William Lane Craig’s new book, In Quest of the Historical Adam, has an extended discussion on the relationship between Genesis and the myths found in the mythic literature of the Ancient Near East. Based on what he identifies as myth-like elements found in Genesis, Craig concludes that Genesis should be classified as “mytho-history”.
Craig attempts a nuanced treatment of “myth” as he affirms that some elements in Genesis are historical, like the genealogies. He affirms that Adam and Eve were real people who constitute the fount of all humanity. However, his proposal that Genesis should be regarded as “mytho-history” has drawn criticism from John Oswalt, a prominent Old Testament scholar who explains that “A myth is an oral or written narrative that functions to make actions of the gods, presumed to be constantly occurring in the invisible realm, effective in the world of time and space. In short “mytho-history” is an oxymoron. Myths are a-historical by nature.”
The Literary Structure and Unity of the Book of Genesis
The problem with scholars who apply the historical-critical method (premised on methodological atheism rather than on believing, critical realism) on Genesis is that they refuse to acknowledge what is in plain sight, that is, the unity of Genesis. One of the clues to the unity of Genesis is found in the way in which the phrase “These are the generations of” (’elleh tôledôt) is used ten times at crucial transitions of the narratives in Genesis.
Nahum Sarna explains,
The ’elleh toledot formula is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Book of Genesis. In each of its other ten occurrences, it introduces what follows, invariably in close connection with the name of a person already mentioned in the narrative. Its use indicates that a new and significant development is at hand. Deriving from the verb y-l-d, “to give birth,” the noun form would mean “begettings” or “generations,” and in most instances it precedes genealogies that are sometimes interspersed with narrative material. In 25:19 and 37:2, where no family tree follows but only stories of subsequent events, the formula is used figuratively for “a record of events.” This is the meaning it bears in the present passage. In this sense, the entire verse may be understood as a unity referring to what follows. Further support for this interpretation lies in its parallel structure, not to mention its poetic chiasm, “heaven and earth,” “earth and heaven.” [Nahum Sarna, Genesis (Jewish Publication Society, 1989), pp. 16-17]Continue reading “Between Babylon and Egypt: Mythology or Historical Traditions in the Book of Genesis. Part 3”
This post should not be construed as an attempt to cast doubts on William Lane Craig’s (WLC) commitment to evangelical orthodoxy or to minimize his immense contribution to the intellectual defence of Christian faith. It only seeks to demonstrate how the tension between WLC’s apologetic impulse and theological formulation of doctrine may cause confusion for his readers, based on an analysis of his recent article published in First Things, “The Historical Adam.”
On the one hand, WLC’s categorization of the Genesis 1-11 as “mytho-history” raises questions about the existence of the historical Adam:
1) Regarding the book of Genesis
– “The primaeval history of Genesis 1–11, including the stories of Adam and Eve, functions as Israel’s foundational myth, laying the basis of Israel’s worldview…Rather, the claim is that the primaeval narratives belong to the genre of myth principally on the basis of their sharing common mythic themes and their effort to anchor present realities in the deep past.”
“In terms of genre, Genesis 1–11 has key characteristics of myth…On the basis of comparative studies of Sumerian literature, the eminent Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen proposed that we recognize a unique genre of literature, which he dubbed “mytho-history…If Genesis 1–11 functions as mytho-history, then these chapters need not be read literally. The accounts of the origin and Fall of man are clearly metaphorical or figurative in nature, featuring as they do an anthropomorphic deity incompatible with the transcendent God of the creation account…Then there is the infamous snake in the Garden.” /1/
“Since the Pentateuchal author [is the use of the singular evidence of WLC’s evangelical commitment?] has an interest in history, he intends for his narrative to be at some level historical, to concern people who actually lived and events that really occurred. But those persons and events have been clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth. If the stories are not meant to be read literally, what central truths do they convey?
As the conversations continue, Camus begins to read the Bible, sometimes he confesses not to have done before. In fact he does not even own one; so Mumma gets one for him, and Camus starts with Genesis. This raises the issue whether the Bible is to be taken literally, especially the story of Adam and Eve. When Mumma interprets it as a parable of the origin of the conscience, in short, a tale putting the origin of evil in the attempt of human beings to make themselves gods, Camus find the story to ring true.
While Mumma’s answers are broadly speaking neo-orthodox, not quite those of an evangelical would likely give, the theology is traditional at heart, and it is in line with Camus’ own understanding of human nature.
Often times we find God in our distinctive ways, some intellectually, some emotionally, some through insights of wisdom, some through hard lessons of life and some even find God in ‘silly’ ways. Conversely, maybe it is more accurate to say that God reaches out to us wherever we are and touches us where it matters most. He will then take us further on from there.
** This is a Retro post taken from my Facebook (4 April 2020) which will be closed in due time.
This is a most stimulating & instructive discussion between Joshua Swamidass and William Craig that tries to integrate the latest scientific and paleoanthropology findings, biblical hermeneutics, philosophical and theological anthropology.
Some challenging questions that arise from the discussion include the following:
Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution Date of Forum: 20th Oct 2018 Are the Genesis creation days 24 hours long or ages of time? How do we read the Book of Genesis in its literary context? Was Adam a historical figure? How do Christians who are committed to the historical reliability and infallible authority … Continue reading “Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution: Recordings”
Are the Genesis creation days 24 hours long or ages of time? How do we read the Book of Genesis in its literary context? Was Adam a historical figure? How do Christians who are committed to the historical reliability and infallible authority of Scripture answer these questions in the light of contemporary science?
Session 1/3 Dr Living Lee “A Theistic Approach to Geology, Evolution and Fossil Evidence”
A monkey in the zoo was heard asking the question, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” The theory of evolution answers the question with an unambiguous “YES!”Apes and humans share a common descent. Given below are several evolutionary interpretations of the relationship between humans (hominin) and apes (hominid) based on an unproven assumption – that any … Continue reading “Who Was Adam? Scientific and Theological Perspectives: Preview”
A monkey in the zoo was heard asking the question, “Am I my keeper’s brother?” The theory of evolution answers the question with an unambiguous “YES!”Apes and humans share a common descent.
It is common for young seminarians to entertain the strange notion that biblical studies is superior to theology because biblical scholars build their interpretation on objective exegesis while theologians spin theories out of thin air. The notion is misguided as sound interpretation of the Bible requires both exegesis based on rigorous linguistics studies and theological … Continue reading “Original Sin (Part 3/3): Romans 5:12 – An Exercise in Exegesis and Theology”
It is common for young seminarians to entertain the strange notion that biblical studies is superior to theology because biblical scholars build their interpretation on objective exegesis while theologians spin theories out of thin air. The notion is misguided as sound interpretation of the Bible requires both exegesis based on rigorous linguistics studies and theological analysis that is logically coherent and informed by insights gained from historical theology.
It is arguable that the lack of theological depth is characteristic of much contemporary biblical scholarship, and that this lack is a serious impediment to good exegesis. A similar criticism may be leveled at theological analysis that is not founded on solid exegetical groundwork.
The analysis of Rom. 5:12 given below provides a excellent model of well-rounded and nuanced interpretation based on robust exegesis and coherent theological analysis.
Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution 2pm-5pm, Saturday, 20 Oct 2018 Auditorium, Methodist College, KL Admission Free According to a Barna research poll, one of the major reasons why people leave church and abandon Christianity is the perception that the findings of modern science are in conflict with the Bible. The purpose of the Kairos … Continue reading “Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution”
Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution
2pm-5pm, Saturday, 20 Oct 2018
Auditorium, Methodist College, KL Admission Free
According to a Barna research poll, one of the major reasons why people leave church and abandon Christianity is the perception that the findings of modern science are in conflict with the Bible. The purpose of the Kairos Forum on Genesis, Adam and Evolution is to correct this misconception. The Forum seeks to demonstrate that to the contrary, science complements rather than contradicts the Bible. Science itself leads us to profound questions that find their answers in the Bible.
I. The Context of Romans 5:12-21
In verses 12–21 the apostle Paul outlines how Adam as the head of the present human race is analogical to that of Christ as the head of the new humanity. He uses the occasion of sin entering the world to compare the effects of Christ’s obedience which brings righteousness and life, with the effects of Adam’s disobedience which brings sin and death. The basis for the analogy is given in verse 14 where Adam is described as “the type of the one to come.”/1/ Continue reading “Original Sin (Part 2/3): Death in Adam, Life in Christ (Rom. 5:12-21)”