Re: [asa] Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically

From: Pete Enns <>
Date: Sun Oct 04 2009 - 07:48:55 EDT

Allow me to add, too, my general voice of assent to the direction this
discussion has taken.

An eminently defensible thesis is that Gen 1-11 is an act of self-
definition of later Israelites, placing their story in a primeval
context. It is tangentially about universal issues and primarily about
Israelite beginnings: "we were there from of old." The presence of
other humans already in Gen 4 suggests that the "Adam line" is about
one particular subset of humans, i.e., Israel. The story of the
"first humans" foreshadows Israel: God's special people who disobey
and suffer exile, with a little background noise of grace (new clothes
for Adam and Eve, Cain's mark, Noah's escape). The apparently anti-
Babylonian polemic (Gen 1 and 11) frames the story and suggests an
exilic/postexilic final form.

However one cares to parse the details, What Gen 1-11 is not is an
"account" of human origins that can be in reasonable conversation with
modern historical inquiry.

For what it's worth--and I am not suggesting this is directly relevant
for us here--contemporary OT scholarship has more or less come to the
conclusion that the events up to the monarchy are essentially mythic
(in the case of Gen 1-11) or legendary (Patriarchs, Exodus, Conquest),
the latter being connected to some viable historical memory but as it
stands not fundamentally a true historical record (something like King
Arthur or Robin Hood). The histories have been shaped over a lengthy
period of oral and written transmission until we get to the official
forms we have in our Bible's, which are later reflections of Israel's
self-identity hammered out in the cold reality of the exile, where
Israel was asking itself "are we still the people of God?" The OT is
their reflection on who they are, how they got to where they are, and
the character of the God they serve--which I would suggest is actually
pretty radical stuff. (Parenthetically, this is why Chronicles is last
in the Hebrew OT. It is an overt reassessment of what it means to be
"Israel" in the wake of the return from Babylon--and it begins with
Adam. I think Chronicles contains in a nutshell what I am saying here.
It is the most retrospective book in the OT, and has, I think, the
clearest messianic themes--messianic meaning the hoped for torah-
centered king who will lead the Israelites back to their former glory,
a hope that was still very much at work in Jesus' day and which Jesus
redefined--but I digress).

Again, that is all just "for what it's worth." The contemporary
discussions about the OT and historicity are centered on David and the
early monarchy: is there any history there? Genesis through Judges is
very much in their rear view mirror--and I say that without suggesting
that we should do likewise.

Pete Enns

On Oct 4, 2009, at 12:17 AM, IW wrote:

> Hash: SHA1
> Murray Hogg wrote:
>> What people fail to grasp is that ancient peoples are not benighted
>> moronic sub-humans with no grasp of the fact that their tribe is
>> NOT the
>> only tribe on the planet. They are perfectly aware that their origins
>> stories don't, by-and-large, serve as a universal human story and
>> that
>> they don't, by-and-large, account for OTHER tribal groups origins.
>> Rather they regard their stories as "our story" whilst those of other
>> tribes are "their story" and there is scant consideration given to
>> reconciling the two. I am reminded of a remark of Nabokov: "<snip>
>> What's critical here (and very relevant to the remarks in your
>> post) is
>> that the tribal stories connect to persons, events, and places
>> which are
>> significant in the tribal context. I
> I have been following these posts with great interest. I am for all
> intents and purposes in agreement with Murray and in particular your
> emphasis on relationship.
> I would add that what you refer to (when looking at the aborginal
> creation myths) is very similar to what I see in my neck of the woods.
> The stories told are clearly mythological but historical insomuch as
> they do report on a historical reality. Interestingly they are always
> told as if they are the ONLY people and yet at the same time the
> tribes
> are very aware that other tribes and people's exist.
> Their stories show clear migration and historical events - but these
> are
> described through the myth. So whilst pigs and dogs do not talk and
> people did not originate out of holes in the ground - they did follow
> the routes the myths lay out.
> Interestingly each succeeding generation that tells its story tell
> a set number of generations (Their oral history). So my father
> recounts
> x generations, his father x generation,s his father x generations
> and x
> never changes even though people are aware that in fact, the
> generations
> are in change (death and birth).
> Thus the stories tell what is essential for the culture only marking
> the
> people and generations of note.
> I have oft struggled with those who insist on a literal historical
> reading of Genesis as if the writers (who were almost certainly
> recording orally held stories) were born in the Western world
> sometimes
> in the last 100 years or so.
> ANyhow, thanks again Murray for your clear thinking and for helping me
> understand some of this in a way I had not seen before.
> Iain
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Received on Sun Oct 4 07:50:07 2009

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