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

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Tue Dec 01 2009 - 15:39:57 EST

Hi Bill,

I think my theory of scripture is rather more radical than anything the average evangelical would consider kosher (I don't wear the "evangelical" label myself - it's a vacuous term). In that respect I don't think it's understood that when I say that theology, not history, is the point of scripture, I mean exactly that.

This doesn't mean that the scriptural record has no historical grounding - even a liberal Christian will acknowledge that it does: even if that historical grounding is in the existential religious experience of the individual(s) who formulated and recorded the stories.

In that respect, the real issue for me is not the character of God, but the nature of scripture.

And in that respect, I don't know that one can argue from "God is a god of history" to "The bible is a book of history."

Indeed one could argue, for any X, that "God is a god of X" therefore "The bible is a book of X" until the cows come home. e.g. "God is a god of poetry" therefore "the bible is a book of poetry" etc.

Might scripture narrate history in perfect detail, including a naked pair of first humans dwelling in a garden somewhere in the middle east some 4000 years B.C. Well, it's a logical possibility, I guess.

My view is simply that there's no compelling reason to presume that sort of historical intent on the part of the authors of Scripture.

But to assume that because certain passages of scripture are mythical rather than historical therefore there's NO connection to history? It's an argument that doesn't hold up, in my view.

Particularly not when one sees that people groups who still function in an oral / mythical mode of discourse pretty much evidence precisely this sort of approach in action: telling stories which appear historical, but in which the "facts" of history are of very minor interest to the narrators and the hearers.


> Murray:
> Whenever someone says, as you do, that
> "the really important issues in Genesis are not historical, but
> theological,"
> I always ask whether it would make any difference if the "history"
> depicted
> never happened at all.
> Suppose God didn't create them male and female. Suppose that it never
> happened that they were naked and unashamed.
> If the history never occurred, what exactly is the "theological" point.
> I don't think it's so easy to separate what God does from His nature.
> I don't think you would completely divorce the Genesis story from history,
> would you? You might say God didn't exactly create men and women in this
> way,
> but He somehow was involved. They were never naked and unashamed, but God
> somehow intended that they be equal creations (of some sort).
> God is a god of history, an Incarnated God. I have no intention of
> relegating
> God to the realm of ideas, no matter how glorious.
> bill
> On Sat, 28 Nov 2009 06:49:26 +1100, Murray Hogg <>
> wrote:
>> Hi Iain,
>> I meant to get back to you much earlier on the below, but other things
>> intervened...
>> First, very happy to hear that you and yours are safe after the
>> earthquakes. The entire business has fallen off the radar screen here
>> and I'm left wondering how the recovery efforts are going in the worst
>> hid areas?
>> But on to your remarks about Papuans and the OT...
>> One of the more interesting books I've ever read is Lynette Oates
>> "Hidden People" which describes their missionary work amongst the
>> Binumarien of PNG's Eastern Highlands Province. Amongst other things she
>> describes the process of translation of the Scriptures into the local
>> language.
>> The part that really strikes me - for present purposes - is the
>> description, in chapter 16, of the translation of Genesis 1ff - in
>> particular v.27; "Male and female he created them."
>> To us this seems a pretty innocuous verse, but for the Binumarien? Well,
>> when Sisia (the local guy assisting with the translation) heard this
>> verse, he adamently refused to accept it being, as it is, direct attack
>> upon the Bianumarien's own creation story which enshrines their own
>> attitude of female inferiority. In their view, God created two men, one
>> of whom was punished for sinning against God by being turned into a
> female.
>> Wisely Des Oatridge - the guy doing the translation work - suggested
>> they just pass it over and go on. To which Sisia agreed - although not
>> with incredibly good grace apparently!
>> Anyway they worked their way down to Genesis 2:25 ("They were both
>> naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.") at which point Des
>> asked the question of Sisa: if God created two men "in the beginning"
>> how is it that they could be naked together and not be ashamed?
>> Oates goes on to describe Sisia's struggle with this idea - how the
>> implication MUST be the equality of the sexes. And, despite his cultural
>> prejudices, he accepted this new piece of teaching from the Scriptures.
>> Not only that, Oates describes how - a soon a the day's translation work
>> was completed - Sisia went out to the other villagers and started to
>> proclaim the equality of men and women to them also.
>> Needless to say this was not immediately received with much rejoicing -
>> but it was not only accepted but lead, eventually, to a radical change
>> in many of the villager's attitudes. In particular, they gave up their
>> old practice of forcing women to leave the village in order to give
>> birth. Quite a shocking reversal of tribal tradition.
>> And the point of all this...
>> Is that, unlike most Westerners, the Bianumarien understood that the
>> really important issues in Genesis are not historical, but theological
>> and they read the text on that level.
>> 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 - but I still think that there would be
>> some advantage for us in remembering that Scripture is always first a
>> theological document albeit sometimes dressed in "historical" garb. That
>> might serve to allow us to redirect some of the energy spent arguing
>> over evolution in more constructive directions.
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
>>> Hash: SHA1
>>> Murray Hogg wrote:
>>>> Hi Iain,
>>>> I found the below to be very interesting indeed.
>>>> Your facebook page (and e-mail!) tells me you're in Indonesia, so I'm
>>>> wondering (most importantly) did you escape the recent earthquakes
>>>> unscathed? I hope your family, friends, and colleagues are all okay
> if,
>>>> indeed, you're in the quake zone.
>>> Hi Murray. Thanks, yes, I have been in Indonesia some 24 years now. And
>>> yes, we are all safe. I have no family in the area affected although we
>>> did have a strong quake close to home but no damage to us.
>>>> Other than that, can I ask what people group you're working among?
> Where
>>>> in Indon are they? And are the predominantly Christian, Muslim, or
>>>> other? And, if Christian (or Muslim), do they follow the usual
> practice
>>>> of maintaining their origins stories alongside their Biblical/Koranic
>>>> understanding?
>>> I am in the "lost" province of papua so we are working mostly with
>>> Papuans. However, demographics indicate that probably at least 1/2 the
>>> people we work with in the urban areas are non-Papuans (read: Asians).
>>> Papua is majority Christian and Animistic but since Indonesia is
> islamic
>>> we also have a lot of work with people of the Muslim faith.
>>> The Papuans who are mostly Christian still maintain very strong links
> to
>>> their cultures and beliefs. It is quite fascinating because their is a
>>> duality going on that would disturb a western socratic logic-process
> but
>>> is quite acceptable to them.
>>> Of course cultural changes and upheavals mean that much will be and is
>>> being lost.
>>> What is striking is how often Papuans have told me how they relate so
>>> much better to the OT (as opposed to the NT) because culturally they
> see
>>> many similarities. Also, the interaction of the spirit world on the
>>> physical world as depicted in the OT is very much in line with their
>>> beliefs. As a random example, when my father related the story of Jacob
>>> wrestling with the angel, they responded quite matter of factly because
>>> they too (apparently) had spirit creatures visit their huts, choose a
>>> man, and wrestle him till dawn.
>>>> I see your with the Clinton Foundation - so you're engaged in some
> sort
>>>> of social development work?
>>> Yup, I have been working in the NGO field ever since I left Uni, first
>>> in the private sector and now in the public. Our work is centred on
>>> HIV/AIDS treatment, supply chain management etc etc. Very very scary
>>> stuff,
>>>> Feel free to answer off-list if you don't want to air your laundry in
>>>> public!
>>> Nice to meet you btw :)
>>> - ---------
>>> Acting Progrm Director
>>> []
>>> SKYPE: iain-holuwon
>>> Mobile1: +62 (0)812 484 8678
>>> Mobile2: +62 (0)812 490 1406
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Received on Tue Dec 1 16:02:46 2009

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