Friday, May 11, 2007

Babel, Babble, & Babinski


I also noted while dipping into your Eastertide book that you had read John Walton's NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY on GENESIS. So have I. Did you note what he said about the way the ancient Hebrews views the shape of the cosmos according to Genesis chapter 1 and other verses? For instance, that the birds don't fly "in" the firmament" but upon its face. I recall Walton admitting that the writer(s) of Genesis most probably viewed/assumed the earth was flat.


Actually, he seems to take two different positions on that subject. On the one hand, he regards the description as an accommodation to ANE cosmic geography. On the other hand, he also regards the description as involving architectural metaphors that foreshadow the tabernacle.

It doesn’t appear to me that he’s expressed himself in a way that’s entirely coherent. However, one could harmonize the two interpretations without too much difficulty.

Moses used architectural metaphors to foreshadow the tabernacle. That would also fit with the literary unity and intertextuality of the Pentateuch. And in using architectural metaphors, ANE architecture supplied the point of reference.

On that view, the element of literary dependence is not on ANE cosmic geography, but ANE architecture.

At the same time, Walton also agrees with Seely. I do not. Poythress has a brief, but trenchant critique of Seely. Cf. Redeeming Science, 96n8.

“He also admits that "Satan" does not appear in Genesis chapter 2 at all, but instead a ‘wise serpent,’ understood to be an actual serpent. Walton also wrote a bit in that commentary about the relative lack of appearances of ‘Satan’ and ‘demons’ throughout the O.T., i.e., compared with the N.T.”

There’s nothing liberal about progressive revelation. Gen 1-3 lay down markers that are developed in later parts of the Pentateuch, including later parts of Genesis. You’re not going to a get a full-blown diabology in Gen 3. As regards the identity of the Serpent, there are several considerations:

i) What the text says.

ii) Intertextual links.

iii) The cultural preunderstanding.

Speaking for myself, I view in Serpent as an angelophany. There are many angelophanies in the Pentateuch. This would be a diabolical angelophany, in contrast to the theophanic angelophany in 2:7 and 3:3ff., or the cherubic angelophany in 3:24.

In translating Hebrew into English, we seek an English synonym whose semantic range intersects with the Hebrew noun. But while they intersect, they do not coincide, and the English word has different connotations than the Hebrew word.

As Hamilton points out in his commentary, the Hebrew word may well be a pun, to trigger associations with divinatory imprecations, viz. casting spells and hexes. This would, in turn, dovetail with ANE ophiolatry and ophiomancy. A good example is Pharaoh’s uraeus. The audience for Genesis is the same audience for Exodus. There are also parallels with the Balaam cycle.

Likewise, “we may see the snake as the embodiment of the commonest Egyptian word for ‘statement’, written as a serpent, a word that appears in Egyptian magical texts as a synonym for ‘spell’.”

So it’s a mistake for a modern reader to assume that the Serpent in Gen 3 must be a “snake” in the English sense of the word. We need to hear the text the way in which the original audience would hear the text.


Do you believe that the Noah's ark story is historically true? Have you read Moore's online piece, "The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark" that cites the works of a host of creationist Christian ark believers and simply asks rather obvious and logical questions? Woodmorappe attempted to "answer" Moore's question-packed little booklet, then Glenn Morton stepped in and easily batted down Woodmorappe's ad hoc "answers," with a host of additional questions that such "ad hoc" explanations raised. It's all on the web, just google their names and "Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark."

I've also compared the relative arrangement of fossils in the geological record with attempts by "Flood geologist" to explain such relative arrangements, and found their explanations wanting. Woodmorappe, ICR, and Answers in Genesis have all backed down over the years from their original assertions that "out of place" strata, and "out of place fossils," and "out of place artifacts" had been found and proven to exist. They backed down from the Paluxy "man prints," from Baugh's "hammer in stone," and even from "The Lewis Mountain" formation, which ICR's Ph.D. paleontologist, Kurt Wise and it's Ph.D. geologist, Steve Austin, agree is a genuine overthrust and the largest overthrust in the world. So the geological record is not all mixed up. As for Woodmorappe, last I read he's been arguing in typical ad hoc fashion that no "out of place" fossils or human artifacts are likely to ever be found, because (here's the ad hoc part), when the Bible speaks about the earth being full of sin and violence in the days of Noah it only referred to a relatively small portion of the earth, that only 30 or 40 thousand human beings were alive at that time, and they lived in only one small portion of the earth, and God took special care to bury their homes and artifacts and bones where no one will ever find them. Hence, there's no need for "Flood geologists" like Woodmorappe to even have to continue digging and looking for out of place fossils.

But the huge fact that young-earth "Flood geologists" ignore is the relative arrangement of strata around the world and the relative arrangement of the fossils of each representative geological period in those strata, right down to the relative arrangements of microfossils of single-celled organisms, and small minor bones of organisms, all sorted in ways no single "world wide Flood" of mere water could ever sort so finely and in such an "evolutionary-like" order without a host of countless additional miracles.


You have a habit of wanting me to comment on what other people have said. I’m more concerned with exegeting Scripture than exegeting Steve Austin.

To some extent, the modern-day, YEC reading of Genesis is constrained by the YEC reading of prophecy. Its premillennial literalism establishes the hermeneutical paradigm.

And apostates like you and Moore and Morton typically operate with the very same hermeneutic since you usually come out of the very same religious milieu. You haven’t changed the way you read the Bible. You continue to read it the way Tim LaHaye reads it. You’re Tweedledee to Austin’s Tweedledum. The only difference is that you no longer believe what you read.

At the same time, I don’t have to agree with Wise on all his theories or interpretations to find him useful. And Wise at his worst is better than Dawkins at his best. Dawkins’ just-so stories are ad hoc from start to finish.

That, however, is not the same thing as the grammatico-historical method, which is my own point of reference. I ask myself, “how would the original audience hear the text?” Sometimes the answer is literal, other times figurative.

The original audience wouldn’t register the geographical landmarks in the flood account the same way a modern audience is wont. We have a different sense of scale. The danger is to superimpose our modern mental picture of the globe back onto the ancient text, and then burden the text with a lot of logistical difficulties that are not, in fact, generated by the text itself, but by our own anachronisms.

But I assume the original audience would hear the text in light of ANE cartography, not satellite cartography. It is wrong to literally map our own atlas back onto Gen 7.

BTW, this doesn’t mean the narrator was committed to ANE cartography. He isn’t that specific. The imagery is quite generic. The question is how the original audience would visualize the account. These are the sorts of preliminary questions that a contemporary reader needs to ask himself before we ever get around to the scientific questions. Not, what does it mean to us? But, what did it mean to them?

And I’ve addressed “scientific” objections to the account on several other occasions, so I won’t repeat myself here.

As to the fossil record, what we’re generally getting, as Henry Gee has documented at length, is not a continuous sequence frozen in rock, but discontinuous data-points which are rearranged into a continuous sequence by a value-laden reconstruction of the record that is enormously underdetermined by the actual state of the evidence. A thousand theoretical interpolations to every isolated bone fragment.

Of course, Gee isn’t trying to undermine evolution. Rather, like so many others, he’s trying to retrofit the theory. But to clear the ground for cladistics, he must slash and burn phenetics, and it’s quite a spectacle to see how little is left over after his scorched earth policy. So now we have another outbreak of the Darwin Wars.


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