Is Genesis all literal, all allegory, or somewhere between?

Discussion in 'Sacred Scripture' started by ZachT, Jun 27, 2021.

  1. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Getting back to the actual thread title . . . . We're pretty certain that Abram, (Abraham) and Isaac were a real persons. Lot quite probably was too. At least we know from whence Abram came and where his grave is said to be along with also Sarah his wife. It is quite likely that Joseph also was a real historical character along with all his brothers. The 12 tribes of Israel need an explanation and seem to have taken particular care to record their family histories for quite a long time back. Jacob and Easu, Leah, Rachael and Laban are also fairly firmly fixed in that family record. and there is no good reason to doubt their actual existence as historical characters.

    It is less likely that whole list of characters between Gen.10:1-32 and Gen.11:10-28 are actual historical figures, though there is no logical necessity for them to be either real or fictitious either. Until proven by actual archaeological evidence we simply cannot know.

    The Tower of Babel story is almost certainly a constructed folk tale passed down by the descendants of those Hebrews who returned from the Babylonian Exile, and later weaved into the narrative by the editors who constructed Genesis from the fragmented stories of the Tribes of the Hebrew Nation either during their exile or shortly after their return. The tower itself is an archaeological reality and was a substantially large Ziggurat in all likelihood. It would have been the biggest man made thing that Hebrew slaves had ever encountered and existing legends concerning the reason for its construction, plus the fact that it was used for astronomical and astrological observation would have left them with the impression that it was an attempt by man to reach the heavens to 'make a name for themselves'. The Babylonians certainly had 'made a name for themselves' by the time the Hebrews arrived in Babylon.

    Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, are probably a legend that has been spiritualised to explain certain key facts concerning the origin and legitimacy of the Hebrew Nation, as opposed to the other nations which surrounded them in the country they had settled in. There is no essential reason to believe the whole of the story is anything other than a mythic tale containing deeply embedded national identity information intended to give the returning Hebrews an acute sense of identity and a national sense of purpose in the plan of God Almighty, by that time, their own personal God. The Ark of Salvation even becoming a symbol representing the Christian Church in a later era still.

    There is even the possibility that an Ark exists and will one day be revealed to us, but so far there is no tangible evidence for either a world wide flood, an actual Ark with the exact dimensions stated in scripture or a scientific explanation for why rainbows apparently, according to the story, did not exist before the diluvian event described, took place. (There is a perfectly good scientific explanation which would indicate that the phenomenon has existed since both light and water have existed).

    There have however been extremely large flooding events which took the lives of extremely large populations, during the end of the Ice age. A relatively slow event. And at the breaching of the land bridge across the entrance to the Black Sea about 10,000 years ago. A catastrophically fast event taking a matter of only a few days or weeks and drowning many stone age civilisations under what is now the Black Sea. An event likely to have had a deep effect on the psyche and tribal memories of anyone surviving it.

    By the time we get right back to Adam, Eve, Cain and Able we have gone back so far into the mists of early myth and legend that all we have is 'story' which in spite of the way it is held in contempt as a means of conveying truth, by both atheists and Biblical literalists alike, is actually extremely informative for those who know how to decipher the genre in which the 'story' is couched.

    The problem for atheists it seems, is their insistence that the story is 'a myth' meaning it is not true. They prefer to ignore any spiritual truth in it.
    The problem for the Biblical Fundamentalist is the notion that if it is a 'myth' it can't be 'true'. This leaves them with only one way to interpret it's truth; historically. History is usually boring and irrelevant to modern life, so that puts Genesis Chapters 1-9 in the, 'Returned (graduation day) history Books', library bin for both atheists and Biblical fundamentalists alike, it would seem.
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    Last edited: Jul 4, 2021
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  2. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Which of the accepted books of the LXX then do you think Paul rejected and would not have included in his ALL of scripture then? Paul was talking about ALL the scripture in his Bible surely. Which was the whole of the LXX, not just the bits of it that got into the Christian Church's canon 300 years after Paul's death. What was true when Paul was alive and dictating to his scribe, must still be true today, either that or the church later on decided that not ALL of what Paul called 'scripture' was inspired enough to formulate Christian doctrine from. So those books from the LXX were set aside separately from the Christian 'scriptures' called The Bible.

    It has nothing to do with what Paul decided to quote from 'scripture'. Paul is talking about ALL scripture, not just the bits of it that you have in your Bible. Paul is talking about everything he had in HIS Bible.
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  3. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The reason I've asked you to provide arguments against 'Divine Authorship' is because it is close enough to what I've been advocating for. Note, I have not been advocating for the Dictation Theory: that is a label our side will take as insulting, because it tries to mark us as substantially similar to the Mormon prophecies being dictated to Joseph Smith, or Mohammedan 'scriptures' being dictated to Mohammed.

    So please do not refer to our view as the Dictation Theory. It is incorrect. On the other hand, the Divine Authorship label is something which we on our side may gather around. If defined as, "Written by man, authored by God", it is similar to what I've seen in the history of the Church. The Church Fathers, and John Jewel's treatise of Scripture has much the same message.

    So yes, for our sake, could you please provide your strongest rebuttals to the Divine Authorship theory?

    I don't know who cited that, but here are the key texts typically cited for having God be the author of scripture (emphases mine):

    2 Timothy 3:16 - All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness

    Isaiah 55:11 - So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

    Jeremiah 23:29 - Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

    Psalm 19:7-11 - The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

    Matthew 4:4 - But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

    Psalm 12:6 - The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

    And there are others. There are also similar statements from the Church Fathers, equating scriptures to a miraculous oracle, the golden letters of the Lord, the most perfect word that has come from God. And indeed in the Scripture itself you find the expression "the Word of God".

    There are finally similar statements from the Anglican Divines:

    • William Tyndale, A Pathway into the Holy Scripture (1536)

    • John Jewel, A Treatise of the Holy Scriptures (1570)

    • Edward Wettenhall, A plain discourse, proving the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, wherein the late bold attempts and aspersions of the Jesuits and other missionaries of the Church of Rome are confuted (1688)

      -interesting second half of that title.
     
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  4. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    You seem to have this mental picture of the Septuagint as a nice leather-bound book containing the OT (Tanakh) and the Apocrypha. It wasn't. All the "books" of the Bible and the Apocrypha, which the alleged 70 (or 72) people translated into Greek, were individual scrolls. They were all separate. When they got done translating the works of the Bible, they went ahead and translated the Apocrypha as well (maybe because the more work they did, the more they got paid, who knows?). That fact doesn't make the Apocrypha a part of holy scriptures. The Jewish religious leaders of that time did not include them in their Canon, which is strong evidence that those particular scrolls were not "scriptures. The Apocrypha held some value to them, maybe historical value more than anything else, but they weren't held in the same esteem as the Tanakh.
     
  5. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Let's try out that 'myth'.

    Once upon a time, there was a beautiful garden. It had all sorts of plants and tame animals, and even a magic tree. And one day God made two people to live in the garden. He named them Hansel and Gretel... uh no, I mean, Adam and Eve. And God showed them around in the garden....

    And we are supposed to draw spiritual truths from a fairy tale? :no: Uh-uh.

    Paul, Luke, and others wrote about mythical beings as if they had been real people and their flesh-and-blood ancestors? :no: Nope.

    You got one thing correct, though. Myths can't be true!
     
  6. ZachT

    ZachT Active Member

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    I'd posit there's a pretty significant distinction between Myth and Fairy Tale. A Fairy Tale is a story to entertain children, and we normally loop in a single message, sometimes as an afterthought, so our kids don't grow up to be monsters. A Myth is much more than that.

    Myth is the historical mechanism cultures used to teach successive generations who they are. They wove fiction with history so the stories were more interesting to tell around a campfire, or sing in a song, or in the Greek experience watch in a play, but the purpose was not for entertainment - it was to inform. Inform people who to worship, warn them about sin, explain the purpose of natural phenomena, explain the origins of their culture and tribe so the next generation understands what they stand for. It was a way to remember before writing was cheap and easy, and before everyone could read.

    I wouldn't discount Myth as something that cannot be true in any sense. Sure, myths are not literally true, but myths often contain many very real truths within them.
     
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  7. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The Scripture already has room for the category of myth; it's called a Parable. Christ describes these various myths and parables all the time, in fact it's almost nearly all that he did talk about. Similarly the Book of Job can be taken as an extremely long myth and parable. Therefore, it necessarily means that the text not marked as a parable, was not written as a parable.
     
  8. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Well, this is the insight of Carl Jung (and more recently, of Jordan Peterson) and it's true as far as it goes. It's clear that human cultures tend to form belief systems around archetypes. Archetypes tend to settle on the ultra of a given attribute; thus the Christian God when viewed archetypically as "God the Father" is really no different than Marduk or Zeus or Odin or Ra or any of many other pagan "father Gods". The Babylonian demiurge Tiamat is more like the Christian Satan, a being of pure chaos.

    The Christian argument is that the mythical Gods are warped images of the one true God -- the pagans see God's handiwork in nature ("natural theology"), but cannot extract the true sense of the Godhead absent special revelation. There is no way to get from "natural theology" to the real God without special revelation. We only know God because God revealed himself to us. Left to our own devices, we would never have truly known him. God is a God who speaks, and more specifically a God who uses the tongues of men to communicate directly with his people so that he may be known.

    This is why it is wrong to consider the stories of the Bible to be merely myths. Scripture was given by God himself to his people partly as a self-portrait -- it is God telling his people specifically who he is, what he wants, and how his people are to worship him. Pagan myths are but echoes of this revelation.
     
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  9. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I think it is a disservice to bind parable and myth into a single category. Parable is story told in a context where it is intended to make a point, and the point of the story is the point, not the historicity of it. Parables as such are most likely to work of the person telling the story - and for us mostly this means Jesus in the Gospels where we encounter to form most predominantly.

    The wider genre for myth, is probably Legend, Tradition, and Myth. In general these are the stories of a people, often long told before being committed to writing. These stories often have some basis, perhaps forgotten, in some historic event, however generally the story gets a life of its own. I find the problem with the discounting of myth in scripture, has to do with truth in the sense of correlation with reality. I alluded earlier in this thread to the Epic of Gilgamesh, ancient stories from the ancient people of Ur of the Chaldees. As written stories these are much older than the Genesis account, and they have some clear similarities and differences to the Genesis accounts. Given that some of us at least accept that there was a migration from Ur of the Chaldees to the Jordan Valley, that may well be in accord with the account of Abraham. I don't believe Abraham landed in the valley without history, his story and the stories that had been told him from before. The accounts in the Epic of Gilgamesh are largely polytheistic, and the accounts in Genesis are largely monotheistic.

    To my mind it is more problematic to conclude that God cannot speak through myth, legend and tradition. Is it possibly that God spoke even in the earlier stories, maybe not as plain, but still speaking, still open to encounter, still transfixed by love for his creation.

    As an Australian, there are many things we are called to think on. The Christian Gospel was first preached here on the 3rd of February 1788, up the hill from farm cove, and as the Rev'd Richard Johnston, expounded n the text 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.' in an address often entitled 'How good Lord to be here', one wonders what the assembled convicts in chains made of their new circumstance. The the glorious message of the liberation of the Gospel arrived accompanied by men in chains. But was God here before? is the Spirit of the Dreamtime utterly disconnected from the Spirit that hovered over the waters ere creation was begun. Does the Spirit of God whistle in the Gum Trees and whirl around the anthills, as he did the the sands of the deserts of Kadesh. Some will think this a little woke, however I am not ready to downsize my view of God.

    I have no doubt that in Holy Scripture we encounter God, and as we recognize him here, so I believe we are be trained up to recognize him elsewhere.
     
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  10. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I don't know that I'd call a Parable of Jesus a type of "myth". Parables don't contain hero narratives, for example. They're closer to analogies in the classic Greek sense of the word: an analogia, a likeness or proportion of words. Jesus' parables often aren't stories with character or plot; they're not even narratives most of the time. They're mostly given as scenarios ("consider the lilies of the field"). They depict humdrum everyday things and events that can be applied to more abstract ideas (the mustard seed, new cloth on an old garmet, etc.). Or they depict everyday situations that people can relate to (the sower, the vineyard), but have a wider thematic application.

    Parables are didactic tools; they are meant to instruct, to illustrate. Myths are more cultural, a sort of communal dream that is passed down through the generations. Often they explicitly do not instruct, but are intentionally mysterious -- this is the main difference with a parable.
     
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  11. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I'm making a more basic point, that there is already a category within Scripture for a fictional narrative. Scripture itself literally tells us: here is a passage which is fictional. By definition, this means that there are other parts of it which are not told to us not as fictional.
     
  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Parable is not myth otherwise it would not be named parable. Look up the words parable and the theological and literary meaning, (not the common Americanised meaning) of the word 'myth' and you will discover that fact.
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  13. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    We can see 'myth' in the making, actually recorded in the Bible itself. First the historical account, - Ex.14:21-31, then the 'myth in the making' - Ex.15:1-20. Mythic record of legendary event contained in dance and song performance, not literal, but preserved in rhythm, choreographic movement and poetic stanzas.

    This is far from 'fairy tale' or parable in the way truth is being encapsulated for transference from generation to generation in as robust a form as possible without being written down. Myths always follow the logical progression of story form to preserve the inclusion of all relevant elements of history, albeit in mythical language.
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  14. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    This is very limiting, essentially binomial, fact or fiction. Real life is none so simple. And it is not just that there is historical fiction, and fictional history, there is also philosophy, poetry and politics. I earlier used my preferred description of the genre of early genesis, names 'stories of origin'. I used that term as there are a wide range of such stories, across the world, and including current scientific theories of primeval atom and big bang followed by evolution.

    I believe reducing all to fact or fiction is an over simplification, and does not help us get to that which will set us free.
     
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  15. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Our fundamentalist friends are assuming mythic means not truthful or even untruthful but in fact it just means a different form of historic account than factually historical narrative.

    Though the Great Barrier Reef in its present form is only 6,000 to 8,000 years old, that puts its formation well outside the total timespan of human written records. These dates have been accurately calculated by other means than mere words on pieces of paper.

    Australian Aborigines have a tribal memory of the events accompanying the formation of the Great Barrier Reef though. Their legends, stories, songs and art have preserved mythic accounts of the experiences of their tribes during those distant historic events. Though utterly unlike a written history of the D Day landings or the Battle of Midway, (though there are myths surrounding even those events now), those legends, stories and art are couched in poetic and mystical language which has to be 'interpreted' to discern the 'truth' of the information that has been preserved over countless generations.

    The thing about 'myth' that makes it so enduring is its distillation into story form. This preserves the elements of the 'story' so that it is difficult to miss out any part of the logical flow of the narrative.

    Have any of us never read bedtime stories to our children and tried to skip bits out to get back to watching our TV, but been stopped in our tracks by insistent complaints of " BUT, You've missed a bit out". Woe betide the story teller that "misses bits out' of a myth and expects to get away with it.

    This is why Rexlion’s attempt at his 'reproduction' of the Garden of Eden story falls so crashingly short of the mark for accuracy. :laugh: Basically he would be awarded no marks at all for his attempt, from anyone who knows the original. As a story teller he would get ignominiously drummed out of the campfire gathering because his 'myth' is so utterly defective that it contains virtually none of the 'truths' that everyone simply knows it should have in it.
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  16. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Both Parable and Myth achieve their own objectives though, but in different ways.
     
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  17. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I have frequently referred to poetry and other numerous genres of Scripture. Just see literally my last 3-4 posts. So I did not reduce all to fact or fiction. All I said was that if there is a recognition of the existence of fiction, then there is necessarily a recognition of the existence of facts.

    I am excluding the possibility that Scripture as a whole could be taken as a collection of only poetry and parables, and that it has nothing which it meant as factual or historic, which is what many interpreters in this thread would like to categorize it as. The mere existence of fiction within Scripture indicates that they distinguished what is fictional from what is not; if they intended the whole Bible to be fictional, they would have written it as such.
     
  18. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    There is a danger in obscuring the line between truth and falsity, fact and fiction. It may be a fine line, but it's not invisible.

    Human nature being what it is, a beautiful lie is often more palatable to people than the hard truth. Especially in the modern age, when "my truth" has replaced the concept of "the truth", it's difficult to get people to accept the notion that certain "truths" are not positional. "Truth", to most people these days, is what they like, what they prefer. "Truth" in much of the developed world is wholly internal and individualistic; it need not correspond to any external referent. Ultimately there is no difference between a truth and lie; it's just what you want to be true.

    The point of God's truth (as opposed to, say scientific truth or mathematical truth) is that God's truth is absolute. It is universal, eternal, and all-encompassing. It is objective, external, and fixed. It is the measuring-stick against which human behavior, ethics, and law must be judged. God's Word is true in a way that no other thing in nature can be true -- it is true because God said so, and because he made the world. There are no "facts" that contradict God's truth because God is sovereign over all. Any discrepancies are due to faults in us, in our discernment. We are the source confusion, not God.

    The point of humanity is not to be free, but to be servants of Christ.
     
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  19. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I think, on top of the word 'myth' being misunderstood by some of the Biblical inerrantists defending the historical factuality of the Bible there is also a misunderstanding of the word 'fiction' going on, in the minds of those who believe the Bible to be entirely, historically, 'factual', for them.

    To us on this side of the debate the Bible IS entirely factual. Even the fiction in it is only fictional in the sense that it comes into the literary category of 'fiction', not that it is fundamentally untrue or a lie. The Bible contains much truth. Some of that truth is factual historical and true, some of it morally, ethically, spiritually and characteristically true and some of it again is mythically, parabolically, typically and symbolically, true. All of it is TRUTH but some of it is not LITERAL and some of it is not HISTORICAL in the way we categorise history in the language of today.

    Those who want their Bible to be literally TRUE in the specifically historical sense, (well beyond the literary sense), throughout all of its pages of literature, and are insistent that others must believe what they believe in order to qualify as true disciples of Christ, must face the probably ironically uncomfortable reality, that they are possibly peddling a lie. It is no wonder then that we on this side of the debate find difficulty in convincing them their assumptions may be wrong. No one wants to be thought a liar, for saying the Bible is true. Which of course it IS. On that I think both sides in the debate agree but even that is not a fact, like 2 + 2 = 4, it is a belief, like "My wife loves me" quite capable of being true but impossible to prove to be factual.
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  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I think you might get some legitimate disagreement with some of what you have written here regarding the discovery of the scientific 'truth' concerning what rainbows are made of and the arithmetical truth that 2 + 2 have always equalled 4 since the beginning of time and probably beyond it. Do you not think these 'truths' are also 'universal, eternal, and all-encompassing'? They are after all, spoken by God, just like the rest of the universe. "They are laws given by God, which shall not be broken". Ps.148.

    However this observation though does not imply that I disgree with what you have said concerning the truth of any single iota of what God has conveyed to us through the scriptures.
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