Re: Something must change
Wed, 19 Aug 1998 04:25:53 EDT

In a message dated 8/17/98, Howard Van Till wrote concerning how the Bible is
considered to have been written and how it is to be read:

<<Actual history is the referent for all historical literature. But there are
numerous and vastly differing literary styles in which humanly crafted
literature refers to or employs actual historical events. The following come
to mind as examples:

1. Chronicle--in the extreme, an artless, matter of fact listing of what
happened when. This is the sort of historical writing that modern Western
culture has come to expect. In the process, however, the warranted
appreciation for more artistically profound forms of historical literature
is likely to be lost.

2. Interpretive--a particular author's (or community's) interpretation of
the meaning or significance of historical events. The selection of, and/or
artistic embellishment of, historical particulars will necessarily be
strongly influenced by the favored interpretation. An accurate reading of
this type of historical literature will require a thorough acquaintance
with the cultural/literary context in which it was written.>>



I thoroughly agree with the last sentence of your second point (Interpretive).
However, for those of us who are not specialists in the cultures in which the
Bible was written and assembled this poses a formidable barrier. Who has time
and resources for this task? The best we can do is to read second and third
hand accounts by those scholars who review and summarize the vast literature
in the field.

It is important, I believe to go beyond the generalization that "we must
thoroughyly acquaint" ourselves with these cultural and literary contexts of
the biblical authors. We need to be more specific, if possible, and trace the
origins of certain specific literary conventions in the Bible to their sources
in the culture of the days in which it was written. Dick Fischer has done
this in demonstrating that Adam was a relatively recent, historical figure who
was created into an already peopled world.

Another question that can be resolved using the Interpretive mode is why the
literary structure of _seven days_ was used in the biblical account of
creation? Geoffrey Asher provides a suggestion from early cultures in *Dawn
Behind the Dawn* (Holt, 1992). He holds that the number seven has a long
history in the roots of proto-Indo-European culture, which he calls the
"mystique of the number seven." This mystique originated in the veneration of
the seven-star constellation of Ursa Major. To make a long story short, Asher
traces how "Both the seven mystique and cosmic centrality made their way into
the thinking of Israel....The biblical creation takes the seven mystique
further than the creation epic does, and with much more subtlety....There is
artistry here, governed by the number, and going far beyond narrative need."
(Chaps. 3 and 10).

One can envision without great difficulty, it seems to me, how the author of
Genesis 1 used a familiar septenary framework in which to cast the account of
God's creation of the world. This consideration removes the account of
creation from the first style of interpretation (Chronicle) into the second
one (Interpretive).