RE: On the Flood Narratives

From: glenn morton (
Date: Tue Nov 07 2000 - 15:48:43 EST

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    On the Flood Narratives-----Original Message-----
    From: []On
    Behalf Of Howard J. Van Till
    Sent: Tuesday, November 07, 2000 4:29 PM

    >OK. We agreed that an actual flood, Mesopotamiam, worldwide or otherwise,
    would have
    >left geological evidence of its occurrence.


    > I disagree. Regardless of what kind of flood it was, be it Mesopotamian,
    > Caspian, etc, there would still be geological evidence left.


    >But you have already greatly narrowed the hermeneutical field of options
    >and have chosen just one category of interpretations for Genesis 6-9:
    >that it is about a particular "geo-hydraulic event" that would,
    >therefore, leave recognizable empirical evidence.

    [GRM: True. I have. Why have I. Because if I don't take this approach then
    why would I not be able to apply such reasoning to any event in the Bible
    and say that it also doesn't represent the event it appears to represent? A
    flood story taught to us to illustrate God's goodness might be true--it is a
    possibility. But if that is the case, why isn't the resurrection merely a
    story to teach us God's goodness? Why isn't every miracle merely a good
    story to teach us about God with no reality other than in the mind of the
    writer? Sure that is absolutely possible. But it would nauseate me to
    believe that that is what we have.

    As you notice, I have often used comparative religion to illustrate my
    points. If we can make a wonderful teaching tool out of the flood, which has
    no connection with what really happened, then why can't we make such a tool
    out of the Book of Mormon, which also never happened. You never seem to
    answer that question!--GRM]

    >But I (and many OT scholars) would suggest, primarily on the basis of
    >Ancient Near Eastern cultural considerations, that the common employment
    >of flood narratives in the religious literature of that time and place is
    >indicative, not that some particular physical flood event is the subject
    >matter of the narrative, but that flood narratives (filled with high
    >drama, forces beyond human control, threat to human security, survival,
    >etc) had become the conventional _literary vehicle_ for reflecting on the
    >character of both divine judgement and divine benevolence/grace.

    [GRM-Agreed. There is high drama in that story. But there is even better
    high drama in The Lord of the Rings, and it too is a great story of the
    fight between good and evil. But I pay little attention to that book because
    it doesn't claim to be God's word. It is a nice story with no claim on my
    life. If the Bible is a nice story, then I would not see any reason to let
    it have a claim on my life.--GRM]

    >The geological evidence (no such flood in modern human history that fits
    >the particulars of the narrative taken as a chronicle of one specific
    >geo-hydraulic event) is relevant, but only because it affirms the need
    >for a religious interpretation and because it directs our attention
    >toward the theological content of the Genesis 6-9 and away from endless
    >quibbles about the location, extent, and time of some terrestrial
    >flooding event.

    [GRM--Fine Howard, how do you propose to prove that this lack of concordance
    with real events is to point our way to theological interpretations rather
    than pointing to the account simply being a false one which was made up out
    of whole cloth by some ancient scribe? We can't simply assume our way into
    the position you advocate, can we? That would make a syllogism like this:

    God's word can't be wrong
    The flood story is part of God's word
    There is no evidence for the flood
    Therefore it is a theological rather than historical account.

    That syllogism ignores the other possibility--namely this one.

    God's word can't be wrong
    The flood story is part of God's word.
    There is no evidence for the flood.
    Therefore the flood story is not God's word

    What I find amazing is the unwillingness for anyone to entertain, even for
    the sake of argument that this simply might not be the word of God. That is
    the verboten line of inquiry.--GRM]

    >No, but one very reasonable conclusion would be that Genesis 6-9 must be
    >read as an example of the typical religious literature of its day, and
    >that our focus ought to be on its _theological_ content, not on judging
    >its details by modern geological standards. And if the intended focus is
    >entirely theological, then we have no business subjecting its details
    >(exactly what happened, where, when) to modern geological criteria for
    >"truth" in the narrow sense of empirically verifiable statements about
    >physical phenomena.

    [GRM--what you have assumed above is that your judgement of its theological
    content is flawless. Upon what basis do you say that Judaic theology is so
    much better than Babylonian theology? I see no way to hold this other than
    by a priori placing our religion above all others and then judging them by
    our standard. An example. I have heard Christians talk about how much better
    the Judaic theology was than the Babylonian theology because the Babylonians
    were polytheists. I would respond to that, that the only way one can say
    this is by a priori assuming that polytheism is false. If there really are
    many gods, then Babylonian theology is much better than Judaic! But then we
    don't want to entertain that option--at least no one I have seen

    >The story is not geologically false because it's not even about a
    >geological phenomenon. It could be geologically true or false only if it
    >were about some geological phenomenon. It's not. It's about human
    >accountability, about divine judgment, and about divine grace. On those
    >fundamental issues, geology has nothing substantive to contribute.

    [GRM--I ask you once again. Why does this reasoning not apply to the Book of
    Mormon. It too is about human accountability, about divine judgment, and
    about divine grace. But no one ever replies to this, my main concern--the
    effect of our logical chain on comparative religions. We act as if the only
    game in town is Christianity, then we criticize people who notice that
    there are really a lot of other religions and that our logic in deciding
    upon or defending Christianity is highly flawed. So, are you ever going to
    answer this question--why does this line of reasoning not apply to the Book
    of MOrmon? How do you know that Joseph Smith wasn't a true prophet? Because
    he had many wives? So did Solomon!--GRM]

    >Before you can say any narrative is either "true" or "false" you have to
    >know what the subject matter is. I am suggesting that the truth or
    >falsity of the flood narratives will have to be evaluated on the basis of
    >their theology, not on their correspondence with modern geology.

    [GRM--And according to which religion to I get this theology? To assume that
    it must be judged by Christian theology is begging the question--GRM]

    >For cultural and historical considerations similar to those I cited
    >earlier re Genesis 6-9,I believe that there is essentially no substantive
    >hermeneutical basis for reading Genesis 1-3 as if it were a chronicle of
    >the Creation's formational history. As in the case of the flood
    >narratives, I see the empirical evidence as relevant only in the limited
    >sense of affirming that the "creation" narratives are not chronicles that
    >could answer modern scientific questions about exactly what happened,
    >when, etc.

    [GRM--as I said, I agree that the Flood account could very easily be a
    theological story. But then I see no reason to hold that any of the stories
    are necessarily historical. One guy mentioned that the evidence for Abraham
    and Babylon indicated that those stories were historical events. But what
    necessitates that? Abe could still be a wild-eyed story set in a historical
    place. Tom Clancy made lots of money talking about non-events in Denver when
    he blew the place up.--GRM]

    >So, I see complete consistency here. Modern scientific considerations
    >affirm a hermeneutical stance based first and foremost on the evaluation
    >of relevant cultural and religious factors. Neither Genesis 6-9 nor
    >Genesis 1-3 should be treated as if they were chronicles that are
    >directly relevant to modern questions about
    >physical/chemical/astronomical/biological phenomena.

    [GRM--I would say that there is probably very little hermeneutical necessity
    to teach Jesus as a real person either. There is no contemporary evidence of
    his existence. There are reports written years after his death, but no
    contemporary evidence whatsoever. Thus in parallel with the way we treat
    Genesis 1-11 we can treat the Gospels. Unless you can give me clear,
    consistent hermeneutical principles which lead us to believe the Gospels
    were historical and which when applied to the flood don't make them
    historical. It would also be nice if these principles could clearly
    differentiate the Book of Mormon from the Bible and show that it isn't real.
    All I see is that we are assuming ourselves into correctness, not by data,
    not by consistently applied principles but by mere assumption which says,
    'we're right all others are wrong' Such an assumption, which seems inherent
    in much of what we do seems a bit too self-serving.--GRM]

    for lots of creation/evolution information

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