Re: Origins: reply to George Murphy

Glenn Morton (
Thu, 05 Sep 1996 22:22:55

George Murphy wrote:

>Glenn -
> For some reason I'm getting 2 copies of your replies to me.
> Some quick responses to large questions -
> Many biblical accounts mix "history as it really happened" and
>what could be called "interpretative fiction" - the latter not
>NECESSARILY falsifying the account. Analogy: the historical novel,
>ranging from accounts which stick pretty close to "just the facts" and
>do things like put speeches in the mouths of historical figures to bring
>out motives &c, to pure fiction using only the names of real people.

In some respects I agree with you. This is why I am not an inerrantist. I do
not necessarily believe that Moses had to think the very words reported in
Exodus 3:3 where it is reported he thought, "I will go over and see this
strange site--why the bush does not burn up." Nor do I think Moses had to use
the very words reported in his conversations. But preferring a historical
basis upon which to build the very serious message of the Bible, I do feel
that the reports must be indicative of what actually happened. Moses
curiousity must have been aroused by the bush, He must have said something to
indicate to pharoah that he wanted the slaves to go to the desert and
celebrate. (Ex 5:1)

But when it comes to making things up out of whole cloth, I would draw the
line. If Pharoah's army was not destroyed, but lived out long and happy lives
surrounded by their grand-kids, then the story is false.

> One can tie Gen.6-9 to "what really happened" via deposits like
>that at Ur and other stories (Gilgamesh &c) & make plausible that the
>writer used traditions which developed from catastrophic but geograph-
>ically limited Mesopotamian floods, but the account itself isn't
>concerned about historical details.

As I pointed out last May, placing the Flood in Mesopotamia lands the ark in
the Persian Gulf/ Indian Ocean in about a week. Thus there is no
correspondence at all between the report and the event. One could not land on
a mountain from the ocean; one could not land near the region of Ararat; no
river floods last a year; there are no deposits attributable to a widespread
flood which are found throughout the region. I would think most historians
would conclude either

1. the Biblical account is talking about another event;


2. the Biblical account is false and the event never occurred.

I do not feel that a good historian would conclude from the above that the
story is historically false but metaphysically true at the same time.

Washington throwing a dollar over the Potomac is believed to be false because
there is no correspondence between the story and actual events and no
correspondence with physical abilities of a human.

>(E.g., it doesn't even tell us
>where Noah started from.) Similarly for Ex.1-20 - we know there were
>Semitic peoples in Egypt, most plagues parallel natural phenomena there,
>&c. But there's more concern with history - place names, &c.

Lack of concern with historical detail can not be confused with whether or not
an event happened. Tolkein's novels are very concerned with names, places and
the details of the past lives of the characters. But they are all false.
Having more detail may be an indication of temporal separation between the
event and the telling. Do we have the same level of detail on the Punic wars
that we have on World War II?

> The whole Old Testament assumes the Exodus, & you have only some
>scraps if you remove all reference to it. YHWH is essentially
>identified as "the one who got us out of Egypt." Exodus traditions were
>pervasive in Israel, though the details of different versions (e.g.,
>Ps.78) don't always match up.

I agree that the entire OT depends on the Exodus. But that dependence can not
be used as evidence of the existence of an Exodus event. And if the Exodus is
not true, then IMO the entire OT is false, and the NT seriously wounded.
But one must also be careful to avoid saying that just because the Bible does
not depend upon the Flood account as it does on Exodus, that we can therefore
decide to eliminate Gen 6-9 by a line of logic fully applicable to the Exodus

To me that is a dangerous thing to do. Why should the line of reasoning be
limited only to those events which are not crucial to the OT? If the logic
applies to the Flood, consistency demands that it be applied equally to

> The situation is quite different with the Mormons. The final
>redactor of Ex.1-20 may have made use of some interpretative fiction,
>but was working with a centuries-old tradition. There is no evidence of
>any such tradition behind Joseph Smith's novel. (Note also - the basic
>problem with Mormonism isn't voyages to America &c. If it were just
>that, Mormons would be protestants with some quaint ideas about Native
>American history. It's Mormonism's polytheism, works righteousness, &c.
>that puts them over the edge.)

Once again, the existence of "centuries-old tradition" does not ensure
historicity. Homer's tales of the Greek gods is also dependent upon
"centuries-old tradition". But we believe it is a historically false

Werent the redactors using the same centuries-old tradition when they compiled
Genesis? Why and how did they mess up with Genesis but not with Exodus?

> I don't think it's accurate to speak about biblical writers
>"forcing together" different traditions.

That is the way the JEDP theory was taught to me years ago in OT class in
College. And the teacher believed in the JEDP theory, he was not trying to
disparage it.

>By and large, the final
>authors/redactors were content to just set them down side by side, as
>with Gen.1:1-2.4a & 2:4b-25. It's modern "harmonizers" who do the

Probably modern harmonizers do force things. But I would respectfully contend
that those who discount historicity in the Biblical account, seem to have to
engage in selective use of their lines of reasoning in order to save something
out of the Bible. Something like Exodus.

Also, didn't the redactors lay everything out side by side for Genesis? And
somehow they messed up in their story about Genesis but not Exodus?

To sum up what I see as your points concerning Gen 6-9 and Ex 1-20, you seem
to be saying that Exodus should not be discounted because:

Exodus uses more historical detail than Genesis

Exodus is basic to the OT; Genesis isn't

The redactors had centuries-old tradition in compiling Exodus and so are not
subject to the "mormonism" charge

Exodus should be believed because the redactors laid down side by side the
various traditions.

Somehow I don't find this a satisfying way to avoid using your "Genesis" line
of reasoning on Exodus.

Foundation,Fall and Flood