Deathisdefeated

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Adrian de Lange's "Genesis Mythology: The Creation of Human Identity" Article - Comments/Discussion

 

Genesis Mythology: The Creation of Human Identity

This paper was originally presented at Dordt College’s bi-annual Calvinism Conference in April of 2010.

What follows is, I hope, a Reformed Interpretation of the Genesis of Man.

Reformed Christians have long struggled with the true nature and purpose of scripture, particularly Genesis 1 and 2. Alongside this struggle, a profound loss of both individual and communal identity and purpose has plagued the church. How can the Christian community understand its identity and calling when it is unable to properly understand its creation? While historical Reformed positions on the interpretation of Genesis have ranged from ultra-conservative creationism to nearly-Darwinist evolutionism, many Reformed Christians have founded their understanding of Genesis on a literal interpretation of its first chapters, siding with what they understand to be a conservative interpretation of scripture in an attempt to be faithful to original intent. In interpreting the first chapters of Genesis literally, however, Reformed Christians have at least partially missed their calling and mistaken their identity. 

When the opening chapters of Genesis are understood in their proper context—a unifying and directing narrative myth, standing against other competing mythologies of its time—not only does the historic struggle between science and scripture fade into triviality, but the Reformed Christian is afforded a new worldview and an improved Christological view of the self and of the Christian community. When Genesis is understood as a narrative and a mythology, intended to create identity and purpose for the newly-emancipated Israelite nation, the opening chapters of the Bible become key not to unlocking the ever-elusive age of the earth but to understanding human identity and fulfilling that truly human role—the communal Christian calling—to be an image bearer of God in his creation, formed and shaped by an intimate knowledge of that Creator.

                In a pervasive view which has found increased support in the late nineteenth century, many scholars and theologians today are arguing for a mythological understanding of the book of Genesis—but one that is not necessarily at odds with broadly accepted scientific findings concerning the origins and age of the earth. One of these theologians is Reformer John Knox, who argues in his book Myth and Truth that Genesis does not truly refer to a factual event. After outlining the incarnation of Christ, Knox concludes, “Of the other two great myths, one (that of God’s creation of the world and man’s estrangement) belongs to prehistory and the other [that of God’s final revelation] has to do with what will ‘happen’ after history shall have ended. Only the story of [God’s] redemptive, reconciling deed in Christ refers to an actual historical event” (52). Though Knox unequivocally denies the literal nature of the opening chapters of Genesis, he in no way denies the truth of the Bible. Instead, Knox argues that Reformed Christians need to come to a renewed understanding of myth.

Knox gives a four-part definition of myth or mythology to support his claim against the literal ‘historicity’ interpretation of Genesis. For Knox, myth is not something to be classified as an untrue story or a “tall tale.” Instead, myth is first an imaginative narrative dealing with a cosmically significant act of God (35). To say that myth is an imaginative narrative separates it from other stories or fairy tales concerned merely with the deeds of men. That myth deals with a cosmically significant act of God categorizes it as a divine narrative: a formative account that gives identity to the community which holds to it. For Knox, myth is pervasive as it affects the entire world and not simply the people group who subscribe to it.

Not only is myth cosmically affective and normative, but Knox states that myth is also a source of solidarity for its espousing community, both bearing the marks of its original culture and yet persisting through generations and across cultural barriers (35). Knox’s contention that myth is a source of community both recognizes and affirms the culture-forming tendencies inherent in what it means to be human. Not only does myth become culturally formative, but it does so to such a degree that it also becomes indispensible to the community to which it belongs. That a myth bears the marks of culture and persists through generations is to say that its narrative is not limited to one specific time, place, or group. Instead, it spans geography, ethnicity, and epoch. Nevertheless, myth must be understood in its original context in order to be properly understood and applied within the cultural context of the community in which it is interpreted.

In both contexts—past and present—Knox argues that myth is necessarily a source of identity (35). Those in the interpretive community who subscribe to the myth are bound together by their common understanding of the narrative, which provides a specific world and life view from which to understand and engage the world. In Knox’s final contention, myth becomes an irreplaceable symbol in the lives of those who subscribe to it (36). This means not only that the myth or narrative is both distinctive and invaluable to the community’s identity, but also that these indispensible narratives are the only ones which qualify: not all “miracle accounts” are worthy of the title myth. For the Reformed Christian, the Genesis narrative must necessarily fulfill this role. But in what capacity? As a myth, the creation and formation narrative of Genesis 1-2 was originally a source of identity for its Hebrew audience.  In that capacity, it was an irreplaceable narrative, forming and shaping an otherwise naïve nation coming out of exile devoid of any sense of communal purpose or identity.

Recognizing the many contexts of mythology, however, some scholars maintain that the myths of the nations surrounding Israel at the time of Genesis’ writing had no influence or bearing on the biblical narrative. Jewish Theologian Yehezkel Kaufmann of Hebrew University in Jerusalem argues that the biblical struggle with idolatry is not a struggle against idolatrous myth, but rather against the Gentiles themselves (The Bible and Mythological Polytheism 182-84). Kaufmann asserts that “nowhere [in the Torah] is any heathen myth confuted, nor is the depravity which is often imputed to the gods exploited” (189). What Kaufmann fails to realize is that while, to the modern reader, Genesis may not seem to speak overtly against competing mythologies of its day, the mythology and narrative that the narrative does present is itself a invalidation of other “heathen myths.”  Therefore, the claims of Kaufmann and others like him cannot possibly be accurate if the early Israelite context is understood as completely and correctly as is possible today.

While Israel was in slavery in Egypt, Egyptian mythology and cosmology would have been inescapable. After the nation’s exile to Babylon, the Israelites certainly would have been exposed to both Ugaritic and Babylonian influences. Ugarit was an extremely influential city-state at the center of ancient trade routes between Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, bordering the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent.  An author and emeritus professor of history at the University of Sussex, Norman Cohn describes Ugarit as “a metropolis where people from all the great civilizations of the Late Bronze Age, Indo-European as well as Semitic, came in contact and exchanged ideas and stories” (119). Israel’s conquest of Canaan doubtlessly would have included people groups heavily influenced by Ugaritic mythologies and so the Israelites would themselves have become familiar with (and influenced by) Ugarit myth.

Recognizing then, that the book of Genesis was written following Israel’s exodus from Egypt and likely after the conquer of Canaan, Israel’s direct encounter with these mythologies—not the least of which is the Ugaritic—was unavoidable. Because the Israelites had been saturated in Egyptian mythology for four hundred of years in slavery, followed by Babylonian and Ugaritic mythology in the years in Canaan, the people had an obvious need for a renewed identity. Israel needed to be told who she was and to whom she belonged. Therefore, in his effort to guide this infantile nation, God not only provided his people Israel with his law through Moses, but spoke to his confused people through oral tradition and finally the author(s) of Genesis in a language, cosmology, and mythological structure that the people could understand, while also conveying to them his covenant truth.

                The nations around Israel had narrative myths that afforded them an identity and purpose for existence. One such pervasive myth was the Babylonian Enuma elish or Creation of the Earth. This myth held that the time before the earth’s creation was a long and terrible winter covering a mass of unformed primordial waters. The powers of the deep were in control, until Marduk—the god of the sun—rose out of the confusion and fought with Ti’āmat—the incarnation into which the primordial waters made themselves. Marduk conquered Ti’āmat and split her carcass in half, using one half to create the waters below and the other to create the expanse above (Anderson 33-34). Following his defeat of Ti’āmat, Marduk was given a palace by the lower gods and was made ruler over all.

Similar to Babylonian mythology, Egyptian mythology did not suggest the earth was created ex nihilo or out of nothing. Egyptians imagined that the original creation was shaped out of chaos or Nun. The Nun was there before any of the other gods, but was inactive. Similar to Enuma elish, Egyptians believed that the sun-god Re was formed out of this chaos. Norman Cohn suggests that Re “embodied the process of differentiation and definition. Whereas the original chaos was boundless, there were bounds to the ordered world that began to emerge” (6). The Babylonian account of creation differs from the Ugaritic in its order. The Marduk and Ti’āmat myth emerges from chaos and ends in murder, with humanity as a byproduct. In the Egyptian creation account, Cohn argues for a chaos with bounds and recognizes the intervention of order. Instead of killing Nun as Marduk did to Ti’āmat in the Babylonian myth, Re simply binds Nun into the world he creates by imposing order. This allows Re to emerge as the divine ruler-king. In this main aspect of creation mythology, Egyptian mythology becomes an obvious intermediary bridging the earlier Babylonian and Ugaritic mythologies with the later Semitic one, namely Genesis.

It was with exposure to and with an understanding of these myths that the Israelites emerged from exile, ignorant of their own identity and vulnerable to Egyptian and Babylonian mythologies. Yet so that his chosen people could understand, the Lord painted a picture for them similar in structure to those nations around them. The Lord provided for Israel a basic understanding of the world and of their identity through the narrative beginning in Genesis: the story of God creating the cosmos and its inhabitants: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (1:2). Immediately, the picture of the creating and ruling God is set up to be in tension with the primordial waters. Just like the Babylonian Enuma elish, Genesis 1:7 records that “God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it.” Renowned Harvard historian Thorkild Jacobsen who specialized in Mesopotamian literature tells the story of the Marduk’s defeat of Ti’āmat, emphasizing, “he first split Ti’āmat in two and made heaven of one half, providing for bolts and guards so that her waters could not escape” (The Treasures of Darkness 179). This fits perfectly with an ancient Israelite cosmology, or understanding of the universe. That the authors of Genesis were influenced by the Enuma elish is unquestionable after seeing the obvious parallels in basic plot structure of the two myths.

The similarities continue: Genesis records the arrival of light into the darkness: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  . . . He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night’” (Genesis 1:4-5). Other than the characters, this Genesis account again provides a near parallel of Jacobsen’s narrative concerning the sun and the moon in Enuma elish: “He (Marduk) bade the moon come forth; entrusted night (to him); . . . [saying,] ‘afterward, the sun gains on you on heaven’s foundations’” (179). In both accounts, the ruler of the cosmos creates bodies to govern the sky above, separating the expanse above from the expanse below.

Though Genesis continually abstracts Mesopotamian mythology to tell its creation story and provide its people with an identity, the intentional absence of both Babylonian and Egyptian gods (or any form of polytheism) in Genesis is conspicuous.  The Genesis separation of the expanse above from the water below (1:6) describes God creating the expanse with a word. Genesis describes no cosmic struggle similar to the one between Ti’āmat and Marduk. Furthermore, God’s creation of light in Genesis precedes the presence of the sun—an almost universal reference to Egyptian deities of the time. The Israelites, because of their enslavement, would have been well acquainted with the Egyptian sun god Re and would have been familiar enough with Enuma elish to see its similarities to their account of the genesis of the world. More importantly, however, the Israelites would have noticed the obvious absence of those celebrated pagan heroes from their narrative. The One God of Genesis creates the universe without any resistance and without any exertion, painting a picture of a God in complete control of the cosmos. Furthermore, his intentional involvement and application in creating man denotes his special interest in man’s unique purpose—incompatible with the then prevalent pagan view of humanity as an enslaved afterthought.

Perhaps the key difference between the Mesopotamian myths and the Genesis myth is the role of man. In the Ugarit creation myth Atrahasis, man is created to ease the work of the gods by becoming their slave. In the Old Babylonian Version, the womb-goddess Mami is instructed, “Create primeval man, that he may bear the yoke!” The myth then records the creation of man, referred to as a ghost, from the carcass of a dissenting god: “A ghost came into existence from the god’s flesh . . . After she (Mami) had mixed that clay . . . the great gods spat spittle upon the clay” (Myths from Mesopotamia 15-16). Thus, in ancient Mesopotamian tradition, man was created from a mixture of the flesh of a dead god, some spittle, and some clay. Appropriate for his low beginnings, Mesopotamian man’s purpose was fear the gods and bear their heavy yoke.

Genesis, however, paints a radically different picture of man, denoting the Israelites’ unique identity different from the pagan cultures around them.  Rather than creating man to bear his load, the God of Genesis creates man as the crown of his creation—to love, serve, and enjoy him through purpose-filled creation, development, and work (Genesis 1:28-30). This identity is obvious in God’s participation in his creation of man: God merely speaks in order to form the cosmos and fill the earth, but actively involves himself in man’s creation and formation, even giving Adam a share in the creation of names for the animals. Furthermore, instead of creating a palace for himself in the cosmos he had “conquered”, the God of Genesis creates the Garden of Eden for man, bestowing man with authority over the world; not a crushing or brutal authority, but a kingship based in service. This is indeed a radically different picture of God’s intended identity of kingship for the Israelites, against the Egyptian, Babylonian, or Ugaritic understanding of man as a slave, but at the same time existing for the good of those same nations.

Furthermore, Genesis’ depiction of Eve highlights the difference between the Genesis creation myth and its pagan counterparts. In each of the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Ugaritic mythologies, life is formed out from death. Atrahasis is a perfect example, in which man is made from the carcass of a dissenting God. In Genesis, however, man (Hebrew: גבר or ISH; translated Ādām) is not killed, but rather put to sleep. From the rib of the sleeping Ādām, God creates woman (Hebrew: אישה or ISHAH; from man). In Genesis, woman is created from man and woman gives birth to man: life is created from life just as life begets life.

Contrary to the mythologies of Israel’s pagan neighbours, the Genesis creation myth does not contain death. Because of this, the Jews are made to understand that their God Yahweh is a god not of slavery but of freedom; not of chaos but of control; not of death but of life. Who Yahweh is to Israel necessarily influences who Israel must be as a nation. The pagan nations, with their creation mythologies of slavery and death, knew only how to relate to their neighbours in the same fashion: by seeking to dominate or annihilate the other. Yet through Yahweh’s formative and narrative mythology for his people, his ultimate purpose for Israel becomes clear: to bring order, freedom, and life—true life—not only to the people of Israel but also the nations around them.

Nevertheless, because of the key differences between the Genesis mythology and competing mythologies, scholars including Yehezkel Kaufmann argue that Genesis cannot be understood in a mythological sense because the Israelites were not acquainted with competing mythologies. However, these scholars fail to understand that though the means are parallel, the message is radically different. The mythological nature of Genesis does not question the book’s validity or authenticity. Instead, it provides a deepening and strengthening of the message and purpose of Genesis in providing a formative identity for those to whom it is addressed.

Though the Genesis myth provides a different direction and focus than the Babylonian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic myths, it still must be classified as a creation myth as it meets the three characteristics of a “chaoskampf” or story of beginnings described by Dennis J. McCarthy. The late Professor of Old Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome cites three basic themes or motifs in all creation myths: (i) the fight against chaos personified by a monster of the waters, (ii) the conquest of the aquatic monster by a god who, in victory, becomes king, and (iii) the giving of a palace or temple to the divine king (74). The Babylonian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic mythologies clearly contain these three characteristics. Though more complicated because of the radical identity it provided for the Israelites, the Genesis creation myth contains these three elements as well.

In the Genesis narrative the fight against chaos and the primordial waters is personified by the sea monster Rahab, mentioned in Psalm 89 and several other passages in the Bible. Yet even God’s creation of light, of the expanse, and of land should be seen as his overcoming the chaos personified by the surface of the deep. The God who conquers the sea monster and gives order to the chaotic waters is Yahweh, depicted as King of the cosmos. These two elements of mythology are the most comparable to the ancient Mesopotamian myths. The third element, though present, sets the Genesis narrative apart from the others. Rather than keeping his creation as a temple for himself, Yahweh installs his image-bearer Ādām in the Garden of Eden to reign, ruling Yahweh’s kingdom in his stead. If Reformed Christians today truly seek to understand our identity and fulfill our true humanity, we will find ourselves as Ādām, man, serving in Adam’s stead. Our challenge today, as it was in Adam’s and Israel’s day, is to discern what it means to be human today; what it means to rule in Yahweh’s stead.

Throughout the Genesis account, the modern reader must see a narrative mythology that is far removed from providing a modern, scientific argument for the age of the earth. Joseph Campbell, in his book The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, argues that mythologies do not point indirectly to a partially understood metaphysical term or concept such as the age of the earth, but rather point directly to a relationship between the desired concept or identity—that metaphysical term—and an experienced narrative (340). As a myth, Genesis is not intent on providing historical fact but instead means to give purpose and identity to a covenant people freed from slavery. Genesis means to provide purpose for life apart in that covenant community, free from sacrifices of false gods and false narratives of foreign nations; Genesis means to explain the importance for the covenant people of existing solely for the glory, honour, and praise of their saving Lord. In his book Reading Genesis Politically, Martin Sicker argues that “because of its essentially political orientation, it should come as no surprise that there is very little doctrinal theology to be found” (ix). The Israelites were not in need of historical fact; they were in need of an identity—a purpose and an opportunity for them to be separate from the nations out of which they had been called. Perhaps the same continues to be true today.

The Genesis benefaction of identity to the Israelite community is done in the context of competing mythologies and is effective especially because of its parallels and contrasts to those competing narratives around it. Genesis is not the only book in the biblical narrative to reference Creation in mythological language. The Psalmist, speaking to God, proclaims, “You rule over the surging sea; . . . You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; . . . The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; . . . Your arm is endued with power” (89:9-13). Referencing this text, Professor of Old Testament Gerhard Von Rad at the University of Heidelberg writes in his book Creation in the Old Testament, “In this particular context the poet starts from the creation and reminds Yahweh of the mighty works which he accomplished.” Reminding Yahweh of his many promises would become a great Hebrew tradition. First, however, the Israelites had to learn about their Creator Lord and enter into right relationship with him. Even as unfamiliar with Yahweh as the early post-Exilic Israelites were, they could not have missed the Psalmist’s reference to Yahweh’s rule over the entire cosmos, even over the mythological primordial waters of chaos. Just as quickly, they would have understood the reference to Yahweh’s subjugation of Rahab, a mythological primordial sea monster that later came to represent for the Israelites those kingdoms which opposed the covenant people and the same three which held dominant competing mythologies.

Yet while Genesis seeks radically to redefine the place and role of humanity in the world, Genesis still presumes an ancient Mesopotamian cosmology. However, because the aim of the narrative is to convey an identity (who) and not scientific information (how), we are not required to accept the Mesopotamian cosmology—the ancient picture of the world—as an indispensable part of the narrative’s religious truth. Daniel C. Harlow, Associate Professor of Religion at Calvin College, elaborates: “We know more about the physical makeup of the universe than the author of Genesis 1 did, even though he was divinely inspired while we are not” (168). Harlow continues, “When taken on its own terms and read in its own context, [Genesis 1] shows itself not to be a historical narrative and certainly not a scientific one” (181). However, Genesis 1 does show itself to be what Martin Sicker terms anthropocentric: “Man is its central feature; everything else is only of contributory importance. . . . This depiction of the centrality of man in the universe is of great moral consequence for mankind. It asserts that although man is physiologically and chemically a part of nature, by virtue of the unique manner of his creation he is at the same time radically different from all other created beings” (Reading Genesis Politically 2). Though framed in an ancient cosmology, this is a radical departure from the Mesopotamian understanding of humanity.

All primordial pagan mythologies—Babylonian, Egyptian, and Ugaritic—depict man as created either for the purpose of slavery to the gods or the easing of their responsibilities; all mythologies save the Hebrew Genesis. An NIV text note in Genesis 1 makes a valuable contribution to man’s purpose: “Since man is made in God’s image, every human being is worthy of honor and respect; . . . Man is the climax of God’s creative activity and god has ‘crowned him with glory and honor’ and ‘made him ruler’ over the rest of creation (Ps 8:5-8). Since man was created in the image of the divine King, delegated sovereignty (kingship) was bestowed on him.” The radical and formative perspective of humanity found in Genesis becomes apparent only in seeing its first chapters as a myth which asserts a separatist idea of what it means to be human through a competing mythology. It is only in comprehending this competing mythology, in acknowledging its revelation about the true God, and in recognizing its redefinition of the human identity that the Genesis narrative becomes what it ought to be for the follower of Yahweh: an irreplaceable mythology describing and characterizing God’s intended identity for humanity—both in ancient times and today.

Reformed Christians desperately need a redefinition of our identity, especially in a world where too often our Christianity is compromised by our pagan culture and our humanity is compromised by our fallen nature. Truly, we are not as different or separated from the ancient Israelites as we would like to believe. We live in the midst of pervasive religious mythologies, masquerading as cultural givens. Despite the sometimes sporadic Reformed challenge, these mythologies profess that life can exist in no other way than their own; they argue that our not-so-recent descent into a cultic and consumerist cesspool is not only the norm, but that it is progressive—that our descent into sin is, instead, the way it is supposed to be. Genesis, however, reminds Christians that what we experience in culture today is not all there is, that how we are living is not the way life is supposed to be, and that the call to true humanity must ultimately be an endeavour led by those who are called out from the world, but called out for the benefit of the entire cosmos, to the glory of its Creator, who continues to create, to form, to cultivate, and who encourages all humanity to embrace their true identity in him and to do the same.

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Bernhard W. “From Analysis to Synthesis: The Interpretation of Genesis 1-11.”Journal of Biblical Literature. 97.1 (1978): 23-39. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

Anderson, Bernhard W., et al, eds. Creation in the Old Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Baines, John. “Egyptian Myth and Discourse: Myth, Gods, and the Early Written and Iconographic Record.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 50.2 (1991): 81-105. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Fall: a Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1959.

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: The Viking Press, 1968.

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come. London, England: Yale University Press, 1993.

Dalley, Stephanie, ed., trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Gros Louis, Kenneth R. R., et al, eds. Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives. New York: Abingdon Press, 1974.

Harlow, Daniel C. “Creation According to Genesis: Literary Genre, Cultural Context, Theological Truth.” Christian Scholar’s Review. (2007): 163-98.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Treasures of Darkness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976.

Kapelrud, Arvid S. “The Mythological Features in Genesis Chapter I and the Author’s Intentions.” Vetus Testamentum. 24.2 (1974): 178-86. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

Kaufmann, Yehezkel. “The Bible and Mythological Polytheism.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 70.3 (1951): 179-197. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

Knox, John. Myth and Truth: An Essay on the Language of Faith. Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, 1964.

Morgenstern, Julian. “The Sources of the Creation Story” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature. 36.3 (1920): 169-212. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

Sicker, Martin.  Reading Genesis Politically. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2002.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Van Kooten, George H., ed. The Creation of Heaven and Earth. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

Whatham, A.E. “The Yahweh-Tehom Myth.” The Biblical World. 36.5 (1910): 329-333. JSTOR. Dordt College Lib., IA. 09 Mar. 2009.

 

Critique of deLange’s “Genesis Mythology” – 2

deLange’s Definition of “Myth”: Great Stuff, but It’s Not Actually Real

One of these theologians is Reformer John Knox, who argues in his book Myth and Truth that Genesis does not truly refer to a factual event. After outlining the incarnation of Christ, Knox concludes, “Of the other two great myths, one (that of God’s creation of the world and man’s estrangement) belongs to prehistory and the other [that of God’s final revelation] has to do with what will ‘happen’ after history shall have ended. Only the story of [God’s] redemptive, reconciling deed in Christ refers to an actual historical event” (52). Though Knox unequivocally denies the literal nature of the opening chapters of Genesis, he in no way denies the truth of the Bible. Instead, Knox argues that Reformed Christians need to come to a renewed understanding of myth. – Adrian deLange, “Genesis Mythology,” Calvinism for the 21st Century Conference (Dordt College, 2010), 1-2.

This is quite an explosive paragraph. In only one citation and three sentences, the historicity of Genesis is completely wrote-off (assuming Knox was interpreted rightly; I can’t get  a hold of the primary text, and, of course, assuming I’m interpreting deLange rightly). The most obvious confusion that should grab our attention is the equivocation of “literal nature of the opening chapters of Genesis” and Knox’ “actual historical event.” Given the previous quotations and references to creationists who are concerned about the age of the earth in deLange’s essay, it seems fair to say that deLange is pitting those creationists and Knox’ perspective against each other.

The problem, of course, is that it is fully unwarranted to associate the literal, age-concerned interpretation of the creationists deLange has contrasted among in previous remarks with the belief that Genesis actually happened. In other words, it is (extremely) possible to believe the historical nature of Genesis without being a fundamentalist, young-earth creationist. Many, many scholars hold to a conservative view of Genesis (it happened; narrative reflects real history) and don’t give substantial attention to the age of the earth. DeLange does not give any indication that this is even possible.

What he does assert, is that Reformed Christians should change their perspective on Genesis so that it denies actual historical events in Genesis. Sounds harsh? It is. But, we should be careful not to misrepresent deLange’s overall purpose; this denial is not the end in itself – the renewed idea of myth and realizing the significance of communal identity is his final goal. Dismissing (sacrificing) the historicity of Genesis is simply the bi-product of deLange’s more – he would argue – desirable hermeneutic.

For Knox, myth is not something to be classified as an untrue story or a “tall tale.” Instead, myth is first an imaginative narrative dealing with a cosmically significant act of God (35). To say that myth is an imaginative narrative separates it from other stories or fairy tales concerned merely with the deeds of men. That myth deals with a cosmically significant act of God categorizes it as a divine narrative: a formative account that gives identity to the community which holds to it. For Knox, myth is pervasive as it affects the entire world and not simply the people group who subscribe to it.

Not only is myth cosmically affective and normative, but Knox states that myth is also a source of solidarity for its espousing community, both bearing the marks of its original culture and yet persisting through generations and across cultural barriers (35). Knox’s contention that myth is a source of community both recognizes and affirms the culture-forming tendencies inherent in what it means to be human. Not only does myth become culturally formative, but it does so to such a degree that it also becomes indispensible to the community to which it belongs. That a myth bears the marks of culture and persists through generations is to say that its narrative is not limited to one specific time, place, or group. Instead, it spans geography, ethnicity, and epoch. Nevertheless, myth must be understood in its original context in order to be properly understood and applied within the cultural context of the community in which it is interpreted.

In both contexts—past and present—Knox argues that myth is necessarily a source of identity (35). Those in the interpretive community who subscribe to the myth are bound together by their common understanding of the narrative, which provides a specific world and life view from which to understand and engage the world. In Knox’s final contention, myth becomes an irreplaceable symbol in the lives of those who subscribe to it (36). This means not only that the myth or narrative is both distinctive and invaluable to the community’s identity, but also that these indispensible narratives are the only ones which qualify: not all “miracle accounts” are worthy of the title myth. (2-4)

Let us summarize deLange’s definition of “myth” from these paragraphs:

  1. It is not “untrue.”
  2. It is “an imaginative narrative dealing with a cosmically significant act of God.” That is, myths are made-up stories, but not “fairy tails concerned merely with the deeds of men,” but fairy tales concerned with “a cosmically significant act of God.”
  3. Myths become strongly associated with the identity of a particular community, and “a myth bears the mark of culture.”
  4. As such, myth is an “irreplaceable symbol in the lives of those who subscribe to it.”

Clearly, the problem is assertion number 2. DeLange essentially asserts that Moses made up stories to make the Israelites feel better, have a myth to associate with (because everyone else did), and obtain a creation identity:

Recognizing then, that the book of Genesis was written following Israel’s exodus from Egypt and likely after the conquer of Canaan, Israel’s direct encounter with these mythologies—not the least of which is the Ugaritic—was unavoidable. Because the Israelites had been saturated in Egyptian mythology for four hundred of years in slavery, followed by Babylonian and Ugaritic mythology in the years in Canaan, the people had an obvious need for a renewed identity. Israel needed to be told who she was and to whom she belonged. Therefore, in his effort to guide this infantile nation, God not only provided his people Israel with his law through Moses, but spoke to his confused people through oral tradition and finally the author(s) of Genesis in a language, cosmology, and mythological structure that the people could understand, while also conveying to them his covenant truth. (5)

Thus, according to deLange, Moses made up a creation story that directly contradicted the other creation myths of the day (Enuma Elish, Marduk and Ti’āmat myth, etc.).

It was with exposure to and with an understanding of these myths that the Israelites emerged from exile, ignorant of their own identity and vulnerable to Egyptian and Babylonian mythologies. Yet so that his chosen people could understand, the Lord painted a picture for them similar in structure to those nations around them. The Lord provided for Israel a basic understanding of the world and of their identity through the narrative beginning in Genesis. (5-6)

Since theology and not history was the point of Genesis (or at least, the introductory account), deLange asserts, the persons and events recorded in Genesis are not required to have actually happened in history.

Neo-Orthodoxy Rehashed?

We should briefly note at this point, how this was the essence of Karl Barth’s position. Needless to say, the result of Barth’s faulty presuppositions infected his theology so that he ended up making absurd assertions, such as:

“We are all Adam…in the matter of human disobedience and depravity there is no ‘earlier’ in which man was not yet a transgressor and as such innocent…There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner…it is the Word of God which forbids us to dream of any golden age in the past or any real progress within Adamic mankind and history or any future state of historical perfection.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics vol. IVA, trans. by G. W. Bromiley, T. & T. Clark, 1956, pp. 551, 508, 511.

It would be interesting to know how much influence one of deLange’s theology professors, Jason Lief (a devout fan of Karl Barth), had in the writing of deLange’s paper. But let it suffice to state the obvious: the conclusions between Barth and deLange are the same; Adam and Eve are mere symbols and not historical persons, and Genesis is a mythical story (in the common use of the term) – one that is not necessarily rooted in actual historical events.

How one can call this “true” is as confusing to me as it probably was to the pagans that Moses was attempting to contradict/refute. Think about it. What incentive does a post-Egypt pre-Exile Israelite have in buying into a creation story – no matter how great it seemed – that didn’t happen when the rest of the pagans claim that their story really did happen? Are we to believe that Moses was making an offer to Israel that was like, “Hey, I made up a sweet story that is so much more stellar than those Egyptian wackos – it didn’t actually happen this way, but, you should believe it anyway,” and this was supposed to be more convincing and reassuring than all the pagan stories that presented their myth as historical truth? Or, are we to assume that all the other creation stories outside Scripture were presented by the Egyptians/pagans as “true” but not in the sense of it actually happening? How could we tell the difference? I mean, if an Ancient Near East Egyptian or Israelite wanted to tell someone how the cosmos actually came into being (not just a mythical story that has no binding on historical reality), are we automatically supposed to assume that they are incapable of such a task because that kind of narrative just wasn’t the norm for their day? If not, how would we know they were presenting their myth as historical fact, and not as simply made-up and ahistorical?

The Two Polemic Views of Genesis

This liberal polemic theory of Genesis, which assumes that Moses can’t be telling actual history, is confusing on all sides. Did Moses realize he was making up stories that didn’t actually happen? How do we know? And, where on earth does the work of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Scriptures come in – and, does that not destroy the entire infallibility and trustworthiness of the Scriptures? (listen to my quotes of Bavinck on inerrancy) After all, who is to say any part of the Old Testament (or any of Scripture for that matter) wasn’t the product of deception or unintentional lying by its authors? Were the Israelites really accustomed to believing myths in the sense that deLange argues, or, do they not have the freedom to be curious about the actual historical past, and not simply a “imaginative narrative” that has no binding in the past?

This is why it scares me when people say Calvin College is “liberal” and Dordt is “conservative,” as if being less liberal is to all of a sudden cross a line into “conservative.” (The fact is, when everyone’s on the left and moving further to the left, no one is on the right!) This kind of historical skepticism that liberalism consistently demands is almost breathtaking. And we’ve seen this happen numerous times with Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, etc. It is certainly happening with the Genesis debate.

In any case, DeLange then begins the enterprise of comparing and contrasting different mythologies to demonstrate how Genesis was designed to specifically respond to the false myths of the day.

Clearly, the one option that deLange doesn’t seem to acknowledge is a conservative polemic. That is, the text of Genesis seems to be a refutation of false mythologies, but it remains a historically reliable narrative. DeLange’s essay proves quite useful for liberals and conservatives alike since he gives evidence of the polemic. But, upon what basis do we conclude that Moses made the Genesis story up instead of simply writing down the direct revelation of God as he did with so many other writings? That is, why must we believe that Genesis does not correspond to historical fact just because it’s a possible polemic? One can easily hold to a polemical view of Genesis without denying its historicity.

Before one can make broad, sweeping assertions about Genesis 1 (i.e. Moses made up a bunch of stories that aren’t real, but had great theological truth), we have to at least admit that we know very little about its context, authorship, purpose, date, etc. When we do that, arguing for a liberal-minded polemic theory of Genesis becomes, well, a bit mythological.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

Views: 496

Comment by John on February 23, 2011 at 1:02am

Mike,

I had seen you post the link to this article at the cosmos earlier today and found it interesting also.

I did a search tonight at work and couldn't find the article posted anywhere on the web.

So i contacted the author  Adrian de Lange and he was kind enough to email me a copy and gave me permission to post it as long as he was given credit for writing it.He'll have the final draft finished hopefully in April.

 

I'll post it in the discussion forum as a separate post.It's easier to follow comments.  

 

Thanks Mike 

Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 8:10am
Barth was at least correct in that the NT does not teach a physical paradise at the end of history.  You have not furnished any such exegetical evidence to prove otherwise, and continue to be evasive only providing these little hit and run posts.  So sad Sam.
Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 8:19am

Can you send that to me please - healinglvs@aol.com

 

Thanks

Comment by Norm on February 23, 2011 at 10:02am

 

Eventually serious students of Genesis have to deal with the non-historical realities that are found in the “Genesis narrative”. No first man of Israel was formed from literal dust of the earth as Adam is pictured having been.  Dust of the earth is more of a poetic metaphor in Hebrew illustrating the mortality of mankind from whom Adam was given eternal life from. When Adam was expelled from the Garden he fell back into the “dust of the earth” or back into mortality without eternal life.  

 

Satan as the craftiest of Beast is not a literal animal but denotes the principalities and powers that were still being wrestled with in the NT and ultimately defeated. It is a picture of the Legalistic Jews described in Rev 13 as the Beast from the land and in the Gentile side as the Beast from the Sea. These were those who are in opposition to God’s plan for mankind ultimately. The Bad seed and Good seed of Gen 3:15 again represent that dichotomy of legalism and spiritual battles finding its fulfillment in Christ.

 

Cain and Abel is the precursor of the older brother story found in the NT in which he is jealous of the younger ones acceptance by God. The long lives of Gen 5 describe the near 1000 year eternal life that Adam and Israel missed out on from the fall. Read the second temple writing of Jubilees to see how this is indeed how the Jews interpreted it. John in Revelation confirms this idea when those in Christ live and reign a 1000 years.

 

The flood story in which all flesh is destroyed is again a precursor messianic picture of the time when Christ as the Ark will rescue the covenant people along with the pagans for a New Covenant Day again destroying all flesh [Rev 19:18, 21}. Read the second temple book of Enoch to see again how this idea was handled from various viewpoints in which it always ends with the messianic coming.  The dividing of the nations from three individuals whom get off the ark around 2500BC is 

historical fiction pure and simple except that it is dealing with the intertwined nations and covenant Israel in a covenant context. Ultimately in Acts 2 at Pentecost we have the regathering of Israel and the Nations undoing what occurred at Babel in Gen 11.

All indications IMHO is that Moses did not write Genesis but it was redacted from Hebrew understandings passed down and reformulated sometime late in the first Temple or early second temple period of Israel. It is a strongly held messianic piece of Hebrew literature which comports well with other Hebrew style literature such as Hosea, Ezekiel, Jonah and eventually Revelation. Extremely instructive though in determining the purpose and intent of Genesis is the second temple writings and their strong interaction with the Genesis narratives.  The book of Enoch and Jubilees especially treat Genesis as primarily messianic in character and build upon it and interpret it for us as they looked for the coming messiah.  Genesis is therefore a strong messianic piece of literature understood from the mind of the Jews themselves before Christ the messiah arrived. IT reflects strongly IMO the exilic mindset of late first temple Judaism rather than a Mosaic time period of construction and fits well with Ezekiel, Enoch and Jubilees themes that build upon it.  

There is actually very little what we would call historical reality found in Gen 1-11 except for the fact that Adam is designated as the first Jew of covenant with God and we all should realize that the Jews did need to have a beginning of their faith. This is what Gen 4:26 states when it said that this was the time when humanity begins to call on YHWH.  YHWH is the God of Israel and so there indeed was a beginning. Was this rooted in the Adapa character of the ANE?  Possibly but the Hebrews did have an origin and they seemed to think it occurred deep in the ANE history.  According to Paul this Adam was indeed their first law fearing progenitor of Israel. [Rom 5:12] Yes also there was a flood character found in the ANE and the Jews again appropriated this story for their covenant lineage as did other ANE peoples.

Paul doesn’t take Genesis literal in the sense that moderns tend to. He recognizes the analogy of the stories. He says as much in Eph 5:31-32 where he flat out explains that the two becoming one is about Christ and the church. He interprets it the way that the Jews intended it by recognizing its messianic purpose and overtones. The first century epistle of Barnabas flat out reinterprets Genesis wholesale for us by telling us that the Days of Gen 1 are symbolical and are climaxing in their time with the coming of Christ.  It states that day six of Gen 1 is what was going on at their time when the Image of God through the spirit was being fully formed upon man through Christ.

So what do we do with Genesis when we recognize these non-literal but important theological accounts going on there? Do we just stick our head in the sand and keep yelling that its literal or do we pull our heads out and start doing our due diligence of going about finding out better what the intent and purpose of that piece of literature is about.  It’s very comparable to examining the book of Jonah in which many believe that Jonah was literally swallowed by the Great Sea Monster.  They fail to read Hebrew literature and recognize that the Great Sea Monster represents Great Gentile pagan Nations such as Egypt, Babylon and Assyria and thus the picture is an exilic one of God’s people being cast into the belly of the Great Sea Monster [See Daniel story] and them coming back out alive again 70 years later [Jonah again is representative of Israel as he is jealous of the Gentiles being saved]. Again it has messianic implications through and through for the people of God but so many miss the Hebrew imagination by trying to impose our own interpretive mindset upon them.

The author under critique “Adrian deLange” makes essentially some correct observations but I would quibble with him as outlined somewhat above in some of my thoughts. I would also tend to emphasize that Gen1-11 does have historical realities to it especially the beginning of Israel with a man they designated as “adam” or the man. He was their “man” though in the Hebrew sense and was simply their covenant beginnings. The story surrounding him is indeed a theological treatise by the Jews for their political theological purpose and is not a science or pure history account.  If we study the literature of the Jews from their times instead of depending upon those who have been building upon misconceptions for centuries we just might start to grasp what the Hebrew mind was doing with their literature.

 

Comment by Norm on February 23, 2011 at 10:09am
Sorry about the split sections but ning is really putting a damper on writing long responses. Also it appears that Adrian responded right in the middle of my postings so notice that all four of my postings are actually just one long one with Adrian caught in the middle.
Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 10:18am

Hi Sam,

 

Maybe you need to focus more on your own "crisis" lately:

 

1)  Trying to convince FP's that you were only inocently trying to explore the social implications of FP when in fact the truth was that you were:

 

a)  Getting further "sucked back" (your words) into PP futurism and "drifting" (your words) - yes "away" from FP.

 

2)  Your "crisis" of "Inconsistent Orthodoxy" and exegetical inability to produce a non-"gnostic-like" view of the New Creation promises but hold onto a FP gnostic-like view of the resurrection promises.  If you remain in this, it is the ultimate "contradiction" and "crisis" that I have ever seen. 

 

But then again isn't it time to be honest with the FP community and announce that although you once held to a non-casket resurrection, the resurrection promises say of Isaiah 25-26 and Ezek. 37 ultimately point to a physical resurrection/consummation/manifestation of the kingdom and new creation promises?  You do realize you can't just bow at the waist, you have to get on your knees and grovel before your hyper-creedalist "scholar" friends. 

 

In Christ,

Mike Sullivan

Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 10:41am

Sam,

 

I was referring to the quote in the article,

 

“We are all Adam…in the matter of human disobedience and depravity there is no ‘earlier’ in which man was not yet a transgressor and as such innocent…There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner…it is the Word of God which forbids us to dream of any golden age in the past or any real progress within Adamic mankind and history or any future state of historical perfection.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics vol. IVA, trans. by G. W. Bromiley, T. & T. Clark, 1956, pp. 551, 508, 511.

 

I may have read it wrong, but I don't think so. 

 

As far as Romans 8:18ff., and what I have pointed out in my lead article on my site and in our book:

 

1)  It is "orthodoxy" to equate by using the "analogy of Scripture" that the "redemption" of Luke 21 and the "redemption of the body" in Romans 8 are the same thing (see John Murray).

 

2)  To claim that the glory that was "mello" "about to be" or "soon" to be revealed in believers in Romans 8:18 is referring to AD 70, but somehow this is not the same time period as the "creation" being liberated from decay -- or is explaining but yet another "already and not yet" (2000+ years) into the text is an eisegetical joke. 

 

3)  Although John Lightfoot missed that Paul is going back to Genesis 3 here, he understood the terms here in Romans 8 to NOT be dealing with the planet earth but with people (kitisis). 

 

So then you would be in agreement with the Barth quote in which you provided in that Romans 8 points ultimately to a physical resurrection? 

 

In Christ,

Mike S.

Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 11:02am

Sam,

 

And to your smug comment regarding Barth - yes, I did read some of Barth in my "Theological Movements" class (it was required) at The Master's College.  But he is not my favorite theologian and I don't read him often and couldn't even tell you what I read in the past (it was a very long time ago).  Again, I was interacting with the quote in the article - which appears to have misrepresented his theology (or did it change)? 

 

I thought by his comment (as quoted in the article) that there was no "golden age" in the past - that the author of the article had interpreted Barth as taking a more poetic and symbolic view of the early chapters of Genesis?  And quoting him as saying that there is no progressive move of history towards a "future state of perfection," that he was trying to be consistent with a more poetic view of Genesis - with his eschatology?  

 

Either way, since you provided a quote by Barth on Romans 8, and are now singing his praises (because it now fits your "I'm more of a scholar than the rest of you" attitude), please state if you agree with the quote that Romans 8 is pointing towards a physical "resurrection."  

Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 11:14am

Hi Adrian,

 

I first came across your view - only through this article trying to critique it.  I did all kinds of searches to see if I could find your article.  I couldn't find it online.  Therefore, I posted a response to it in hopes that a group effort would be able to find the article or yourself.  It appears we found you and I look forward to reading your essay when it is posted so I can better understand what your position really is.  

 

Thanks,

Mike Sullivan

www.treeoflifeministries.info

Comment by Mike Sullivan on February 23, 2011 at 11:19am

Sam,

 

Btw - Didn't you slam Ed Hassertt for reading Kierkegaard, but now its okay to read Barth?  

Comment

You need to be a member of Deathisdefeated to add comments!

Join Deathisdefeated

Events

Forum

Adam as Israel

Started by Internet_Troll in Eschatology. Last reply by Internet_Troll May 26. 6 Replies

The parousia and judgment of nations

Started by Internet_Troll in Eschatology. Last reply by Joseph Rehby Jul 6. 16 Replies

Preterist Networking

Started by Judy Peterson in Prayer Requests. Last reply by John Aug 8, 2016. 17 Replies

The 10 Tribes of Israel

Started by Internet_Troll in Questions and Best Answers We Can Give!. Last reply by Internet_Troll May 22, 2016. 9 Replies

Online Teaching Elders

Started by Eohn Rhodes in Eschatology. Last reply by Doug Dec 22, 2015. 4 Replies

Who is the abomination of desolation ?

Started by Stairway To Heaven in Eschatology. Last reply by Brother Les Dec 11, 2015. 3 Replies

Divine council

Started by Sharon Q in Eschatology. Last reply by Sharon Q Oct 3, 2015. 5 Replies

Marriage and Divorce Motif Between God and Israel

Started by Andrew Reish in Eschatology. Last reply by Brother Les Jul 5, 2015. 5 Replies

Millennium

Started by Mark Baker in Eschatology. Last reply by Internet_Troll May 4, 2015. 48 Replies

Fulfilled prophecies of Jesus

Started by joy sung in Eschatology Mar 22, 2015. 0 Replies

The End of the Old Covenat

Started by Internet_Troll in Eschatology. Last reply by Internet_Troll Jan 21, 2015. 60 Replies

© 2017   Created by Tim Martin.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service