Re: Gen 1-11 as history

George Murphy (
Sat, 14 Aug 1999 13:35:01 -0400 wrote:
> At 08:21 AM 08/14/1999 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> Chapters 12 & following take place in a clearly defined
> >geography While geographical details are generally peripheral in 1-11.
> I would disagree with this.
> In Genesis 2 we have 4 rivers named: Pishon Gihon Tigris and Euphrates. We
> have Eden as a locality, we have the land of Havilah and the land of
> Ethiopia named. Two of the rivers and Ethiopia (Cush) are real places.
> In Genesis 4 we have the land of Nod which is east of Eden.
> In Genesis 10 we have a possible reference to Cyprus and Tartessos; Babel,
> Erech, Accad, Calneh Shinar, Ninevah, Rehoboth, and Calah are all cities
> named in this passage. Caanan is defined as the boundaries of Gerar, Gaza,
> Sodom and Gomorah, Admah Zebooim and Lashar. Peoples are mentioned living
> from Mesha to Mt. Sephar.
> In Genesis 11 we have Shinar again as well as Ur and Haran.
> Now the fact that we may not know the definitions and localities of all
> these items does not negate the fact that geography did play a fair role in
> Genesis 1-11. Our ignorance of the locations of some of these sites is not
> sufficient justifictation to mythologize them.

Please note my qualifications. I didn't say that there is no geography
in 1-11 but that it is "generally peripheral" in comparison with the following chapters.

> Many of these, including the Tigris and Euphrates, Ethipia, CAanan,
> Ninevah, Erech Accad, Cyprus and Tartessos are known places and clearly
> defined geography. To say that there is not much geographic information in
> Genesis 1-11 flies in the face of the list I compiled rather rapidly above.

These geographical details indeed indicate that 1-11 are about the real world,
an important point, but they do not play the critical role that, e.g., sites in Canaan
play in the stories of the patriarchs. This is hardly suprising, since the promise of
precisely that land to the patriarchs & their descendants is a major theme of Genesis.

> The people in
> >12 & ff have real characters, do distinctive things, and _say_ things.
> OTOH, we are
> >really given nothing about what kind of person Noah was except that he was
> righteous,
> >& he doesn't get to say anything during the flood story at all.
> All that could indicate is that the story is ancient and the details lost.
> It doesn't mean that Noah is fictional. Narmer, the first Egyptian Pharoah
> is also not mentioned as having said anything. His deeds are recorded but
> no speeches. We are told he was a great man but not much more than that.
> And Narmer is a real historical person. Your criteria would place Narmer
> in the doubtful category. Poor Narmer doesn't get to say anything in his
> accounts either. That doesn't mean we can ignore him. The artists who
> painted the caves in Upper Paleolithic Europe have even less of a record.
> We don't know their names, we don't know what they did. No one tells us
> what they said. Yet they were real people--nameless and facesless as they
> are. And there were even people who didn't paint and left NO trace of their
> existence. They too were real people. I know nothing of what my great
> grandfather said. I know a few things that he did. By your criterion we
> might discount his existence as well. And I know nothing about my
> Great-great-grandfather except his name- I guess he doesn't exist either.
> Thus I must conclude that it is as you suspected, I have no ancestry and
> was hatched from under the lettuce leaf. :-)

Final score Glenn 50, Straw Man 0.
I never said that this "proved" that Noah wasn't historical, didn't exist &c. I
said that the accounts about him were of a significantly different character from those
about Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.

> It seems to me you are presenting a very poor criterion for being a real
> person. And while Paul and I disagree on how to solve the problems Genesis
> 1-11 creates, at least we agree that most people took this as history over
> the centuries and to me that brings the implication that this was meant as
> history. Thus it is either true history or false history, but it was an
> attempt at history.

I didn't claim to be presenting any such criterion. I was noting some literary
Your 2 choices, "true or false history", are much too coarse a gradation. You
leave no room at all for literature which contains true history but other types of
material as well. I suppose you would have to classify Chronicles as "false history"
because it presents a theologically idealized version of the history which we have in
something closer to a "warts and all" version in Samuel-Kings.


George L. Murphy