Term Paper: Genesis History or Myth?

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[. . .] Research began to notice that Genesis is divided into sections by phrases that are translated literally into "These are the generations of..," much in the same style as the clay tablets described by Wiseman. Early researchers mistakenly believed that these phrases signaled the beginning of a passage, however, the old texts placed these phrases at the end. It is therefore likely that in Genesis, these phrases signal the end of a passage, rather than the end (Sewell, 1994). The most prominent place that supports this idea is in Genesis 37:2, which begins "These are the generations of Jacob...." From that point forward the text describes Joseph and his brothers and almost nothing about Jacob. The story of Jacob is the theme of the previous section (Sewell, 1994). The idea that the phrase is the leading phrase does not make sense in this case. This would be more consistent with the structure used in the clay tablets. Currently, many archaeologists agree that the portions of Genesis after chapter eleven are historically accurate (Sewell, 1994). Many will agree further that if one takes the end phrases as the writer of the previous passage, that the tablets contain details that could only be known by the person who experienced these events. This means that the person who is mentioned is the one who wrote it.

Other Theories

The tablet theory gives much support to the historical accuracy of Genesis, after chapter eleven. It is easy to believe that the genealogy and stories in the later chapters are true. The latter part of Genesis is easy to digest in the human mind. It is the first part, that lends itself to the imagination of the reader. Humans conversing with snakes, terrible floods that destroy ever-loving creature except the one that was chosen by God to survive, these are the elements of myth and legend. Here is the heart of the controversy.

Harding University professor, Donald England, attempted to resolve the controversy over the first half of Genesis by proposing that Genesis, particularly the creation story is not a view of the material world at all, but rather represents symbolically the struggles of the spirit (Thompson, 1982). Dr. England recognized that the differences between scientists and conservative Christians on the subject of the creation story and the origin of man were not reconcilable and that as the current argument stood, neither side could gain sufficient evidence to prove their side one way or another. He offered this alternative idea, that would essentially end this conflict, by making it an invalid point. If the passage were about spiritual matters, rather than material ones, then the argument of who was right simply did not apply.

Dr. England said,

There is no world view presented in Genesis 1. I believe the intent of Genesis 1 is far too sublime and spiritual for one to presume that it teaches anything at all about a cosmological world view. We do this profound text a great injustice by insisting that there is inherent within the text an argument for any particular world view" (England, 1972, pp. 124).

If we take Genesis in Dr. England's context, then the creation story can be compared to stories found in Far Eastern writings, such as the ancient Chinese myths and in Hindu and Bhuddist writings. According to Dr. England's proposal, the creation story may describe the advancement and enlightenment of the human soul.

There are two types of creationists, progressive and old-earth. Both these creationist positions agree that Genesis is describing material world events and do not acknowledge the writings of Dr. England. Zimmerman tried to shed light on these two conservative creationist views by first posing a question that must be resolved before the others can be started. Zimmerman believes that the first step in solving the dispute is to evaluate the literary style of Genesis. He says, " Unless we decide the kind of literature we are dealing with, we cannot perform good exegesis. If it is historical prose, that is one thing. If it is poetry or myth or saga or symphony, that is quite another" (Zimmerman, 1972, p. 102).

Zimmerman suggests that this must be the first step and that the other arguments are invalid until this basic question is answered first. The other arguments make the assumption that the first part of Genesis is a history and ignore any other possibility. If Genesis is a history, then the other arguments remain where they are today. However, if Genesis is a saga or myth, then there is no argument on the basis of historical accuracy in the first place.

In Introduction to Genesis, Dolphin (2002) proposes that if Genesis is not historical fact, then it at least answers several philosophical questions and therefore should be considered a philosophical work. Both Zimmerman and Dolphin downplay the importance of Genesis as a historical work and promote its importance in the areas of spirituality and philosophy. Dr. Henry Morris agrees and points out that the first part of Genesis answers several basic philosophical questions. He feels that Genesis answers the philosophical questions of atheism, polytheism, pantheism, naturalism, humanism, dualism, evolutionism, and materialism (Morris, 1976).

It would seem as if these more spiritual answers to the historicity of Genesis would provide a common ground on which all could stand. They essentially negate the argument of the historical accuracy of Genesis by diverting the attention to other realms. However, instead of resolving the issue, these new angles only served to fuel the conservative/liberal argument. These two groups hold on tight to their materialistic interpretation of genesis (Stambaugh, 1995).

On this subject, Richard Lewontin, a proclaimed evolutionist, comments,

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so-stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a-priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door..." (Lewontin, 1997, p. 31)

Stambaugh (1995) places the writing of Genesis, by Moses, at approximately 1400 BC. At that time, according to Stambaugh, approximately 2500-4000 years would have passed from the time Adam left the garden. His work supports that theory that Genesis had a single author, Moses. He attributes the various differences in writing styles to the idea that Moses took his material from different sources. The three sources that Stambaugh proposes are 100% direct inspiration from God, oral traditions passed down from Adam through the Seth to Abraham, etc., or the third option, written records preserved by various rulers. All of these sources would have been supplemented by God-given material, regardless of human content and origin (Stambaugh, 1975). Stambaugh's ideas represent a highly conservative twist on the liberal JEDP theory. It is obvious that the liberal JEDP theory had an influence on his opinion and that this was his attempt to reconcile, in his mind, obvious discrepancies in the traditional conservative, historical viewpoint. He acknowledged the liberal viewpoint, but was not willing to abandon his conservative view. He therefore brought the two together in his own writings.

The Eleven Divisions of Genesis

Both liberals and conservatives agree that there are eleven distinctive divisions in Genesis. Each of these divisions ends with the phrase, "These are the generations of..." Or some similar phrase. As discussed earlier, it was once thought that these phrases signaled the beginning of a passage. However, the works of Wiseman would indicate, these phrases signal the end of a passage. This is consistent with other clay tablets of the time and there is no indication that the pattern is different in Genesis.

Taking this approach, we find the following section in Genesis, as signaled by these end phrases. "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth" (Genesis 2:4) ends the first section. There was no human observer to record the events of creation week (Boice, 1998). Therefore, the author of this section is one of the greatest points of controversy between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives say that God himself was the author. Liberals feel that this is not true and that we simply do not know whom the author is.

The authors of subsequent sections reveal themselves in no uncertain manner. The next ten sections are as follows, "This is the book of the generations of Adam" (Genesis 5:1), "These are the generations of Noah" (Genesis 6:9), "Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth"… [END OF PREVIEW]

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