Re: Gen 1-11 as history

George Murphy (
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 15:52:08 -0400 wrote:
> At 08:26 PM 08/14/1999 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> > Try telling your average Jew that the land of Canaan is peripheral to the
> >Jewish people.
> George, Now you are beating a strawman. If God had told Abraham to go to
> Mongolia, then the Caananites would have been replaced by Mongols. The
> land could have been any land. It didn't have to be Caanan. God could have
> chosen Indiana if he had wanted to. The geography of theland is not
> central to the story, it is background. ANY LAND WOULD HAVE DONE.

Canaan is crucial to the story of Israel _from the standpoint of those who had
believed the promises to Abraham &c & the gift of the land_ - i.e., retrospectively.
& since this is the standpoint of the biblical writers, it makes a lot of difference
to the way the story is told. This is quite different from thinking that there's
something intrinsic to that piece of real estate which gave it special value.

> > No, I've given criteria (e.g., the fact that Gen.1:1-2:3 & 2:4-25 are
> >not compatible if both are read as chronicle-like historical narrative +
> the >external evidence which indicates that they aren't such narratives) &
> you >either don't like those criteria or ignore them.
> This is not the type of criteria I keep asking for. I am asking for a list
> of traits that define Hebrew poetry as opposed to Hebrew history. Examples
> would be verse written in iambic pentameter, every other line rhyming, or
> even following chinese poetry, the criteria that each word in a line of
> poetry must relate according to certain rules with the word in the line
> immediately above it. These are objective criteria which you don't seem to
> have or use in your claim that Genesis 1-11 is poetry. Your claim that
> Genesis 1-11 is poetry appears to be a subjective judgement that lacks
> rules or reasons.

When did I ever say that Genesis 1-11 is _poetry_? I never said that. (You may
admire my restraint in not shouting!) You seem to assume that anything which isn't
accurate historical narrative must be "poetry". If you actually want characteristics of
Hebrew poetry look at the IDB article which I referred to earlier, but this is not
primarily what 1-11 is.
I suppose Barth's term "saga" may be as good as any as an _overall_ description
of early Genesis. It contains some accurate historical & geographical material, &
determination of what is & isn't in that category requires case by case analysis. It
also contains _some_ poetry (e.g. 4:23-24), "broken myth" (6:1-4), parallel accounts
of some material (the genealogies, parts of the flood story) & ancient & from today's
scientific standpoint inaccurate cosmology (parts of chapter 1).

> This would be like defining an electron by its characteristics, negative
> charge of so and so, mass of this much. By this objective definition we
> can say 'that is an electron' and that thing over there isn't.'
> If you don't have rules for detecting poetry that are objective like these,
> then we are merely discussing each other's opinions. And in that case, my
> opinion is as good as yours and maybe more likely since throughout history
> people have viewed early genesis as history. If you have a set of objective
> criteria by which you can clearly show that Genesis 1-11 is in the form of
> Psalms, then I will concede that you are correct. But to date, I haven't
> seen anything like this from you.

Since, as I repeat, I've never said Gen.1-11 is "poetry" you're arguing with
yourself here.

> Now as to your claim that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is incompatible with Genesis
> 2:4-25 does not seem to take into account the possibility that I am
> advocating, namely the days of proclamation view. The two accounts are
> entirely compatible if Genesis 1 is viewed as actual proclamations made by
> God prior to the origin of the universe (reported to us by the human
> writer) and Genesis 2 is the actualization of the creation of man. The
> events are separated by several billion years and thus describe TWO
> DIFFERENT EVENTS. In this case the two accounts are entirely compatible

Genesis 1 describes God's creative commands and their actualizations, including
the creation of humanity. The creation of humanity is finished before the second
account begins. I see nothing in this attempt but a more sophisticated attempt at
historical harmonization.
Note also that I appeal to external as well as to internal evidence. The
history of the universe up to the emergence of humanity covers much more than 6 days
(which is not what Ch.1 intepreted as modern scientific report would lead us to
believe) & plants existed long before human beings (which is not what Ch.2 interpreted
as modern scientific report would lead us to believe).


> >> Noah lived you say, then what difference does it make that he didn't say
> >> anything? None that I can see. And if Noah lived then what of the events
> >> are they true or false? Where did the flood occur? When did it occur? How
> >> did it occur. If it isn't history we can ignore this. If it is, we can't.
> >> But all you do is simply say some is history and some isn't. THat is so
> >> nebulous as to be unassailable.
> > Of course historicity is important & I've never denied that. But to say
> >that
> >we can ignore anything which isn't history is simply nonsense.
> I never said that, (that I recall and I stand ready to be corrected). What
> I have said is that Genesis 1-11 is meant to be history. It acts like
> history, smells like history, quacks like history. And I see nothing in the
> form of a definition that allows you to say that Genesis 1-11 isn't history
> (albeit with a viewpoint but as I said above, so what?)
> You said that your view does not disprove Noah's existence. Is Noah a real
> person--yes or no?
> If yes, please answer the following questions which are logical outgrowths
> of Noah being a real individual.
> Did he build an ark?
> Did he collect animals and put them on the ark?
> Was there a flood?
> If yes, then where was the flood? When was the flood? How did it occur?

I think the story of Noah (which in the Bible consists of a couple of strands)
can be connected with stories of survivors of Mesopotamian floods like that of
Utnapishtim. I don't know how many animals he had or what kind of boat, raft, &c he
built. You will reply that many of the details of the story don't agree with that
locale, to which I reply, "Fine." I never said all, or even most, of the details were
historically accurate. & it would be interesting to know more but not crucial to
understanding the way the story is used in Scripture.

> >> Give some hermeneutical principles that distinguish something for petes
> sake.
> >
> > One basic principle is that you don't decide what kind of literature you're
> >dealing with before you read it.
> Thank you, but I have read it. I assume that this insulting, nonresponse
> means that you have no hermeneutical principles to give which backs up your
> claim.
I'm sorry that this seemed insulting. I didn't of course mean that you hadn't
read Genesis. But from your own description of your YEC history it sounds very much as
if, at the start of your present approach to the issues, already had the presupposition
that the Genesis accounts were in one way or another historical narrative.

George L. Murphy