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

From: Dick Fischer <>
Date: Mon Oct 05 2009 - 13:19:28 EDT
Hi George:
"Emissary" is my word, "the image of God" is the biblical term.  When Christ was said to be in God's image in the NT he was God's representative to mankind or mankind's intermediary with God depending on how you view that.  And, of course, we all know Christ was God incarnate.  The role of mediary was the role Adam was to have fulfilled.

Yours faithfully,

Dick Fischer,

Oct 3, 2009 02:36:20 PM, wrote:

Dick -
I can't think of a single biblical text that says "that Adam was God’s emissary to mankind."  Adam (of course with Eve) is pictured simply as the penultimate source of humankind & simply is "the man," the human, in Gen.2 & 3.  He is also the source of human death in some sense - "in Adam all die."  But, as I said, I can't think of anything in the canon that says he was an "emissary."  Where does God tell him to be one?  The task he's given is to gurad and serve the garden.  Extra-canonical texts of course take off in various other directions.
Now you'll immediately reply that a single male human wasn't the ancestor of all humans, the cause of human death, &c, & I'll agree.  You'll complain that my understanding of Adam (& that of others here) gets rid of his historical reality.  My complaint, OTOH, is that you ask us to sell our theological birthright for a mess of pseudo-historical pottage.  
& so you don't take the term "pseudo-historical" the wrong way - I don't discount the fact that you've assembled a lot of interesting historical data about the ANE.  But the claim that that's what early Genmesis is talking about is another matter.   
----- Original Message -----
From: Dick Fischer
To: ;
Sent: Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:15 PM
Subject: Re: Re: [asa] Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically

Hi Murray:

I think all of us on this list would readily agree that regardless of whether Adam was real or made up it would be impossible at that late date for him to have commenced the human race.  The place and timing is all wrong unless you posit hundreds of missing generations.  The error in my opinion very early in Christianity was that Jewish history was accepted as human history.  And nothing was known about anthropology to apply a damper on that mistake.

So if we can accept that Adam was God’s emissary to mankind and was to bring all humanity under the umbrella of God’s grace through his intended example of sheer obedience, then the only question is whether there was such a person or whether he is fictional.

As you all know I fall on the side of all of Genesis 2-11 being a fairly accurate although highly selective representation of the history of the Adamite/Semite race during the 3,000 year period leading up to Abraham.  There are too many historical tie ins with ANE literature to ignore.

What I think we are overlooking is that we have only a tiny fraction of the literature and historical writings that were produced ever since the Sumerians invented writing.  We do have some of the clay tablets produced prior to the destruction of Sumer around the time Abraham departed for the land of Canaan. 

The use of papyrus increased portability but it wouldn’t last.  The only reason we have Genesis at all is thanks to countless Hebrew scribes who throughout the centuries laboriously copied the sacred scrolls.  Ancillary material has almost all been lost.  The library at Babylon was destroyed.  The library in Jerusalem was destroyed.  Whatever may have been in Rome was destroyed.

So today we have only a small amount of corroborative evidence that attests to the historicity of Genesis.  The city Cain built was named in the Sumerian King List.  Jubilees corroborates Genesis even naming the wives of the patriarchs.  Josephus in his section about Adam talks about Cain and Abel, then he says about Adam: “He had, indeed, more children, and among them Seth.  As for the rest, it would be tedious to name them.”

That indicates to me Josephus knew the names but didn’t record them.  Would those names have bee the same or similar to the names written on Egyptian pyramids that did include Seth?  Alas, we will never know.

All the Genesis motifs are incorporated in ANE literature and on cylinder seals.  Genesis has a “tree of life” and cylinder seals show angels and kings tending the sacred tree.  The serpent too is part of the culture having stolen the life giving plant and thereby gaining eternal life.  Adam (Atum, Adapa, Adamu) is corroborated.  Cain, Abel and Seth are corroborated,  Enoch, Lamech (Su-kur lam), Noah (Ziusudra, Atrahasis, Utnapishtim), Terah and Abraham are all corroborated.

You all can debate whether the science of the day is good, bad or indifferent, but the history looks to be fairly accurate or at least it can be substantiated.  So in lieu of any reasons or contrary evidence that would negate their depiction of history I would give Genesis the benefit of the doubt.

Dick Fischer

Oct 3, 2009 09:01:31 AM, wrote:
Hi Greg,

To deal with the easy question first: most commentators note a distinct difference between Genesis 1-11 (the "primordial history") and the rest of the book. I have no reason to question that judgement and so would suggest that once Genesis begins to narrate the story of Abraham we have passed from something like "myth" to something like "history" - although I would use neither term ("myth" or "history") without some qualification.

The rest - on whether one can precisely delineate "humans" from the rest of the created order - well, I think this argument won't go very far. It's really just the age old question of how we precisely define ANYTHING i.e. are definitions merely functional, or do they denote real categories of conceptual or actual things? Are they proscriptive or descriptive? How much does a thing have to be "chairlike" before it's "really" a chair? etc, etc, and so on.

But putting this to one side for a brief moment, let me just turn to what I think is the one claim which undergirds your entire objection;

> The issue at hand is that if you’ve got no Homo/Adam, then you’ve got no
> sin either

My own position, to put it in a nutshell, is that sin isn't primarily an issue of disobedience but of relationship. And I think that every individual (of whatever species) has the ability to relate to God albeit according to its own capabilities.

Another way of putting this: I expect more from my fellow humans than I do from a dog (and I suspect the same can be said of the Almighty).

And to the extent that a dog does not live up to my expectations, then it can, indeed, be said to "sin" (although doggy sins are, invariably, of a quite trifling doggy sort).

By extension, this applies in that grey area between the pre-human and the fully human. God, I imagine, is quite capable of determining what HIS expectations are in respects of any particular individual - regardless of whether we can precisely delineate the species to which that individual belongs - and I imagine they are higher in respects of humans than of pre-humans.

In respects of humans, I believe that God's expectation is that we love him unconditionally - which is to say "to the extent that we are able". And if the ability to love God is a matter of a gradient such that humans have greater capacity to love God than do our pre-human ancestors, then where precisely is the problem?

Doubtless this could all be expressed more concisely, but the bottom line is this: I simply don't see ANY issue arising from the notion that humans have an evolutionary ancestry. If it IS the case that our species cannot be precisely delineated, and that our capacities to love and to respond to God differ from a pre-human ancestor only by a matter of degree, if there was, in other words, no "first" human but only a creature "more human than ape" then I think that the only thing that follows is that this creature's response to God should reflect that very fact.

I'm sure you'll let me know if this doesn't speak to your concerns.


Gregory Arago wrote:
> Hi Murray,
> You write: “our choices arise not out of our free-will, but out of our
> enslaved will - i.e. out of our desire to please ourselves rather than
> to please God.”
> Yes, I agree.
> “Gen 1/2 isn't written according to the criteria of modern
> historiography and we really must, I think, make a concerted effort NOT
> to put historical questions to the text.” – Murray
> Yes, no problem here either.
> “[C]onservative evangelicals have been so obsessed by the historical
> issue, they have utterly disregarded the theological message” – Murray
> Maybe yes. I don’t know. Not a conservative evangelical myself and
> couldn’t be a proselytising evangelical in good faith where I live
> because of Orthodox Christianity, a powerful and (in recent times)
> rapidly growing force (though evangelicals have made inroads to the
> Spirit of the people here too). Nevertheless, the theological message of
> course should be given its rightful place, along with the aspects of
> Genesis that simply *are* historical.
> There is thus no disagreement with reading Genesis theologically.
> Rather, what I was promoting was *reading history historically*. But
> you’ve avoided the question of history in your analysis (just like I
> avoided Genesis in my previous message), Murray, which is the opposite
> extreme to the conservative evangelicals about which you speak. The
> question that a neo-Enlightenment thinker, i.e. many of whom exist today
> in ‘the west,’ would of course ask you is: what is the first moment in
> Genesis that you consider ‘historical’? For me (as a
> post-neo-Enlightenment thinker, but what can we be called now?), this is
> obviously not as important a question as the theological messages that
> are conveyed in the text.
> What I was writing about, however, was not a commentary on Genesis, but
> rather about history, the way things actually happened, which is
> sometimes (but not always) on a different plane or dimension than the
> theological issues which you so rightfully and eloquently and
> passionately raise.
> What I was saying can be summarized in two positions, using a
> logico-historical approach: 1) the first ‘hominid’ Homo is ADAM, a real
> historical figure, flesh and blood (+) because simply and irrefutably
> (in terms of *both* conceptual and empirical classification) “there must
> have been a first”. That first human *is* Adam (which means 'man'), by
> definition (and it might even be Dick Fischer’s Adam!). Those who
> disagree with this are baffling to me and seem to be
> intentionally illogical.
> One cannot make an attempt at classification without positing a “first
> example,” or "new pattern," though, we might not be able to pinpoint or
> identify precisely when or where (and certainly there is no ‘fossil of
> ADAM’ to prove a point by modern science) that ‘first human’ existed. If
> you don’t want to classify (e.g. nose from not-yet nose), that’s fine.
> But then you bid farewell to the so-called ‘progress’ of modern science,
> which is indeed based now on a classification system or systems. We (as
> human persons) are classified as /homo sapiens sapiens (/kingdom
> /animalia/ or /symbolica)/, and there simply *must have been a first* of
> us or else we couldn’t be human either (cf. Buckminster Fuller’s quote
> about not being a noun, but a verb, an evolutionary process – this is
> the ‘total evolutionistic’ opposition to what I am stating as a
> logico-historical fact, informed by my ‘knowledge’ in the
> electronic-information age of mass science, rationalistic though it may
> be; forgive me for that, since in the previous message I was speaking of
> MYSTERY, as was Denis Lamoureux).
> The issue at hand is that if you’ve got no Homo/Adam, then you’ve got no
> sin either unless you are saying (other) animals also sin/sinned. Is
> that what you’re suggesting? If not, then there doesn’t seem to be any
> problem in agreeing with the bare minimum point that I am making. The
> theological message of the /Genesis/ text stands on its own and is not
> compromised in any way by accepting point 1.
> You write: “One should be able to get over the HISTORICAL question of
> "when did it happen".”
> The point of 1 is a simple admission that ‘it did happen in time’ (and
> space) and there is inevitably an historical (and spatial) dimension.
> Your point, however, is a valid one too in that the main message of the
> /Genesis/ text is *not* an historical one. So what we have here is
> simply a ‘fact’ of history (i.e. there must have been a first human,
> which we call Adam), which we cannot exactly measure (i.e. when or where
> or what exactly happened), but which is significant for each human
> person today, yesterday and tomorrow. Am I properly understanding your
> message, Murray and are we on the same page?
> You write further: “In consequence of this, I don't see the need to
> posit some point in human evolutionary history when the capacity to make
> free moral choices arose (either by emergence or by divine gift) and
> which then was lost through an act of disobedience.”
> The issue is not your *need* to posit “some point in history,” from a
> theological point of view. It is rather the logical conclusion that
> there simply *must be* “some point in history” when it happened, or in
> other words, “it didn’t happen in a vacuum!” (One might add, “no matter
> what liberalist or neo-liberalist theology today says.”) What is needed
> is a philosophical objection to this claim, and not a theological one. I
> am not speaking now at all about an ancient text known as “Genesis,” but
> rather about logic and history. Bill Powers has addressed this in
> speaking about conceptual classes and empirical classes, which is quite
> helpful, imo.
> Let me add that the whole reason for the existence of this thread is due
> to a ‘doubter’ who claims that since there was *no historical moment* of
> Adam’s sin, therefore the entire edifice upon which Christianity is
> built, i.e. its historical (in addition to its ‘supposed,’ – i.e. ‘as
> you guys ascribe to it’ – theological) reality, simply breaks down.
> What I am proposing is an answer to that position, but in a different
> way than Murray (and others here).
> Notice please that the only answer possible to my claim, which is based
> upon the ‘reality of human uniqueness’ as represented by the historical
> *and* theological ‘fact’ that human beings were/are created ‘in the
> image of God,’ is to say, “no, there was no special moment.” That is,
> the objection is that it (and this is the hot question – is *it* simple
> moral culpability, ethics, a sense of justice, i.e. what is the *it* law
> that *is,* as we believe, written on our hearts before the ‘law’ was
> supposedly historically written on tablets, at another particular
> *moment* in history) supposedly *just happened gradually,* based upon an
> evolutionary paradigm that is *way overstretched,* that is, now into the
> pseudo-philosophical expression *it just emerged!*
> What I am saying denies credibility to such a position by calling it
> what it is: an impoverished *process philosophy* (or epistemology, as
> Denis has suggested is the problem) that discounts ‘origins,’ in this
> case, the ‘origin’ of human sin. Nobody on this list has ever made an
> attempt to speak here on this issue with me (though a few private
> conversations have been wonderful). Probably it is due to the Sensate
> (cf. Sorokin) nature/character of ‘theistic evolutionism’ and
> ‘evolutionary creationism’ as they are now represented in the ‘western’
> mind.
> What is important to indicate, it seems, is that there are situations
> where there is a kind of ‘nexus’ between spiritual time and historical
> time, which is what I was referring to by raising the issue of vertical
> and horizontal. Perhaps this was missed in the rebuttal message?
> So, while I accept fully your theological message, Murray, what I reject
> outright is the philosophical position that conflates ‘origins’ with
> ‘processes.’ Why do I do this, one might ask? Because the power of human
> choice is lost in such a point of view, and this includes the ‘enslaved
> will’ and not just ‘free will.’
> Point 2 is that I agree with what you and George (plus ‘balanced trinity
> theology’ added to ‘theology of the cross’) and Bill and Denis, and
> others here about the following: “sin has power only when one seeks to
> live according to the law AND that the fundamental issue is NOT whether
> I choose to obey God but that "in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good
> dwells,” i.e. that I have a ‘sin nature’ or ‘sin character’ because I am
> a human person. Here we may speak of the unity of humankind, a topic
> both ripe and rotten for HSS in the 21st century.
> When you made the following advice, Murray, I did pay attention:
> “The RIGHT question is NOT "how did sin enter the world" but, rather;
> 1) What is "sin"? and 2) When did humans become morally culpable for it?”
> In other words, I did read Romans 7, as you suggested, discerning the
> theological message, in addition to the historical necessity. Let me
> point out, however, that you also indicate in your RIGHT question that
> ‘when’ is a legitimate feature that we can hope to understand. So I do
> hope you’ll understand where I’m coming from in both respecting your
> theological interpretation of Genesis and insights, while defending the
> historical dimension of said ‘events’ as something inescapably
> important for human self-understanding.
> I reject the generalisation that ‘moral culpability’ could exist within
> *only* a naturalistic or physicalistic interpretation of all kinds of
> history of the universe (i.e. like so many non-theists do these days,
> with their sociologistic moralizing). I’ve no doubt that everyone now
> participating in this thread except for one will accept and agree with
> that. What is needed, however, is something *more,* which is what I’ve
> tried to impress is possible to include, as a nexus, by highlighting the
> *moment* of human choice to sin, which happened *on that day,* in *real
> time.* Denying the history of that moment and that choice, contradicts
> the ‘fact of sin’ yesterday, today and tomorrow until Kingdom come. It
> is that fact that our ‘doubter’ is denying due to evolutionary and
> now emergentist leanings.
> Gregory
> p.s. let me just add that I don’t accept that we have a “natural sense
> of altruism,” as you put it, Murray. Rather, I part here with the man
> who coined the term ‘altruism’ (i.e. A. Comte – ‘love of others’) and
> also with the socio-biologists and evolutionary psychologists who have
> claimed the term as their own nowadays. No, 'altruism' (in a true
> Sorokinian or neo-Sorokinian meaning – and Sorokin is the ‘genius of
> altruism,’ if there ever was one) has a spiritual sense that transcends
> the ‘merely natural’ essence of humanity. There is something more to
> altruism than meets the eye, more than what ‘mere nature’ can convey.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *From:* Murray Hogg <>
> *To:* ASA <>
> *Sent:* Saturday, October 3, 2009 3:47:49 AM
> *Subject:* Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically (was Re: [asa]
> (introducing... sin) "Evolutionary Creation" book comments)
> Hi folks,
> Please bear with me as I try to, once again, steer us away from what is
> a deeply ingrained habit of reading Genesis historically...
> I think that all this talk of sin being a "free choice" is really
> grounded in a rationalist, enlightenment anthropology which bears very
> little semblance to the realities of human nature or, might I add, the
> Biblical witness.
> Here I have to say I find it curious that conservative evangelicals
> maintain such a strong attachment to an Augustinian view of the
> atonement whilst rejecting an Augustinian view of human nature - no
> wonder there's confusion about the issue of sin and atonement!
> Personally, I think Luther was right when he emphasised that our choices
> arise not out of our free-will, but out of our enslaved will - i.e. out
> of our desire to please ourselves rather than to please God.
> I don't see ANYTHING which is contrary to an evolutionary history for
> humans here: evolution is ENTIRELY about survival and reproduction,
> hence entirely about self-preservation, hence guaranteed to produce
> beings who are entirely self-concerned - goodness, even our natural
> sense of altruism is nothing more than "redirected selfishness".
> Thus: "The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God,
> for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are
> spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14)
> What is needed is something to get us beyond such self-absorption.
> In consequence of this, I don't see the need to posit some point in
> human evolutionary history when the capacity to make free moral choices
> arose (either by emergence or by divine gift) and which then was lost
> through an act of disobedience.
> In this I'm simply going to push the line I've been taking: Genesis 1/2
> isn't about history, it's about the right ordering of reality. Not about
> what WAS, but about what SHOULD BE (that's how pre-modern origins
> stories function).
> As such, it might talk about an initial state of innocence from which
> humanity "fell" but this isn't to recount an historical detail. It's to
> make a claim about the true basis of human morality (i.e. that we ought
> to choose the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and
> evil) and the consequence that arises in every person's experience when
> they fail to follow this principle.
> The clue here, I will urge, is Paul's personal experience and the fact
> that it PRECISELY repeats the Genesis story, not as historical event,
> but as the personal experience of the individual. Indeed, the doctrine
> of original sin has ALREADY been "freed from the ancient science and
> reformulated" BY NONE LESS THAN PAUL HIMSELF!!!!! Except, conservative
> evangelicals have been so obsessed by the historical issue, they have
> utterly disregarded the theological message, have obsessed over Paul's
> use of the story "as if" historical (more on which below), and have thus
> totally overlooked the relevance of passages such as Romans 7;
> I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin
> revived and I died. (Rom 7:9)
> In the light of which, I simply can't credit the claim that Paul was
> naive enough to think that Genesis 1/2 was making a historical claim -
> he KNOWS that the "death" of sin is something other than physical death,
> he knows that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is symbolic of
> the law, and he knows that "where there is no law there is no
> transgression" (Rom 4:15). He KNOWS that sin has power only when one
> seeks to live according to the law AND that the fundamental issue is NOT
> whether I choose to obey God but that "in me (that is, in my flesh)
> nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform
> what is good I do not find." (Rom 7:18) and that the ONLY answer to this
> problem is found in acceptance of the redemptive act of God in Christ
> with the subsequent gift of the Spirit (Rom 8:1-11) or, in the words of
> Jesus, "you must be born again" (John 3:7).
> For those who want to argue that Paul, and Jesus, thought Genesis 1/2
> was about history consider this: one of the realities of "myth" is that
> you can NEVER tell by listening to somebody narrating mythical stories
> whether that person thinks the story is "real" or not. We REPEATEDLY
> make reference to all sorts of "fictional" stories-the plays of
> Shakespeare, Aesop's fables, biblical parables, etc, etc-without OUR
> thinking these stories actually happened SO (and here's the critical
> point) why would we think Jesus and Paul talking "as if" Genesis is
> history proves anything about what THEY thought?
> No, just because Paul and Jesus talk "as if" Gen 1/2 is historical
> proves nothing about whether they thought the story is historical.
> Talking "as if" historical is PRECISELY the way such stories are used-by
> tribal cultures, by Paul, by us, and, supremely, even by Jesus himself.
> So, there you have it-either one takes SERIOUSLY the genre of Genesis,
> or one doesn't. And if one does, if one notes the details of the text (a
> talking snake? a flaming sword to guard the tree of life?) and the fact
> that Paul can "recapitulate" the story in his own experience rather than
> seeing is as ONLY something which happens "back in the day" THEN one
> should be able to get over the HISTORICAL question of "when did it happen".
> And THEN one need not respond to a claim that "the story is symbolic" by
> simply reiterating the same hopelessly misguided question "Yes, but WHEN
> did sin enter the world?"
> So, again, and again, and again, and again: Gen 1/2 isn't written
> according to the criteria of modern historiography and we really must, I
> think, make a concerted effort NOT to put historical questions to the
> text. Rather, we should head a remark that George Murphy made some time
> ago and start thinking THEOLOGICALLY about the fact that we are dealing
> with Christian Scripture-inspired by the Spirit, chosen by the Church,
> and interpreted theologically under the guidance of both.
> Blessings,
> Murray
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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