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The Garden of Eden? (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

Gobelki 1.JPG

Michael Kruse brought these articles to my attention earlier this week. An ancient temple at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey revolutionizes thinking about ancient human culture and thought. A prehistoric construction, a “temple” dating from some 8000-12000 years ago.  This is truly an impressive find.  The Smithsonian artice on the find is fascinating: Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? The Daily Mail has an article that is somewhat more sensational (no surprise): Do these mysterious stones mark the site of the Garden of Eden?

Now – I do not think that this is “the
Garden of Eden” (although perhaps some here will disagree) but the archaeological finds stretching into our
distant past do shape how we think of ourselves as a people, as a species.
This construction predates human settlement – dating from a period of
hunters and gatherers.  Yet these people, our ancestors, constructed a truly remarkable
place, many of the carvings and representations are astounding. It is hard to fathom the thought processes that led to this construction. 

Gobelki 2.JPG

From the Smithsonian article: “There’s more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets
[etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today,” says Gary Rollefson,
an archaeologist at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, who is
familiar with Schmidt’s work. “Trying to pick out symbolism from
prehistoric context is an exercise in futility.”

One
of the things that this site may indicate is that the coordinated
effort of humans gathering to construct such a site may have laid the
groundwork for farming, settlement, and the development of complex
societies. This contrasts with the standard paradigm that settlement led to construction of such monuments.

Gobekli Tepe is one of the most impressive finds, but not the only indication of ancient human cultures. The Clovis culture of North and Central America dates to roughly the same time frame (ca. 12000 +/- 1000 years ago).  An article a couple of years ago in Science (Science 23 February 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5815, p. 1122) established dates of ca. 11,050 to 10,800 14C yr B.P. suggesting that this was not the first culture established in the Americas. Mankind had spread around the globe by the time the Gobekli Tepe temple was built. (14C yr is a carbon-14 dating year. There is a calibration between this and the calendar year – but the calibrations all suggest that the carbon-14 year is slightly longer than the calendar year.)

How do we fit this information into our interpretation of scripture? 

Do we let scripture define how we interpret these finds (can’t be so old… 14C dating is flawed…the tower of Babel after all is later than Noah only a few thousand years BC)?

Do we let our new found knowledge dictate our interpretation of scripture – the stories of Genesis are merely etiological creation stories similar to the myths of superstitious cultures around the world?

Or is the relationship more nuanced (as many of us believe)?  If so how?



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Phil Niemi

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:38 am


Not an expert. However, I can still through my two cents in. The relationship must be more nuanced that this, and I think the either the scientific dating is wrong or the bible is wrong is setting up too much of a false dichotomy. I do wish that both fundamentalists and liberals could sit and ruminate on this information longer, rather than drawing immediate and often false conclusions. However, you know conversation is a dangerous thing:)



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Virgil Vaduva

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:46 am


Oh boy…this will rub the Answers in Genesis folks the wrong way! :)



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Geoff Smith

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:07 am


The statement “This construction predates human settlement – dating from a period of hunters and gatherers. ” demonstrates how stuck in the mud archaeologist are although there are a few who can pull their minds free of the mire.
It seems the most obvious thought should be CHANGE THE DATE OF KNOWN HUMAN SETTLEMENT not concoct some story of hunter gatherers deciding to get together to pile stones. Of all the hunter gatherer societies that we have been able to study in the last 100 years none show any inclination to either joining together or to expend energy on such endeavours. Their way of life is already too demanding and they seem to understand group size to available food supplies.
Farmers however have time, while waiting for crops to grow, to consider other activities. The artwork on the stones shown on other sites as well as the cut and arrangement of the architecture is indicative of an established culture.



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RJS

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:12 am


Geoff,
I am not an expert on this site, or in this field – but the reason given for assigning it to a hunter/gatherer society is the evidence of hunting (remains of wild animals as food) and the absence of evidence for cultivation and domestication. But you could be right … and it doesn’t really change the nature of my questions.



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Stephen Barkley

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:22 am


I think a good look at the history of scientific investigation alongside the history of biblical interpretation will lead us to hold any conclusion on this matter in humility.
It seems to me that the answer to your questions will depend on our presuppositions on the matter.
Personally, I take the science at face value, adjusting my interpretation of scripture to fit the data. This sort of discovery doesn’t come close to changing the essence of the gospel: God is active in the world to redeem it, and calls us to jump on board.



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dopderbeck

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:36 am


For me the fascinating question is how something like this could relate to the notion of “Adam” as federal head of humanity. We find it hard to imagine a time before the early Sumerian cities when human culture could have been turning towards (or away from) God, if human culture then was merely a rag-tag diaspora of hunter-gatherers. But here is evidence of astonishingly organized religious / cultic activity very early on! It’s easier to imagine an even earlier time (no, I don’t think this site was “Eden”) when a small group represented by two individuals may have worshiped the one true God and then turned away from Him. It seems there’s lots about primeval human culture that remains buried in the sand or lost forever.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:49 am


These articles led me to speculate this way. What if this actually is a historical place called Eden? Events happened here that in some archetypal way parallel more ancient events that we might think of as “the fall.” Maybe this historical Eden which held such significance to the people of that region was incorporated into God’s revelation to explain a greater reality. There was a weaving of a more ancient reality into this Eden reality to which the ANE folks could relate.
I’m by no means saying this must be the case. I readily accept the scientific record but with all the cautions that should be accorded to scientific findings. I readily accept the biblical narratives truth the humanity entered a state rebellion and we need redemption in Jesus Christ.
How do we reconcile the two? Here is a very simply answer. I don’t know. But neither to feel any need to diminish one truth to preserve the other. There is certain lack of humility, both on the part of the literalist and the philosophical naturalist, to insist that their favored perspective has somehow disqualified the other.
I’m fascinated by exploring the intersection between these realities, and it is a worthwhile exercise, but it doesn’t challenge my relationship with God. On the contrary it deepens it. It reveals to me how much more awesome and mysterious God is than my feeble conceptions of him often make him out to be.



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Virgil Vaduva

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:23 am


Michael, maybe we don’t have to reconcile the two.
At the very least this should prompt us to reconsider the literalism in the creation story. Mircea Eliade often talked about the “symbolism of the center” which was critical to an ancient word, both from religious but also a cultural/social perspective. Compare the tree of life in the center of Eden with the tree of life in the center of New Jerusalem; the rivers, the plentiful fruit, the presence of God in both places, with Eden’s entrance being blocked after the fall vs. the New Jerusalem gates being wide open, etc.
The story is clearly using ancient religious concepts to communicate something, which is both exciting but also frustrating because Christians end up arguing over “six literal days” when that is not the point of the story at all :)



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:57 am


#8 Virgil
What I notice is that the biblical narrative has a distinctive “flow of history” design to it. Redemption in Christ points both backward toward these ancient events and forward to the New Jerusalem. The whole thing is rooted in actual history. Yet the biblical revelation seems to be about literal history through a veil. That is what I find intriguing and makes me want to understand how the two relate.



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BenB

posted March 5, 2009 at 12:23 pm


I think we can say pretty comfortably that this is not the specific Garden of Eden which the Yahwist sought to speak of in Genesis 2-3, though as to whether or not such an ancient “civilization/culture” might have very well been the inspiration for such ANE myths; of this I cannot claim to be any sort of authority.
I also agree that our approach to this information and the Genesis story must be more nuanced than either of the rigid formulations set before. However, I don’t think much more need be stated than many of us have discussed in the Genesis 2-3 sections of Intellectuality and Faith.
I think this doesn’t dictate, as much as it might bolster the already textually clear evidence that this story is most likely mytho-history.
However, I was thinking there has been something we’ve left out quite often in this conversation. Are the 6 days in the story a literal 6 days? Yes. Within the story, the 6 days function as 6 days, and i don’t think we need overlook this. I also think it is very possible that early Hebrews did believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and that God had created a world that had a dome that held up the water above, and had windows to let it out, of which the stars, moon, and sun hung from… and that light itself was in some way independent from the sun, in that it existed independently before the sun.
In speaking of mytho-history, i think we do well to keep our own integrity in saying that they were in fact concerned with the “how” of creation, and in telling a story to explain what they might think (or think they knew) it had all come to be, the story elements might have very well become believed, because, even though they were non-essentials to the story, they didn’t know different and had no reason not to believe them (maybe to varying extents).



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RJS

posted March 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm


BenB,
All of this then touches on what we think of the inspiration of scripture. The writer(s) of Genesis told the story explaining how God created and that God created. But the elements don’t match what we think or know today. So what is inspiration and what is accommodation?
But on the other issue – I am not so sure that the writer of Gen 1 was concerned with a literal creation in 6 days. I think that the story may have a different purpose and the form reflects that purpose.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm


Ben #10
Of course, some will argue that the Gen. 1 creation story was a more recent creation that was formulated the way it was in order to build a case for the sabbath. I’m unpersuaded, but it is one view.



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RJS

posted March 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm


I wouldn’t say “make a case” for sabbath with the implication of “propaganda.”
But I think that the argument for a literary composition formed around the cycle of work + holy rest is a pretty good one.



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LutheranChik

posted March 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm


I think that the Garden of Eden story is a wonderful story with wonderful insights into both the human condition and God’s love for us and desire for relationship with us. I don’t need to “make the Bible come out right” by proving the historical existence of a Garden of Eden in order to appreciate the story; and in fact I think a preoccupation with making the Bible come out right historically/factually can actually detract from the message of the stories.



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BenB

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:13 pm


RJS,
Thanks for the push-back. By the way, in some sense, I’m all for accommodation. However, on the other, i want the text to say what it says. Essentially, to me, the text says what it says, right or wrong. I’m also not sure that the writer is concerned with 6 literal days, but I believe they are there and are a real element of his story.
I’ve been in vast agreement with you throughout much of this, and naturally i have my differences which are nuanced. So, that being said, I’m all for evolution, and I think the creation story, teamed with Romans 5, does say a DEEPER story about death and such. I also tend to like Irenaeus’ idea that creation was not in a mature state, and God was going to take it somewhere (New Creation?), and through the fall, we began walking in the opposite direction, away from what God wanted to do with us.
However, I also want to say that the Bible is pre-scientific and says nothing about the science of creation, that is as we know it. But i’ve been reading through a bunch of good commentaries, and it just seems to me that even though yes, this is a story, it is mytho-historical and the essence of what is being said through the story is important. However, i also want to say that 6 literal days in the story are a reality, though they seek to serve a purpose (the pattern is remarkable, showing God as provider… as well as Micheal Kruse said, possibly instituting sabbath?), and ultimately point to that purpose. I think it’s ok to say that the Genesis account does in fact pose 6 literal days, and whether they are the point or not (I agree, they are not), they should be given their due as far as what a pre-scientific people may have in fact believed.
I guess I heard a little too much about no literal 6 days in Genesis, and while I agree there was no literal 6 days in creation, they are a literal 6 days in the story and would love to see them positioned as such. Ultimately, my point isn’t what the writer of Gen 1 believed, but what was probably believed by almost all upon reading it.
I guess this means I’m saying it’s ok to believe that while the 6 days function for SO much in the story which is good and we can learn from, I think it’s also ok to say that they represent 6 literal days of creation, and the Bible is wrong on that issue. I guess i feel we remove it from concerns of “how,” when most good commentaries I read believe that the “how” was still a concern… but one they had no scientific knowledge of. Therefore there are SOME elements there, that though mytho-historical in order to tell a story, that story was also concerned with telling part of the “how,” and even with a high view of Scripture, we can step out and say “that’s wrong.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm


#15 BenB
I think you may be entirely correct. If I read Jules Verne and he tells a story about a guy circumnavigating the world in 80 “days,” then from the context of the story, from inside the world Verne creates, we are talking about literal days.
If Gen 1 is mytho-historical and tells us truth about our reality, then from inside the story we could quite easily talk about these 24 hour days. But as with Verne’s story, we are left to evaluate what relationship this has with actual history apart from the story.
Furthermore, if we are dealing with pre-scientific cultures for whom describing eons and the processes of creation used would have been incomprehensible, then I think possible God was content for them to understand theses as literal days.



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Jonathan Enns

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm


It is interesting how these dating methods often are very inconsistent, or are based on starting assumptions of unknown facts.
I believe the literal account of Genesis 1 (Six 24 Hour days).
I think scripture, where specific, must define how we interpret the general revelation around us. I believe scripture does allude to many scientific truths regarding celestial things, the earth, seasons etc…
If I begin interpreting scripture allegorically/metaphorically in one place where context does NOT demand it, my hermeneutic can change to allow me to interpret it similarly wherever I want. If I don’t like what it says, or don?t agree with it, this method of interpretation lends itself to allowing me to believe whatever I want about scripture, even if it is not what the authorial intent was.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:54 pm


#17 Jonathan
The Bible consists of multiple genres between books and within books. I think your hermeneutic is every bit as prone to error as the allegorical/metaphorical error. No one here is suggesting that we explain away every passage we have trouble with based on metaphors when ever we want. That is a bit unfair.
If anywhere else we read a story of talking snakes and magical trees would immediately recognize it as having mythical qualities. We see parallels (and departures) from other Ancient Near East myths. We should be inclined to see that Genesis stories are of a particular genre. Just as we would not read the Song of Solomon in literal terms, neither should we read these stories written in a different genre as literal history. The text makes no claim to be literal history in the sense we post-enlightenment westerners would think of it. That is something we bring to the text through our hermeneutic.
A default to historical-literal interpretations without regard for genre and external information is every bit as perilous as finding metaphor every time you meet a challenging passage.



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AHH

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:56 pm


Ben B #15,
I mostly track with you in observing that the Genesis 1 story presents things as normal “days” (so I’m not a fan of concordist attempts to map the “days” onto geologic ages), and in observing that the evidence in God’s creation is clear that 6 24-hour days is not how God did things. But I don’t think it follows that “the Bible is wrong on that issue.”
Have you heard of the “framework interpretation” of Genesis 1? It is most closely associated with the late OT scholar Meredith Kline, but is pretty widely held in various forms. It freely affirms that the story presents normal 24-hour “days”, but holds that the structure of these 6 “days” is a “literary framework” not intended to correspond to any human chronology. There is actually a decent Wikipedia article on it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framework_interpretation



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Darren King

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:58 pm


I’ve been standing back a little bit over the last few weeks (and by the way, that’s not literally true – after all, I’m actually sitting at my computer) and watching the debate/discussion.
I notice, over and over again, that the people who want to argue for literalism do so because they simply will not question their prime assumption – that God has inspired scripture to such a degree as to make it “true” beyond the limitations/context/real-world-experiences of the people actually taking part in acting out, writing, and reading those original accounts.
Michael Kruse put it well:
“If anywhere else we read a story of talking snakes and magical trees we would immediately recognize it as having mythical qualities.”
And yet, when we read such accounts between the two covers of the Bible, we ascribe an entirely different set of assumptions. And for those for whom these assumptions are so hard-fast and set in stone, what is lost is the ability to see without the famous rose-colored glasses.
Now, before someone fires back about universal bias, let me say it first: yes, we are all biased… yes, we all approach scripture with certain subjective assumptions.
However – and this is important – not all of us approach scripture with the same DEGREE of unfailing commitment to said assumptions. And I think it is this difference in degree that makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in being able to see the forest from the trees in these matters.



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BenB

posted March 6, 2009 at 1:05 am


AHH @ #19,
I can agree with the literary framework thing (and i think it’s the most appropriate for hermeneutical exegesis), however, I believe that they knew no different or better at this time (as a pre-scientific culture), and the story presented the best they had in understanding the actual goings-on of creation. My main point is, as stated before, we divorce the “how” question from Genesis 1, and i think this is to impose our wills to ease our minds about the text. While the literal 6 days does not carry the strong load of meaning for their literary use, they are there, and the readers, people, and most likely writer, probably believed it to be truth in some sense. Though it is story, it is the only information they had on the issue. This just seems to be what I’ve gathered in sifting through commentaries recently.
Thanks for the discussion everyone. I fear we have strayed slightly off the original post. My apologies.
I guess I did want to aim it towards the comment, in that I don’t think our information shoudl cause us to re-evaluate the text to such a conclusion that we ask it to say what it doesn’t. It does say 6 literal days, and while I AGREE they are literary and framework, they are still there, and can’t be ignored. We also have to understand the way such cultures entered into stories, and found their meaning within them. Yes, they did not get wrapped up into them like we attempt to make them, but when there is no other data, it seems that it would probably be the accepted conclusion (God made the earth in 6 days). Why not?
Therefore I think it’s fair to say I’d rather conclude “the text DOES say this, and it doesn’t pretend to be correct, as it doesn’t pretend to have scientific knowledge, and therefore I can let it speak for itself on the issue, without requiring it to be correct, or ‘accommodated’ so to say..”
Again, i’m not arguing against a literary device in the 6 days, but i do think for the respective readers/ writer it probably served for that MAINLY, but also for more than that. And i don’t ask that we re-interpret it… but stick to the understanding that God spoke Moses’ day in Moses’ way, etc.
Just my thoughts, I have been enjoying this conversation. Thank you for everyone’s input throughout the entire series.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 6, 2009 at 9:40 am


BenB #21
In an earlier thread I wrote the following and I’ll probably resurrect it again:
People in Moses? day had an exceedingly limited understanding of what we would today call medicine, biology, geology, astronomy, etc. This presents a challenge from the standpoint of special revelation at those points where such revelation touches on issues related to these bodies of knowledge. Does God,
A) bring the hearers of the story entirely up to speed on these bodies of knowledge so he can give them a precise accurate accounting of something like how life came to be? (Keeping in mind that the ?how? is peripheral to the revelation.)
B) present the timeless truths he needs to communicate to hearers of the story in concepts and forms that will be comprehensible to them but imprecise and sometimes inaccurate to an audience more knowledgeable on these bodies of knowledge?
I?m saying it is the latter. Revelation is always delivered into a socio-historical context. When we read scripture we are not reading something written to 21st Century westerners. We are ?listening in? on a conversation from another socio-historical context, the record of which was superintended by God so that [Quoting Doperdeck] ?God does not err and the scriptures accomplish every purpose for which they were given without leading us into error.?



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BenB

posted March 6, 2009 at 10:44 am


Michael,
I am in complete agreement with you



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Rebeccat

posted March 6, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Pretty well off topic, but something to keep in mind, I think; shorelines around the world were much different as recently as the last ice age. People have always tended to try and stick close to shorelines as they were abundant food sources. Which means that much of ancient human history is almost certainly under the sea today. So, trying to read too much about early humans based on what we’ve been able to find is almost certainly going to lead us to a lot of wrong conclusions. (There is actually a sight off the coast of Japan which some archeologists believe are the remains of an ancient ice age city. The size of the apparently cut stones used in the complex are enormous.) There is so much we do not know.



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Jonathan Enns

posted March 6, 2009 at 4:49 pm


#17 Michael Kruse
You said: “If anywhere else we read a story of talking snakes and magical trees would immediately recognize it as having mythical qualities.”
I would agree..anywhere else. The difference is that this is the only book that I believe to be the inspired Word of God.
Anywhere else I would dismiss a story of some guy being raised from the dead & ascending into heaven, or a prophet being translated into heaven, or a story of a GOD-MAN born, and a virgin having a baby. Anywhere else I would consider it a myth, however due to the miraculous nature of God, I would say it is definately within his character to write about miraculous events and expect us to believe them literally.
As for Song of Solomon, why shouldn’t we read it literally? I mean, obviously it uses metaphors, but I think that much of the content is definately saying “have great sex in marriage”. Can you draw a Christ/Church parallel? Sure…is that the authorial intent? I doubt it.



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BenB

posted March 6, 2009 at 5:01 pm


Jonathan,
“The Word Of God” is not a genre. That’s the issue here. No one is saying we shouldn’t read song of Solomon literally, but even then we don’t read it LITERALLY as there is obvious imagery used to speak of certain passions for one’s wife. Are there not?
The issue here is that you CANNOT put 6 day creation (talking snakes and magic trees) in the same category as Jesus raising from the dead because Matthew and Genesis are vastly different Genres. We may wish for “The Word Of God” to be a genre, but if God never intended his word to be this… then it isn’t.
I’ve just heard a lot of “High view of scripture” talk from those who want it to be inerrant and read literally. The only problem is, my view (that it is not inerrant or to be taken literally in every regard) is JUST as High of a view, bc we each wish to speak of the Bible for what it is. I just feel my view has a lot more proof on my side. We can say the Bible is inerrant and to be read literally, but that’s a philosophical position, not a doctrine, since you cannot find that in the Bible (unless it comes from a hermeneutic, but then the conversation gets really muddy).
The fact is we must speak of God’s Word for what it is, and if it is NOT inerrant (in the strict literal sense), then we don’t do Him or It any favors in treating it as such.
Not to mention, raising Jesus from the dead and the virgin birth are Miracles of GOD. Talking snakes and magical trees are nowhere mentioned as miracles of God, just something which simply was. Therefore they ring of “mytical element” not “miracle of God.”



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Mike Franklin

posted March 6, 2009 at 9:56 pm


I am a little concerned that some will be immediately put off by the ‘Garden of Eden’ reference. We live in an age of religious intolerance and so applying anything connected to a mainstream faith is almost like a shot to the head.
This find could well be the stepping stone needed to unhinge contemporary archeology enough that it leaves its stuffed leather desks and musty libraries to again take to the field. We have become complacent with our view of human history and now almost casually dismiss anything that would disturb that comfort.
I for one am very excited… and now so too somewhat hopeful, that from this place we might take another look at so many other sites and discoveries to reevaluate them in a new light.



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Brandon Rhodes

posted March 7, 2009 at 12:43 am


I’ve not been able to sift through the comments to find out if this has been covered, but I’m gasping to know…
Did Jesus believe the story as most ANE people would have, as trending toward the more literal-historical reading? And what if he was wrong in understanding that story? Many of us can feel comfortable with PAUL being wrong about its historiocity even as we embrace all the great gospel beauty that he then lets blossom out of its narrative trajectory.
But to suggest that Jesus Christ, credibly understood as an historical figure of the first century, also followed his culture in reading Genesis 1-3 historically, and being in some sense WRONG… well, that’s quite the challenge! Can God, incarnated, be wrong about some facts?
I suppose a hypothetical situation would test this well enough. Supposing Peter told Jesus that James had ten drachmas in his pocket when he only had nine. And suppose Jesus believed him. Would that challenge or discomfort our understanding of Jesus’ divinity, or specifically the sinlessness of it? Of course not. As Cornelius Plantinga and others point out, there’s a difference between ignorance and folly and sin. This would lie somewhere between the first two.
Now, extend that to how they read and understood the Bible. Without question we should be reading the First Testament in a way that doesn’t contradict Jesus’ reading of it. And surely Jesus’ theology was the most “perfect” it could be from its cultural vantage point. (Jesus theology wasn’t in any sense timelessly perfect because theology is invariably done from one historic locality. It was perfect for that locality, and he would’ve had a perfect theology from other localities, too… but I digress). So if his knowledge was limited but true and perfect within the circumscribings of historic locality, could Jesus have been TOTALLY wrong in believing in an historical Adam and Eve? Would that have challenged his divinity?
Also, how many angels can dance on the head of a needle…? (*grins*)



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RJS

posted March 7, 2009 at 7:43 am


Brandon,
The direct question on Adam and Eve doesn’t arise. But there is reference to Noah (Mt 24:37-38; Lk 17:26-27) – and a clear knowledge of Gen 2-3 as well in the teaching on divorce (Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:6-9).
I think that these references are ambiguous on what Jesus actually thought. The first is an allusion to common cultural knowledge as an analogy for the coming of the son of man. To refer to a story that everyone knows in order to make a point does not necessarily endorse a literal-historical reading of the story.
The second allusion on marriage is to God as creator who made humans male and female and instituted marriage as a desirable union. One of the key teachings of Gen 2 is this establishment of marriage and it can be argued that the form of the text is directed to a realization that marriage – “Every marriage is a union; not a union of two stranger, but rather a reunion, a reconstitution, so to speak, of the primordial unity.” (Arnold quoting H.C. Brichto in Genesis) Jesus affirms this teaching – but this may or may not mean an endorsement of the story as literal history.
But I don’t know what Jesus thought about these stories – he was born into a culture where they were interpreted literally out of “ignorance” and we come as you say to this interplay between his divinity and his humanity. I am inclined to think that he probably accepted the understanding of his day as part of his humanity. This isn’t sin – merely a consequence of being incarnate as an embodied man, as you noted in your comment.



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Jonathan Enns

posted March 7, 2009 at 10:12 am


BenB #26
I understand what you are saying, and you are correct that Scripture as a whole contains different genres. However I still believe there is a immense difference in the Canon of Scripture and folklore.
For instance, there are many historical books from (ie the pseudopigrophal books) such as “The Book of Adam and Eve” that refer to biblical events and are very interesting, and I believe they have some historical merit, but I place very little weight on some of the stories and miraculous events within them.
And our hermeneutics definately come from our view on scriptural inerrancy. A Question: Do you believe the donkey literally spoke to Balaam in Numbers 22:8?
“And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Should a hermeneutic allow for a clear or confident interpretation of this passage? And if not, how do we remain consistent in the hermeneutic?



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RJS

posted March 7, 2009 at 10:31 am


Jonathan Enns,
Balaam’s talking donkey is not relevant to the Genesis question as this is or could be a one-off miracle of God not an everyday occurrence. To bring that into the discussion is an unnecessary diversion.
The fact is if nuance in the interpretation of the creation stories and primeval history of Gen 1-11 is not allowed we are left with a relatively small number of choices:
(1) God “lied” in scripture
(2) God “lied” in the creation of the world – i.e. he created the world to look old, to look as though evolution was his mechanism of creation, and then gave us Genesis so that we would know the truth.
(3) God does not exist.
I reject all three of these options and go for a more nuanced approach to the interpretation of scripture – the kinds of positions you have seen in the comments.
To claim that carbon-14 is so far off as to negate even rough correspondence with actual dates is not plausible. The general scheme of dates do not come from only one source, but from a general concordance of multiple lines of evidence – many of which are independent of each other.
But the approach to scripture also does not arise from conflicts with science alone. It comes from reading the text, various sorts of textual criticism, study of ANE history and culture, among others.
We stand on faith in God – not a man-made definition of the genre of “Word Of God” and this is an incredibly important realization.
A hard-core position of “inerrancy” is not a high view of scripture. It is a view that is shown to be false by the text of scripture itself. It is an entirely man-made position. And – I don’t think it actually shows enough faith in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit as guide and helper.



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Jonathan Enns

posted March 7, 2009 at 11:32 am


Well,
I don’t think this discussion is getting too far, but I enjoy thinking through these issues.
I do, however believe you left out a fourth view in your allowable options in Gen. 1
(4) The biblical account is literally accurate, and our interpretation of the facts of history may be incorrect.
Remember, everything we believe is NOT based on facts, it is based on our interpretation of facts. 6 day creationists and Darwinian evolutionists look at the same facts but come to very different interpretations. Both start with assumptions.



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RJS

posted March 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Jonathan,
No we won’t get far because your #4 is completely untenable.
The only reason anyone with any real scientific expertise takes a young earth position is that they feel that the Bible and interpretation of scripture demands it. The evidence is 100% against them and they hope against hope that we will learn something new that supports their position. But that isn’t going to happen.
And the shame here is that holding to this position has caused far too many people to think that the only “christian” option is young earth and thus Christianity is false. For some it is an easy out, so they never have to deal with the essence of Christianity; for others it causes a deep crisis of faith.
Now we could discuss the various old earth positions and the issues are more complex and the options more varied.



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Steven Johnson

posted March 7, 2009 at 2:07 pm


It is one thing to ask if Jesus and the NT writers THOUGHT certain OT stories literally happened. A related and arguably more important question is whether they CARED whether they literally happened. NT writers citing OT events are invariably illustrating a point about the present and/or future, and I have yet to see a case where the point being made really DEPENDS on the OT story being understand as a literal historical genre of narrative. The blood of Abel cries from the ground. But who is Abel? Is he a literal individual, the second baby born to the first human pair? Or does his story tell in condensed and paraphrased form what has truly taken place in countless cases from the most distant reaches of our origins to the present day? What matters, in citing this story in the NT, it seems to me, is not whether the story is what we think of as literal history, but whether it speaks truly concerning what has come before us, where we have come from, who we are, what we are really like, and therefore what kind of salvation we need. Jesus and Peter may have ASSUMED literal history in citing stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, etc., but this does not mean they are ASSERTING or MAKING THE POINT that these stories are literal history. If we understand “inerrancy” as a belief that “the Bible makes good on its claims” (as John Frame understands it), then I’m not sure that anything said thus far constitutes a genuine problem for that concept, since there is no real claim being made by the NT writers about the genre of the OT stories they cite.
If we’re looking for hermeneutical moorings, there is one fairly simple concept that I first learned from reading Henri Blocher that seems to my mind to handle an amazing share of the load: If a biblical writer is speaking of the distant and mysterious past or the the distant and mysterious future, something other than “literal history” is reasonably to be expected. If, on the other hand, a biblical writer is writing about events that have taken place in his own lifetime, then something that more closely resembles our understanding of a “literal historical” genre is to be expected. There is a world of difference in perspective, and hence genre, between the post-resurrection story of a catch of 153 fish (written, arguably, by one who was there) and that of the stories of our earliest origins.
I think our search for moorings is admirable insofar as it is motivated by a concern that we not make ourselves or our culture the ultimate arbiters of truth (and thus make ourselves immune from instruction that comes from outside our individual judgment or cultural consensus), and this is at least ostensibly what those are doing who go to the lengths of ignoring even the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to maintain a literal interpretation of passages. They wish, in other words, to avoid the extreme of a John Shelby Spong, who, it seems, starts with where the culture is, and theologizes to fit.
But this search can take a subtly sinister turn, because what we may really be after, without realizing it, is a degree of hermeneutical CONTROL that goes beyond what our sovereign God has intended us to have. In other words, we may be boxing God in, determining for ourselves what kinds of genre he may use as the means of guiding his people. The preference for literal narrative, which supposedly exalts God as the ultimate authority, may in reality simply be exalting one species of Enlightenment-based cultural assumptions over another, rather than submitting to all that God has revealed, in Scripture and in the world (e.g., ancient Near Eastern literature which sheds light on the cultural and worldview context in which the original readers would have interpreted Genesis), in ascertaining the true nature and intent of his revelation.
Who, then, is really submitting to biblical authority? One like John Shelby Spong simply dismisses whatever biblical texts seem to contradict the presumed wisdom of enlightened modernity as he understands it. A biblical literalist claims to believe the Bible, but implicitly conditions his submission on biblical texts behaving as he wishes–that is to say, they must all be literal. Thinking there is no alternative, he or she clings desperately to literalism as the only thing keeping him or her from falling into the abyss of atheism. One like C.S. Lewis presents a refreshing alternative–he neither rejects texts on account of, say, supernatural elements in them, nor assumes that all texts have literal historical intent, but lets the evidence inform his understanding of genre in any given case. I think the latter approach best exemplifies genuine submission to biblical authority.



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Doug Allen

posted March 7, 2009 at 9:58 pm


“merely etiological creation stories similar to the myths of superstitious cultures around the world
Wow, RJS, is that a loaded comment or what!
merely? Makes Me think of Mere Christianity
“superstitious cultures” Weren’t all primitive cultures superstitious and can’t we learn a lot from these worldwide pre-scientific attempts to answer the age old questions about where we came from and why?
Doug



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BenB

posted March 8, 2009 at 1:38 am


Jonathan Enns,
I hate to beat a dead horse, but i will answer your question. Do I believe that the donkey spoke? I believe that since the text says the LORD made the donkey talk, the simplest belief is that God did that. HOwever, again, there is NO MENTION of God doing miracles to make a magic tree or make a snake talk in Genesis. So the argument breaks down. I already made that point clear.
However, again, “biblical inerrancy” is a man-made philosophical doctrine. It does not come from the Scriptures. I can, using Sola Scriptura, show you the text is not inerrant. That’s ok to me, because that is what GOd chose to use. That is a HIGH view of Scripture, and Higher view of God.
Also, I don’t think YECs look at facts and interpret them differently. They find a clash between their world-view and certain facts and therefore they choose to LOOK for MORE facts and apply a certain interpretation to those. (I am sorry about the Caps i honestly am not yelling i am just terrible at formatting so it is the only way i know how to bring attention to a specific word. Terrible Internet etiquette, my apologies).



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garden

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:43 am


Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.
Allen Taylor



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STJ

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:50 am


PDS wrote: “If humans emerged gradually from pre-adamic ancestors, did human rights emerge gradually too? Are human rights relative?”
If human rights did emerge gradually, would that in any way justify the notion that all humans today are not in the image of God and deserving of love and justice? Whatever our origins, and whatever variation there is within our species, there is a vast chasm between the ours and all other species.
I think some of the points I make in http://thinkingaloud99.blogspot.com/2009/05/gradual-fall.html and
http://thinkingaloud99.blogspot.com/2009/04/on-evolutionary-chisel-divine-sculptor.html may be food for thought in reckoning with our current duties before God and fellow humans and for understanding why a gradual emergence of humanity and our moral capacities and failings is no impediment to that.



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