Thursday, April 24, 2008

Baggins v. Sauron

A while back, a hobbit who pastors a PCA church in the Shire did a post on the suspension of Peter Enns. This has generated over 400 comments.

I’m reposting my comments here (plus a comment by Manata). Since there’s a certain back-and-forth in combox debates, I’ve regrouped my original comments in a topical arrangement to make it easier to follow. I’ve made some other minor editorial changes.

Paul Manata also made a number of comments which are well-worth reading.

I. Seely

steve hays said,
April 10, 2008 at 7:40 pm

Paul Seely said,

“Paul M. recently directed me to a different websitge offering Steve Hay’s criticism of my views. Hays attempted to refute my position without bothering to get the facts from my papers, which he knew of.”

That’s an odd complaint on several grounds:

i) Seely himself didn’t even bother to cite his own papers when he original posed his question to other commenters under #209.

At that time, he felt that his own summaries, which he supplied in comment #209, were a sufficient basis for commenters to answer his question.

Is he now of the opinion that his original summary of his own position was so defective that you have to read through his papers before you can answer his question? He didn’t lay down that precondition under #209.

ii) Moreover, when he did get around to citing his papers, he introduced his papers with the following concession and caveat:

“Towne (211)_You are quite right that my argument in #209 ‘hinges on the statement: “Since people in biblical times believed the sun was literally moving…’…If you will read those papers, even though I did not specifically address the movement of the sun, you will find a plethora of evidence from both ancient literature and anthropology that Peoples in OT times, including the educated, did not distinguish between the appearance of the universe and its factual nature.”

So Sealy admits, on the one hand, that his argument hinged on ANE belief in geocentrism,” while he also admits, on the other hand, that his papers don’t actually addressed that specific issue— even though this argument “hinges” on that specific issue.

Hence, as he himself as framed the issue, his papers are irrelevant to the assumption on which his argument hinges.

iii) Not only do his papers fail to establish his specific assumption, they also fail to establish his general assumption: to wit, that people in Bible times were committed to naïve realism. Where do his papers show that the ancients ever believed that mountains were smaller at a distance, or that oars are actually bent by water?

When he makes sweeping statements about how people in Bible times didn’t distinguish between appearance and reality, it only takes few counterexamples to falsify his universal claim.

iv) There is also a lack of intellectual clarity in the way he relates his general claim to his specific claim. At one point he says that his argument for naïve realism hinges on his argument for universal ANE belief in geocentricism, yet he has also indicated that naïve realism was the reason that people in Bible times believed in geocentrism, as well as a flat earth and a solid sky.

I suppose the most charitable way of clarifying his intellectual confusion on this point is that he meant naïve realism to be the constitutive principle, while belief in geocentricism, &c. would supply evidence for naïve realism.

v) His papers also fail to rebut a number of my contentions:

a) As I explained in some detail, it’s simplistic to claim that appearances single out geocentrism or a flat earth or a solid dome. To the contrary, the appearances point to a more complex model which is at odds with Seely’s blanket assertions.

b) His papers fail to rebut the evidence I cited regarded the stylized and symbolic dimension of Biblical cosmography. Even if he were right about the “firmament,” that misses the point.

c) His papers fail to address his selective appeal to scholars when they happen to agree with him—as if he has all the scholars on his side.

Those are just a few of the points at which, both in his papers, and his direct reply to me, is unresponsive to my answer.

Remember, I didn’t initiate this challenge. Seely is the one who posed these questions to commenters at Green Baggins.

When, however, his challenge is answered, he acts offended. And he gave Paul Manata the brush-off as well, when Manata also responded to Seely’s challenge.

We’ve responded to Seely on his own terms. Were his questions sincere or insincere? If sincere, why does he react in this fashion?

“Worse still he later complained that I did not offer any examples. The amazing thing is that he said this immediately after quoting me offering a specific example.”

That’s a clear misrepresentation of what I said. I systematically ran through his putative examples and showed that they were unsuccessful in establishing his claim.

“Worse still he concluded with slanderous accusations.”

How is what I said “slanderous”? Several commenters, both here (in the thread at Green Baggins) and at some blogs supporting Enns, have been trying very hard to come up with one Scriptural example or another which would embarrass the inerrantist and make him stand down from his commitment to inerrancy. That’s trivially easy to document. Consider one of Seely’s own statements here:

“In order to make the doctrine of a scientifically inerrant Bible stand up, Old Princeton/Westminster have given us such answers as the Framework hypothesis, day-age concordism, and the local Flood. But, are these the real meanings of the biblical text or creative impositions upon the text? Or if the stories are real history, how can we believe against all of the scientific evidence the world was created in the space of six days or that a Flood less than 10,000 years ago destroyed all but eight humans?”

Look at how he’s framed the alternatives. If the “stories” in Genesis are “real history,” then how can we believe them given all of the scientific evidence to the contrary? Aren’t various attempts to defend a “scientifically inerrant Bible” a “creative imposition on the text”?

Isn’t Seely admitting that, on his own view, the Bible is scientifically errant? That these stories, to the extent that they conflict with all the scientific evidence to the contrary, aren’t “real history.”

Or consider Seely’s Pickwickian statement that “I agree with much of what you say. An accommodated human opinion should not be considered evidence that Scripture is errant, because it is not God’s opinion; he is just accommodating the human opinion.”

How does that salvage the doctrine of inspiration? By that dichotomy, every assertion in Scripture could be accommodated to errant human opinion, yet this shouldn’t be considered evidence that Scripture is errant, for God wouldn’t share the errant, inscripturated opinions of Moses or David or Isaiah or Matthew or Luke or John or Paul.

Yes, I’d say that that’s instilling a spirit of doubt in the Word of God. And I’m more concerned about slandering the Holy Spirit when we deny the plenary inspiration of Scripture.

steve hays said,
April 15, 2008 at 8:22 am

Paul Seely said,

“The Gen 1/Enuma elish and Gen 6-8/Gilgamesh/Atrahais parallels.”

Seely is conflating two distinct issues.

1.I don’t think anyone disputes genuine parallels between Gen 6-8 and Gilgamesh/Atrahasis.

This, however, doesn’t mean that Gen 6-8 is a bowdlerized version of the Mesopotamian accounts.

Since, according to Genesis, the ark came to rest in northern Mesopotamia, the survivors of the flood would have resided in Mesopotamia. It’s therefore unsurprising if Mesopotamian culture retained a traditional memory of that historic event.

The accounts would be parallel because they are reporting the same event—as well as sharing common, ANE literary conventions.

The Mesopotamian versions would be somewhat garbled and legendary accounts of the same historical event because they’re idolatrous and uninspired.

2.However, that explanation is unavailable in the case of the Enuma Elish. Those who think the Elish is genuinely parallel with Gen 1 also believe that the world is billions of years old. Depending on whether they subscribe to theistic evolution or old earth creationism, they also identify Adam with some hominid that came on the scene, at the latest, around 200,000 years ago.

Given that timeframe, it wouldn’t be possible for the Enuma Elish to preserve an authentic oral tradition of what really happened when man was made or the world came into being.

Therefore, assuming, for the sake of argument, that Gen 1 is literarily dependent on the Enuma Elish or some earlier version thereof, Gen 1 would have zero historical content.

If the myth was unhistorical, and you demythologize a myth, then the demythologized version will be equally unhistorical.

It would be nice Seely laid his cards on the table at this point. Is Gen 1 the record of a historical event, or is it the record of an unhistorical myth?

steve hays said,
April 15, 2008 at 12:23 pm

If Seely thinks there are genuine parallels between Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish, then it would be helpful to observe him demonstrate that claim by directly quoting those portions of the Enuma Elish which are parallel, along with the matching verses in Gen 1, so that the reader can see what, exactly, he is referring to. Why doesn’t he show us what he means, by presenting a direct, verbatim comparison?

steve hays said,
April 16, 2008 at 9:03 am

Paul Seely said,

“steve hays (365) gave several quotations from one of John Walton’s books, which appear to contradict Enns’ position. A closer look, however, shows that either there is no real contradiction of Enns, or the writer is mistaken.”

i) You and others were making facile claims about parallels between Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish. I simply posted some material which drew attention to the equivocations and disanalogies in this facile comparison.

You are now introducing qualifications which you didn’t volunteer in your original claim. It betrays a certain lack of candor on your part when these qualifications have to be forced out of you.

The average Christian reader doesn’t have access to standard reference works. Therefore, he’s dependent on people like you for his information. When you are selective and one-sided in your presentation of the evidence, that misleads the reader. It should not have been necessary for Manata and me to present the other side of the argument. You should have done that yourself.

ii) I also quoted two scholars (Currid, Walton) whom you quoted to support your interpretation of Gen 1:6.

iii) When the experts disagree, what is a layman to think?

“Kitchen’s last argument, which is similar to one that Walton makes, overlooks the very important similarity of the splitting of the tehom on the 2nd day to the splitting of Tiamat in Eluma elish, and the making of first the sky , then the earth, and then the heavenly bodies. But, it is not just these similarities which tie these two traditions together. It is the fact that no other ANE story has a splitting of the primeval Deep. In fact, it is difficult to find any other creation story anywhere in the world that has these similarities.”

Gen 1 doesn’t speak of “splitting” the tehom. You’ve carried that over from the Enuma Elish.

Where does the Enuma elish have timemarkers to say which action is first, second, third…in the sequence of events? Where does the Enuma elish present a chronology of events?

“And it should not be overlooked that the dissimilarity is fundamentally theological,while the underlying events often coincide with E.e. or other Babylonian sources.”

That’s an assertion. You need to document that assertion by actually quoting from the Enuma Elish or “other Babylonian sources” so that a reader can see for himself what they allegedly have in common. All you’ve done is to *summarize* what you think they have in common.

“There is no reason to have to belabor all this.”

To the contrary, there is every reason to belabor all this. When you make specific claims, you need to furnish specific evidence commensurate with your claims.

“Enns is scarcely alone in seeing similarities between Gen 1 and E.e. or Gen 6-8 and Atrahasis-Gilgamesh. And as to borrowing, he has accepted it only indirectly. He has set forth a perfectly reasonable scenario of Abraham beginning with theologically corrupted traditions and then having them transformed by revelation. Those corrupted traditions are not to be identified with the E.e. account and the Gilgamesh account as we have them today; but there is a relationship between the traditions and the later accounts.”

That’s one of those beautifully unfalsifiable claims that we often get in higher criticism. The critic postulates a hypothetical source on which a Bible writer was dependent. This hypothetical source is conveniently unavailable for direct inspection. So we can’t actually check his claim against the putative point of reference.

Putative similarities are treated as evidence for some sort of literary dependence. However, dissimilarities never count against the theory since the dissimilarities are relegated to the hypothetical source document.

“One would think from the way some talk that Gen 1 has no relationship at all to Enuma elish. The splitting of the primeval waters links the two accounts together, as does the order of events.”

i) The theme of creation by division isn’t limited to the primeval waters in Gen 1. It also involves light from dark, day from night, and (by implication) land from sea.

ii) You haven’t shown a common order of events. You merely asserted a common order of events. Your summaries assume what you need to prove

If you claim a parallel, then you need to actually quote from both documents (Gen 1, Enuma Elish), so that a reader can see that the putatively parallels involve the same *kind* of events, in the same chronological order (with timemarkers to indicate the relative sequence).

steve hays said,
April 17, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Paul Seely said

“If you want more details, read Davis or Heidel’s The Babylonian Genesis.”

I’ve read Heidel. On pp128-29, he gives a précis of what he believes to be the sequential parallels. What he fails to do, and what you fail to do, is to quote the relevant portions of the Enuma Elish where these parallels occurs.

I myself have gone back through his translation, and when I attempt to locate the parallels in the actual text, these are not analogous events. All we have is the sort of loose parallelomania we find in Frazer et al.

You have failed to document your claim. Indeed, you don’t even make an effort to document your claim. All you give us are your tendentious summaries of the evidence in lieu of giving us the actual evidence.

You *tell* us there are parallels without *showing* us there are parallels. Fine. I accept your tacit admission that you can’t begin to actually prove your case. You resist repeated invitations to make good on your claims.

As Neusner is wont to say, you don’t know what you can’t show.

steve hays said,
April 18, 2008 at 7:40 am

Paul Seely said,

“As for actually addressing the question of sequence, Davis presents his case very much like the web article mentioned by Paul M. If you want more details, read Davis or Heidel’s The Babylonian Genesis.”

To the contrary, Davis admits that “The Babylonian story knows nothing of a division into days whereas the Hebrew account is distributed within a framework of six days,” J. Davis, Genesis & Semitic Tradition, 7.

If the Enuma Elish lacks a temporal framework, then the events contained therein also lack a clear temporal sequence.

steve hays said,
April 20, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Paul Seely said,

“Point i: the same comments could be made about your and other critics’ posts.”

That’s because Manata and I have to provide a counterballast to your slanted sampling of the evidence.

“And you are splitting hairs for no good reason. In both accounts a large body of water is divided into two parts, does the fact that one account says, ‘split’ and the other says, ‘divide’ make any difference to the substance?”

Yes, it does. Here are two standard translations of what you regard as the key passage in the Enuma Elish:

“He split her open like a mussel(?) into two (parts),” A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis, 42.

“He split her like a shellfish into two parts,” J. Pritchard, ed. The Ancient Near East, 1:35.

The choice of the verb (“to split”) is tied to the mythopoetic image of splitting a body in two the way you’d split a shellfish.

That idea is nowhere present in Gen 1:2.

What you’ve done is to *create* a parallel rather than *find* a parallel.

“John Davis saw this commonality of splitting the waters as evidence that the two accounts were related.”

I don’t know why you keep plugging John Davis. This is a very antiquated piece of scholarship. It was originally published way back in 1894. Surely you don’t think his very dated monograph represents the last word in comparative Semitics.

I think the only reason you introduced it into the discussion was as a tactical maneuver to show that Enns is operating with the tradition of Old Princeton.

“If you want more details, read Davis or Heidel’s The Babylonian Genesis.”

Fine. Here’s a detail from Heidel: “As far as Semitic grammar is concerned, tehom represents an older and more original formation than does Tiamat” (100).

“Or Pope and other commentaries on Genesis.”

Fine. Here’s what a standard commentary on Genesis (1:2) has to say:

“Even if the etymological equivalence of tehom and Tiamat be granted, this still does not demonstrate that the biblical Creation story has a Babylonian background. For one thing, many ancients believed in a primeval watery mass out of which the orders of creation emerged, whether these ancients were the Egyptians with their concept of the god of the primeval waters—Nu—who is the source of all things, or the Greek philosopher Thales. Second, the ‘deep’ of Gen 1 is so far removed in function from the Tiamat of Enuma elish that any possible relationship is blurred beyond recognition. The ‘deep’ of Gen 1 is not personified, and in no way is it viewed as some turbulent, antagonistic force,” V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, 110-11.

“Strong negative arguments may be sounded regarding the linguistic relationship between Heb. tehom and Babylonian Tiamat. Much more likely is the correspondence between Heb. tehom and Ugar. thm (dual, thmtm, plural thmt), ‘deep,depth(s),” or even earlier Eblaite ti-a-matum, ‘ocean abyss’,” ibid. 111.

“But, as far as I’m concerned, the issue is settled: kinship there is.”

Who needs proof when you can resort to truth by stipulation! That’s a real timesaver.

“If you work at it you can find and see his parallels.”

The burden of proof is not on me to make your case for you.

steve hays said,
April 21, 2008 at 8:50 am

Paul Seely said,

“There may well be influence from Egypt upon Genesis 1; but, the dividing of the primeval waters found in Gen 1:6,7 will forever link that chapter to the Babylonian creation tradition found in Enuma Elish because the splitting of the primeval waters is found only there in ancient Near Eastern literature, and virtually only there in all the creation stories in the world. Further, the splitting of the Tehom in Genesis, which is not the normal Hebrew word for sea,is cognate with Tiamat, the name of the sea in Enuam Elish.”

There are two basic problems with this claim:

i) Seely is so obsessed with seeing a parallel between Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish that he misses the true, intertextual parallel between the creation account and the flood account. The reason that Gen 1 accentuates the watery motif is to draw attention to the historical parallel between creation (1:2,6-10) and the reversal of creation during the flood (7:11; 8:2).

ii) Ancient Israelites were perfectly aware of the fact that rain comes from rain clouds. Seely’s interpretation imputes to the author and his audience a primitive naïveté which is belied by Scriptural statements to the contrary:

“Preponderantly the OT describes the process of rainfall much as we do, that is, as a concomitant of lightning, clouds, and thunder (Gen 9:14; Judg 5:4; 1 K 18:45; Isa 5:6; and even poetic passages such as Job 26:8 and Ps 77:18[Eng.17]), Hamilton, ibid. 1:123.

“The ‘expanse’ is the visible atmosphere or sky (Gen 1:8), characterized by the layer of clouds that contain the water above it (1:7; Ps 148:4). The older translation, ‘firmament,’ gives a false impression of the nature of the expanse. Phrases such as ‘hard as a mirror’ (Job 37:1 and ‘like a canopy’ (Isa 40:22) are merely highly picturesque ways of describing it,” R. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis (2nd ed.), 29.

steve hays said,
April 22, 2008 at 9:35 am

Paul Seely said,

“Pt i Genesis’ intertextual parallel of the split waters with the flood account in no way refutes the fact observed by John Davis that in both Gen 1 and Enuma Elish, there is “an abyss of waters shrouded in darkness and subsequently parted in twain in order to the formation of heaven and earth’.”

i) The Enuma Elish doesn’t speak of primeval darkness.

And even if it did, we’d expect a creation account, whether mythical or otherwise, to describe the creation of luminaries—which presupposes their prior absence.

ii) Anyway, you’re missing the point. Gen 1:2 doesn’t require an extratextual explanation, for an intertextual explanation is close at hand.

Your procedure is to arbitrarily isolate Gen 1:2 from other parallels within Gen 1 (i.e. other examples of creation by division), as well as between Gen 1 and Gen 6-8. Having thus artificially narrowed the frame of reference, you claim that the only way to account for Gen 1:2 is through literary dependence on some extratextual source.

But separation is a recurrent motif in Gen 1. And, as Wenham points out, the literary and theological function of this motif is to foreshadow the distinction between ritual purity and impurity.

It has a completely different function than the myth of Tiamat. You keep superimposing that extraneous grid on Gen 1 in defiance of its internal structure and intertextual parallels.

“There is no necessary conflict between the solidity of the firmament and fact that the clouds dump rain.”

To the contrary, these are two very different ways of depicting rainfall. In one case, rain comes from visible clouds—in the other case it comes from an invisible sea above the firmament, channeled through sluice gates. They involve two very different models of the world.

“Yes , and one similarity is that all of them believed the sky was solid, as I documented in my paper on the firmament.”

Actually, the OT uses different, literally incompatible metaphors for the sky. It’s a solid dome. A tent. A scroll.

“He is assuming that the words, “in the firmament” necessarily imply embedded in the firmament. This is a false assumption since the cup ‘in Pharaoh’s hand’ (Gen 40:13) was not embedded in his hand, hence his conclusion is fallacious.”

That comparison reinforces his argument, not yours. A cup doesn’t move itself. For the cup to move, the hand must move the cup. So even if the celestial bodies are in the solid sky the way a cup is in a hand, the celestial bodies couldn’t move unless the sky rotated.

“Gary, I apolgize for taking time to answer hay’s attempts to obscure the Bible in order to save a fundamentalist view of inerrancy.”

It obscures the Bible to deny that Gen 1 is a bowdlerized version of a pagan myth?

One doesn’t need to be a “fundamentalist” or inerrantist to reject trumped up comparisons between Gen 1 and the Enuma Elish. As Stanley Jaki observes,

“Rather willful should seem interpretations of ancient ‘creation’ stories, where they are raised to the status of cosmogonies. They invariably contain far less than what is read into them time and again…One wonders whether anyone, wholly unfamiliar with Genesis 1, could have ever summarized in such a way the contents of Tablets IV and V which alone deal with the ‘creation’ of the world in Enuma elish,” Genesis 1 Through the Ages (Thomas More Press, 1992, 17-18.

steve hays said,
April 23, 2008 at 9:59 am

Paul Seely said,

“First of all, ‘ALL Scripture is inspired’ Therefore if myths or legends are included in Scripture, they are inspired.”

In a perfunctory show of mock piety, Seely prefaces his explanation with a face-saving appeal to 2 Tim 3:16. But he then extends this to myths or legends. Yet myths and legends are falsehoods. So, his position reduces to saying that God inspires falsehoods. Scripture teaches inspired falsehoods.

I’m not entirely clear on the difference between inspired falsehoods and uninspired falsehoods.

“In the case of Gen 1-11, I would say Gen 1 and 6-8. as the examples Enns uses, are ancient traditions which Israel accepted as historical but revised the theology.”

So the Bible writers sincerely believed that these stories were historical. The Bible writers intended to teach history, but we know better.

“They were appropriately accommodated by God because (1) they were accepted as valid before Moses incorporated them—just like the custom that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever.”

i) Seely likes to lean on this example. But his appeal suffers from a fatal equivocation. The Mosaic divorce law is not an accommodation to falsehood. The divorce law doesn’t assert something to be true which is really false. It doesn’t assert something to be a moral absolute which is actually immoral.

ii) To know what falsehoods God accommodated in Scripture, Seely would have to enjoy direct access to the mind of God outside of Scripture. He would need to know God’s ulterior intent apart from Scripture. What is Seely’s source of information? Is God telling him which Scriptural assertions are true, and which Scriptural assertions are accommodated errors?

“And (2) it would have caused stumbling and rejection of the theological correction Moses incorporated if they had been changed to reflect our views (of science and history) as to what ought to have been said—just as was the case with the custom of easy divorce. The absolute truth about the creation/Flood just as the absolute truth about divorce simply could not be told to a rude and ignorant people.”

So Seely adopts a double truth theory. In the pulpit, preaching to the rude and ignorant masses, he speaks as if these myths and legends are true. But in the privacy of his study, he believes them to be false.

“Well, today science has made it clear. At the time of Old Princeton, it may not have been a breach of the knowledge of geology to say that Gen 1 could be harmonized via the day-age theory or that Adam could not be dated except by the genealogies and they could be stretched 20,000 years, or that the Flood account could be harmonized via a local Flood theory. Today, however, if we give to science the same respect as did Hodge and Warfield and apply our knowledge of science to Gen 1-11, science makes it clear that none of those old harmonizations hold water. So far are the scientific facts from agreeing with Gen 1-11, ‘Creation science’ has invented its own private science to agree with Genesis; and WTS can barely speak of science at all without emphasizing the noetic effects of sin (on scientists, not themselves). If we follow Hodge and Warfield by interpreting Gen 1 and 6-8 in the light of modern science including what we know of the ANE, two things are evident: These chapters do not agree with modern science, but they do agree with the worldview of the times.”

For Seely, a commentator must submit his commentary to The Ad Hoc Committee On Facts. Since, by Seely’s own admission, the facts change from one generation to the next, a commentator doesn’t know in advance which interpretation is the factual interpretation.

Hence, if a commentator is prudent, he will want to have a fallback option in case The Ad Hoc Committee On Facts overrules his interpretation. So the prudent commentator will submit a draft copy with multiple-choice interpretations, such as:

1.The Young-earth interpretation of Gen 1.
2.The Old-earth interpretation of Gen 1.
3.The Theistic Evolutionary interpretation of Gen 1.
4.The Demythological interpretation of Gen 1.
5.The Mythological interpretation of Gen 1.

1.The Resurrection narratives are inerrant stories.
2.The Resurrection narratives are errant stories.
3.The Resurrection narratives are legendary stories.
4.The Resurrection narratives are mythical stories.

1.Jesus is the omniscient Son of God.
2.Jesus is the kenotic Son of God.
3.Jesus was a Cynic philosopher.
4.Jesus was a psychic.
5.Jesus was a space alien.
6.Jesus never existed.

The far-sighted commentator has a scripted series of rotating interpretations for every contingency. That way, he can whip out whichever interpretation falls in line with the fashionable facts of the day.

If The Ad Hoc Committee On Facts says that miracles represent a throwback to an antiquated and superstitious worldview, he can reinterpret the miracles of Jesus as accommodated errors.

If The Ad Hoc Committee On Facts says that Paul’s views on sex and gender are unscientific, he can consign that bit of Pauline teaching to accommodated error.

If The Ad Hoc Committee On Facts says the Parousia reflects an obsolete, triple-decker view of the universe, then he can relegate the Second Coming of Christ to accommodated error.

An ambidextrous commentator should be able to tailor a suitable interpretation for every eventuality.

“Applying all of this to Enns’ statements, we conclude that his ‘myth’ is an inspired accommodation, and the principles of Old Princeton demand this conclusion.”

Notice that this has nothing to do with what God demands, or Scripture demands. Like a good defense attorney, Seely knows how to game the system. You treat tradition as case law. As long as you’re able to find a precedent somewhere in your tradition, you can then get your client off on a technicality.

For folks like Seely, God has ceased to be a living reality. It’s just a case of learning how to work the system. Knowing where to find the escape-clauses in the contract.

“How else, for example, could you interpret the Flood account in the light of the scientific facts, which at this point in history falsify it, except by regarding it as an accommodation to the views of the times?”

How does Seely’s methodology different from that of John Spong or Rudolf Bultmann? We must save the Bible from itself. Man has come of age. Our task is to make Christianity relevant to modern man.

“You could play turtle: Inside my shell of faith there is no problem.”

Doesn’t Seely play turtle? Isn’t he arbitrarily selective about what parts of the Bible he credits?

“But, where is the answer that can accept ALL the facts…Are they willing to face and incorporate ALL of the facts.”

I don’t have any problem with accepting all the “facts,” although something is not a fact just because Seely says so. He is very selective in his appeal to the facts. And his philosophy of science is puerile.

And the one little fact he leaves out of his grand synthesis is the fact that God has spoken.

We’ve reached the point where an adequate reply to Seely would call for a full-blown defense of Gen 1-11. That’s beyond the scope of the combox. I’m offer a few concluding observations:

1.Seely is rehearsing all the stock, liberal objections to the historicity of Gen 1-11. His view is functionally indistinguishable from the way in which unbelievers typically attack Genesis.

The only difference is that he tacks on a bit of face-saving verbiage about divine accommodation. That makes his position more nominally pious than Rudolf Bultmann or Victor Stenger, but his interpretations and conclusions have the same cash value.

2.There are two ways viewing Christian apologetics.

a) On one view, the duty of apologetics is to first ascertain what the Bible teaches, then defend whatever the Bible teaches. This is the evangelical view of apologetics.

b) On another view, the duty of apologetics is to rescue Christianity from the Bible. We must try to salvage a residual core of Christian faith from an error-ridden text. This is the liberal view of apologetics.

Bultmann was a classic exponent of (b). He didn’t see himself as an enemy of the faith. Rather, he viewed himself as a Christian apologist. He thought he was doing the Christian faith a favor.

3.Seely, through his selective, one-sided emphasis, has convinced himself that Gen 1-11 is indebted to pagan mythology. Manata and I have cited a lot of counterevidence by top scholars to deconstruct his specious parallels, but Seely is committed to his thesis.

4.Seely has a very naïve view of what science can prove. He betrays no awareness of the realist/antirealist debate in the philosophy of science. For example:

5.Seely lectures us on modern science as if we were suddenly transported to the 21C from the Middle Ages. But all of us are the heirs of modern science. We don’t believe the Bible out of scientific ignorance. Does Seely think that Vern Poythress is a scientific ignoramus?

6.Seely likes to belittle creationism. But creationism isn’t all of a piece. Kurt Wise and Ken Ham aren’t interchangeable.

And it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. I think that OEC exegesis is sometimes better than YEC exegesis.

7.Seely also likes to belittle fundamentalists. But Seely construes the imagery in Gen 1 with the same wooden literality as Tim LaHaye. Seely’s hermeneutical approach is no different than the backwoods preacher he so disdains.

He disregards the emblematic nature of the imagery at various points, where Moses is using architectural metaphors to signify sacred space and sacred time. Scholars like Currid, Beale, and Walton have all documented that feature.

8.In his unwitting way, I think Seely has rendered a service to the cause of Christianity by ripping the mask away from I&I and showing us just what, without the pious makeup, the alternative that he, Enns, and others of their ilk really amounts to.

II. Jorgenson

steve hays said,
April 15, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Scott Jorgenson said,

“Here’s why it seems unlikely to me that Genesis 6-8 inerrantly preserves the historical events of an actual global flood, while Gilgamesh and Atrahasis preserve a corruption of those same events. There are dozens if not hundreds of flood legends from across many of the world’s cultures, but the pattern we observe is that the stories which are most parallel to Genesis 6-8 are the ones whose authors were closest in geographical, historical and cultural proximity to the authors of Genesis 6-8. This strikes me as quite a coincidence unless there is some literary relationship between the two. Everybody else forgot what the flood was really like except the ancient Hebrews and, just coincidentally, their Mesopotamian neighbors? Very strange indeed.”

I already anticipated that argument. It’s not a strange coincidence if the survivors of the flood disembarked in Mesopotamia (e.g. the mountain chain of Ararat). There’s where they would have initially settled. That’s completely consistent with what Genesis says. You’re behind the curve.

“Rather the position is that Enuma elish is an expression evolved from pagan cosmogonic and theogonic traditions, and it is those traditions behind Enuma elish that Genesis 1 addresses.”

Enns claims the parallels are more specific. They involve (according to him) a common sequence of events (I&I, p26).

Sounds like you’re just winging it with your canned answers rather than addressing what I specifically said or Enns specifically said.

steve hays said,
April 16, 2008 at 9:44 am

Scott Jorgenson said,

“Steve: I don’t see how the Mesopotamians having settled in the area while the rest dispersed, would cause them to retain better memory of the specifics of the flood than all the rest but one (the Hebrews). I realized you had suggested that; but it seems a non sequitur to me.”

i) Well, to go back to your original statement, many cultures will have their share of flood “legends” simply because they happen to reside on a natural flood plain, like a river valley. If their respective legends don’t have much in common, that’s because they were never referring to a common event in the first place. So your frame of reference is very questionable.

ii) Differences can also depend on how soon after the event it was committed to writing, and what records have survived.

iii) Cross-cultural diffusion can also revise the original account, such as the transmutation of Greek mythology into Roman mythology. There is more opportunity for cross-cultural diffusion if some descendants of the survivors (of the flood) migrate to far-flung regions of the globe—in contrast to a more homogenous civilization.

steve hays said,
April 20, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Scott Jorgenson said,

“I am unclear whether you consider the historical flood event to have been global in extent or local. What is your position on that?”

That’s not an easy question to answer. The temptation of a modern reader, in reading the geographical markers in the flood account, is to unconsciously translate or transfer these to his modern map of the earth.

But the original audience didn’t have the same mental map. So it’s easy for a modern reader to overinterpret the scope of the flood.

At the same time, the flood was clearly meant to eradicate the human race.

“In other words, the global flood would have leveled culture, and there would be no reason to suppose that Mesopotamia would have retained the most accurate memory of the global event (despite subsequent local flooding), while remote cultures’ memory of the deluge was obscured by such subsequent local flooding.”

i) I didn’t say that local flood traditions would obscure the memory of a global flood. What I said, rather, is that you need to establish that all these flood traditions are traditions of a global flood rather than a local flood.

Your argument is that we have legends of a global flood from cultures all around the world, but only two of these traditions are significantly parallel. You haven’t established all these flood traditions, or even many of them, are, in fact, traditions of a global flood—in contradistinction to traditions of a local flood. Therefore, you can’t use that as a benchmark to single out the parallels between the Biblical account and its Mesopotamian counterparts.

ii) Memory is reinforced by physical proximity to the event. Peoples who moved away from the site where the original survivors disembarked would lose that mnemonic reinforcement.

“Out-migrants from the ark would encounter no other cultures with which to cross-pollinate and pollute their own memories of the global flood; they would be moving into empty ruins.”

That’s simplistic since migration often takes place in successive waves of immigration, with intervals of stasis and internal development in-between.

“Each people-group’s surroundings would eventually fill with peoples of other kinds, yes; but the same is true for those who remained near the ark in the first place.”

You need to establish that Mesopotamia underwent the same dislocation. Were the people who stayed behind subject to the same degree of cross-cultural diffusion?

“Early proto-writing systems are known from China and the Indus Valley which are generally contemporaneous with the earliest Mesopotamian proto-writing.”

You’re equivocating. The question at issue is not the origin of writing, but when a particular event was committed to writing.

steve hays said,
April 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm

Scott Jorgenson said,

“Steve (403), if all cultures worldwide derive from Noah and thus have the Noahic Flood in their background, I can’t see that it matters whether their individual flood stories later reflect that Flood or local flood events. You say we need to establish that, but it is irrelevant. If their stories reflect the Noahic Flood, then the question becomes why they do it less ‘accurately’ in comparison with Mesopotamian sources. But if they reflect local events, then the question becomes why the Mesopotamian stories don’t as well. In either case, the same basic question exists: why of all the world’s flood accounts do only the Mesopotamian ones bear closest resemblance to Genesis 6-8.

i) Why might two or more flood accounts be dissimilar? One obvious explanation is that they differ because they are reporting different events (i.e. different local floods in different localities).

ii) Why might two or more flood accounts be similar? One obvious explanation is that they resemble each other because they are reporting the same event.

Another reason for some similarities is if they share common literary conventions.

iii) It is, of course, possible that two or more flood accounts are similar due to some direct or indirect literary dependence. That would be the liberal explanation of Gen 6-8.

Either a (ii) common historical source or a (iii) common literary source.

“And the most natural, least-question-begging answer to that, considering also the geographic and cultural proximity of Mespotamia and the Hebrews, is that they are literarily related, reflecting common local traditions, and that any common historical event behind them is not one shared by all of the world’s people.”

If you favor simplistic explanations that overlook other relevant variables.

“This is indeed the answer that we would apply in any other case and it is only because of prior commitment to total biblical inerrancy and historicity that we are debating this.”

And the only reason you’re debating this is because of your prior commitment to extrabiblical evidence over biblical evidence. So you have your presuppositions, and I have mine.

But Christian presuppositions have more explanatory power than secular presuppositions. For example, evolutionary psychology has a suicidal tendency to cut its own throat.

“But what reason is there to suppose that Mesopotamians were subject to less flux in tradition than out-migrants, considering the geographic crossroads of empire which Mesopotamia occupies?”

At best, that objection would result in a stalemate between your explanation and mine.

At the same time, migration is an inherently destabilizing force. After a few generations, immigrants often assimilate to the challenges of their new environment.

“What reason is there to suppose that the Chinese and especially Vedic flood stories (committed to writing in the early- to mid-1st millenium BC at the latest - some argue for much earlier dates - and reflecting earlier oral traditions) were too late to have been able to capture the historical events of the Noahic Flood, while the ANE stories were not?”

i) If one account committed an event to writing some 1500 years later than another, then it could well be less accurate for that reason alone.

ii) In any case, this assumes that Chinese and Vedic accounts are reporting the same event as Genesis or Gilgamesh, rather than an unrelated, local flood.

“Incidentally, radiocarbon dating demonstrates that people were scattered all over the earth long before the ~2900 BC date of the Noahic Flood. An anthropologically-universal flood at the time of Noah would have to have been a physically global flood.”

Dating techniques tend to be beset by circular assumptions or extrapolations that exceed the evidence. To take one example:

How are they calibrated? Although the equipment used to date radio-active materials has become more sophisticated through time, basic problems originally discovered by Willard Libby, inventor of the C14 dating method, still hold true. Calibrated using known dates of Egyptian tomb artifacts, it has proven somewhat accurate back to about 2000 BC. But there are problems for radio carbon dating older than 5000 BP (Before Present). Dates earlier than that cannot be calibrated since there is no historical material older than 5000 BP. Furthermore, as Libby made clear in his publication, all “dates” higher than 5000 years BP are not absolute dates, but only the measure of residual C14. Dendrochronology does not help, either, since under certain conditions trees can grow two and sometimes three rings a year. (Libby, 1965, ix, for an application to Mesopotamia, see Mallowan 1968, 7-8).

Max Mallowan reported in Cambridge Ancient History that Early Dynastic I in Mesopotamia should begin about 2000 BC. However, C14 tests were in great opposition to this which created problems for radio carbon dating older than 4000 BP (Before Present). While developing the C14 method, W. Libby himself said: “The first shock Dr. Arnold and I had was that our advisors informed us that history extended back only 5000 years. We had initially thought that we would be able to get samples along the curve back to 30,000 years, put the points in, and then our work would be finished . . . We learned rather abruptly that these numbers, these ancient ages are not known; in fact, it is about the time of the first dynasty in Egypt that the last [earliest] historical date of any real certainty has been established” (Libby 1958, 531). “The larger group of scientists which question specific dates . . . are probably closer to the actual fact. That is, some radio-carbon dates do not indicate the age of the phenomena described for the samples, even though such dates represent true determinations of the quantities of radiocarbon in the samples” (Libby 1965, 144).

“Overall, how much special-pleading is necessary? How much overthrow of established scholarship, history and science becomes required to support total historicity of Genesis 6-8, let alone the rest of Genesis 1-11? This is certainly no modest project inerrantists are engaged in when it comes to Genesis 1-11.”

Since our exchange has been limited to Gen 6-8, your tendentious question is too vague to merit a reply.

steve hays said,
April 21, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Scott Jorgenson said,

“Steve (406), if I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that the world’s flood accounts are so different from the Mesopotamian and Genesis accounts because they are related neither as common history nor as common story/tradition. Rather they are simply unrelated.”

I haven’t taken a position on that. I’m simply answering you on your own grounds. To judge by your repeated reaction, that’s a novel experience for you.

This is how it works. You cited various flood accounts from around the world as a frame of reference. I merely pointed out that your comparison was based on certain assumptions which you need to validate for your comparison to be cogent. For some reason, that elementary point of logic leaves you flummoxed.

“If that’s so, then I’m again puzzled: how can one say it is in everyone’s background, and then fail to be puzzled at why none of the rest of the world’s flood stories reflect it as well?”

I didn’t say if they do or don’t. I merely pointed out that many cultures have flood accounts because the cultures in question reside on flood plains. These are probably dissimilar because they describe dissimilar events.

Hence, for your comparison to work, you would need to separate out the flood accounts which share a common historical referent from those that describe local, geographically isolated events.

“How can it be said, as I believe you did, that all the rest of the world’s accounts aren’t referring to the Noahic Flood but instead are referring to purely local stories or events.”

I didn’t commit myself to that position. I’m answering you on your own grounds. Your comparison is predicated on certain assumptions which you need to validate. One obvious way of accounting for different descriptions is if, in fact, they describe different events—just as one obvious way of accounting for similar descriptions is if they describe the same event.

“And yet something coincidentally happened in the ANE to keep their stories anchored to the Noahic Flood rather than be likewise diluted?”

Of course, that’s a deliberate misrepresentation of what I said. I didn’t attribute the commonality to “coincidence.”

“In response to that, I noted some speculative ideas from you.”

Once again, I’m responding to you on your own grounds. Your whole argument is speculative. It is predicated on the speculative assumption that all these flood accounts ought to be more-or-less parallel since they ought to be denoting the same (global) event.

“Mesopotamians having more physical reminders (interesting).”

Why you think that’s “speculative,” you don’t explain. Living in physical proximity to an event (in this case, where the survivors of the flood disembarked) can be reminder of the event.

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks the gov’t should award research grants to sociologists to study commonplace things which everyone already knows to be the case, such as double-bind experiments to see if men have a predilection for blond bombshells.

“Less cultural osmosis (quite unlikely I would think, considering the centrality of the Fertile Crescent in history)”

Why is that unlikely? France is a cultural crossroads. Yet French immigrants to America quickly assimilate to the dominant culture. They are less “French” than their French forebears, who remained in the homeland.

In any case, I’m simply pointing out that your comparison is predicated on questionable assumptions.

“And a quicker commitment to writing (yet still a thousand years or more after the Flood, plenty of time for the ANE memory to disintegrate as much as the rest of the world’s I would think).”

You suffer from a serious inability to follow your opponent’s argument. I didn’t state this as a fact. Rather, I made the commonsense observation that the sooner an event is committed to writing, the more likely the account is to be historically accurate. Therefore, when you compare flood account A to account B to account C and so on and so forth, you need to make allowance for that differential factor.

“If you know of any mainstream scholars not fully pre-attached to total biblical historicity and inerrancy who are convinced by this, please let me know. I don’t.”

I don’t share your bigoted and viciously circular dismissal of anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

“Actually, you may refer to any non-fundamentalist-apologetic resource on the subject.”

i) Once again, I don’t share your bigoted and viciously circular dismissal of anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

ii) But, to answer you on your own grounds, Richard Milton (Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, 2nd ed.) is an agnostic scientist who challenges conventional dating schemes.

“Contrary to your statement…”

This isn’t *my* statement. If you paid attention, you would see that I was quoting David Livingston, who was quoting other sources. Follow the link.

“Anyway, it seems to me that there is a troubling pattern here. First we begin with archaeology and comparative literature, which suggest that Genesis 6-8 is not historically inerrant but instead dependent (along with Atrahasis and Gilgamesh) on common Mesopotamian traditions (perhaps with a historical core, perhaps not). To deny this, we must plead-away that conclusion by appealing to speculations about local landmarks serving as physical reminders and what-not.”

David Livingston is an archeologist. So is John Currid, whom I also quoted. I could cite others, who disagree with Seely, such as Alfred Hoerth, Director Emeritus of archaeology at Wheaton.

Indeed, I’ve quoted a number of top scholars in the field of comparative Semitics in support of my position. (So has Manata.)

For you to insinuate that you have a monopoly archaeology and comparative literature is patently false given the documentation to the contrary which I’ve been providing.

“But next (at least, if we are going to uphold at least the anthropological universality of the Flood) along comes the science of radiocarbon dating, which again suggests the same thing: that Genesis 6-8 is not historically inerrant (in at least that respect, because people were spread all over the world by the ostensible time of the Flood). So now it is the accuracy and validity of radiocarbon dating which we must second-guess and deny.”

Once again, I’m merely answering you on your own grounds. Anyone can go to a YEC site like,, or and do a search of dendrochronology, ice-core dating, C-14 dating, and radiometric dating. Kurt Wise has also criticized conventional dating methods in print.

Remember, you brought this up, not me. Speaking for myself, since I’m a temporal metrical conventionalist, I don’t think that natural objects have any intrinsic age to begin with, so my own position tends to transcend this entire debate.

One other point: a tree is not a clock. It wasn’t designed to tell us the time.

Now, I have no objection to our trying to redeploy natural processes for chronometric information. But that’s a purely human, secondary application—like using the nose as a platform for a pair of glasses.

Let’s not confuse the nature of our application with the nature of the object. And let’s not assume that natural objects must conform to our expectations when we put them to a use which has absolutely nothing to do with their actual function.

“This is simply ad-hoc and Enns does well to decry this kind of thing in his book. It is not scholarship; IMHO it is lawyering of the kind that convinced the jury that OJ Simpson was not guilty. I’m sorry, but there it is.”

That’s a very ironic criticism considering the fact that your own center-left theology is an ad hoc intellectual compromise. You only believe the parts of the Bible that happen to be believable to you, which may vary from one year to the next.

III. Supporting material

steve hays said,
April 14, 2008 at 7:14 pm

“As we have seen above, there is no piece of literature extant from Mesopotamia that presents itself as an account of creation. Therefore, there is nothing comparable to the creation account of Genesis in terms of literary genre. The similarities between the Enuma Elish are too few to think that the author of Genesis was in any way addressing the piece of literature we know as Enuma Elish.”

—John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Zondervan 1990), 34.

“We are terribly ill-informed regarding the history of either Mesopotamian or biblical creation accounts. This makes the argument based on chronological sequence null and void. We cannot say for certain that the traditions preserved by the Israelites are any less ancient than the traditions preserved by the Babylonians,” ibid. 36.

“The only evidence that can be produced to support the case for Israelite borrowing is the similarities we have already identified. These are hardly convincing, in that most of the similarities occur in situations where cosmological choices are limited. For example, the belief in a primeval watery mass is perfectly logical and one of only a few possibilities. The fact that the Babylonians and Israelites use similar names, Tiamat and tehom, is no surprise, since their respective languages are cognates of one another,” ibid. 37.

steve hays said,
April 14, 2008 at 7:45 pm

“We must question, however, whether the position that the Bible demythologizes Mesopotamian legends takes into account all the critical data bearing on the issue. First of all, the common assumption that the Hebrew stories are simplified and purified accounts of Mesopotamian legends is fallacious, for in ancient Near Eastern literature simple accounts give rise to elaborate accounts, and not vice versa,” J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament” (Baker 2001), 29.

Second, there are no examples from the ancient Near East in which myth later develops into history. Epic simply never transfigures into historical narrative. And, clearly, the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are presented as direct history with no evidence of myth,” ibid. 29.

“Third, the contrasts between the Mesopotamian and biblical accounts are so striking that they cannot be explained by a simple Hebrew cleansing,” ibid. 29.

“But despite the reiterated claims of an older generation of biblical scholars, Enuma Elish and Gen 1-2 in fact share no direct relationship. Thus the word tehom/thm is common to both Hebrew and Ugaritic (north Syria) and means nothing more than ‘deep, abyss.’ It is not a deity, like Ti’amat, a goddess in Enuma Elish. In terms of theme, creation is the massively central concern of Gen 1-2, but is a mere tailpiece in Enuma Elish, which is dedicated to portraying the supremacy of the god Marduk of Babylon. The only clear comparisons between the two are the inevitable banalities: creation of earth and sky before the plants are put on the earth, and of plants before animals (that need to eat them) and humans; it could hardly have ben otherwise!” K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 424.

steve hays said,
April 14, 2008 at 9:06 pm

“The story of creation in the Bible forms the first part of Genesis, and the best known Mesopotamian account is that found in the composition known to the Assyrians as enuma elis (‘when above’) from its first two words…This account is typical of others and shows that, apart from individual details, the Mesopotamian creation stories have little in common with the early chapters of Genesis,” T. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum (Paulist Press 2004), 79.

steve hays said,
April 21, 2008 at 9:50 am

From Vern Poythress:

Skeptical readers of the Bible have sometimes tried to force a technical meaning onto Genesis 1. They have ascribed to the Bible an erroneous, primitive “science.” For example, some have claimed that the Bible teaches that rainwater is held in check by a solid barrier of sky. The water comes down from heaven when God opens “the windows of the heavens,” which are conceived of as solid plates that he moves aside. But the ancients knew well enough that rain came from clouds:

. . . the heavens dropped,

yes, the clouds dropped water (Judg. 5:4).

The clouds poured out water; . . . (Ps. 77:17).

. . . the clouds that bring the spring rain (Prov. 16:15).

If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth, . . . (Eccles. 11:3).

I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it (Isa. 5:6).

In 1 Kings 18:44 Elijah’s servant sees “a little cloud like a man’s hand,” indicating the coming of rain.

The whole language about windows (Gen. 7:11; 8:2) is a colorful metaphor, as one sees from the fact that in Malachi 3:10 God opens “the windows of heaven” to pour down a blessing. In 2 Kings 7:2 the captain postulates that the Lord would “make windows in heaven” to supply grain. Literally understood, this is inconsistent with the windows already being there to provide rain! Such language does not provide a quasi-scientific theory but a colorful picture. Some time ago I myself heard an acquaintance (not a Bible scholar) describing an experience in which, as he said, “the heavens were opened” and a strong downpour descended.

With this in mind, we may go back to the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 7–8. At the start of Noah’s flood, Genesis 7:11-12 says that “the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.” Even though people knew that rain came from clouds, they did not necessarily know what supplied the clouds with water. And the amount of water that fell during Noah’s flood was truly remarkable. It is therefore pictured as being like someone who opens a hole in a ceiling and pours down bucketfuls. Later on, in Genesis 8:2, “the windows of the heavens were closed,” terminating the downpour. The second part of the verse explains the same thing without using the picture of windows: “the rain from the heavens was restrained.”

We can receive further illumination by asking what are these “heavens” to which Genesis refers? In Genesis 1:6 God made “an expanse” (KJV “firmament”) and then called it “Heaven” (1:8). (The words heavens and heaven in English translate the same Hebrew word, shamayim.) Later on, in verse 15, the heavenly lights are “in the expanse of the heavens” (Hebrew shamayim). That is, they are in the sky. The word for “heaven” in Hebrew can denote the sky (as it does in Gen. 1:15; see also Gen. 15:5). It is the location from which rain comes (as in Gen. 8:2). The land of Canaan “drinks water by the rain from heaven” (Deut. 11:11). If God is angry, he will “shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain” (Deut. 11:17). In blessing, “The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season . . .” (Deut. 28:12). See also 2 Samuel 21:10; 1 Kings 8:35; Psalm 104:13; Isaiah 55:10; and Jeremiah 10:13.

The same word for “heaven” can also denote the invisible heaven where God is surrounded by angels: “Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel . . .” (Deut. 26:15). “Listen in heaven your dwelling place” (1 Kings 8:30). But in Genesis 1:15 it refers to the sky, and it is natural to take the earlier reference in Genesis 1:8 the same way. The waters below eventually come together to form “Seas” (Gen. 1:10). The “waters above the heavens” are then the source of rain, as they are in Noah’s flood and in the passages in Deuteronomy and elsewhere. No technical scientific explanation is being provided.

In fact, in God’s speech to Job he points out that Job does not know the mysteries about rain, snow, and hail (Job 38:22, 25-30). Making “the waters above the heavens” into technical language flies in the face of God’s own statements about the limitations in ancient knowledge. The Bible is describing what an ordinary person could observe about the sky overhead and the rain coming down.

Sometimes it is said that the language in the Bible arises against the background of ancient “cosmology” that postulated underlying waters, then solid earth, then a solid “firmament” dome for the sky, then the sea above the firmament (Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia‘ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991]: 227-240; Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above. Part II: The Meaning of ‘The Water Above the Firmament’ in Gen 1:6-8,” Westminster Theological Journal 54/1 [1992]: 31-46; Seely, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 59 [1997]: 231-255; Seely, “Noah’s Flood: Its Date, Extent, and Divine Accommodation,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 [2004]: 291-311).

For one thing, the ancient Near East did not have one unified “ancient cosmology” but several accounts—Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hittite—contradicting one another at points but nevertheless with some similarities. Genesis 1, as we have observed, does show some similarities to these accounts, but it repudiates the pagan accounts in favor of a monotheistic alternative.

Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that from these mixed pagan accounts we can distill a core of assumptions that were also shared by ancient Hebrews. The Bible nevertheless describes things that Hebrews (and eventually other readers) could see for themselves. To suppose that the text teaches detailed technical cosmological views is to confuse the text with the totality of what its readers may have believed.

Moreover, a modern cosmological interpretation of the ancient accounts may sometimes impose on the texts a preoccupation with physicalism that does not belong to this kind of literature within the ancient cultural milieu. For example, the idea that the firmament is literally solid is disconfirmed by the statement in Genesis 1:17 that God set the lights “in the expanse [firmament] of the heavens.” If the lights in heaven were literally embedded in a solid, they could not move in the way that they obviously do. Perhaps some ancient people could see the obvious, as well as be skeptical about alleged physicalistic implications of pagan cosmogonic stories.

Paul M[anata] said,
April 15, 2008 at 10:59 am

“This sort of maximalist position would see the biblical authors as working directly from Mesopotamian exemplars as they carried out theological transformations. Though this sort of conclusion is common, the summary of comparative literary studies of Genesis 1-11 offered by R. S. Hess in the introduction to ‘I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood’ demonstrates that [the maximalist's] conclusions are far from universally held. D. Tsumura’s introduction in the same volume details the rejection of dependence on the Babylonian materials by such well-known Assyriologists as W. G. Lambert and A. Sjoberg….Nevertheless, given the complexity of the transmission of tradition and culture in the ancient world literary dependence is extremely difficult to prove. Walton, Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (eds). IVP:2003.”

“The similarities between Genesis and Enuma Elish are too few to think that the author of Genesis was in any way addressing the piece of literature we know as Enuma Elish.” Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, John H. Walton, Zondervan: 1989, p.34

“Reconstruction of a process whereby Babylonian myths were borrowed by the Hebrews, having been transmitted by the Canaanites, and ‘purged’ of pagan elements remains imaginary. It has yet to be shown that any Canaanite material was absorbed into Hebrew sacred literature on such a scale or in such a way…However, it has yet to be shown that there was borrowing, even indirectly. Differences between the Babylonian and the Hebrew traditions can be found in factual details of the Flood narrative (form of the Ark; duration of the Flood, the identity of the birds and their dispatch) and are most obvious in the ethical and religious concepts of the whole of each composition. All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and reinterpretation in a fashion that cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing. If there was borrowing then it can have extended only as far as the “historical” framework, and not included intention or interpretation. The fact that the closest similarities lie in the Flood stories is instructive. For both Babylonians and Hebrews the Flood marked the end of an age. Mankind could trace itself back to that time; what happened before it was largely unknown. The Hebrews explicitly traced their origins back to Noah, and, we may suppose, assumed that the account of the Flood and all that went before derived from him. Late Babylonian sages supposed that tablets containing information about the ante-diluvian world were buried at Sippar before the Flood and disinterred afterwards. The two accounts undoubtedly describe the same Flood, the two schemes relate the same sequence of events. If judgment is to be passed as to the priority of one tradition over the other, Genesis inevitably wins for its probability in terms of meteorology, geophysics, and timing alone. In creation its account is admired for its simplicity and grandeur, its concept of man accords well with observable facts. In that the patriarch Abraham lived in Babylonia, it could be said that the stories were borrowed from there, but not that they were borrowed from any text now known to us. Granted that the Flood took place, knowledge of it must have survived to form the available accounts; while the Babylonians could only conceive of the event in their own polytheistic language, the Hebrews, or their ancestors, understood the action of God in it. Who can say it was not so?” Millard, “A New Babylonian ‘Genesis’ Story”, in “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, Richard Hess and David Tsumura (eds.), Eisenbrauns: 1994. p.126.

“In the study of material on Genesis 1-3, consideration should be given to G. F. Hasel’s essays on the methodology and problems of applying the comparative approach to the first chapter of Genesis. In few other passages of the Bible have so many facile comparisons been made with ancient Near Eastern myths and so many far-reaching conclusions posited. Hasel provides observations on fundamental distinctions in the creation accounts, with a strong focus on an antimythological apologetic for Genesis.” Hess, “One Hundred Fifty Years of Comparative Studies on Genesis 1-11_, in “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, Richard Hess and David Tsumura (eds.), Eisenbrauns: 1994. p.19

“So, Genesis 1 and ‘Enuma Elish,’ which was composed primarily to exalt Marduk in the pantheon of Babylon, have no direct relation to each other…It is not correct to say that ‘Enuma Elish’ was adopted and adapted by the Israelites to produce the Genesis stories. As Lambert holds, there is ‘no evidence of Hebrew borrowing from Babylon’. Sjoberg accepts Lambert’s opinion that ‘there was hardly any influence from the Babylonian text on the Old Testament creation accounts.’ …Along the same line, Sjoberg as an Assyriologist warns Old Testament scholars that ‘it is no longer scientifically sound to assume that all ideas originated in Mesopotamia and moved westward.’ …It is difficult to assume that an earlier Canaanite dragon myth existed in the background of Gen. 1:2…Shea suggests that ‘it is possible to view these two separate sources [Adapa and Genesis 2-3] as independent witnesses to a common event’…Niels-Erik Andreasen also thinks that ‘parallels do indeed exist between Adam and Adapa, but they are seriously blunted by the entirely different contexts in which they occur.’…” Tsumura, “Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood, “I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11, Richard Hess and David Tsumura (eds.), Eisenbrauns: 1994. p.31.

“Nevertheless, the differences between the biblical and the Mesopotamian accounts are much more striking that their similarities; each of them embodies the world outlook of their respective civilizations. In Genesis there is a total rejection of all mythology…[Differences include:]…Cosmogony is not linked to theogony. The pre-existence of god is assumed–it is not linked to the genesis of the universe. There is no suggestion of any primordial battle or internecine ware which eventually led to the creation of the universe…The primeval water, earth, sky, and luminaries are not pictured as deities or as parts of disembodied deities, but are all parts of the manifold work of the Creator…The story in Genesis, moreover, is nonpolitical: unlike Enuma Elish, which is a monument to Marduk and to Babylon and its temple, Genesis makes no allusion to Israel, Jerusalem, or the temple.” S.M. Paul Ency. Judaica, s.v. “Creation”, 5:1062.

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