July 19, 2018

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Proposition 1

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate
by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Proposition 1

I am going to blog through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  Walton has two other books in his Lost World series, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate and The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate.  Both are excellent books, from which I have quoted extensively in the Thursday Science and the Faith posts here at Internet Monk.  Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.  His Wheaton bio is here and his Wikipedia bio is here.  Tremper Longman III is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont.  His college bio is here and his Wikipedia bio is here.

Later in the book there is a contribution by geologist Stephen O. Moshier, a professor and chair of the Geology & Environmental Science Department at Wheaton College, whose college bio is here.  Moshier is also a contributing author at BioLogos, and was a contributing author to The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which book I reviewed for Internet Monk starting here.

Longman and Walton examine the flood story exhaustively from the perspective of Old Testament experts.  The examination takes place through a series of 4 parts and 17 propositions:

Part 1- Method: Perspectives on Interpretation

Proposition 1. Genesis is an Ancient Document

Proposition 2. Genesis 1-11 Makes Claims About Real Events in a Real Past

Proposition 3. Genesis 1-11 Uses Rhetorical Devices

Proposition 4. The Bible Uses Hyperbole to Describe Historical Events

Proposition 5. Genesis Appropriately Presents a Hyperbolic Account of the Flood

Proposition 6.  Genesis Depicts the Flood as a Global Event

Part 2- Background: Ancient Near Eastern Texts

Proposition 7. Ancient Mesopotamia also has Stories of a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 8. The Biblical Flood Account Shares Similarities and Differences with Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts

Part 3- Text: Understanding the Biblical Text Literally and Theologically

Proposition 9. A Local Cataclysmic Flood is Intentionally Described as a Global Flood for Rhetorical Purposes and Theological Reasons

Proposition 10. The Flood Account is Part of a Sequence of Sin and Judgment Serving as a Backstory for the Covenant

Proposition 11. The Theological History is Focused on the Issue of Divine Presence, the Establishment of Order, and How Order is Undermined

Proposition 12. The “Sons of God” Episode is not Only a Prelude to the Flood; It is the Narrative Sequel to Cain and Abel

Proposition 13. The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) Is an Appropriate Conclusion to the Primeval Narrative

Part 4- The World: Thinking About Evidence for the Flood

Proposition 14. The Flood Story Has a Real Event Behind It

Proposition 15. Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 16. Flood Stories From Around the World Do Not Prove a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 17. Science Can Purify Our Religion; Religion can Purify Science from Idolatry and False Absolutes

What I like about this book (and the other Lost World books) is that it is accessible to the layman through a discussion of a topic of current popular concern and not just academic concern.  It moves through the topic in a logical progression and is based on a fresh close reading of the Hebrew text, which Longman and Walton are experts at.  It is informed by knowledge of the Ancient Near East literature and perspective.  Most importantly, the hermeneutic is respectful and even worshipful of the idea that God has spoken to us through Scripture authoritatively.  It works out the principle that the Bible was written FOR us, but not TO us. As they say in the preface:

As always in the Lost World books, the intention is not to offer the single “correct” interpretation of the text.  We seek, instead, to provide an interpretation based on a conviction that the Bible is the Word of God- Scripture that speaks truly… Our goal is not to convert the reader to our conclusion, or even to persuade the reader to adopt our way of thinking.  Instead, we seek to bring information to the reader’s attention that has helped us as we have struggled with the passages.  If readers deem that information useful and beneficial, we are gratified.  But for readers who cannot accept our findings, believing that Scripture makes claims that require other conclusions, we hope that at least we have shown how our particular interpretation is the result of faithful interpretation.

Proposition 1- Genesis Is An Ancient Document

The authors begin by assuming that readers of this book desire to be faithful interpreters of the Bible so they can receive the wisdom that God wishes to impart through sacred scripture and submit their lives to that revealed wisdom i.e. submit themselves to God’s authority.  Biblical authority is tied inseparably to the author’s intention; God vests his authority in the human author.  A proper understanding of inspiration is that two voices are speaking; the human author is the doorway into the room of God’s meaning and message.  The human author(s) of Genesis are most assuredly situated in the ancient world; so the more we can learn of the ancient world, the more faithful our interpretation will be.  We can expect an author to accommodate an audience that he knows, but we can’t expect an author to accommodate an audience he doesn’t know.

Walton illustrates this by giving the example of high context traffic reports we might hear if we were in Chicago.  The traffic report will assume a familiarity of the listener with the highways and landmarks of the city.  It might report that it will take 38 minutes to drive from “the Cave” to “the Junction” and that it is congested from “the Slip” to “the Nagle Curve”.  Out-of-towners, of course, have no idea what they are talking about.  By contrast, low context communication would have to give high levels of accommodation for unfamiliar commuters to understand.  They would have to explain the shorthand terminology and what and where it referred to.  The report would be long and drawn out and of little use to regular commuters.

Walton proposes that in the Bible, a human communicator is engaged in expressing an accommodating message to a high context (ancient Israelite) audience.  The biblical author shares a history, a culture, a language, and the experiences of their contemporaneous lives with his intended audience, but not with us moderns. We must conduct research and study to fill in the information that would have been assumed by the biblical author and his audience.  That is the only way modern readers can interact with an ancient text.  We need the comparative studies in order to recognize the aspects of the biblical author’s cognitive environment that is foreign to us and read the text in the light of their worldview.  This is not imposing something foreign on the text- the author and the audience are embedded in the ancient world.  We are not imposing this on the text any more than we are imposing Hebrew on the text when we try to read it in the original language.

The authors illustrate by using the metaphor of a cultural river.  The modern world cultural river is identified by such things as rights, freedoms, capitalism, democracy, individualism, globalism, naturalism, an expanding universe, empiricism, and natural laws.  Some float with the current while others struggle to swim upstream against the current; but everyone in the modern world is inevitably located in its waters.  In the ancient world a very different cultural river flowed through the Ancient Near East including Israel.  The river would have currents of community identity, tribalism, the comprehensive and ubiquitous control of the gods, the role of kingships, divination, the centrality of the temple, the mediatory role of images, and the reality of the spirit world and magic.

The Israelites sometimes floated right along with the currents of that cultural river without resistance- a king like all the other nations, worship in the groves of the high places, household gods, and so on.  At other times, the revelation of God encouraged them to swim furiously upstream against their own cultural currents.  Whatever the extent of the Israelite interactions with the cultural river, it is important to remember they were situated in the ancient cultural river, not immersed in the currents of our modern cultural river.

If we are to interpret Scripture properly and receive the full impact of God’s authoritative message, we have to leave our cultural river behind and immerse ourselves in their ancient river.  We cannot assume any component of our cultural currents are addressed in Scripture.  The communicators that we encounter in the Old Testament are not aware of our cultural river- including all of its scientific aspects; they neither address our cultural river nor anticipate it.  For example, they had no category for what we call natural laws.  When they thought of cause and effect, even though they could make all the observations we do, they were more inclined to see the world’s operation in terms of divine agency.  Everything worked the way it did because God set it up that way and maintained it that way.  They would not have viewed the cosmos as a machine, but as a kingdom, and God communicated to them about the world in those terms.  His revelation was not focused on giving them a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanics of the natural world.  The authors say:

Everyone in the ancient world believed in a cosmic ocean suspended above a solid sky.  Therefore, when the biblical text talks about “the waters above” it is not offering authoritative revelation of scientific facts.  If we conclude that there are not, strictly speaking, waters above, we have not thereby identified error in Scripture.  Rather, we have recognized that God vests the authority of the text elsewhere.  Authority is tied to the message the author intends to communicate as an agent of God’s revelation.  This communication by God initiates that revelation by piggybacking on communication by a human addressing the world of ancient Israel.  Even though the Bible is written for us, it is not written to us.  The revelation it provides can equip us to know God, his plan, and his purposes and therefore to participate with him in the world we face today.  But it was not written with our world in mind.  In its context, it is not communicated in our language; it is not addressed to our culture; it does not anticipate the questions about the world and its operations that stem from our modern situation and issues.

So if we read modern ideas into the text, we skirt the authority of the text and in effect are compromising it. The authority and “inerrancy” of the text has always been attached to what it affirms.  Those affirmations are not, nor could they be, of a modern scientific nature.  We cannot derive a scientific explanation of the world from the Bible, and it would be misguided to try to find scientific evidence for that description.  Nevertheless, the Bible does interpret the world authoritatively by describing God’s work in it and relationship to it. So the authors apply that paradigm to the flood:

There was a real cataclysmic event, but the Bible does not describe that event authoritatively.  Its description is culturally conditioned (the flood tradition we all know) and rhetorically shaped (universalistic cosmic proportions).  We cannot derive a scientific explanation of the flood from the Bible, and it would be misguided to try to find scientific evidence for that description.  Nevertheless, the Bible does interpret that event authoritatively (what God was doing; why it happened: judgment, re-creation, non-order as response to disorder, covenant, etc.).

Comments

  1. Everyone in the ancient world believed in a cosmic ocean suspended above a solid sky.

    So who originated this thought is one of my questions. The Bible authors/Israelites had to inherit it from someone.

    Unrelated – there’s some really fun and crazy out there YouTube videos about the Sumerians that are worth spending an evening and a few beers watching.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      “So who originated this thought is one of my questions.” Probably the same genius that discovered fermented fruit gave you a great buzz and was the first one to stick an antelope haunch into the fire before eating it 🙂

      • flatrocker says:

        Wow, that guy sure was busy.
        I wonder if it’s the same person who discovered coconut cream pie. I mean what’s next after you down some exquisitely fermented fruit juice and charred animal flesh but look for a good desert?

    • –> “So who originated this thought is one of my questions. The Bible authors/Israelites had to inherit it from someone.”

      I think it went down something like this:

      The setting: 6,000 BC

      Grog: Sky… Blue.
      Trog: What else blue?
      Grog: Water. Water… Blue.
      Trog: Sky… Water. Water up there, Grog!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      It is interesting how deep this goes: “cosmic ocean”. Note that even the use of the word Cosmic would have wildly different connotations today vs. just 500 years ago, let alone 3,000 years ago [and let’s leave out the 1960s/1970s Disco era].

      • The so-called “three tiered” universe is primeval. But that’s because at least in part it’s based on perfect common sense. Walk outside. What do you see? You’re standing on a flat circular disk covered by a luminous curving dome. Occasionally water falls out of the sky. You see land surrounded by deep oceans. We should remind ourselves that Big Bang cosmology is less than century old. When you have only your five senses you do the best you can.

        • Well what are you going to believe? God’s creation and science? or your own two eyes and the shaman/priests’s two eyes?

  2. Love you. Dad.

  3. Having read a few (but not this one) of the books in the Lost World series, and having read multiple reviews of multiple books, I’ve realized that proposition one is largely the same from book to book, and thus reviews of it can be largely cut and paste from a review of one book to another. The interesting parts of each book are where they differ, either by getting specific to the issue discussed, or by reflecting the influence of the different co-authors. An example is that “The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest” closes with a chapter/proposition I haven’t seen the equivalent of in any of the other books that discusses how we as Christians can apply the book’s interpretation to ourselves and our walk.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Avoiding conclusions or `implementation` is probably a healthy thing when discussing Interpretation [reading]. It reduced the risk of a desired ‘outcome’ coloring the interpretation. ???

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      I’ve noticed the same thing. One reason I decided to review this book is that the propositions they lay out is the way we should place the OT writings in their cultural and genre contexts. I really think this is the best hermenuetic that someone should follow if they want to place a high value on Scripture and still be grounded in reality.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I really think this is the best hermenuetic that someone should follow if they want to place a high value on Scripture and still be grounded in reality.

        Unfortunately, these days it’s either one or the other, mutually exclusive Tribal Recognition Markings.

  4. I’ve been fascinated with this stuff ever since the college instructor came into my freshman western lit survey class and said that “while the syllabus starts with Homer we’re going back a little further”, and proceeded to hand out copies of the slim Penguin paperback version of Prof N K Sandars’ great transliteration of the Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve been hooked on the Epic specifically and Near Eastern mythology in general ever since. (Just for the record those initials N K stood for Nancy Katherine. Prof Sandars, an Oxford graduated archeologist and historian, died in 2015 at the ripe old age of 101! Her work is a transliteration not a literal translation which was fortunate since literal translations can often be hard going for a newbie like I was. Though not as famous, think of her as the Bullfinch or Edith Hamilton of NE mythology. Still a great read and an excellent introduction.)

    This post highlights a theme that has been brought up recently (by your humble correspondent) and has been disputed a bit, namely that the ancients didn’t think the way we do. Consequently it is almost impossible not to impose modern views on to their concepts. Behind all these mythological concepts is a backstory that absorbed them and fascinates us. (Once you ask yourself who the “Sons of God” were you are on your way!) Through the power of the active imagination we can enter at least briefly into their conceptual world and their primeval landscape can comes alive.

    • Christiane says:

      ah, who WERE the ‘sons of God’ who shouted with joy ? 🙂

      “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
      (Job 38:7)

  5. john barry says:

    Mike the G Man, another informative piece for me. Good food for thought and I like food especially Scottish food. I have read somewhere that monkey see monkey do is how the Monkees especially Davy Jones learn where man can transmit knowledge by language oral or written. We do not have to re invent the wheel. So we not only stand on the shoulders of giants as someone said but on the shoulders of the common , average , and inventive fore runners. Liked noted above who cooked first, who found out not to eat poison berry, milk a cow and all the things that advance civilization.

    Like the thought written for us not to us, will put that in my memory bank where it will remain for about 12 hours.

    Always appreciate your postings and you are the G man. I have a young lady cousin that just got a job that requires working with a G string, hope she is in a violin quartet.

    On my way to pick up my Scottish food for today, going to get the Big McDonald and the fine Scottish potatoes .
    Afraid t ask what the secret sauce is but I hope it is not haggis based.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I never would have thought the topic at hand would lead to a comment that includes Davy Jones of the Monkees, but… Voila… here it is! Thanks, JB!

      • john barry says:

        Rick Ro. You know they were Believers. I am so disconnected I actually like some of their songs but I never tell anyone. I am so old that the Last Train to Clarksville was actually at heart an anti Vietnam War song that got rearranged.

        To keep with the theme of the post, in the 1960’s many ancients did not know how to spell monkey but they adapted to the times. I am so lame, I went out of my way once to drive though Clarksville Az. where I thought the song referred to. They did have a train that took a nice tour of the surrounding area. However my Monkee theory was not confirmed and I quit asking because my wife made me. .

        You guys can do the heavy thinking, I am here to divine the meaning of the opaque meanings and mysteries of the lyrics of the Monkee songs.

  6. Michael Bell says:

    Interestingly enough, I had a conversation about a world wide flood with geologist Klasie Kraalogies a few weeks back. He believes that there is geological evidence that might support the story. There are multiple credible stories, here is one sample here. http://www.canada.com/technology/Massive+Canadian+melt+have+triggered+flood+biblical+proportions/3954124/story.html

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Indeed. I think people need to understand that in the retelling, a flooding event (or events) which affected where they lived will with time come to mean “every mountain top was covered”. That is the natural progression of stories. What I found interesting to contemplate is that in the immediate post-ice age era, rapid climate change (causing famines, floods etc) will imbue a feeling of massive catastrophe in the minds of the survivors, further giving cause to the interpretation offered that the divine must have vexed his wrath upon the earth…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I remember hearing that the four-river configuration of Eden described in Genesis fits a topography of fossil rivers ON THE BOTTOM OF THE PERSIAN GULF. An area which was last above sea level during the last Ice Age. Could this have been an element of oral history that dated back to the last Ice Age?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Trog: Sky… Water. Water up there, Grog!
          Grog: Land… Water here, too, Trog. RUN!

      • Billions of tons of meltwater breaking loose simultaneously is NOTHING to laugh at. My undergrad background is geology, and in Northern Ohio there is a lot of post-glacial topography to study.

  7. Michael Bell says:
    • Radagast says:

      That’s the theory I’ve seen before… the flooding of the known world at the time….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As well as the fact that the word translated as “Earth” or “World” in English-language Genesis actually means something like “land”. “the Heavens & the Earth” could just as easily be “the Sky and the Land” in the original language (NOT Kynge Jaymes Englyshe)

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Propositions 1-6: The difference between Written in Poem Truth but now read as Math Truth, i.e. a checklist of Fact, Fact, Fact.

    Proposition 8: Noah is the specifically-JEWISH take on the Mesopotamian Flood Story.

    Proposition 14: A documentary exploring the possibility of a 1000-year flood covering the entire Mesopotamian plain, cross-indexing the Chaldean version of the story — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x3UWQQrUXs

    Propositions 15-16: Tell that to Ken Ham and his followers…

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Walton illustrates this by giving the example of high context traffic reports we might hear if we were in Chicago. The traffic report will assume a familiarity of the listener with the highways and landmarks of the city. It might report that it will take 38 minutes to drive from “the Cave” to “the Junction” and that it is congested from “the Slip” to “the Nagle Curve”.

    Never mind “the Dirty Dan” (Dan Ryan Expressway) and/or “the Hillside Strangler” (hellishly-congested interchange), both of which I’ve heard about from Chi-town natives.

    Even though the Bible is written for us, it is not written to us. The revelation it provides … was not written with our world in mind. In its context, it is not communicated in our language; it is not addressed to our culture; it does not anticipate the questions about the world and its operations that stem from our modern situation and issues.

    Written in a world/cultural river where Poem Truth.

    Read it in our modern Math Truth cultural river and you get such Plain Readings of SCRIPTURE as Gog & Magog Plainly Meaning the USSR, a third of the stars falling from the sky Plainly Meaning ICBM warheads on re-entry, and the Plague of Demon Locusts as helicopter gunships packing chemical weapons and flown by long-haired bearded Hippies.

  10. Ronald Avra says:

    Good read.