Re: Hyers' Dinosaur Religion (was: HYAR'S...; Hyers' Article - Cods Wallop)

From: Peter Ruest <>
Date: Wed Feb 25 2004 - 15:22:01 EST

Ted Davis wrote:
> >>> 02/25/04 12:50AM >>>writes:
> Evidently, I have again written some shorthand, rather than precisely
> describe what I mean. I agree with both of you, Ted and Don, that idolatry
> was the fundamental sin of Israel between their captivities in Egypt and in
> Babylon. I certainly didn't intend to play that down.
> However, there is much less of this to be found from Abraham to Joseph,
> although Abraham came from a Mesopotamia with its idolatrous cultures and
> lived among idolaters in Canaan, and Joseph lived in Egypt with its
> idolatry. Now, if we try to go even further back than Abraham, there is not
> very much idolatry to be seen in the few texts we have before Genesis 12. At
> least the biblical texts we have do not tell us much about the Israelites
> and their forefathers being much seduced by idolatry before Aaron's golden
> calf.
> Ted responds:
> Glad to see we agree about the importance of monotheism to the Hebrews.
> Your comments on the early biblical period are very interesting, let me
> gloss them with some recent archeaological information (coming from Bill
> Dever, perhaps the leading American scholar of the relevant cultural
> period). In fact, idolatry was widely practiced among the Hebrews for much
> of the monarchial period, during which Genesis was written down in its
> present form. The biblical clues are the tip of the iceberg, since they
> represent Temple Judaism with its (correct) denial of idolatry. In the
> countryside, however, God was often seen as having a female consort, a type
> of fertility goddess, both of whom were worshipped. Household idols of the
> consort are turning up in excavations all over the place. So, it would make
> sense that idolatry was very much in people's minds when Genesis was put
> into its present form.

The monarchical period, of course, lies in the later part of the period
between the Egyption and Babylonian captivities, about which we agree. Your
gloss, coming from Dever, talks only about one goddess, presumably
Ashtoreth. I don't see how I could localize a hint of her in Gen.1. Which
would be, during the monarchical period, the gods and goddesses supposedly
hinted at in Gen.1?

But why should the time in which Genesis was put into its present form (if
that was during the monarchy) be important for the core content, theological
aim and import of Gen.1? When would Gen.1 _first_ have been formulated: in
the time of Samuel, Moses, Abraham, Noah, or even Adam? Could those core
aspects have changed fundamentally since then? If yes: wouldn't that make
divine inspiration vacuous or irrelevant? If no: we would have to look for
idols of those times, not of the monarchical ones.
> Peter writes:
> If we look at God creating humans in his image as the beginning of humanity,
> the most natural impression is that first there was monotheism, and
> polytheism represented a later degeneration. Now, Genesis 1 squarely belongs
> into this first period of monotheism, no matter when the story, previously
> transmitted orally, was finally written down, and no matter when this first
> period of monotheism petered out into a later period having a predominance
> of polytheism. This is why I doubt that polytheism is a major concern of the
> creation story (although, as I hinted at, God, who certainly foresaw the
> degeneration, may already have included some provision for those later
> times). I prefer to see the earliest divine revelations to humans as
> positively directing their thinking (1) to himself as their Creator, and (2)
> to all else that surrounded them as his creation. If this would stick, there
> would be no need of making much ado about the "nothings".
> Ted responds:
> Very interesting. This was Isaac Newton's view--that there was a
> primitive, true religion of monotheism, related to heliocentrism (something
> pretty close to the Neoplatonic view that the sun and its light represent
> the divine presence in the world), and that in the days of Noah idolators
> arose and they lost their correct cosmological understanding together with
> their monotheism. Of course, monotheism for Newton was exactly that,
> monotheism in the very Jewish sense; God exists but only as the Father, not
> as the Son and Holy Spirit.
> No way do I attribute this view to you, Peter, it moves in a very different
> direction. But I'm seeing this part of the Bible perhaps now more clearly
> as leading Newton to think this.
> ted

What an honour to be placed beside Newton! ;-) I didn't know about this view
of his. My remark was very simply motivated by the following thoughts:
Polytheism is a degenerated worldview if compared with monotheism (in this I
disagree with the pseudoevolutionary ideas of some liberal theologians who
used to claim that animism slowly evolved into polytheism which evolved into
monotheism). Rather, pre-humans became humans by the creative act of God
proclaimed in Gen.1:27, i.e. a new, spiritual dimension was created in them.
In this way, these humans must have been enabled, for the first time, to
enter into a personal relationship with God. God specifically revealed
himself to them as the unique and only God who created them and all around
them, and correspondingly he spoke to them in a blessing (v.28-30). What
place then for polytheism, at this early stage?


Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Wed Feb 25 15:18:50 2004

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