Biblical Studies, Old Testament

Ancient Writers?

I’ve made a few comments lately in a group discussion at LinkedIn on the subject of creationist apologetics, namely the call for a certain Christian retailer to carry more titles in that area. I commented about the worldview of the ancient writers and how the cosmology of Genesis reflects that. One gentleman responded by saying

 Ancient cosmology is another method of ‘fitting’ ‘millions of years’ into the obvious and literal meaning of the Scripture

So I commented in response and so on and so forth. His most recent comment befuddled me and I thought I’d get your thoughts on it. Ready?

The root of the problem is that when you begin with the presumption that the Bible was written by ‘ancients’ instead of the inspired Word of God, you get into trouble.

Um, huh??? I don’t know his personal beliefs about scripture (though I think I have a clue), but it seems like a classic case of assuming the biblical writers’ own view of reality had no bearing on the writing of our biblical books.

I don’t know that I’ll continue in the conversation because little will come of it. Neither of us will change our opinion based on a few terse comments, so I’ll probably leave it at that.

Αυτω η δοξα


2 thoughts on “Ancient Writers?”

  1. I’m agnostic on the whole age of the earth discussion, but I do care about the Hebrew text and proper interpretation. I think there are a couple of issues that complicate things when it comes to this passage (and both sides of the debate seem to err in their extremes):

    1. We have no access to the mind or worldview of the author, only to the words on the page. The only intention of the author is the intention of the text. Thus, when we read an ancient cosmology or worldview into those words, we are being as eisegetical as the guy who reads his dispensationalism into every passage of the Bible. Instead, we should let the text itself shape our understanding and not really bad charts or images we have seen online – (the sooner this chart dies from our collective memory, the better ANE studies will become).

    2. We are more interested in how ancient cosmologies affect our understanding (particularly of Genesis 1), than about how the text has shaped and been shaped by the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible gives us access to the culture of the original authors, so why do we not spend more time asking what is the canonical shape of Genesis 1? For instance, if critical scholars are right (I actually think they are not), and this is a Persian composition, then the author would have been meditating on most of the OT in his composition. At your school, I’m sure Bob Chisholm would have more to say than I know is worth saying on this point and the next one.

    3. Even if critical scholars are wrong, and this was a Mosaic composition (where I find myself), then their cosmology would have been more influenced by the Egyptians and that doesn’t mesh well with the text of Genesis 1. More likely than not reading cosmologies into the text isn’t that profitable, but instead the cosmic temple imagery that Sailhamer, Walton and Beale allude to in their work would make more sense, since they were living in the wilderness with a tent modeled after the heavenly pattern and prefiguring the temple. The creation and shaping of “the land” as a place for YHWH to dwell in relation with his people would have prepared the people to enter “the land” where YHWH would dwell with his covenant people.

    4. The similarities between ANE cosmologies actually aren’t that similar. To begin a semester in OT or Genesis I’ve begun the class reading from other ANE texts before and then asked the students to what these stories sound similar. I get the Aenid, Homer’s epics, some modern books or sci-fi. Even though we are sitting in an OT class, where they know we are going to be talking about the ANE mind, they rarely say “Oh, it sounds like Genesis 1!” I actually think it takes some stretching to see the fit and has more to do with older “History of Religions” tendencies to fit everything together into a cultural theory of everything. There is no doubt that there may be similar concepts or words (Tiamat, Tehom, etc.), but these hardly make sufficient parallels to hold that the stories were shaped by each other in any significant way.

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