Sunday, January 05, 2020

History, Myth, and Genesis' "Page One" Problem

This continues a conversation from last weekend with Joe aka Metacrock, including material in both the post and the follow-up in the comments section. I know that this topic can draw people who either advocate their position very intensely or word things very ambiguously. I'm hoping that this is both a "no-BS zone" and a "no flames zone".



Recap of where we left things last week
Anne K: The ultimate question in my mind is: What is the most honest and satisfying position on the "Page One of Genesis" problem, and is there a position that deserves / earns a consensus among Christians? For what I wrote in my original post and what I'm writing here in the comment thread, that is ultimately the purpose and context.

Joe H: Being honest and up front about what seems true. I have studied volition that seems true. What seems untrue is a literal interpretation of Genesis because it rules out scientific truth,ig taken literally.
Also from Joe, with the two different quotes being on the same topic from different points in the comment section: 
Joe: Let me ask you this,if these sophistical aspects proved to be unhistorical would that destroy all of Christianity?
 
If any major point could be proven facile,such as no six dray creation? no Adam and Eve no garden. This is theoretical.  


New Conversation 

In keeping with this being a no-BS conversation with an old friend: I have to admit to not being directly invested in the historicity of much outside the four gospels. (That's not my last word on it, but the points are made in a certain order.) To clarify: I don't assume everything else is false, I just find it less directly relevant to me. For example, I'm reasonably sure Abraham was a real person who had sons who had a significant place in the history of religion and, through that, in the history of the world. Still, even if we assume that the events of Abraham's life happened more or less as recorded in Genesis, I'm not sure how much the details matter to me outside of the fact that eventually Jesus came from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So why would I advocate for the historicity of more things besides the four gospels? First of all because there are solid reasons to believe there is genuine history recorded there. To be clear, if I didn't think anything else was historical, I'd have gotten myself one of the Gideon's Bibles that basically whittles down the Old Testament to the book of Psalms. (And bonus points if I could find a version that skipped Psalm 137, seriously.)

Given that I think there's real history to be found there, there are parts that become relevant. Sticking with the example of the life of Abraham as mentioned before: it does show God's faithfulness, God's providence, and God's continuing relational presence with his people. It does show that God didn't metaphorically wake up one day and decide to send Jesus after neglecting the planet for all the ages of the world til then. God's continuing presence in the world and compassion for the world are important points, and we have historical reason enough for me to find it likely that it actually happened. Coming back to the prior point: Abraham may not be relevant to me apart from Jesus, but through Jesus it becomes part of the history of how God interacts with the world. So the life of Abraham has more importance than I'd otherwise give to the life of someone who lived not-quite-4000 years ago, rounding up to the next whole millennium.

I think that's enough for one installment. So Joe, if this is to be a conversation -- a two-way street -- I'd like to hear your thoughts on some things:
  • In the books of the Bible that are traditionally understood to have historical content, what are your thoughts about which parts of the Bible are historical or are not historical?
  • Let's assume for the discussion that the content of revelation is God's presence with us and for us -- really, literally, you and me and the rest of us, in the world where we live.  If "God's presence with us" is the content, then how well does the "event model" of revelation/inspiration mediate that specific message of God's presence with us in our world? (For anyone reading along, Joe has recapped several different views of inspiration, and the "event model" is one of several different-yet-compatible, complementary understandings of how God communicates with us. The "event model" is roughly how God communicates with us by events: by taking historical action in the real world.) 
  • When you say that the Bible contains mythical material that is not historical (e.g. you floated maybe Adam and Eve and the garden), it sounds like there would have to be an element of make-believe at some level in crafting a story and adopting a story, e.g. talking snakes and specific conversations that are part of that account of the fall. What are your thoughts on that, on the relationship of myth and make-believe and revelation?  

10 comments:

Martin LaBar said...

Interesting!

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Hey Anne I am thinking of making a general blog piece on this topic for Monday on Metacrock's blog.

I am confused as to your position it seems you are saying you want to believe that most of the Bible is historical but you also seemed to punted on the OT. I accept the NT as historical, period. More on that for Monday.

to answer your questions"

Question:(1)In the books of the Bible that are traditionally understood to have historical content, what are your thoughts about which parts of the Bible are historical or are not historical?

Answer: I think there are elements of mythology from the ancient world woven into parts of the Pentateuch, mainly the early parts. It's too mixed up to say there;s a mythological part (groups of books)here and a literal part here. We have to go by subject not books.

Question:Let's assume for the discussion that the content of revelation is God's presence with us and for us -- really, literally, you and me and the rest of us, in the world where we live. If "God's presence with us" is the content, then how well does the "event model" of revelation/inspiration mediate that specific message of God's presence with us in our world? (For anyone reading along, Joe has recapped several different views of inspiration, and the "event model" is one of several different-yet-compatible, complementary understandings of how God communicates with us. The "event model" is roughly how God communicates with us by events: by taking historical action in the real world.)

Partial Answer: I have a problem up front with the question.I can't accept that God's presence is a book. God is not words on paper. A presence is the thing itself. God is is presence, We night sense his pence in different ways but his presence is him, he is not the book, he is not the Bible, The Bible is not God.

Now if you are asking what if God limits the sensing of his presence to reading the Bible I say that is contradicted by scripture. Psalms: "If descend into hell you are there." As I Understand it you don't get your bible in hell. The shame goes for the grave if hell in that passage is Sheole.

Question (sub set):When you say that the Bible contains mythical material that is not historical (e.g. you floated maybe Adam and Eve and the garden), it sounds like there would have to be an element of make-believe at some level in crafting a story and adopting a story, e.g. talking snakes and specific conversations that are part of that account of the fall. What are your thoughts on that, on the relationship of myth and make-believe and revelation?


Answer: They were using ancient world mythology which was we known to them and was a standard means of understanding for them, So I don't think they had much conscious make believe but just employ aspects of imagery they were used to using, may not have thought of it as make believe.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Joe

Glad to see you around.

The parts where you're interacting with me, I think you're reading some things between the lines that are really far from my thoughts. So I'd like to clear up a few things on that front:

Joe: "you want to believe that most of the Bible is historical"
WF: a) what I want to believe is what's true b) As far as I can tell, there's a lot of history in the Bible where I'd say "close enough" if not "inerrant". c) When we get to the New Testament especially the 4 canonical gospels, we get to higher-quality sources for historical purposes.

Joe: "You also seem to punted on the OT"
WF: I have no intentions of punting on the topic in general, but I wanted you to be more involved in the conversation. I wonder if you got your impression either from me trying to draw you into the conversation OR from the plain fact that I'm less interested in the OT than the NT. E.g. If someone throws down a challenge on the historicity of the resurrection I'm likely to answer; if someone throws down a challenge on the historicity of some event affecting Solomon's grandson, I'm not likely to be interested in it.

Joe: "I have a problem up front with the question. I can't accept that God's revelation is a book."
WF: Something we agree on: God's revelation is not a book. You do realize we agree on that, right? I've not framed the question in such a way as to make a book the main thing, even if it's what's in our hands to work with. The book in our hands is more like a window.

So I'm hoping that clears up some of the misunderstandings. I'd love to hear your thoughts & look forward to your post.

Take care & God bless
WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Martin

Thank you for reading and commenting!

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Joe: "I have a problem up front with the question. I can't accept that God's revelation is a book."

WF: Something we agree on: God's revelation is not a book. You do realize we agree on that, right? I've not framed the question in such a way as to make a book the main thing, even if it's what's in our hands to work with. The book in our hands is more like a window.

Yes I thought you would agree. But many wont. I think a lot of people in the church today are led into a kind of bibliolotry. O l know you are way beyond that,

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

WF: I have no intentions of punting on the topic in general, but I wanted you to be more involved in the conversation. I wonder if you got your impression either from me trying to draw you into the conversation OR from the plain fact that I'm less interested in the OT than the NT. E.g.

To me the conversation is about genesis and the flood, maybe because I had dealt with them recently with a poster on my blog asking about my ideas on it. But that;s where I have the main problem with historicity in the Bible. I have no problem with The Gospels I think they are 90% historical.Not mythological at all. I only say 90% as a theoretical margin of error. I only question small stuff like the exact chronological oreder of pericopes.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

look no Anne I am gong to do a bog post about creation and the flood, O am not preaching at you. I do offer it as holding up my end of the conversation but I am not saying that at you. U have other readers, I do hope it can be part of our discussion.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Joe

Good to see you, & glad to hear about the upcoming blog post.

Responding to what you said in your comments, clearly lots people (most people, I think) have a problem with the historicity of parts of Genesis especially the creation and flood accounts. What I'm wondering is whether there is a positive case to be made for why "myth" is a good reading in its own right -- and I think that takes clarifying so hang in there for the clarification. I think, from many peoples' point-of-view, if there's a creation story that's not seen as historical then we're looking for a Plan B understanding, a second-choice alternative, which then becomes the default option from a certain viewpoint. That is to say: there's generally not a positive case made for "good reasons to think this is a myth, and good reasons why myth should be included or respected or taken seriously"; it's generally assumed that the only argument worth making is "it's not history" and from there any alternative presented gets a free pass. That leaves a some breakage when we adopt a "Plan B" option and promote it to "the only viable option" because there aren't a lot of options on the field. We don't tend to ask: Is there a positive case to be made for that? And the implications of the decision matter: if something is classified as "myth", it would seem to take it off the table for the "event" model of inspiration. So what's left of it? I.e. what does that do to the theological validity of getting any point from it?

Take care & God bless
WF

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

"What are your thoughts on that, on the relationship of myth and make-believe and revelation?"

The question is did they know it was myth or was it accepted as handed down knowledge.I am incline to believe the latter, Both stories creation and garden and flood have different older versions in other cultures. Those were myths that grew up over time in the general area and were accepted culturally

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

it's generally assumed that the only argument worth making is "it's not history" and from there any alternative presented gets a free pass. That leaves a some breakage when we adopt a "Plan B" option and promote it to "the only viable option" because there aren't a lot of options on the field. We don't tend to ask: Is there a positive case to be made for that?

Yes myth is Little understood and usually has a bad connotation,I am trying to chnge that