Re: claims of poetry&days of proc.

George Murphy (
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 22:34:48 -0400 wrote:
> At 03:52 PM 08/15/1999 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> > When did I ever say that Genesis 1-11 is _poetry_? I never said that.
> (You may
> >admire my restraint in not shouting!)
> And you may admire my restraint also. Maybe I have misunderstood you, or
> maybe you have miscommunicated. But you have come very close to doing
> precisely that as I read you.

Having both congratulated ourselves on our restraint, I think more appreciation
is probably due to others on the list for _their_ restraint in not protesting this
debate which keeps popping up in various reincarnations. I'm going to respond here
briefly & then try to keep quiet on the subject for awhile.

> On Sun, 08 Aug 1999 13:05:08 -0400
> "The early chapters of Genesis, on the other hand, are different kinds of
> accounts. They are true statements about God's relationship with the
> world, but they are true in different ways than scientific or historical
> narratives. The Bible contains a number of different types of literature -
> history "as it really happened", poetry, fiction, myth, liturgies,
> theological arguments, laws, &c. One has to learn to distinguish one from
> the other, which isn't always an easy task."
> This clearly says that the Early Genesis account isn't history (which you
> consistently state) and logically, it then must be among poetry, fiction,
> myth or liturgy or possibly some other unnamed form. It doesn't look like
> liturgy, so is it poetry, fiction or myth or what?

But I've also said that it contains some historical material.
Some scholars have argued that Gen.1 did have a liturgical function at a New
year's celebration, though I wouldn't argue strongly for that. It is most basically a
theological statement about creation, containing implicit theological polemic as well as
positive statements. It makes use of the common cosmological views of the time which
are, however, modified to make theological points. Its initial audience no doubt heard &
read it as a description of the sequence of creation events. I don't think we can read
it that way today.
Genesis contains a number of types of literature, some of which I previously
noted. I already referred to Barth's term "saga". I think it wouldn't be inaccurate to
refer to put parts of the Bible in the "historical novel" category - stories which
contain but are not limited to historical narrative. But it's important to emphasize
that they are inspired historical novels or short stories.

> On Mon, 09 Aug 1999 08:32:08 -0400 you approvingly quoted Jerome:
> "1st, this statement is incorrect. Jerome said that the creation story is
> told
> "after the manner of a popular poet", & there was extensive use in the
> early church of allegorical interpretation (which I am NOT recommending) of
> Genesis as well as other texts. It was particularly with the Reformation
> that the emphasis was placed on a single "literal" meaning - usually
> understood to be historical narrative - of the biblical text."

Either your memory or your search program is excellent, but note the context.
"This statement" was your statement that non-historical interpretations of Genesis
were a modern innovation. I cited Jerome & patristic & medieval allegory not
"approvingly" but simply as counterexamples to your statment.

> I understood the parenthetical as referring to allegorical interpretation,
> not to 'after the manner of a popular poet'.
> Now, if that isn't at the very least leading the reader to believe that you
> hold Genesis is poetry, then I am sorry for misunderstanding you.

> IN another note you wrote:
> >>Briefly, Genesis 1 describes
> a sequence of commands & fulfillments, & external evidence (age of the
> universe, temporal order of the origins of living things) tells against
> reading either account as an accurate scientific description.>>
> ONce again, your conclusion must rely upon the assumption that the Days of
> Proclamation view has been ruled out. If you make Genesis 1 as a set or
> proclamations made prior to the creation of the universe (with reports by
> the editor about what then happened) then the order of the proclamations
> doesn't need to match the order of fulfillment. Proclamation order and
> fulfillment order are independent. Thus the lack of correspondence of the
> proclamation order with the temporal order of fulfillment can not then
> constitute evidence that Genesis is non-historical. Once again, as with
> the conflicts between Genesis 1 and 2, the Days of Proclamation theory
> avoids that kind of problem. (see Dallas Cain's IBRI report which is in
> storage and I can't find the reference).

This seems to me a very artificial interpretation & I can see no reason to adopt
it. What in the text itself tells us to make this distinction between orders of
proclamation & fulfillment?

> I agree with you that scientific data must be used to evaluate the views we
> have of Genesis. But unless one can rule out a view like mine, they can't
> use contradictions as evidence for non-historicity, which is what you are
> doing. I have not accepted your assumption (that proclamation order =
> fulfillment order) thus I am not trapped by your conclusion!

George L. Murphy