Sunday, June 23, 2013


John Currid and James Hoffmeier document what they take to be parallels between Gen 1-2 and Mesopotamian or especially Egyptian creative motifs. Cf. J. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptians Cosmology” JANES 15 (1983); J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), chap. 3.

I’ll venture a few observations:

i) Seems to me their methodology is fundamentally flawed. You take Gen 1 as your framework, then ransack disparate Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources, chipping off or peeling away bits and pieces, which you then fit into the Gen 1 framework. But that’s an ersatz scholarly construct. The parallel creation account doesn’t exist in any actual Egyptian or Mesopotamian source. It’s the modern scholar, and not an ancient Egyptian or Mesopotamian writer, who edited them into that extraneous framework.

Moreover, when you glean isolated bits and pieces and rearrange them, you change the meaning. You recontextualize them.

ii) I wonder if hieroglyphics aren’t somewhat ambiguous.

iii) If the Bible did use familiar idioms or stock metaphors, that wouldn’t be surprising or disturbing.

iv) Hoffmeier claims an Egyptian parallel with primordial “chaos,” but there’s nothing “chaotic” in Gen 1:2.

v) They mention the use of the potter/clay relation as a creative metaphor in Egyptians source. But pottery was such a widespread practice, including figurines, that we’d expect that to be a popular creative metaphor.

vi) They mention the imago dei in Egyptian sources. However, Currid quotes a source saying “they are his own images proceeding from his flesh.”

But to say a god made man in the image of his flesh is antithetical to OT theism, with its essentially invisible deity. So that’s hardly comparable.

vii) The “breath of life” is a very generic idea. That’s not unique to creation.

How does one distinguish between life and death? In a prescientific culture, the way to tell if someone died was when they stop breathing. So breathing is synonymous with life while cessation of breathing is synonymous with cessation of life, or the antonym: death. Even now we use “expiration” as a synonym for death.

That distinguishes Adam’s newly-minted “corpse” from Adam as a living creature. How else would the narrator draw that distinction when addressing an ancient audience?

Moreover, the breath of life isn’t a metaphor, but a biological necessity. That really is a constitutive distinction.

1 comment:

  1. iv) Hoffmeier claims an Egyptian parallel with primordial “chaos,” but there’s nothing “chaotic” in Gen 1:2.
    The revisers in both the English and American revisions, not satisfied with the terms "without form and void," have given us the better translation, "waste and void," though the RSV has gone back to the King James rendering. Still another translator interprets the Hebrew as "a wreck and a ruin." In French there is a common expression which translates our idea of topsy-turvy: it is tohu-bohu...these are the words which various translators have rendered "without form," "void," "waste," "desolate," "empty," "wreck," "ruin." - Barnhouse, The Invisible War, pp. 15-16

    Barnhouse was using this interpretation to provide support for the Gap Theory. As I recall, he later had to admit that there was no textual reason to support this use, but rather that it was helpful to his eisegetical view.