On one of my favorite cartoon sites, ASBO Jesus, a recent cartoon led to a long discussion, which led to a discussion of the historicity of Genesis. Here’s my summary.
Q: what is it about the writing of genesis that leads you to think it was ever meant to be an actual historic account?
I was very impressed by the interview and book by Joel Heck, which I briefly discussed in Is Genesis Metaphorical or Historical? As I wrote there:
I was impressed with his answers, and learned some new reasons why Genesis should be interpreted as history, not metaphor, and that Chapter 2 should be seen, not as a recapitulation, but as a detailed examination of the 6th day (the creation of man). His explanation of why the verbs in Chapter 2 should be interpreted as past tense (God ‘had planted’, not God ‘planted’) easily clears up the ‘problems’ with chronologies.
Here’s an overview of why I believe it to be literal (though it may contain short passages of poetry, like 1:27, in which you can see some obvious parallelism, but that’s not to say that the story is mythological):
- Ps 38:4-7 *is* a poetic description of Creation (so is Job 38), contrast against Genesis, you’ll see a vast difference – Genesis is *not* in the typical Judaic poetic form.
- Note that “these are the generations of” is used to introduce genealogies, which joins the earlier sections to the current. So which of the genealogies are mythological?
- Luke tracks Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam – so where does it cross into myth?
- The new testament always seem to refer to creation as a literal event, taking Genesis literally. See the following passages and decide for yourself – a metaphoric reading might work, but it seems more of a strain than the natural reading of Genesis: John 1:1-5, Romans 1:20, 5:12-21, 2 Cor 4:6, Eph 5:31, 1 Tim 2:11-14, Heb 4:4, 6:7-8, 11:3.
- Jesus seems to refer to the Genesis story, including Adam and Eve, as historic: Mt 19:4-8, Mark 13:19, Luke 11:50-51, Mark 10:6.
Let me ask you a couple questions from the other direction:
1. What indicates to you that these passages are NOT historical?
2. When does Genesis turn into history? At Adam? Noah? Abraham? Moses? And why?
Adam might be your best bet, since you could claim that only the creation up till that point was metaphoric.
If Noah is your last ‘mythological’ character, what about his sons and the tons of details it mentions, including names, places, the table of nations coming from them, etc? Where is the shift from legend/myth to history?
3. Do you take this position primarily because you think that science has proven an old universe and evolution?
I would contend that anyone who takes the metaphoric approach will also be an evolutionary believer, and by extension, a believer in an old universe since long epochs are required to overcome the statistical impossibility of evolution (and secondarily that they have looked at the science dating the universe).
This correlation might not always be causation, at least consciously, but I’d bet it’s more influential in peoples’ minds than they can see or admit.