Re: Fable telling

John_R_Zimmer@rush.edu
Mon, 1 Nov 1999 11:49:54 -0600

I admit that I sound a little post-modern - but that is simply
because I don't have good terminology to express myself. For
example, these two statements agree, but the question is:
Is the prehistoric event (referred to in legend) "historic"?
The answer must be "no" in the literal sense, "yes" in the metaphorical
sense.

I said:

>The early chapters of Genesis - like the legends of Arthur - come
>out of prehistory. We know that because the Sumerians also have a tale
>that is almost identical to the story of Noah's flood. So the term
>"historicity" must be a metaphor when applied to a comparison of the early
>chapters of Genesis and the archaeological or evolutionary record.

Glenn replied:

Coming out of prehistory does not have to mean 'false' or metaphorical or
unhistorical. The aborigines have legends about certain islands when the
islands were conncected to the mainland. This has to be from 12,000 years
ago or so because that was the last time that the sea levels were low
enough for the island to be a peninsula.

Further comment:

How do we appreciate the details that are recorded in a legend?
Do the details have to correspond to actual particulars "directly",
or can they correspond "indirectly". Take, for
example, the detail that Noah's flood lasted for 40 days. That may
correspond directly (or literally) as 40 days or may correspond
indirectly as "a really long time for a flood in this region"
or indirectly as "so long you cannot imagine it".

I suspect that if Glenn examined the 'aboriginal' legends, he would find
a lot of details that would not directly match the corresponding
time (when the islands formed a penninsula). However, the key association
(or detail that one is wont to look at) is the direct correspondence of a
"description of the mainland in a legend" with "a penninsula that once existed".

The direct correspondence of a "legend of a catastrophic flood
story" with a "flood immediately prior to the early Dynastic of Sumerian
civilization" constitutes (to me) a key association. Other details
are not "lies", they are legend. They may or may not correspond to
details of the aforementioned flood. However, when they don't correspond,
we can ask whether the narrative dynamics of legend could account for
the lack of correspondence.

For example, the whole earth (or all the land) was flooded according
to the Biblical story. That claim would fit the dynamics of exaggeration
that are found in many legends.

Because of this, the original event cannot be fully reconstructed
by the details of a legend. However, the association of the legend
with an event in prehistory can be made - and that association may
be regarded as valid or invalid.

Classifying Noah's flood story as "legend", sets a standard
by which the association will be judged. Glenn's claim that the
'details' of the this sacred story must match the 'details' of
the corresponding event indicates that Glenn does not regard
the story as legend.

At the same time, Glenn has been criticized by Paul Seely as imposing
preconditions on the text. Glenn's claim that one particular
association must be "true" (ie the association of the flood
with the Mediterranean infill), only asserts that one particular
perspective concerning the "details" of the flood is allowed.
That perspective is really a classification of the story, not
as "legend" but as "historic or scientifically accurate account".

That is what I was getting at when I say the "logic
of legend" and the "logic of historically accurate accounts"
are different. If you look at the story of Noah's flood as "legend",
then different details become important. Glenn may ridicule
the notion of 'picking an choosing details'. However, the
judgement as to 'what details are important' follows how one
classifies the literary context.

In wrap this argument, I would say:

To me, we vary on the literary context of the early chapters
of Genesis, a classification that appears key to constructing an
association between a Biblical story and the evolutionary record.
Neither of our associations of Noah's flood with the evolutionary
and archaeological record is arbitrary. They are both made for
sound reasons. However, the reasoning is based on a classification
of 'what the story is' that basically tells us which
"details" of the story are more important than others.

Final comment:

I think that ultimately, my version of concordism differs from
both Glenn and Dick Fischer's in that it does not confound the Biblical
text and the evolutionary and archaeological record. It only asks
an aesthetic and admittedly nonsensical question: If the early
chapters of Genesis and the evolutionary record pertain to a
single reality, then how would they match? As we are all finding
out, a 'match' is not easy to achieve because a 'match' must relate
the Genesis text and the evolutionary record - as well as - respect
the social and literary context of the Bible itself.

Ray