Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is Early Genesis Mythological?

Within the conservative evangelical wing of the church, there is a very powerful notion that when we abandon a literal view of Genesis 1-11, we abandon historical conservative Christianity. What explains this widely held tenet? And more importantly, is this notion correct?

Stephen Douglas, who authors the blog
Undeception, has recently posted this article which explores many of the reasons why a Bible believing, evangelical, Truth-seeking Christian (such as himself) may well come to the conclusion that these early chapters of Genesis were mythological. This view is based on excellent scholarship of the historical and cultural setting of the Ancient Near East. If Stephen's conclusion is correct, then: 
  • Moses would have understood the stories he wrote to be myths. 
  • The early Hebrews would have understood them to be myths. 
  • God, who inspired them, would have understood them to be myths (of course!). 
  • And the most orthodox, fundamentally correct view today would be that they are myths! 
Why is this so offensive to our 20th century conservative Christian sensibilities? Why will many of my readers recoil from the use of the word "myth" in the context of the Bible? Stephen suggests possible answers to these and other questions in his article which is well worth reading!


Anonymous said...

The word itself (MYTH) shouldn't be scandalous. It comes from the Greek-mythos, which means a traditional story to explain some phenomenon, custom etc.
Myth is like memory especially when we think of one's life story (John Dominic Crossan, the author of The Historical Jesus, depicts this better than I could when he compares the Gospel stories at it relates to the author’s/narrator’s memory). I think MYTH is reality from one's cultural perspective interwoven with bits or bites of informational material that a culture uses to negotiate existence. I think the Genesis story is such a motif. For example, thanks to the Tell el-Amarna letters, we have archeological evidence that the Habiru (Hebrews) were indeed in Canaan. And one needs to just hop on a plane get off in London, go to the British Museum and you will see the steel Code of Hammarabi (which predates the Mosaic code), which parallels the Mosaic Code. Also you will see the Black Obelisk of Shalmanesar III, which validates Assyrian hegemony C. 859-824 by depicting Jehu (the Hebrew king) paying tribute.
Much of what a culture ‘owns’ is really borrowed. The stories in Genesis are an example of MYTH described in this way.

Psiloiordinary said...

I would suggest that it is a self preserving part of this particular religious meme.

Along the same lines as the reason why people have kids. The answer is because they come from a long line of people who did.

So most religions seem to have a self preservation element of the meme which prevents people going down any path which may weaken the meme's hold. If they don't have this element of the meme then they die out.

We could test this hypothesis if we had access to "de-conversion" rates amongst the two groups.

Of course this thought is from my own natural rather than a supernatural point of view. From a supernatural point of view then either side could propose that the other side is either the work of the devil or perhaps have been sent by god to test them. Of course neither of these hypothesis are testable as far as I can tell.



Anonymous said...

In respone to PSI:
'Cogita Tute - Think For Yourself'
...what a concept for Christianity

Cliff Martin said...

Indeed! Skeptics do not (or should not) have a corner on independent thought.

I have no issue with the concept that the Creator would allow god consciousness to evolve via memes in the same way he allows the random genetic mix to evolve life biological. But for me, I have to confess that the jury is still out on memes, per se. Help me out here. Why does a biologist have to supply us with an evolutionary mechanism for the development of ideas and social evolution when sociology and social psychology have been investigating this field without "memes" for decades?