Re: Indonesian origin stories (was Re: [asa] Re: Reading Genesis theologically NOT historically)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Tue Dec 01 2009 - 15:56:49 EST

IW wrote:
> I think you are on to something. This is one reason I think the OT is so
> relevant to them. To them it is the spirit world interacting with the
> real world in a way they know and understand. And whilst often times
> some of their experiences can be explained away scientifically, some of
> them really really cannot. I have myself experienced things that some
> sceptics here would swear there must be a "rational" explanation
> (ignoring that it may still be rational to assign spirit acts to
> physical events) that defy 'normal' explanation.

Yes, I think the pervasive supernaturalism of many people groups means that certain stumbling blocks are done away with.

Yet an acquaintance of mine tells an interesting story of an Aboriginal who came to him asking about "the Young Fella" (Jesus). When my acquaintance began with OT background the Aboriginal brushed him off: "No, No. We already know about the Old Fella. We already got our Dreaming. What I want to know is; tell me about the Young Fella."

So here we see another tribal approach in which Jesus is seen as the "fulfilment" of an entire "pagan" world-view - the "New Testament of Christ" vs the "Old Testament of the Dreaming."

It's not a rejection of the OT per se. And certainly it doesn't entail any difficulty with the supernatural elements. Rather it shows just how pervasive is the idea that origins stories are tied to particular tribes. The Aboriginal concerned was clearly influenced by the idea that "we" (i.e. "my tribe") have got "our" Dreaming - a Dreaming shared by no other. So it's quite natural for him to regard the OT as the Jewish Dreaming - of relevance to no other tribe save that of the Jews.

All sorts of interesting lines of theological reflection emerge from this point!

> It is also interesting (for eg) when one old papuan lady who had just
> received her OT in her native language asked "where did Cain and Abels
> wives come from?" Before I could answer she added, "God provided." To
> them the spirit world always provides - even when the 'human' answer is
> known. The how did not really matter. There were bigger issues. Our
> scientific socratic minds want to know the literal how of it. Perhaps it
> is not important.
> I might add, and this goes back to genealogies (and their skipping)
> mentioned here before, that the tribal people where I grew up maintained
> a genealogy of 7 generations. They knew that in fact there had been
> more but they maintained a genealogy of relevance to them. Part fact,
> part story.

And scant concern as to which part is which?

>> Of course, they don't have to process the scientific issue as we in the
>> West do - so they're at the advantage that they *can* focus on the
>> theology rather than the history -
> Agreed. Imagine too translating into a language words that have no
> equal, indeed, no SUCH thing. How do you translate "Whiter than snow?"
> when snow is unknown? Lamb of the world when you have no lambs? Bread of
> life when you have no bread? The biblical ancients did not have the
> science we had today and their text, focused on theology, reflects that.
> Remote papuan tribes have neither the science nor the TERMS to
> describe some of what is found in the Bible. Either theology is what is
> at stake and their ignorance of these matters is irrelevant, or ...
> otherwise. :)
> Just FYI, my father answered the above translation issues with,
> "Cockatoos feather, Pig of the world ,(pigs have incredible value in
> their culture and were often sacrificed), sweet potato of life.
> This changed the original translation but not the theology. :)

Yes, I think there could be a really interesting book to be written by a person interested to accumulate as many such stories as possible. I've never known a person working in a foreign culture who didn't have to deal with this issue, and that it turns up in biblical translation is inevitable. And once it crops up, the implications - even for our understanding of scripture - can be profound.

Actually, I imagine it would be an interesting project to write a biblical commentary which focuses simply upon how certain passages / words were translated in particular contexts and why. That would be fun!


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Received on Tue Dec 1 15:57:07 2009

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