Monday, October 15, 2018

Counting the animals

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18-20).

I'd like to say a few more things about this passage. The launchpad is Randal Rauser's dismissive comments about young-earth creationism.

i) It's deceptive when folks like Rauser attack young-earth creationism, because their true target is much broader. It's not as if Rauser is an old-earth creationist. I'm quite sure he's a theistic evolutionist. 

More to the point, as you can see from his glowing review of Robin Perry's book (The Biblical Cosmos), it's pretty obvious that Rauser views Gen 2-3 as fictional. So his actual position is far more radical than whether day 6 was a calendar day. 

ii) Scholars like John Walton and Peter Enns say we should interpret Genesis in the way the original audience would understand it. I agree. But there's a bait-n-switch.

When scholars like Walton and Enns classify Genesis as mythology, that's a retroactive classification. That doesn't reflect the viewpoint of the original narrator but the viewpoint of modern scholars who don't believe anything like that ever happened or even could happen. In reality, they are doing the polar opposite of what they claim to be doing: rather than adopting the viewpoint of the original narrator, they superimpose the viewpoint of a modern scholar who regards the outlook of the original narrator as antiquated and erroneous. 

iii) In context, I don't think Gen 2:18-20 means Adam named every kind of animal on earth. Gen 2 is about the land of Eden rather than planet earth. In particular, it's about God preparing the Garden of Eden. Fauna and flora God made for that particular locale, as man's original habitat. That's the setting for vv18-20. So it's quite possible that Adam would have time to name all the animals in the course of one afternoon. That's not unrealistic given the narrative parameters. 

iv) In addition, the function of the naming is to make Adam aware of the fact that he has no human companions generally, as well as no female counterpart in particular. The animals have male and female pairs, but nothing corresponding to Adam. Adam doesn't even need to name every animal in the garden to get the message. A sample would drive home that point. The purpose is not to exhaustively name the animals but to create a point of contrast between animals, including male and female animals, and Adam's lack of human companionship and female companionship. 

(For that matter, there's a difference between naming kinds of animals and naming each individual of the same kind.) 

v) The account itself doesn't say how long it took Adam to name the animals. It doesn't say he had to do it all in one afternoon. The assumption that it all had to happen in the span of one day isn't based on Gen 2, which lacks temporal markers, but the attempt to synchronize Gen 2 with day 6 of Gen 1. I think the reasoning goes like this:

In Gen 1, God creates man and woman on day six, then ceases his creative labors on day seven. In Gen 2, God creates Adam, Adam names the animals, then God creates Eve. If the creation of Eve succeeds the naming of the animals, but precedes the divine rest, then all that has to happen on day 6.

Maybe that's the correct interpretation, but maybe not. As Rabbi Brichto pointed out, there's the OT technique of narrating the same event twice. The first account is simpler or more general while the second account is more detailed. This relates to similar techniques like narrative compression and prophetic telescoping. Applied to the question at hand, day six may mark the terminus ad quo for the creation of man, but not the terminus ad quem. That might also account for the vaguer timeframe of Gen 2. 

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