QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Aug 18 2006, 05:15 AM)
Well ... the question of when and how Genesis was written and/or redacted is ANOTHER one of those things that scholars have been debating for the past 200-ish years ... but we can save that for another time.
(Although it is implicit, I think, in the points I've already made about Genesis having two creation accounts and two versions of the Hagar-in-the-desert story, etc., etc. The reason material is duplicated like this sometimes, most scholars believe, is because Genesis is, in part, a compilation of earlier stories -- and some of those stories repeat elements of other stories.)
It is however worth pointing out that while the stories do bear evidence of drawing on divergent traditions, these divergent traditions have been skillfully woven together into a literary whole that exhibits strong inner unity.
The story of Abraham, for example, is not a loose assemblage of disparate, perhaps contradictory materials slapped together cut-and-paste fashion, like the chronicle of Nennius who reports having "made a heap of all that I found." It is a carefully crafted literary whole that draws on previous traditions as source materials, not entirely unlike the way the creation account draws on various preexisting creation myths including pagan ones, but then subordinates what it takes into a single account exhibiting a unified artistic vision.
One way to see this, for example, is in the carefully crafted chiastic structure of the Abraham story (with one possibly significant departure from the structure):
A. God calls Abram to leave home; promises offspring (12:1-9)X. Hagar and Ishmael - Hagar flees, is met by angel who prophesies about Ishmael (16:1-16)
B. Sarai as Abram's sister (12:10-20)
C. Abram and Lot - Sodom attacked, Lot kidnapped; Abram rescues Lot (13:1-14:16)
D. Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, meets Abram, gives blessing (14:17-24)
E. Covenant ceremony - God promises Abram children like stars; Abraham believes, is justified (15:1-21)
X. Hagar and Ishmael - Hagar flees, is met by angel who prophesies about Ishmael (21:9-21)
B. Sarai as Abraham's sister (20:1-18)
C. Abram and Lot - Sodom condemned, Lot imperiled; Abraham intercedes for Lot (18:22-19:38)
E. Circumcision covenant - God renames Abraham and Sarah, promises child of promise by Sarah (17:1-21)D. Three men (God/angels of God) meet Abraham, give promise (18:1-21)
A. God calls Abram to sacrifice Isaac (21:1-8)
Note the elegance of the symmetry, the parallelism -- with one obvious, glaring exception, the twin accounts of Hagar and Ishmael and the flight into the desert. Those two don't fit into the pattern at all; they break up the symmetry, stick out like a sore thumb. I wonder why that is? Hm, perhaps that is part of the artist's pattern too.
Note too that -- leaving out the intrusion of the Hagar-Ishmael pericopes -- the chiasm clearly centers on the two covenant accounts. Chiastic narrative structures often center on what is most important or crucial to the narrative. Similar structures can be found in other passages of the Bible, such as Noah's flood (where the center of the chiasmus is "God remembered Noah"). Back in my seminary days I worked out an incredibly elaborate chiasm with a half-repeat (a sort of Z shape, like A-B-C-D-C-B-A-B-C-D, but much more complex) in the accounts of Elijah and Elisha. Wow, that was weird. I'm sure I still have it somewhere.
QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Aug 18 2006, 05:15 AM)
Well, you can get a taste of it, or another approach to it, in this essay from Books & Culture
called 'Messy Revelation: Why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics
.' An excerpt:
So how can we claim that the Old Testament -- and it alone from all the texts of that pre-Christian age -- is divine communication from God to man? It's an interesting question, but it turns out to be small potatoes compared with the next problem that Enns, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, sets before us: It seems as though the Old Testament was also puzzling for Matthew and Luke and Paul. In fact, from where we sit, it looks as though the apostles were lousy at exegesis.
Enns gives us a number of startling New Testament passages that use the Old Testament by wrenching the original words violently out of context and even altering them. For example, Matthew 2 tells us with confidence that Jesus' trip down to Egypt as a boy (and his eventual return to Galilee) fulfilled Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I called my son." But Hosea 11:1 is simply describing the Exodus; it is a passage, Enns points out, which "is not predictive of Christ's coming but retrospective of Israel's disobedience." In other words, Matthew is shamelessly proof-texting, in a way that would get any student enrolled in Practical Theology 221 (Expository Skills) sternly reproved.
FWIW, Peter, I disagree with Enns's analysis.
Certainly I was shocked the first time I began seriously looking up OT citations from the NT and discovered how little obvious applicability the OT passages seems to have regarding to the NT context. For awhile I toyed with the idea that the NT writers were indeed wrenching OT texts bleeding out of context, effectively applying them by dint of their own apostolic authority in a new context wholly unrelated to their original context.
However, over time I've become convinced that the truth is quite otherwise. The NT writers are making artful and insightful use of the OT, use that is not at all "violently out of context" or contrary to the intent of the OT writers.
I was about to launch into a discourse on why this is so, but a cursory Google search just happened to turn up what seems on first glance to be a useful primer on the subject -- one that just happens to lead into the subject with the very citation from Matthew / Hosea mentioned above. Check it out.
There are certain ways I would finesse the presentation given above, but it's a good place to start.
QUOTE(Gravis @ Aug 18 2006, 12:56 PM)
So what do we do with Genesis -- meaning, how do we decide what to take literally and what NOT to take literally?
Once we decide not to take it literally, are we not exposing ourselves to some dangers? Which stories literally happened and which didn't? Was there a real flood? Did Sarah really get pregnant in her 90s?
Well, here's how I look at it.
I begin with the premise that the Bible is the word of God in the words of men, fully divine revelation and fully human literature, just as Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.
Because of this, I believe that whatever is asserted by the human author is asserted by the Holy Spirit, and thus sacred scripture affirms what God wants us to know firmly, faithfully, and without error.
I also believe that in order to understand what is affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must first ascertain what is affirmed by the human author, which means approaching the sacred scriptures exactly as we would any other human literature, with full attention to literary genres, styles and conventions at work in the text. (Incidentally, no, I didn't come up with this stuff
on my own.)
(This is why the literary unity of the stories in Genesis matters. Exegesis involves attempting to understand the human author's intended meaning. If the text of Genesis as we have it was merely slapped haphazardly together by a careless editor, that would become a very dicey proposition. We might be forced to conclude that the text of Genesis as we have it has no "meaning" as a whole, only the various meanings intended by the presumed authors of source criticism, J, E, P, D.)
In seeking to understand the type of literature I'm looking at, and thus the type of truth-claim being put forward, one of the things I would look at is the proximity of the human author to the events he's writing about. A memoir of events you saw yourself is one type of account; a news story about events witnessed by others you've interviewed is another; a record of stories that have been told in your community for generations is still another; and so on.
The Gospels, for example, were written within living memory of the events they describe, and record eyewitness perspectives on those events. They thus represent a type of account that can be accorded a high level of historicity -- subject to the conventions of historiography current at the time, certainly, but a reliable record of historical events.
The OT histories of the Davidic kingdom and the kingdom of Israel are, I think, in a similar position, representing AFAIK written chronicles that were actually recorded at the time. These too I take to be reliable records of historical events.
It is a bit trickier when you come to the Exodus. I do believe that the book of Exodus attests historical events, certainly, but I don't believe it was written by Moses, or by anyone in that generation, or for generations afterward. Exodus is a record of stories about the exodus that had been passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation.
Now, I believe that oral tradition is one way that God's word has always been handed down, so this doesn't make me skeptical of Exodus. Literarily, though, I don't expect Exodus to be as sober a historical account as Matthew or 1 Kings. I understand that the story of the exodus may have been subject to a level of legendary elaboration over many generations.
I am hardly an expert in this area, so any specifics I might mention here would be very tentative. I would expect, for example, that Egypt really did suffer plagues in the time of Moses, but the exact nature and sequence of the plagues as reported in Exodus might be somewhat legendary. I definitely believe that the burning bush account attests a real revelation of God to Moses, and that God really gave the Israelites a law to follow through Moses, though I would expect the account of that code of law as recorded in the Pentateuch to include anachronistic elements really based in later practice and understanding.
What about the stories of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Already in the time of Moses these would have been ancient oral traditions. I do think it's significant that Exodus reports that while the Hebrews had no name to call their God, it was understood that references such as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" would have some meaning; when God says that at the burning bush, Moses didn't answer "Who?"
I believe that memories of the covenants of God with their ancient ancestors survived among the Hebrews throughout their sojourn in Egypt. The word of God was passed down via oral tradition. At some point, under divine inspiration, it was set down as human literature. Under divine inspiration, this literature would not have included anything that God didn't want included. At the same time, the nature of the literature itself remains what such a story would be after so many generations.
In my opinion, it would not be inaccurate to describe Genesis 11-50 as legendary in character, though still attesting real historical events. I believe that God really did make a covenant with a wandering Aramean named Abram or Abraham, though for example the specific form the covenant ceremony takes in Genesis 15 with the divided animals and the floating firepot and torch need not be historical.
To answer the question with which you began, Plankton, I don't know whether Sarah was actually in her 90s when she conceived Isaac -- it's certainly possible, and the account may be historical on that point, and I'm far from skeptical about it. I would expect that Sarah did have a child long after having been presumed barren, and that Isaac was rightly seen as a special, even miraculous gift from God, and definitely as the fulfillment of a divine promise. But the specific age given could be legendary.
Prior to Abraham, i.e., Genesis 1-11, I would characterize the literary form as myth. This doesn't mean I would say that there was no Tower of Babel, or no Noah's ark and flood. However, I would doubt whether we can make any specific historical determinations about whatever events might lie behind these texts.
Certainly there really was a fall, but I don't think we can say anything about where or when it happened, or what it looked like, i.e., whether it had anything to do with a garden, a serpent or a tree. Certainly there really were divine judgments like the Flood, though tempered by grace and providence, but I don't know about a big boat with lots of animals. Again, I'm far from saying there wasn't
such a boat -- I just don't think that the text offers enough historical weight to be able to say
that there was.
Certainly the covenant with Noah tells us something about God's relationship with mankind after the fall and even in judgment of sin, though the bit with the rainbow can be seen as poetic symbolism. I'm sure the Tower of Babel story tells us something important as well, though I'm not necessarily sure what.
I would not say that I regard the great ages of the primevals -- hundreds and hundreds of years -- as historical; on the contrary, I would view that as one of the indications of the mythic character of these texts.
That's about where I am. Hope that doesn't shake your faith in my comments about the creation account, Plankton!