirit. The poet is inspired to see something in the story that others cannot. It is far weightier than mere fiction or fable, but also far cloudier than historical chronology.

    If its historicity was not in doubt then we wouldn’t even consider that genre.

    I submit that this would be a hermenutical failure on your part.

  27. Quixote April 15, 2008 at 10:17 pm #

    Wonders,

    I don’t know if I agree with all that you’ve written, but having studied CS Lewis, I do understand what you’re referring to in regard to his view on “myth.” In fact, wasn’t that when he accepted Christ as Savior, the most reluctant convert in all of England? When he at last discovered that of all the myths he had studied (he was well-versed in Nordic, Roman, Greek, etc.), that the myth of Jesus was the one TRUE myth, the one that all the others were mere copies of.

    Of course, he writes it much more eloquently than I.

  28. Bryan L April 15, 2008 at 10:40 pm #

    Wonders, in everything you keep saying though you mention that somehow a myth is not entirely historically accurate. That means something being classified as a myth automatically speaks negatively to its historicity. I’m baffled at how you can’t see this. I’m not saying that it can’t have any historicity at all, I’m just saying that as a first rule of thumb there is something about a myth that we doubt historically thus it speaks negatively towards its historicity.

    All of those examples you mentioned have key parts that are doubted historically (some a lot more than others). That is one thing they all share in common. Something in them is made up and didn’t happen.

    Again I’m not saying every single detail is made up but we recognize there are definitely parts that are made up and so every example you give of a myth speaks negatively to their historicity.

    Also I think one of the problems we are having is a definition of the terms being used. When you refer to myth are you speaking specifically of stories that tell the origins of a people or the cosmos (i.e. Enuma Elish), or are you just speaking of any story that is told in a way that it has some sort of divine purpose behind it (i.e. the resurrection of Jesus)? Or are you saying both of those?

    Bryan

  29. Wonders for Oyarsa April 15, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Bryan, in the case of Iwa Jima, we have it on video! But it is the image in people’s mind and consciousness that is the myth – those four American soldiers holding the flag – that embodies all that we are as a people: the courage, the determination, the willingness to fight and die for freedom, liberty and justice for all, etc.

    One I forgot that would definitely count, in my opinion, is The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Now, I am no historian of the Revolution, but for all I know every detail of the poem might be perfectly historically accurate. Or it might not be. The point is that what some historian thinks actually happened that night doesn’t matter in terms of whether or not the poem is part of the mythology of our country.

    To say that “there is something about a myth that we doubt historically” is, in my view, to make a category mistake. It’s like saying that science has disproven poetry. Historical precision (not accuracy) is orthogonal to the purpose of myth. But to flatly say that a myth didn’t really happen is in fact to strip it of its power. One might even say that it is the myth that “really happened”, and the historical details are just the unsorted data.

  30. Brett April 15, 2008 at 11:51 pm #

    David H,

    You’re missing my point. The point I’m trying to make is that the Bible is not a scientific document. The Psalms say, “The sun rises”…oh really, the sun actually rises? Even the most die hard fundamentalist would disagree with the science of that. However, this shouldn’t be an issue or cause of concern b/c the Bible wasn’t written to be scientifically accurate. Therefore, we should not take our 21st century knowledge of science and match it up with the biblical text, because the text will fail since the people didn’t have access to that kind of knowledge. Thus, Genesis 1 and 2 were not written to combat evolution and give a scientifically/historically accurate depiction of exactly how God created the earth. Science is by no means my argument here, in fact, I am arguing AGAINST science.

    Trust me, I am not the one to say that Jesus’ miracles are myths. I believe in the supernatural and have witnessed it firsthand. God created science and the laws to govern the universe, and I believe he did, can, and still does do the miraculous to go against those rules.

    So I believe your question should rather be something like, “If you start to question parts of the Bible as myth instead of fact, where do you draw the line?” Instead of adding “because of science” in there. To which my answer would be, I simply don’t know and think it should be up to the individual exegete. However, I do think mythological or metaphorical elements in the text are pretty obvious. There is no miracle solution or formula for biblical interpretation, and conclusions should be drawn from a rigorous inductive study of the text. I believe the Bible is historical, I just don’t believe in a rigid historicity like most believe. Have you studied the parallels in Samuel/Kings against Chronicles? Or compared the 4 Gospels and saw how much they differ in details for parallel accounts? I think that leaves a rigid version of historicity and inerrancy out of the question. Instead the Bible is historiography (Enns’ term). It was written for a purpose and to communicate a message. It is not a weather report and completely objective fact-based history.

    One might argue that this is a slippery-slope to relativism, which is a common complaint. However, nearly all slippery-slope arguments are immature and dead wrong. I have no problem at all saying Genesis 1 is myth (though I wouldn’t use that terminology) and believing that the Exodus actually took place. So maybe you draw the line where the evidence tells you to…there’s a thought. Psalm 74 says that Yahweh slayed Leviathan during the process of creation and fed him to all the other creatures? Do you believe this? It sounds pretty mythological to me, and could very well be a polemic against Canaanite or Egyptian creation stories making the point that it is Yahweh, not Baal or El or Chemosh or Dagon, that is the one true God. Therefore, we should hold both sides in good tension: the 100% scientific/historical side and the relativistic or mythological side. By the way, this is just a western mindset that causes us to ask these questions. Slippery-slopes simply didn’t exist during biblical days. I understand our zeal to protect the text b/c of our western American mindsets, but our children are being exposed to other views where the evidence may be stronger, and we must expose them to this long before some atheist professor at a secular university does.

    Your reference to 2 Tim 3:16 leaves me confused. When did I ever say all of Scripture wasn’t profitable for teaching? Even if parts of the OT have some mythological elements in them as polemics against common stories proving that Yahweh is the one true God, that doesn’t make those texts less profitable for teaching sense they may not be 100% scientifically and historically accurate. In fact, I believe it makes them more profitable b/c the text is communicating that Yahweh is the one true powerful God and no other gods compare to him. This is a modern argument at best. We get caught up in the details so much that we lose the message. Even if it’s not 100% historically accurate, the message is still the same. And in our zeal for historicity and science we miss the message. For example, the message of Genesis 1 is not to prove that God made the earth in 6 literal 24 hour days. If you read Genesis 1 and that’s what you come away with, then you’ve totally totally totally missed the point of the author’s intention.

    That’s fine if you teach your youth group that version of Genesis 1 & 2, I am not saying not to. I respect people who still interpret it that way. But I do think you should expose your kids to differing views and other ways to read the text. That way, when they go to college and Genesis 1 and 2 are brought up and debunked, they could at least be prepared for it or to defend their own views instead of their faith crashing down b/c nobody in their church ever told them about other ways of reading it or other ancient creation stories.

    I never said people who believe this way are uneducated, nor did I say what you preach from the pulpit is crap. I know many educated people who believe in this version of the text. However, I do think you have a responsibility to let your church know what else is out there and give an informed and educated response and defense of your own views instead of the “That’s what the Bible says” crap. This is what I’m arguing against, and you totally missed my point.

    Also, you’re the youth minister, not me, so you know what your kids can and cannot handle. However, if it were me, I would at least expose them to other views and defend my own views. What we have going on in most places are just “The Bible says it, that settles it” mentalities while not being informed nor informing our people of what else they may be exposed to someday…and this is a shame and part of the reason why people lose their faith when they feel the evidence leads them in a different direction. Sense they’ve heard such a rigid, dogmatic hermeneutic and exposition growing up, they just assume that the Bible is wrong and full of errors, and they can no longer trust anything they have ever been taught or read in the Bible…and this is a shame and we are to blame for it.

  31. Bryan L April 16, 2008 at 6:34 am #

    Wonders,
    I guess basically you are arguing for a rather broad definition of myth. In your definition though everything in the Bible is considered myth. It really kind of loses it’s meaning though in this discussion because it just becomes any story that has meaning to people (so for instance the nailing of the 95 thesis by Martin Luther becomes a myth to protestants). In that sense I would agree with you that it doesn’t speak towards its historicity positively or negatively, but then again I think that category becomes kind of useless as it doesn’t really tell us anything since it is so broad and watered down.

    Now if you are using myth to speak of a pre-history story that speaks of something like the creation of the world or the beginning of a people then I would say by default it’s historicity is questioned negatively. Maybe the original writers of the myth weren’t concerned with history, that’s fine, but we can still say that something about it is historically doubted by its nature.

    Thanks,
    Bryan

  32. Wonders for Oyarsa April 16, 2008 at 8:08 am #

    I have to use the term a little more broadly to get modern examples – just because of the nature of our epistemology. To be a “real” myth, for instance, someone would have to tell the story of iwa jima with the help of spiritual inspiration. It’s not something we really do these days, because we don’t believe the imagination can be a guide to truth. But all my examples are defining stories of a people.

    I know an English Literature grad student, who is working on the myth of her somewhat troubled life growing up. Here is how she begins:

    O come and sing thy mercy over me
    O Muse, enwoven in the tapestry
    Of exiled people who resolved to die
    And met their executioner whose eye
    Was strangely turned away, as if he saw
    A higher justice with a softer claw.
    O thou who on Moriah stayed the hand
    That would obey but could not understand,
    Who strove with man and blessed him in the hip,
    And chose a spokesman hesitant of lip,
    O thou who heard the cries of the enslaved
    As thou would’st later hear for the depraved,
    And chose the longer road of lab’rous arts,
    Engraving by degrees thy name in hearts
    Becoming like their lifeless forms of stone,
    For thou hast named the renegade thine own—
    Sing thine own telling of the life of she
    Who drank all tales without discrepancy;
    And as the Sirens fade to Orph’us’ song
    May thine be proved the truth, exposing wrong.
    O sing, for thou hadst sung to man before:
    To Joseph with his en’mies on the floor,
    And to the Poet King a mournful dirge,
    To worm-besweltered prophets of a purge
    That you revoked, to seekers of thy face
    Who saw it from afar and called it Grace.

    This is the spirit of mythology – and it is the form of literature most conscious of divine inspiration. The historian does his work by research; the mythmaker does his by invoking the muse. This is why it is folly to speak of “the history behind the myth” – the point is that the myth is looking for what is behind the history.

    Anyway – I stand by my statement that historicity is orthogonal to the purpose of mythology. The historian may come up with a very complementary account to the myth maker, or a very different one. That doesn’t matter all that much. But when the historian, or anyone else, says “this didn’t happen”, he is indeed assaulting the myth. The way in which they happened may differ from the way the historian would tell the story, but myths are not allegories or abstractions.

    So Denny is right to say that the N. T. writers thought of Adam as having existed – he is wrong to think this means Genesis 1-11 isn’t a myth.

  33. bl April 16, 2008 at 10:09 am #

    /liberalism in the church

    If Genesis is a myth then Jesus and Peter are liars…

  34. Brett April 16, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    Typical, standard western American conservative response. Go and learn what this means, “hermeneutics”.

  35. Paul April 16, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    bl:

    not quite. some of us like to think every once in a while.

  36. Wonders for Oyarsa April 16, 2008 at 12:02 pm #

    Nathan,

    I do hope we’ve remedied the situation for you. 😉

  37. Wonders for Oyarsa April 16, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    Quixote,

    C. S. Lewis would definitely be considered by many here to be a flaming liberal on this issue. Take his statement, in The Problem of Pain that “I have the deepest respect for Pagan myths, still more for myths in the Holy Scriptures”, and his own retelling of the story of the Fall for a modern audience in that book.

  38. Andrew April 16, 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    That Genesis 1 is a polemic is acknowledged by several scholars who also affirm the scientific and historic accuracy of the narrative (i.e. bruce waltke). I personally have no problem seeign the polemical use of the narrative – this does not contradict the historic and scientific accuracy of the account, however. Just like art imitates life, perhaps the Egyptian and Mesapotamian creation myths are mere diluded reflections of the true account in Gen. 1, rather than the other way around.

  39. Brian (Another) April 16, 2008 at 4:48 pm #

    Based on reading the comments, I would venture a guess that I am scholastically outmatched here, thus, this comment is perhaps a diminutive counterpart to that which is said. Also, these are questions stirred by the discussion, no commentary on anyone personal (one of the pitfalls of the anonymity of the web). With my caveats in place (and I’m engineer-y, itemized lists appeal)…

    1) The Copernican question (#14), I might be taking this a bit differently, but outside of referring to a “circle”, the bible doesn’t state a “flat earth”. The bible, does, however, state a singular separation of the earth and seas, creation of man, etc. I suppose I draw a distinction in those examples (as others that are similarly presented).
    2) My observation is that scientific evidence (such as stating that the earth is older than the 6 – 10K years as we are addressing here) can be (and often is) cobbled together simply to support what one wants to believe (as others argue about biblical worldviews, of course), but technically devoid of proof (it points this way, thus it must be this way). Dismissing my belief in a literal creation as contradictory to science is saying my faith is better than your faith. Additionally, the creation account is not devoid of scientific merit.
    3) With that in mind, I agree with everyone who says we should prepare ourselves and our children (and those God allows us to disciple) to know and understand the “other side” of an argument. I also hold that God is the God of all things. I regard the bible as His revealed word and the arbiter of what is true (and what is revealed is true). If He doesn’t happen to fit into my worldview and structure (see next point), I will continue to accept His word as the Truth and bend my will to His (not saying anyone else isn’t bending their will, of course). I don’t, however, consider it to be a full revelation of every single event (or reason for every single event).
    4) Based on scientific evidence, I would say yes, science does say a donkey doesn’t talk, a man cannot walk on water or feed 5000 collecting more food than was originally distributed (or, rather, science must explain in its own terms what happened…i.e. the water was shallow or he walked really fast ;-). Thus, I would rely on faith that the events happened as they occurred (not saying anyone commenting otherwise don’t have faith, merely my own personal train of thought).
    5) My take is that this isn’t a possible slippery slope, and, while not Spong-esque, it is a discounting of biblical authority. I take Paul’s reference to Adam as truth and, thus, if we say Adam and Eve did not exist, this would make God a deceiver. A misrepresentation is a deception is a lie and God does not lie. Perhaps a gross simplification or even intellectually inferior to some, but that is the way that I view it.
    6) I tend to agree with the “why should we have long discussions about this” question. But I will also be quick to say that these lofty ideologies necessarily trickle into lay people’s (such as myself) day to day lives. I find it to be a dangerous position to ultimately defend theologically as it seems to fit the say-what-men-want-to-hear model than remaining true to the text.

    I don’t think this will change anyone’s perspective (other than on the use of itemized lists….). It’s something with which I have struggled, as it sounds many if not most others do/have. I think that many of us will patently (and civilly) disagree. But what do I know, I’m just a begonia (great line from a Doonesbury cartoon).

  40. MatthewS April 16, 2008 at 6:26 pm #

    Brian #40,

    Just to clarify:

    1)My point in #14 was about method, not cosmology. The church of that day used a theological argument to declare your and my scientific reasoning on this issue heretical, but that does not worry you or me in the least. We read Scripture differently than they did then, and that reading is at least partially informed by our scientific knowledge. Again – think method. HOW do you know the earth is not at the center (even though this position places you at odds with the official position of the church of a few centuries ago)? What method do you use to answer that question? You use science. (I am not being combative here – just trying to clarify my abstract point).

    2) The issue wasn’t flat earth, it was whether the earth is at the center of the universe or not. And the church of that day had theological reasons for saying it was. But again, my point isn’t that Scripture has a verse that is contradicted by science. My point is that we unconsciously use science to arrive at a conclusion that at one time the Church declared heretical.

    3) I am computer sciency and thus am also allured by itemized lists 🙂

  41. Brian (Another) April 16, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    Matt:

    Thanks for the notes. I understand. And yes, I meant to say earth as the center, my mind wandered there.

    Dig the list. I think I just violated my own preferences!

    Cheers!

  42. GLW Johnson April 17, 2008 at 5:47 am #

    Charles Briggs, the pugnacious protagonist of Old Princeton, especially BB Warfield, advanced a very similar view that the OT was ladened with ‘myths’, ‘legends’, ‘fables’ and other kinds fictional genre. I highlighted this in the recently published, ‘B.B. Warfield:Essays In His Life and Thought’ (P&R,2007). In this regard Enns has more in common with Briggs than he does Warfield-which is odd given Enns’ claim to be standing in the Old Princeton/Westminster tradtion.

  43. Brent April 17, 2008 at 6:55 pm #

    I too am getting my master’s in English literature. But I just wanted to throw in a couple of things.

    If historical precision is not an important part of myth then that tells me that when we call something a myth then that speaks negatively towards it’s historicity, or else we wouldn’t call it a myth.

    I don’t think so. I believe the difference between history and myth does not have to do with their historicity; it has to do with their purpose. A “myth” is any story, factual or not, that is primarily identity-forming. Myths are also referred to as “foundational narratives.” They provide the reader with a way to look to view themselves, the world, and the spiritual realm. A myth forms and defines an individual’s identity and their relationship with the world. Whereas modernist views of, for example, science, are about reaching transcendental, abstract, “inhuman” (nonhuman? ahuman?) truths.

  44. Brent April 17, 2008 at 7:09 pm #

    Sorry, I forgot to clarify something.

    Bryan L, I think you’re right that people use the word “myth” in that way all the time. In popular culture, it does mean an untrue story (a definition I am sure was propagated by modern science, grr). The definition I offered is almost purely academic, though I hope it’s helpful.

  45. Bryan L April 17, 2008 at 7:30 pm #

    Brent,
    I understand what you are getting at but like I mentioned with your definition the whole Bible would be considered myth and because its so broad in what it covers it doesn’t really tell us anything about it. According to this definition the story of the resurrection is the same as the story of Pentecost is the same as the story of Solomon building the temple is the same as David slaying Goliath is the same as the exodus is the same as Gen 1-3, etc. What we want to know is what is different about these stories not what is the same and one of those questions that is nagging is the historicity of them. If someone asked me whether the resurrection really happened historically I wouldn’t say well it is a myth and the writers of myth aren’t concerned with historicity and facts, and myths don’t speak either negatively or positively about history. The person might say ok so what does that mean, it’s not historically true? We could keep going around in circles talking about what myths are and what their purpose is but eventually we would have to answer the question with more than a literature lesson.

    If the question is the historicity of certain passages in the Bible such as the creation narrative, then lets talk about that instead of saying well it’s a myth and myths aren’t concerned with historicity. Well fine and all but we are talking about historicity. This talk of myth just becomes a distraction then for what people are really wondering and curious about.

    Do you see what I’m getting at. Sorry if any of this sounds snappy, it’s not intended to but to just try and get to the heart of the issue.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  46. Brent April 17, 2008 at 8:57 pm #

    Bryan L.,

    Well, it’s probably true that myths don’t function very well if they are analyzed as myths; their purpose comes to light when they are believed to be fact. You are probably right that the philosophical/sociological/psychological discussion of “myth” does not have much to do with what believers believe per se, although it is relevant to why/how they believe.

    At the same time, I am not sure how to relate that to the question of whether or not what the scriptures say is true. I could talk about what I did before, but it begs the question “Do we think we’re that much more ‘enlightened’ now?” Yeah, a little bit pretentious.

    Other than admitting that, I don’t know how else to address what you’re after, except to give a personal statement about what I believe. It is a matter of competing narratives, the creation story and the story of science, and how they relate to each other. However, I don’t know what else to say.

  47. Craig A April 17, 2008 at 9:00 pm #

    Many posts beg the question of the nature of the authority that provides the criteria for interpreting the “evidence” of ANE literature. On the one hand some grant authority to their own ability to interpret the “evidence,” or the ability of critical scholars, while relying upon assumptions such as correlation implies causation, or more recent literature must be dependent on older literature, etc. Others depend upon Scripture as providing the necessary presuppositions by which the “evidence” is interpreted. In discussing this, should we not evaluate the legitimacy of the presuppositions used to interpret the data?

    We are created by God, dependent upon God for all things, including knowledge of Him and His world, and can only know what He has chosen to reveal to us about His word and His world. He has also given general revelation, but that also must be interpreted by His special revelation, the Bible. Now, if Christ and the Apostles, and Scripture in general affirm and assume historicity, to where do we turn for a higher authority to deny it? Pagan musings? To say that conservatives ignore the evidence betrays an unfamiliarity with conservative scholarship, but also ignores their attention to a proper epistemology. The presuppositions in approaching the text and ANE are given by Scripture, by God Himself. Some have faith in their own ability to determine the nature of Scripture, but is such faith warranted? On what authority? In this they are operating on the same epistemological foundation as Adam when he decided to interpret reality contrary to God’s interpretation (and no, the Bible does not teach that the sun revolves around the earth, God has no problem with Copernicus in this respect).

    Fundamentally, what passes as “scientific” and “objective” evaluation of the “evidence” is often no more than unbelief and the exaltation of the interpreter over God’s word. Our epistemology as the ground of how we approach God’s word is an ethical issue, while the assumptions of the critics should be given the same scrutiny they give the text of Scripture. Who and what do you believe, God’s own testimony concerning His word, or Pete Enns’ assumptions concerning the Enuma Elish?

  48. Brett April 17, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    Have you read the book? Have you heard the arguments? Have you examined the evidence? This isn’t “liberal” hash here we’re talking about, this is standard stuff in Old Testament circles, from both conservative and liberal alike. The only people who actually deny it are fundamentalists or people not acquainted with the evidence.

  49. Denny Burk April 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm #

    Brett,

    You wrote: “The only people who actually deny it are fundamentalists or people not acquainted with the evidence.”

    This is not an accurate statement. I don’t buy the theory, and I’m not a fundamentalist nor am I unfamiliar with the evidence. There are many others as well.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  50. Brett April 17, 2008 at 11:05 pm #

    Denny,

    I was speaking about OT scholars, but I understand your point. It was definitely a generalization that I should have been more clear on. I expect NT and theology guys to be much more reluctant about it. However, I’m at a conservative institution, and all the OT scholars hear would say a hearty “amen” to Enns and this way of thinking. So among OT scholars, the majority of both liberal and conservatives would think along the same lines Enns thinks in my opinion.

    Thanks for pointing that out Denny.

  51. Craig A April 18, 2008 at 6:40 pm #

    For the record, Brett, I have read the book twice, have reviewed and critiqued it, and am intimately familiar with the debate from the time of ICBI, when Boyce, Woodbridge, et al, dealt with these issues quite well. There is nothing new in Enns book.

    Also, just like “evangelical” and “inspiration” it looks as if we now need to redefine “conservative” as well, per your comments.

  52. Craig A April 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm #

    Brett,

    In case you are interested, you may want to give Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal by John D. Woodbridge a read. You’ll be the better for it, regardless of where you land. Also, you may want to read it asking the question of whether or not there is anything in Enns’ book not directly or indirectly addressed by Woodbridge, while noting any similarities or dissimilarities in the thinking of Rogers/McKim and Enns.

    Re: my previous remarks, ICBI stands for International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and Boyce should be Boice (James Montgomery Boice). Also, if you are not familiar with it, you may want to have a look at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the signers (one of the products of ICBI).

    I wish you the best in your studies…

  53. Wonders for Oyarsa April 22, 2008 at 8:45 am #

    Bryan L,

    I just thought of something that I think expresses these things a little more clearly. A myth is an icon. Think of Rublev’s Trinity or the Icon of the Anastasis. Here again we see something far different than we would with a photo – either of the hospitality of Abraham, or in Christ rising from the dead. But it is no less true for that.

    I think calling Genesis 1-11 an icon of creation is about perfect. Here we see the key people and events with which to understand our origins, the nature of God, and man. Dostoyevsky called it “a carven image of the world, and of man, and of human characters, and everything is named and set forth unto ages of ages” and I think that exactly right.

    Like icons, I think it folly to interpret Genesis with “literalism” – that is, asking questions like “how did Cain find a wife” or “how did the Dinosaurs fit on the Ark”. These are not questions the icon is addressing, anymore than the icon of the Anastasis is meant to show the viewer the architectural layout of Hades or the relative size of Satan and Jesus’ big toe. “Ah”, you say, “but if the icon draws their big toes at different sizes, and this is not indeed so, is not the icon in error?” The answer is “no” – any more than the Bible would be in error by tasting bad when baked into a cake.

  54. Geoff May 8, 2008 at 1:16 pm #

    The gospel is at stake here. In the history of this debate, Thomas Huxley an evolutionist and atheist took Christians to task who insisted that the gospels were historically accurate. He argued that they were greatly inconsistent to accept that Genesis was myth, but force the gospels to be historical. He was arguing the entire Bible should be thrown out. He said this over 100 years ago!
    “If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive “type,” comparable to the profound Promethean mythus, what value has Paul’s dialectic.” “I confess I soon lose my way when I try to follow those who walk delicately among “types” and allegories. A certain passion for clearness forces me to ask, bluntly, whether the writer means to say that Jesus did not believe the stories in question, or that he did? When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that “the Flood came and destroyed them all,” did he believe that the Deluge really took, place, or not?”
    Thomas H. Huxley , “Science And Hebrew Tradition Essays”, 1897, p. 232, p236
    In Marcus Borg’s book on Jesus his presuppositions re the scriptures force him to the only logical conclusion that the pre-Easter Jesus was not God. In my opinion, he is on the same continuum as those who claim Genesis 1-11 is myth, just more thoroughly consistent in his logic. He doesn’t run up a white flag when it comes to the virgin birth and resurrection claiming to accept it by faith. He is much too scholarly to do that.
    This is the age-old issue of faith v. reason. Which parts of the Bible do we only accept as historical by using reason and which ones by faith? With a degree in both theology and physics I believe theologians worship science way too much. Having been in the scientific community, if Christians could realize how often science is wrong and changes, they wouldn’t feel the need to fit the Bible with current scholarly models. Could modern biblical scholarship be flawed in its foundation? If motivation to write books, acceptance in scholarly circles, and making a name for oneself drives it (scholarship), will the outcome ever find truth? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” At seminary it was significant to see which profs were in the pursuit of knowing God and which were in the pursuit of an academic career. N.B. I have no personal background with either of the profs here.
    Red flags should go up when evangelicals apply the same logic as those in the Jesus Seminar when it comes to the Scriptures. To what end? To glorify God? Something’s amiss.
    1Cor. 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
    1Cor. 1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    1Cor. 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
    1Cor. 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”;

  55. Dr. Gordon Johnston September 20, 2008 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Denny,

    Although my discussion with Elliot Johnson about Genesis 1 on our campus in April has come and gone long ago, I became aware of your post only recently. It is unfortunate that you did not alert me to your post to invite my response for three reasons. First, your post misrepresented my approach in some very significant ways. Second, your post raised three important questions that I would have wished to have been able to respond in a more timely manner. Third, since your post misrepresents my view, it gives your readers a false impression and raises illegitimate suspicions about whether or not my approach coheres with inerrancy. Consequently, I am writing to try to set the record straight. I wish my response was not so long. However, your post is filled with so many examples of oversimplification, overgeneralization, misrepresentation and false inference that a simple response would not have been adequate.

    Disappointing Features of Your Post

    1. I am disappointed that you entitled your post, “DTS Debate about Genesis and Myth.” This misrepresented the April discussion in two ways.

    First, the event was neither advertised nor framed as a debate, but as a “friendly discussion.” The preliminary comments for the evening emphasized this point. When the Student Forum originally invited me to present my approach to Genesis 1, it was at my suggestion that Elliot Johnson (one of my best friends on campus) be included so that the students could have the opportunity to hear more than one approach. However, both Elliot and I agreed to participate together on the condition that the evening would be framed as a discussion rather than a debate. Despite the fact that we made this clear throughout the evening, you not only use the term “debate” in the title to your post, but refer to it as such no less than seven times in your review. Why does this disappoint me? The term is rhetorically charged and suggests sparks are flying. Since your post also refers to the recent controversy at Westminster, anyone who reads this post but did not attend the event might easily come away with the impression that a similar debate is brewing on our campus. There is not the case. It is, in fact, a disservice to our school—and your alma mater no less—for your post to suggest what is not in fact the case.

    Second, by entitling your post, “DTS Debate about Genesis and Myth,” you give the false impression that some on our campus suggest Genesis is myth or that one of the presenters holds this. In fact, neither Elliot nor I suggested in any way that Genesis 1 is myth. Both of us clearly affirmed that Genesis 1 is—to one degree or another—a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation myths. To assert that Genesis 1 rejects ancient Near Eastern creation myths does not mean that Genesis 1 is a creation myth.

    In the light of these two mispresentations of the event in the title of your post, I would have to characterize this as yellow journalism. As you know, yellow journalism is a pejorative term used to decry reporting of an event that uses eye-catching headlines to attract an audience by exaggeration, sensationalism and scandal mongering that distorts the actual facts (see W. Joseph Campbell, Yellow Journalism [Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2001]; Daniel Cohen, Yellow Journalism [Brookield, Conn: Twenty-First Century Books, 2000]).

    2. I am disappointed that your post misrepresents the approach that I presented both during the course of the evening and in my recent article in Bibliotheca Sacra. In both, I suggested that Genesis 1 is a literary theological polemic designed to refute ancient Near Eastern creation myths in general and ancient Egyptian creation myths in particular. During the Q&A session, a couple of students asked whether my approach might somehow imply that Genesis 1 itself was myth. I explicitly stated on both occasions that it does not. After the event was over, you personally asked me the same question and received the same answer. Despite the fact that I rejected this idea no less than three times within the course of the evening, you twice describe my view of Genesis 1 in your post as a “mythical approach.” This grossly misrepresents my approach. It also fails to acknowledge that I explicitly reject such an approach when you yourself directly asked me about this. As I stated several times that evening and in my article, I view Genesis 1 as a literary theological polemic that rejects ancient Near Eastern creation mythology. Surely you can understand the difference. Even if you cannot, it is unprofessional for you to characterize my view as a “mythical approach” when I explicitly rejected such an approach. Let me be clear: I do not hold a mythical approach to Genesis 1.

    3. I am disappointed by the way you misrepresent me when you claim to explain my approach in layman’s terms. On the one hand, I commend your summary of my approach when you put it in scholarly terms: “Johnston argues against the widely held view that regards Enuma Elish as the conceptual background of the Genesis 1 creation narrative. He argues that parallels between Genesis 1 and Egyptian creation myths are much more compelling and should replace the older critical view which links Genesis 1 to later Mesopotamian myths.” On the other hand, you grossly oversimplify the issues and badly misrepresent my presentation and Bib Sac article when you claim to explain it in layman’s terms: “In layman’s terms, that means Genesis 1 derives from an Egyptian myth.” The expression “derives from” is misleading, since it suggests the source of Genesis 1 is an Egyptian myth. This confuses the issues by suggesting Genesis 1 does not derive from divine inspiration but from borrowing of Egyptian mythology. Let me set the record straight by putting my view in layman’s terms: As I see it, Genesis 1 derived from divine inspiration, and originally was designed to function as a literary theological polemic refuting—not deriving from—ancient Egyptian creation myths.

    4. I am disappointed that you feel qualified to critique the views of a fellow evangelical colleague who is working in a discipline in which you admit that you have no formal/specialized training. This is why you need to be more careful and recognize your limits in understanding the nuances of these kinds of technical OT discussions. You really owed it to me to be more careful. One of the problems with these kind of posts is that—unlike a professional news organization—you do not have an editor sitting over shoulder insisting on fact checking before a story goes to press. At the very least, it would have been more responsible to double-check with me to see whether or not your post accurately represents my view. In fact, it does not.

    5. I am disappointed that your post framed our discussion in terms of the recent controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary over the views of Pete Enns. Both your introductory and concluding paragraphs placed our discussion within the context of the Pete Enns controversy. Although you do go on to acknowledge that our discussion had nothing to do with Enns’ book, your introductory and concluding paragraphs contextualized our discussion in a way that only confused matters. Why did you frame your introductory paragraph in terms of a DTS debate about Enns’ book when you knew when you were writing that it was not about it at all?

    6. I am disappointed that your post characterizes my view as “an Enns-friendly interpretation.” In fact, I made no reference to Enns’ approach during the entire evening, nor do I refer to him anywhere in my article. My approach differs from Enns in significant ways. The only thing my approach has in common with Enns is that I suggest Genesis 1 is not a scientific treatise, but is contextualized against the background of ancient Near Eastern literature. But whereas Enns suggests Genesis 1 is mythological, I suggest it is a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation myths. In fact, many evangelical Old Testament scholars view Genesis 1 as a literary polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation myths, e.g., Gerhard Hasel, Bruce Waltke, John Walton, James Hoffmeier. Although Waltke views Genesis 1 as a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology, he has criticized Enns’ approach to Genesis 1 as too extreme and provocative. If you had asked me whether I characterize my view as “an Enns-friendly interpretation,” I could have explained the critical differences. In fact, I would characterize my view as a Waltke-friendly interpretation. My approach most closely resembles that of Jim Hoffmeier and James Currid (cf. bibliography in my article for their recent publications), two evangelical Egyptologists. To suggest my approach was an “Enns-friendly interpretation” not only misrepresents my view, but reveals your own lack of control of this area of Old Testament studies. Worse, it creates a guilt-by-association scenario.

    7. I am disappointed that your post misrepresented the nature of our discussion by suggesting that we were raising the same kind of doctrinal questions that Peter Enns raised in his book: “The DTS debate wasn’t about Enns’ book, but many of the same doctrinal questions were at stake.” This grossly mischaracterized our discussion. While Enns’ book was asking questions about inerrancy, our discussion focused on hermeneutics. In fact, the title of the forum was, “Hermeneutics of Reading the Biblical Creation Narratives.” My opening slide intentionally distanced myself from the kind of doctrinal questions raised by Enns. Let me reproduce its content: “My Theological Presuppositions: (1) divine revelation, (2) biblical inerrancy, (3) diversity of hermeneutics. Everyone at DTS is committed to inerrancy, but the question in Genesis 1 is hermeneutical: ‘How do we read the biblical creation accounts? In what way are the creation accounts inerrant?’” The main purpose of my presentation, in fact, was to defend the inerrancy of Genesis 1 from skeptics who claim it is in error since it seems to conflict with science. By viewing Genesis 1 as a literary theological polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation myths, evangelicals can better defend its inerrancy by appealing to its literary genre and authorial intent (two issues for which the Chicago Statement makes allowance).

    8. I am disappointed that the closing line of your post suggests that evangelicals who view Genesis 1 as a literary theological polemic are somehow questioning inerrancy: “For many evangelicals, the nature of scripture’s inerrancy is very much an open question.” I appreciate the fact that your post acknowledges that I affirm inerrancy. In case there is any question, let me be clear: I firmly believe Scripture as a whole and Genesis 1 in particular is inerrant. Let me also emphasize the point of our forum discussion: We were not questioning whether or not Genesis is inerrant—we were attempting to explain how Genesis 1 is inerrant.

    Response to Your Three Questions

    The three questions you raised on your post are not only legitimate questions, but necessary ones. All three were asked in different terms during the Q&A time. Although I attempted to answer these questions, our time was limited so it is understandable that further clarification is needed. This is understandable since each of us has a different interpretive grid through which we sift discussions. Sometimes it takes multiple conversations to actually hear what a person is saying if it is something new. Part of the problem is that evangelicals have typically thought there are only two approaches to Genesis 1: pure history/science versus pure myth/fiction. My approach (which is similar to the views of Waltke, Walton, Hoffmeier, Currid) represents a genuinely third approach: literary theological polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation myths. In any case, let me take each of your questions in order. Your questions are quoted first, my responses follow.

    1. “First, how does Johnston’s ‘Egyptian myth’ hypothesis affect our understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1:1-2:4? Johnston said that the mythological approach does not render Genesis 1 unhistorical. He affirms the historical existence of the first man, the first women, the fall into sin, etc. Yet it is difficult to understand why one would affirm such things if the Genesis accounts amount to nothing more than Egyptian myths with Yahweh’s name plugged in here and there. If everyone agrees that the Egyptian narratives are fanciful, then why do the stories all of the sudden become ‘historical’ when the true God’s name is inserted? It seems to me that affirming historicity is a non sequitur if one is working from the Genesis-as-myth point of view.”

    Let me begin by trying to disabuse your question of several misconceptions. First, my view of Genesis 1 is not a “mythological approach,” as you repeatedly characterize it. I view Genesis 1 as a “literary theological polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology in general and against ancient Egyptian creation myths in particular.” Your mischaracterization of my position is the foundational problem with your subsequent concerns that you raise.

    Because you not only misrepresent my view, the hermeneutical conclusions and theological implications that you draw from what I assert do not logically follow. For any syllogism to be valid, the foundational premise and subsequent assertions must be true for the conclusion to be valid. However, since you misrepresent my foundational premise, it is not legitimate for you to suggest that my position is a non sequitur. Your syllogism is faulty. I am not “working from the Genesis-as-myth point of view,” as you assert. I am working from the “Genesis-as-polemic” point of view.

    You also misrepresent my approach when you suggest I am asserting “the Genesis accounts amount to nothing more than Egyptian myths …” My Bib Sac article and forum presentation made it clear that Genesis 1 is certainly much more—not nothing more—than Egyptian myth. For example, in Egyptian mythology, the physical world is the embodiment/manifestation of the gods. Egyptian creation myths are both cosmogony (creation of the cosmos) and theogony (creation of the gods). By asserting that all the elements of the physical world are inanimate objects that the one true God created, Genesis 1 rejects Egyptian mythology. Genesis 1 asserts absolute monotheism, absolute transcendence of God as distinct from the material world and the eternal pre-existence of the Creator. There are a half dozen other ways Genesis 1 rejects Egyptian mythology and is much more than Egyptian creation myths (see my Bib Sac article).

    You grossly oversimplify the issue when you write: “the Genesis accounts amount to nothing more than Egyptian myths with Yahweh’s name plugged in here and there. If everyone agrees that the Egyptian narratives are fanciful, then why do the stories all of the sudden become ‘historical’ when the true God’s name is inserted?” There is much more going on than simply the name Yahweh/Elohim replacing Atum, etc. Nowhere did I suggest in the article or presentation that it was simply a matter of “cut-and-paste” divine names. The literary and polemical nature of Genesis 1 is much more sophisticated than this. Genesis 1 is not simply substituting the name Elohim for Atum, etc. It is rejecting the entire mythological approach to the cosmos and to creation that permeate all the Egyptian creation myths. Please refer to my article, where I list half dozen theological polemical assertions that Genesis 1 is making which reject the Egyptian mythological view of creation. In effect, Genesis 1 asserts that Yahweh is the one and only true God, who did in history what the Egyptians could only claim their gods did in mythology. Contrary to your mischaracterization, none of us suggests that Moses simply substituted the name Hebrew name Elohim into the Egyptian myths and that the fanciful Egyptian creation myths suddenly became historical. You have grossly oversimplified the issues and misunderstood what we are suggesting. I think that if you take the time to read the couple of dozen evangelical articles that suggest Genesis 1 is a theological polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology, you will realize how naïve your current misunderstanding is.

    Contrary to your over-simplification of the issues, the Egyptian creation myths did not “all of a sudden become ‘historical’ when the one true God’s name was inserted into Genesis 1.” That is not at all what I am saying. You fail to appreciate how the hermeneutics of literary allusion and theological polemic work (For a convenient introduction to the hermeneutical techniques of literary allusion, please see the first of my three Bib Sac articles from 2002/03). For example, Psalm 74:14-17 clearly features a literary allusion to the Canaanite myth of Baal slaying the (seven-headed) dragon Leviathan and creating the cosmos out of his carcass, which functions as theological polemic against Baal worship and promoting Yahweh. The Canaanite myth “did not all of a sudden become ‘historical’ when Yahweh’s name was inserted” in place of Baal. In terms of philosophical logic, that would be a naïve simplistic reductio ad absurdum. The rhetorical point of Psalm 74:14-17 is that Yahweh, not Baal, is the one and only true God and Creator. By adopting the imagery used of Baal in the Canaanite myth, the Canaanite myth does not all of a sudden become historical by simply inserting God’s name in place of Baal. Rather, it is a sophisticated rhetorical technique of polemically rejecting the false Canaanite theological claim that Baal is the one true God and Creator, and asserting that YHWH alone is the only one worthy of those titles. Please compare:

    Hebrew Creation Poem: Psalm 74:14-17 (ca. 1000 BC)

    You destroyed the Sea by your strength;
    you shattered the heads (plural) of the Sea Monster (tnyn)
    You crushed the heads (plural) of Leviathan (lwytn);
    you fed him to the people along the coast.
    You broke open the spring and the stream;
    you dried up perpetually flowing rivers.
    You established the cycle of day and night;
    you put the moon and sun in place.

    Canaanite Myth: CTA 5.1-5//1.28-32 (ca. 1500-1200 BC)

    When you smite Leviathan (lwtn), the crooked Serpent,
    and destroy the writhing seven-headed Dragon (tnn),
    the heavens will wither,
    they will go slack like the folds of your tunic.

    Likewise, OT scholars have traditionally suggested that Gen 1:2-8 featured a literary polemic against the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, in which Marduk defeated Tiamat (the mythological embodiment of the chaos waters), hacked her into two halves, then created the cosmos from her corpse. While liberals suggested the connections between Gen 1 and Enuma Elish suggests the Hebrew account was no different than the Babylonian myth (just a Hebrew version of the same myth), evangelicals and conservatives have always insisted that the similarities between the two did not mean that Genesis 1 was “mythical,” but polemical. The Hebrew account has just as many theological differences with the Babylonian myth as it has literary similarities. Any theological polemic based on literary allusion typically features both striking literary similarities (to create the intertextual connections necessary to activate the allusion in the consciousness of the audience) and even more dramatic theological differences (to assert the superiority of Yahweh over the other gods). The reason many OT scholars have seen Gen 1 as a polemic against Enuma Elish is because it seemed to both draw upon, but also distance itself from the Babylonian creation myth. Although more recent scholarship is showing that the polemic in Genesis 1 was more specifically directed against ancient Egyptian creation myths rather than Babylonian creation myths, the hermeneutics are essentially the same. In a wonderful article several decades ago, Gerhard Hasel clearly demonstrated that whereas Genesis 1 was certainly alluding to ancient Near Eastern creation myths for the sake of theological polemic, this did not mean that Genesis 1 was itself mythological, but merely polemical. More recently, Gordon Wenham (Genesis, WBC) and Bruce Waltke, conservative evangelical OT scholars without peer, both adopt the same approach advocated by Gerhard Hasel.

    The objectivity of your evaluation of my approach is tainted by your own lack of appreciation of the complexities of the hermeneutics and lack of familiarity with the past 20+ years of discussion of this topic by evangelical OT scholars. Thus, when you write, “It is difficult to understand why …” and “It seems to me that …” you are not representing what I actually asserted in my article or presentation, but what you yourself think the implications might be. That is tantamount to putting words in my mouth or trying to divine my thoughts. Worse yet, you suggest that the implied (by you) hermeneutical and theological fall-out of my approach is incompatible with historicity and inerrancy. When asked about the implications of a literary polemical approach upon historicity and inerrancy, I explicitly affirmed that I did not believe it jeopardizes either. Granted, we must be careful in how we articulate issues (this is the problem with Peter Enns—he was too cavalier and not cautious enough about how he articulated the implications). However, just because you cannot understand how to reconcile a literary polemical approach with biblical historicity and inerrancy (“It is difficult to understand … It seems to me that …”), does not mean that it cannot be done. Nor is it fair to raise suspicions that evangelicals who view Genesis 1 as literary polemic are somehow in danger of losing hold of historicity and inerrancy.

    You question how I can hold my view and at the same time hold the historicity of Genesis 1. You begin by stating, “Johnston said that the mythological approach does not render Genesis 1 unhistorical,” then go on to question how a mythological approach can hold to historicity. However, the basis of your skepticism is based on your misunderstanding/misrepresentation of my approach as “mythological.” I myself would agree with you that a mythological approach to Gen 1 would be quite problematic for one to hold Gen 1 as historical. However, I do not hold a “mythological approach” to Genesis 1, but view it as a “literary theological polemical against ancient Egyptian creation mythology.” Can you understand the difference?

    You twice invoke the term “historicity” without defining precisely what you mean by this. You seem to imply the concept of “historicity” means the biblical text tells us exactly what really happened in terms of the brute historical events. The topic of biblical historiography has been the topic of much discussion in conservative OT studies over the past generation. It is generally accepted in conservative evangelical OT circles that biblical historicity does not mean that the OT prose narratives are simply “newspaper accounts” or the equivalent of a “videotape” recounting of the brute historical events. John Walton’s recent book on the OT in its ancient Near Eastern cultural environment distinguishes about a dozen different kinds of historical writing within the broad literary genre of OT narrative. Dr. Eugene Merrill, the evangelical community’s leading conservative writer in the history of ancient Israel, took pains in his recent article (in Giving the Sense [Kregel]) on the nature of historiography within Israel’s historical narratives to note that the historical books are not just the facts, but more than the facts: the historical narratives contain theological interpretation of events.

    Returning to the topic of biblical creation texts and historicity, what does the clearly literary polemical nature of Psalm 74:14-18 depicting YHWH as creating heaven and earth by slaying the seven-headed Leviathan dragon and making the cosmos out of his carcass (even feeding it those who dwell on the Mediterranean coast) say about historicity? When we are looking at a literary theological polemic, we have to sort through the difficult (!) task of distinguishing the polemical imagery drawn from the alluded to text (in the case of Psalm 74, the Canaanite myth of Baal slaying Leviathan) from the actual historical event that underlies the Hebrew assertion. In this case, I venture to say that most of us would conclude that YHWH did not actually slay a seven-headed dragon in eternity past and create the cosmos out of his carcass (With all due respect, Elliot Johnson was not familiar with Psalm 74 and completely missed the point when he tried to suggest on the spur of the moment that it alluded to God defeating Satan along the lines of the old gap theory of Gen 1:2). To assert that YHWH slew the seven-headed dragon Leviathan is clearly alluding to the Canaanite myth which asserting that Baal became the divine king when he slew the seven-headed dragon Leviathan. Just about everyone who understands the conceptual background of Psalm 74 and understands how both literary allusion and theological polemic works, suggests that the only point (and it is a significant point!) of Psalm 74:14-18 is that Yahweh—not Baal—is the one and only true God and the Creator of heaven and earth. What does that say about the historicity of Psalm 74:14-18? That Yahweh actually did in history what the Canaanites could only claim Baal did in mythology! What did the author of Psalm 74 say “really happened” when God created? Certainly not that God “really” slew an actual physical seven-headed dragon, from whose corpse he made the cosmos. What he is asserting about what really happened is that Yahweh—not Baal—really made the cosmos. The issue in Psalm 74 is WHO created the cosmos, not HOW he created nor FROM WHAT the created. If you are going to have such a narrow view of historicity in Genesis 1 that whatever the text presents as having happened at creation is what “really happened” in terms of newspaper reporting, then I do not see how you can get out of having to say that Psalm 74 is asserting what really happened in terms of newspaper reporting. Worse, you now have a contradiction between what Genesis 1 claims “really happened” versus what Psalm 74 claims “really happened.” But if we understand the literary and polemical nature of both texts, the apparent contradicted disappears. Genesis 1 is a literary theological polemic which asserts what really happened, not in terms of a narrow definition of history writing and science, but in terms of theology: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, is the one and only God and the true Creator, not the Egyptian gods. Likewise, Psalm 74 makes a similar assertion by rejecting Baal. You are going to have to be willing to understand the limits and nature of the literary genre of a literary theological polemic designed to refute ancient Near Eastern mythology. What your question reflects is the assumption that all literary genres make the same kind of assertion about history.

    You also need to consider that literary symbol is a valid genre for conveying real historical events in the past. For example, Ezekiel 16 symbolically recounts the salvation-history of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. The prophet symbolically depicts Israel as an abandoned baby girl, whom Yahweh rescued, then who grew up to become a beautiful young woman, whom Yahweh married, only to become an unfaithful harlot, whom Yahweh cast away. The fact that Ezekiel uses extended literary symbol does not mean this is “mythical,” nor “fictional.” It does not challenge the historicity of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh, nor threaten inerrancy. Although Ezekiel’s literary presentation does not tell us “what really happened” in terms of the brute historical events (Sinai, conquest, monarchy, idolatry, exile), it does dramatically and graphically convey “what really happened” in terms of the theological/religious/moral dimensions of Yahweh’s covenant relationship with Israel. My literary approach to Gen 1 is not much different than my approach to Ezek 16. There are clues in both texts that the author is giving us more than history—he is giving us theology, which is not less than history.

    Your last point is built on a faulty understanding of my view: “It seems to me that affirming historicity is a non-sequitur if one is working from the Genesis-as-myth point of view.” I do not work from the point of view of “Genesis-as-myth,” but “Genesis-as-polemic.” The approach that I embrace holds that God really did create heaven and earth as a real historical event. However, since the imagery and events depicted are polemics against the imagery and events in the ancient Egyptian creation myths, I do not think this commits us to assert that the polemical imagery in Genesis 1 mirrors the actual historical/scientific actions that God mysteriously performed in creation any more than Psalm 74:14-18 commits us to assert that the polemical imagery of YHWH slaying the seven-headed dragon Leviathan mirrors the actual historical/scientific actions of God’s creation. Both Psalm 74:14-18 and Genesis 1 tell us what really happened—but they are not giving us a scientific treatise of what really happened, but a literary theological polemic of what really happened.

    Even Elliot Johnson suggested Genesis 1 is a “literary presentation of what really happened,” not “an historical/scientific treatise of what really happened.” As Elliot acknowledged during his presentation, he changed the title of his paper from “what really happened” to “a literary presentation of what really happened.” That seemingly minor revision speaks volumes. Although no one pressed Elliot on the significance of the difference between his original title and his revised title, I think that he would acknowledge that Gen 1 should not be viewed like a “videotape” of what really happened, but a “literary presentation” of what really happened. Somewhere in there, Elliot himself acknowledges that Genesis 1 features some degree of polemic against the Egyptian creation accounts. Whatever degree we are talking about, that is where Genesis 1 as “literary presentation” is distinct from Genesis 1 as “videotape.”

    2. “Second, what exactly are the doctrinal implications of reading Genesis as a myth (whether Egyptian or Babylonian)? Although both presenters affirmed their belief in the inerrancy of scripture, it was not altogether clear how the newer hermeneutical approach cohered with such a confession. That’s not to say that it doesn’t cohere. It’s simply to observe that issue wasn’t even discussed. I think the confusion on this point was reflected in many of the questions that students asked during the Q & A time. They simply weren’t sure how the Genesis-as-myth approach should impact their belief in the inspiration of scripture.”

    This question is based on the faulty premise that my approach is a matter of “reading Genesis as a myth,” which you also called “the Genesis-as-myth approach.” Nowhere in my article and not once in my presentation (whether orally or in written form in my ppt) did I suggest Genesis is “myth.” Your mischaracterization of my position is based upon your failure to understand the nature of a literary polemic against an ancient Near Eastern myth. Just because a biblical author/character constructs a polemic against a myth does not make that polemical construct mythological itself. For example, Elijah engaged in theological polemic at Mount Carmel when he challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown, using the very elements Canaanite mythology ascribed to Baal. According to Canaanite myth, Baal was enthroned on Mount Carmel and was the god of the thunderstorm/rain/lightning. Hence, Elijah prayed to YHWH—the true God—which it not rain for three years in the very territory where Baal was worshipped. Then he challenged the prophets of Baal to a duel on Mount Carmel, seemingly giving Baal “home court advantage.” Then he challenged them to pray that Baal light the altar with lighting, seemingly giving Baal his “choice of weapons.” Baal failed to act, while YHWH did. The point: YHWH is the one and only true God, not Baal, because YHWH was able to do in history what Baal could only do in mythology. There is nothing here that challenges the historicity or inerrancy of the account.

    I appreciate the fact that you acknowledged that both Elliot and I affirm inerrancy. You were also accurate in your observation that this was not the focus of our discussion. As advertised, the topic of our discussion was the hermeneutics of reading the Genesis creation accounts. Due to the limits of time, Elliot and I narrowed our presentations to the hermeneutical issues. However, we anticipated that students would want to explore questions related to inerrancy and historicity during the Q&A time. It was not surprising that several questions were directed to this. It was legitimate for you to observe, “Although both presenters affirmed their belief in the inerrancy of scripture, it was not altogether clear how the newer hermeneutical approach cohered with such a confession. That’s not to say that it doesn’t cohere.” Part of the reason that it was not altogether clear how this coheres with inerrancy was that we did not have adequate time to address all the questions in the detail that we might have wished. I hope that my detailed written response helps explain how this coheres with inerrancy.

    I think it important to emphasize that Elliot and I, both of whom see theological polemic in the text to one degree or another (I more than he), both clearly asserted THAT Genesis 1 is inerrant. As I noted on my second ppt frame, the question at hand is this: “HOW is Genesis 1 inerrant?” This gets to the question of authorial intent and literary genre. For example, when Jesus said, “The sun rises and the sun sets on both the righteous and the wicked,” his statement was inerrant. As evangelicals we assert THAT Jesus’ statement is inerrant, but we then have to explain HOW it is inerrant. It would be naïve to suggest that a straightforward reading of the text means that Jesus was teaching that the sun rotates around the earth, which would be contrary to scientific fact. Evangelicals typically understand his statement to be laden with phenomenological language, not scientifically precise language. The intent of Jesus’ speech was not to teach the astronomical relationship of the sun and the earth, but the theological truth that God is benevolent to provide for the basic needs of human life (the shining of the sun and all its resultant benefits) to all people, regardless of their moral state. I think it is hard to avoid the self-evident conclusion that the Scriptures feature a pre-scientific conception of the world (e.g., earth is flat, heavenly ocean, sun rotates around the world [phenomenological language for Jesus, to be sure, but the ancients really believed that prior to Galileo and Copernicus) and a cosmic geography (e.g., heaven is up, hell is down, chaos waters surround the cosmos, earth is held up by pillars). The Church could only resolve the apparent tension between Scripture and the scientific discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus by appealing to hermeneutics and adopting a more sophisticated understanding of biblical revelation and inerrancy.

    3. “Third, how do we square the mythical approach with what other biblical writers say about Genesis 1 and 2? As David Howard has noted, ‘The modern focus on the events, or happenings, of history is important in the Bible’s case because the Bible makes numerous claims—explicitly and implicitly—concerning the factuality of the events it records’ (An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, p. 35). Both OT and NT writers treat the Genesis creation narratives as if they were straightforward historical reports. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, the apostle Paul comments on the Genesis narrative by saying that the ‘serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness.’ In 1 Timothy 2:13-14, Paul cites the order of creation in Genesis 2 as the basis for his instruction about gender roles (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:8-9). These are just two examples, but more could be cited. Is it proper for Christians to regard Genesis 1-2 as myth when OT and NT writers clearly do not? (See also, 1 Chronicles 1:1; Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8; Luke 3:38; 1 Corinthians 15:45.) This is no small point since the evangelical doctrine of scripture has always been based to some extent on scripture’s testimony about itself.”

    The central issue you raise is excellent; however, the question itself is poorly worded and as a result creates a straw man argument. Once again, you have framed the question wrong from the outset by misrepresenting my approach. You begin, “How do we square the mythical approach with what other biblical writers say about Genesis 1 and 2?” You go on to say “Is it proper for Christians to regard Genesis 1-2 as myth when OT and NT writers clearly do not?” As noted repeatedly above, I do not adopt a “mythical approach,” but approach Gen 1 as a literary theological polemical against ancient Egyptian creation mythology. This distinction dramatically frames the issues in altogether different terms. I would restate the question this way: “How do we square the literary theological polemical approach with what other biblical writers say about creation?”

    In fact, framing the question as I am suggesting helps us reconcile the eleven different texts that present creation in an extended manner (two narrative passages, nine poetic … see ppt handout for OT references). As noted in the presentation, all nine poetic passages depict the order of the events in creation differently, as do the two prose passages. If we insist on taking these as precise “historical, scientific” treatises of what “really happened” (equivalent to a newspaper or videotape recounting), then we are faced with a serious problem of grave contradictions within Scripture. However, if these are literary presentations (the expression Elliot himself used) of God’s creation, with several targeted as theological polemics against different ancient Near Eastern creation myths (Egyptian, Sumerian, Canaanite, Babylonian), then the so-called “contradictions” disappear. The biblical creation accounts feature both unity and diversity. The diversity of the creation accounts can be explained on the basis of different targets of the biblical polemic. The creation accounts are all unified around one common central confession: Yahweh, the one and only true God, created heaven and earth!

    Although you make the point that “the evangelical doctrine of scripture has always been based to some extent on Scripture’s testimony about itself,” I see nothing in your post that acknowledges there are no less than eleven extended OT passages that present God’s creative activity, each of which feature both unity and diversity. For the evangelical view of Scripture to survive, I think we must acknowledge that some of these creation passages are literary in nature. Otherwise, a straightforward forward reading that does not allow for the possibility of a literary dimension or theological polemic would result in mass contradictions. Now, we do not view the claim in Ps 18 that God is a “rock” as contradicting the assertion in Ps 23 that God is a “shepherd,” because we recognize a literary dimension here. I assume most evangelicals harmonize the nine different creation passages in the poetic texts as also having a literary dimension. Why are we so reluctant to entertain the possibility that the differences between the two narrative creation texts (both the differences between Gen 1 and Gen 2, as well as the differences between these two prose creation texts and the nine poetic creation texts) can be just as easily reconciled by allowing for a literary dimension?

    Please note that neither my Bib Sac article nor presentation on Thursday night was directed beyond anything that Gen 1:1-2:3. Your third question focuses on the hermeneutical and doctrinal implications of a literary theological approach to Gen 2:4-3:24. As far as I am concerned, the questions in Gen 2:4-3:24 are quite different than those in 1:1-2:3, and much more complex. For example, Gen 1:1-2:3 seems to function as a literary theological polemic to refute ancient Egyptian creation myths, while 2:4-3:24 is clearly set against a Mesopotamian background. Second, the historical issues are more involved since 1:1-2:3 says nothing about Adam and Eve per se, only the creation of humanity as a whole on the sixth day, whereas Gen 2:4-3:24 clearly depicts the creation of the first man and woman. Third, 1:1-2:3 says nothing about the fall of man, while 2:4-3:24 centers on explaining how the fall came about. Fourth, several NT texts engage the order of creation (1 Tim 2:13-14) and the effects of the fall (Rom 5:12-22) in a manner that Gen 1:1-2:3 does not broach. Since there are dramatic distinctions between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3, one’s approach to Genesis 1 does not necessary determine how we should approach Genesis 2-3.

    Final Impressions

    1. My visceral reaction is that your post is not an objective representation of my presentation and article. Your wording is often unnecessarily pejorative. You repeatedly misrepresent my view, then base your critique on false caricature. I certainly welcome dialogue and interaction. However, I am disappointed that many of the concerns you voice and suspicions you raise are based on misunderstanding/misrepresentation of my view. It is perfectly appropriate for you to offer your evaluation of someone’s view, but it is inappropriate to critique someone’s view if you are misrepresenting one’s view. At the very least, I would have appreciated the courtesy of being alerted that you had posted a critical review of my presentation and article. Such professional courtesy would have given me opportunity to respond in a timely manner. As it was, I only discovered your post after it already had been online for some time.

    2. Denny, let me encourage you to be more cautious in your representations of the views of others. Mine is not the first that you have misrepresented. In a recent review of Darrell Bock’s support of the Evangelical Manifesto, you repeatedly fell into over-generalization and over-simplification of his views. Fortunately, Darrell was alerting to your post so that he was able to interact with you in a timely manner, to correct your mischaracterization of his position. If I had to rely upon your summary of Darrell’s view, I would have not had an accurate understanding of his position since you did not represent him in a balanced manner. However, once he was able to disabuse your readers of your oversimplifications and overgeneralizations of his approach, the lively exchange between the two of you was greatly to be appreciated. I only wish that I had been given the same kind of opportunity to disabuse both you and your readers of the mischaracterization of my view.

    Hope that this lengthy missive has provided a fuller response to your three really good questions, and that it has provided a more balanced presentation of my approach.

    Gordon Johnston
    Associate Professor
    Dallas Theological Seminary

  56. Dr. Gordon Johnston September 22, 2008 at 10:01 am #

    Sorry for the several typos in my above submission. I wrote this late at night and did not proof read it carefully or run spell check. For all you students out there who receive deductions on your research papers for typos … I feel your pain 🙂

    Gordon Johnston

  57. Douglas J. Bender July 19, 2009 at 7:13 pm #

    Aaaaaaand, coming in JUST a bit late (baseball reference, anyone?), here I am. I’ve read all of Dr. Burk’s article, and all of the responses here. And I carefully went through Dr. Johnston’s response. With that said, here is my response to his comments about Psalm 74:14-18

    Dr. Johnston, you said:

    “Returning to the topic of biblical creation texts and historicity, what does the clearly literary polemical nature of Psalm 74:14-18 depicting YHWH as creating heaven and earth by slaying the seven-headed Leviathan dragon and making the cosmos out of his carcass (even feeding it those who dwell on the Mediterranean coast) say about historicity?”

    That is simply not true about those passages. Absolutely nowhere in Psalm 74:14-18 (nor anywhere in that Psalm or the surrounding Psalms) does it say or even imply that YHWH created heaven and earth BY “slaying the seven-headed Leviathan dragon and making the cosmos out of his carcass”. In fact, that Psalm says absolutely NOTHING about HOW God created the heavens and the Earth. It is utterly silent on such matters. And, what this “says about historicity” might simply be just what it says: that God killed or destroyed a great sea serpent called “Leviathan” (or many of them), and gave his carcass as food to the people “inhabiting the wilderness” (Psalm 74:14 [NKJV]). After all, God Himself testifies to the historicity and literalness of Leviathan in the entirety of Job 41. It’s all really pretty simple. And if that was in fact an HISTORICAL occurrence (God’s destroying Leviathan and giving his body as food to a wilderness people), it is not unlikely that other people had vague REMEMBRANCES of it, and incorporated its corrupted memory into their mythologies. Thus, the Bible’s account would be like a “newspaper” description of Daniel Boone’s activities, while the “Ancient Near Eastern” mythologies would be like our extrapolated myths surrounding Daniel Boone.

    “When we are looking at a literary theological polemic, we have to sort through the difficult (!) task of distinguishing the polemical imagery drawn from the alluded to text (in the case of Psalm 74, the Canaanite myth of Baal slaying Leviathan) from the actual historical event that underlies the Hebrew assertion.”

    And what makes you suppose that you do not have the relations in reverse? Why couldn’t it be that Psalm 74 contains the true historical record, and the Canaanite myth has a distorted and vague version of that historical event?

    “In this case, I venture to say that most of us would conclude that YHWH did not actually slay a seven-headed dragon in eternity past and create the cosmos out of his carcass.”

    I should hope not, because nowhere does the Bible itself say anything of the sort. You apparently can’t even see where you are unconsciously inserting your presupposed theory into the Bible, and then arguing from that non-existent text.

    “(With all due respect, Elliot Johnson was not familiar with Psalm 74 and completely missed the point when he tried to suggest on the spur of the moment that it alluded to God defeating Satan along the lines of the old gap theory of Gen 1:2).”

    Poor Elliot. None of us is perfect.

    “To assert that YHWH slew the seven-headed dragon Leviathan is clearly alluding to the Canaanite myth which asserting that Baal became the divine king when he slew the seven-headed dragon Leviathan.”

    No, it’s not, as I have just above shown.

    “Just about everyone who understands the conceptual background of Psalm 74 and understands how both literary allusion and theological polemic works, suggests that the only point (and it is a significant point!) of Psalm 74:14-18 is that Yahweh—not Baal—is the one and only true God and the Creator of heaven and earth.”

    Those who do have bought into the theory and use it to argue for the theory’s applicability to Psalm 74:14-18. An embarassing example of circular reasoning. (And, bear in mind that I am NOT arguing that that passage couldn’t have been used, or been intended, as a polemic against Baal-as-God-and-Creator. But the HISTORICITY precedes the polemic both in actuality and in importance.)

    “What does that say about the historicity of Psalm 74:14-18?”

    It says that there are lots of learned men and women who need to do lots of unlearning.

    “That Yahweh actually did in history what the Canaanites could only claim Baal did in mythology!”

    What?? Are you saying that Yahweh “actually” slew a 7-headed Leviathan and “actually” fed its carcass to some people living in a wilderness, and did so “in history” (meaning, “actually”)? I thought you had just finished arguing against this occurrence being “actual”. Or perhaps you are using a different meaning for “actually” and for “history” than what is normally used.

    “What did the author of Psalm 74 say ‘really happened’ when God created?”

    He didn’t address this at all. Therefore, the author said NOTHING about what “really happened” when God created.

    “Certainly not that God ‘really’ slew an actual physical seven-headed dragon, from whose corpse he made the cosmos.”

    There is your theory cropping up in the midst of your argument again, where it ought not. Once again, Psalm 74:14-18 says absolutely NOTHING about God creating the cosmos, let alone His creating it from the corpse of Leviathan. But it DOES certainly say that God slew Leviathan, and Job 41 certainly shows that Leviathan was an actual/historical creature.

    “What he is asserting about what really happened is that Yahweh—not Baal—really made the cosmos.”

    No, he is not, because nowhere in that passage does the author at all reference the Creation, or how it was made, or Who made it. And certainly it does not mention Baal.

    “The issue in Psalm 74 is WHO created the cosmos, not HOW he created nor FROM WHAT the created.”

    No, because Psalm 74 says NOTHING about the Creation of the cosmos – thus, it does not deal with the either the issue of “Who” or “How” or “From What” the cosmos was created.

    “If you are going to have such a narrow view of historicity in Genesis 1 that whatever the text presents as having happened at creation is what ‘really happened’ in terms of newspaper reporting, then I do not see how you can get out of having to say that Psalm 74 is asserting what really happened in terms of newspaper reporting.”

    There is a very simple explanation, with which you as an Old Testament scholar should be familiar. And that is that the Creation account in Genesis 1-2 is clearly a narrative, and Psalm 74 is clearly poetic history. I would recommend the book, “Coming to Grips with Genesis”; especially the chapters, “Contemporary Hermeneutical Approaches to Genesis 1-11” (by Todd S. Beall), and, “The Genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3 — What Means This Text?” (by Stephen W. Boyd). The latter provides a statistical analysis the genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3, and proves that it is narrative.

    “Worse, you now have a contradiction between what Genesis 1 claims ‘really happened’ versus what Psalm 74 claims ‘really happened.’ ”

    Not at all, because, as I have said and shown, Psalm 74 doesn’t deal at all with the Creation account, with “what ‘really happened'” during Creation.

    “But if we understand the literary and polemical nature of both texts, the apparent contradicted disappears.”

    There is a far simpler and more reasonable way to do this, and that is to note in the first place that there is no real or even apparent contradiction.

    Genesis 1 is a literary theological polemic which asserts what really happened, not in terms of a narrow definition of history writing and science, but in terms of theology: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, is the one and only God and the true Creator, not the Egyptian gods.”

    Not so. Its genre shows that it reveals “what really happened” in at least an historical sense, where “historical” simply and common-sensically means “actually occurred within history as described”.

    “Likewise, Psalm 74 makes a similar assertion by rejecting Baal.”

    Nope. It doesn’t mention Baal at all, nor does it address what or Who was involved in Creation. It simply does not address the events of Creation at all.

    “You are going to have to be willing to understand the limits and nature of the literary genre of a literary theological polemic designed to refute ancient Near Eastern mythology.”

    And you are going to have to do a far better job of proving your theory rather than merely assuming it. (In particular, in the case of Psalm 74.)

    “What your question reflects is the assumption that all literary genres make the same kind of assertion about history.”

    Narrative literature makes different assertions about history than does poetry; specifically, it asserts that its narrative IS about actual historical events which happened just as described in the narrative. And Genesis 1:1-2:3 has been statistically proven to be narrative literature.

  58. Douglas J. Bender July 19, 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    Addendum:

    Although, the latter half of Psalm 74:16 does say (NKJV),

    “…You have prepared the light and the sun.”

    I won’t quibble here about the meaning of “prepared”. I will grant that this portion indicates that light and the Sun were both created by God. But that certainly does not indicate that the psalm as a whole, nor even the just-preceding verses, were focused on or dealing with Creation.

  59. Don Johnson July 20, 2009 at 10:37 am #

    Thanks Dr. Johnson for your extensive post.

    My take is that ANY text needs to be read using the cultural assumptions of the audience to which it was written originally and you are attempting to do that.

    Ps 74 does seem to contain anti-Baal creation myth polemic, as you point out.

  60. henrybish July 14, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    I agree with a commenter above who objects at Dr. Johnston’s use of Psalm 74:14-18 in saying that it depicts:

    YHWH as creating heaven and earth by slaying the seven-headed Leviathan dragon and making the cosmos out of his carcass

    The actual text itself does not say this, and so the entire discussion that is predicated on this point (saying that Psalm 74 contradicts Genesis 1 if both are read as literal history) seems to be rather undone.

  61. Gordon Johnston July 14, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Several of the posts above that raise questions about my citation of Psalm 74:14-18 simply miss the point. Whether the depiction of Yahweh slaying “the heads of Leviathan” describes God’s work in creation or his work in providence, the passage unequivocally pictures Yahweh slaying the heads (plural) of Leviathan. So the question becomes: Who or what was the many-headed monster called Leviathan? Was this an actual historical monster that once roamed the earth in antiquity? Was this an actual spiritual monster that once roamed the cosmos? Or was the psalmist drawing upon conventional ANE imagery?

    Here is the study note on Psalm 74:14 in the NET Bible on the psalmist’s declaration, “You crushed the heads of Leviathan.” Quote:

    The imagery of vv. 13–14 originates in West Semitic mythology. The description of Leviathan should be compared with the following excerpts from Ugaritic mythological texts: (1) “Was not the dragon [Ugaritic tnn, cognate with Hebrew tanin, translated “sea monster” in v. 13] vanquished and captured? I did destroy the wriggling [Ugaritic ‘qltn, cognate to Hebrew ‘aqallaton, translated “squirming” in Isa 27:1] serpent, the tyrant with seven heads” (note the use of the plural “heads” here and in v. 13). (See CTA 3.iii.38–39 in G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 50.) (2) “For all that you smote Leviathan the slippery [Ugaritic brh, cognate to Hebrew bariakh, translated “fast moving” in Isa 27:1] serpent, [and] made an end of the wriggling serpent, the tyrant with seven heads” (See CTA 5.i.1–3 in G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 68.) In the myths Leviathan is a sea creature that symbolizes the destructive water of the sea and, in turn, the forces of chaos that threaten the established order. In the OT, the battle with the sea motif is applied to Yahweh’s victories over the forces of chaos at creation and in history (see Pss 74:13–14; 77:16–20; 89:9–10; Isa 51:9–10). Yahweh’s subjugation of the waters of chaos is related to his kingship (see Pss 29:3, 10; 93:3–4). Isa 27:1 applies imagery from Canaanite mythology to Yahweh’s eschatological victory over his enemies. Apocalyptic literature employs the imagery as well. The beasts of Dan 7 emerge from the sea, while Rev 13 speaks of a seven-headed beast coming from the sea. Here in Ps 74:13–14 the primary referent is unclear. The psalmist may be describing God’s creation of the world (note vv. 16–17 and see Ps 89:9–12), when he brought order out of a watery mass, or the exodus (see Isa 51:9–10), when he created Israel by destroying the Egyptians in the waters of the sea.

    End Quote. So whether Psalm 74:14-18 refers to God’s work in creation or in providence/history, the point is still the same. The biblical author is describing the work of God vis-a-vis conventional ANE imagery. In effect, the biblical author is claiming that it was not Baal who slew Leviathan, but it was Yahweh! This is a sublime polemic that argues that Yahweh not Baal is the true Creator/Lord. For someone to argue that Psalm 74:14-18 describes history/providence rather than creation misses the larger question of this entire string: Do the biblical authors sometimes draw upon conventional ANE mythological imagery (such as Baal slaying Leviathan) for the sake of constructing a literary polemic (which in this case was that it was Yahweh [not Baal] who slew Leviathan). To ask whether Leviathan was a real historical multi-headed animal monster than once roamed the earth misses the point entirely. To ask what the Leviathan symbol represented in ancient Canaanite/Ugaritic literature is more to the point, and to ask what the Leviathan symbol in Psalm 74:14//Isaiah 27:1 represented is the most important point. But it is symbol. Symbol does not mean fiction; symbol is another way of conveying truth, even historical truth at that!

  62. Gordon Johnston July 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    To Henrybish: Please note that I did not say that Psalm 74:14-18 “contradicts” Genesis 1:1-2:3. What I said was that Psalm 74 presents creation in much different terms. In fact, there are no less than a dozen different extended passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) that describe God’s work in creation, but none of them present what God did in exactly the same way. In one case, God stretches out the heavens like a tent. In another case, he gives birth to creation like a woman in labor. In another case, he lays the foundation like a builder. These are not contradictions but literary variations on the same theme. So the question is: Which of these twelve different extended creation passages are giving us the actual scientific method God used? I personally suspect that none of them are scientific accounts, but all are literarily and theologically framed to one degree or another.

  63. henrybish July 15, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Gordon Johnston:

    To Henrybish: Please note that I did not say that Psalm 74:14-18 “contradicts” Genesis 1:1-2:3.

    I did not say this of you, rather, I carefully worded what I said as:

    …saying that Psalm 74 contradicts Genesis 1 if both are read as literal history

    You also said:

    Whether the depiction of Yahweh slaying “the heads of Leviathan” describes God’s work in creation or his work in providence, the passage unequivocally pictures Yahweh slaying the heads (plural) of Leviathan. So the question becomes: Who or what was the many-headed monster called Leviathan? Was this an actual historical monster that once roamed the earth in antiquity?

    Yes, but this is a separate question. I was merely disputing the original point where you set Psalm 74 against Genesis 1 if both are read as literal history. Therefore, you concluded that one of them (or both) must not be talking in literal historical terms. I merely said this argument is undone if Psalm 74 is not even talking about creation, which it does not appear to be.

    Regarding the other instances you cited in passing about diverse ways scripture speaks of God’s creating, more detail would be needed to establish your point, but in short it seems to me that some of them are quite obviously figurative (e.g. giving birth to creation like a woman) whereas others of them may perhaps be intended as literal history and can reasonably be seen as complementary accounts of Genesis.

    I think my bottom line feeling is that unlike some of the other creation scriptures you mentioned, Gen 1-2 seems to have so many features that bespeak literal history that many readers may find it quite unnatural to view it in your terms.

    Thanks

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