Re: [asa] "Evolutionary Creation" book comments

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Sep 30 2009 - 16:27:29 EDT

Hi David,

Out of all your remarks I'd like, if I may, to focus upon the below as I think it quite an important issue;

I wrote;
> I have been trying to make the point that pre-modern cultures focus
> almost entirely on the meaning of a story whilst treating its form
> with what we might consider a degree of almost reckless abandon.

To which David's response;
> Is that perhaps a hermeneutical principle?

My answer;

Not in the first instance. In the first instance it's an observation of how transmission of oral tradition in ancient cultures actually works.

I tried some months ago to make this point with respect to Australian Aboriginals. Their Dreamtime stories are intended primarily as a means of conveying messages of cultural significance. They are not stories about what happened "back then" but stories about what matters in the present.

This is not to say they have no historical element - they most certainly do. But narrating history is not the point, and as a consequence it turns out that the stories are repeated with, shall we say, a degree of fluidity in regard of historical details.

What's interesting, furthermore, is the way in which prominent ancestors are "embedded" in the stories - it's not unknown to find two different groups telling a substantially identical story but with the main character altered such that s/he is from the tribe of the narrator. Dave Fischer is, I think, onto something significant in his idea that Adam was a real historical person who has been "written in" to a story of tribal significance to the early Israelites.

Similar points could be made regarding North American Indian historiography. Anybody interested in pursuing the subject could do worse than starting with Peter Nabakov's 'A Forest of Time: American Indian Ways of History' (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002).

Now, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to read the sort of assumptions I'm making here;

1) That the early chapters of Genesis have their origins in oral tradition (Peter Enn's 'Inspiration and Incarnation' deserves a mention here - see particularly chapter 2 on OT and ANE literature and the point that in the ANE the only way to preserve texts was on cumbersome tablets of clay or stone - not a medium practicable for Israel's nomadic ancestors)

2) That the way these oral traditions functioned and were transmitted was not unique but share affinity with oral tradition as it occurs in EVERY other culture on the planet.

3) Along with 2), that these oral traditions share little affinity with modern Western modes of history.

4) Therefore, that the POINT of the narrative is theological rather than historical/scientific (although YES there are elements of both "ancient history" and "ancient science" embedded in there).

5) That those groups which depend upon oral tradition are perfectly capable of distinguishing "the facts of the narrative" from "the meaning of the story" and, therefore, we are justified in making such a distinction.

6) That the truth or falsity of Genesis is found, not by comparing "the facts of the narrative" with whatever facts we can glean from modern science or history, but rather by comparing "the meaning of the story" with a Christian theology which has the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ at its centre.

There's much more I could say, but I've said enough to get back to your question about whether my comment above is a hermenutical principle. And my response is this;

What I'm doing in the first instance is not putting a hermeneutic principle, but rather a quite uncontroversial claim drawn from the scientific study of culture (cultural anthropology) regarding the transmission of tradition in pre-modern cultures.

Next, I'm using this to establish the literary genre of Genesis.

And only THEN am I putting forward a hermenutical principle, viz; "Disregard the scientific/historical issues in Genesis and read the text as a story conveying theological meaning from a Christological perspective".

The separation of "science" and "history" from "theological meaning" is justified on the basis that this is EXACTLY what happens in pre-modern oral traditions.

I'll only add that, for those wondering what legitimises this principle; well, it's largely theological and based on questions surrounding the action of the Holy Spirit and the historical process of canonization. I urge the reading of Genesis from a Christological perspective because Genesis is Christian scripture and THAT is how Christian scripture ought to be read (again, Peter Enn's, I&I is helpful, this time chapter 4 on intepretation of the OT in the NT).


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Received on Wed Sep 30 16:28:12 2009

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