October 18, 2018

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Proposition 3

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 1- Proposition 3

We are blogging through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  Today we will look at Proposition 3- Genesis 1-11 Uses Rhetorical Devices.  A rhetorical device uses words in a certain way to convey meaning or to persuade. It can also be a technique to evoke an emotion on the part of the reader or audience.  Common examples of rhetorical devices would be: analogy, allusion, hyperbole, metaphor, parallelism, simile, and understatement.  While Walton and Longman note that the writers of Genesis mean to invoke events in a real past, there are clear signals that the writings aren’t particularly interested in reconstructing the past event as much as interpreting the past event in a way that furthers their theological message.

Not only biblical history—but in reality, all history is the author giving their perspective on the event.  This is accomplished through selection—what is included as well as what’s left out—and what the author chooses to emphasize.  In that sense all history is interpretation and all historical writing is rhetorically shaped.  No author can be exhaustive in their telling of the event, so they are forced to choose what they think is important about the event.  A moment’s reflection on this shows it cannot be any other way.  Furthermore, they tell the story out of their worldview.

Walton and Longman assert that biblical authors are not particularly interested in recreating the event in its pure facticity; rather to use the event to communicate their theological message.  They make the point that the event is not inspired; it’s the interpretation of the event that is inspired.  For example, they cite John 20:30-31, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The gospel author is selective in his choosing of what to report for the purpose of emphasizing the message of “Jesus in Messiah” is the important thing.

Another New Testament example is Matthew and Luke’s report of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Among the differences in the two accounts is the location of where the sermon was given.  Matthew says in 5:1 that “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.”  Luke 6:17, however, says, “He went down with them and stood on a level place”.  So can we reliably reconstruct the setting of the historical event?  Not without a lot of arm waving and speculation.  But do we need to?  All we really need to do is acknowledge a historical event behind the text, while putting the interpretation of the text as the main thing.  Walton and Longman say:

What is more important is the theological message communicated by this rhetorically shaped presentation of the historical event.  What is the significance of the place where Jesus spoke the sermon?  We can identify the theological purpose of Matthew quite easily once we remember he directs his Gospel at Jewish Christian readers.  The location of the Sermon on the Mount, as we have come to refer to it, contributes to the presentation of Jesus as the fulfillment of the exodus.  After having been baptized in the Jordan River (his Red Sea crossing) and being tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights (as the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness), Jesus then picked twelve disciples (reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel), and then delivered the Sermon on the Mount, where he spoke about the Law.  No Jewish Christian could miss it.  Jesus on a mountain talking about the law would make them think of God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Parallels with the exodus continue and culminate in Jesus’ crucifixion on the eve of the Passover, the annual celebration of the exodus.

Walton and Longman say they are particularly struck by the pervasive and intense use of figurative language used in the depiction of the past in Genesis 1-11.  How do we know when an author intends to be figurative?  One way is to acknowledge that we’d have to work hard to take it any other way.  Like Psalm 23- “The Lord is my shepherd” is obviously meant to be a metaphor.  God is not literally a shepherd and we are not literally sheep.  So what is the obviously figurative language in Genesis 1-11?  How about animals come forth from the ground (Gen. 2:19).   God “opened” the eyes of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:7), and God’s claim to Cain that Abel’s blood was crying out from the ground (Gen. 4:10).

Another example, which should be obvious, but is denied by young earth creationists, are the days of Genesis 1.  Creation is described as taking place over a normal 6-day work week with a day of rest on the 7th.  This rhetorical shaping of the event should help us see that the creation account is not a material account of origins but equates to a 7-day temple or palace inauguration.  In the ANE when a palace or temple was dedicated the king or god was said to sit on his throne and “take his rest”.  It means the god or king has completed his tasks, set everything in order, and now begins his normal rule and reign.  Some examples from Scripture:

  • Psalm 132:7 We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.  8 Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength… 13 For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.  14 This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.
  • Hebrews 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
  • Isaiah 66:1 Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me?  And where is the place of my rest?

The 7 days relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration.  Man is installed in the temple as God’s Image i.e. His likeness, representative, priest, and caretaker.  The use of rhetorical devices in the opening chapter of Genesis is much more obvious in the Hebrew than in the English translations.   It is well known that in Hebrew thought the number seven symbolizes ‘wholeness’ as a characteristic of God’s perfection. A well-known example is the seven-candle lamp stand, or Menorah, which has long been a symbol of the Jewish faith and is the emblem of the modern State of Israel.   In Genesis 1, multiples of seven appear in extraordinary ways. For ancient readers, who were accustomed to taking notice of such things, these multiples of seven conveyed a powerful message. Seven was the divine number, the number of goodness and perfection. Its omnipresence in the opening chapter of the Bible makes an unmistakable rhetorical point about the origin and nature of the universe itself. Consider the following:

  1. The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words. Instantly, the ancient reader’s attention is focused.
  2. The second sentence contains exactly fourteen words. A rhetorical pattern is developing.
  3. The word ‘earth’—one half of the created sphere—appears in the chapter 21 times.
  4. The word ‘heaven’—the other half of the created sphere—also appears 21 times.
  5. ‘God’, the lead actor, is mentioned exactly 35 times (7 x 5)
  6. The refrain ‘and it was so’, which concludes each creative act, occurs exactly seven times.
  7. The summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ also occurs seven times.
  8. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the whole account is structured around seven scenes or seven days of the week.

To argue that the 7 days must be literal is a huge exercise in missing the point, especially since the sun, moon, and stars don’t come into being until the fourth day.  Evening and morning are defined by the rising and setting of the sun.  The hoop-jumping and arm-waving employed to explain how you can have a “day” without a sun are the prime example of what Walton and Longman are saying is “working too hard to take it any other way”.  It is simply more natural to read the days of creation not as an actual week but as a figurative description of creation based on the common work week.

And lest anyone argue that the recognition of figurative language is only a modern invention, the authors quote Origen (On First Principles 4.3.1):

And who will be found simple enough to believe that like some farmer “God planted trees in the garden of Eden” and that he planted “the tree of life” in it, that is a visible tree that could be touched, so that someone could eat of this tree with corporeal teeth and gain life, and further could eat of another tree and receive the knowledge of “good and evil”?  Moreover, we find God is said to stroll in the garden in the afternoon and Adam to hide under the tree.  Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a figure by which they point to certain mysteries.

And what about Genesis 2:7?  “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  Walton and Longman say:

Such a description of the first man is patently figurative once we realize that God is a spiritual being and does not have lungs.  Could God have taken human form to do this?  I guess so, but why would we think so?  Why should we presume that the ancient author has any interest in telling us how God actually did it?

The author is not particularly interested in giving us the data that would allow us to reconstruct the event behind the text in any kind of detail.  Rather, the author wants us to understand the theological significance of these events, and he utilizes figurative language that ancient readers did (and modern readers should) recognize.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “working too hard to take it any other way” – This! Great post.

  2. “working too hard to take it any other way”

    If your identity and faith absolutely depend on a certain interpretation, no amount of work to defend it is too small.

  3. Christiane says:

    I have read that some who preach in the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition are insisting that IF a person does not believe in a ‘literal’ six-day Creation followed by a day of rest, that the person’s ‘salvation’ is suspect.

    Is there some rhyme-or-reason behind WHICH passages in sacred Scripture that fundamentalist-evangelicals take literally as opposed to figuratively? On what critiria do they decide? ‘The Bible says’ is one phrase they do use frequently, but it’s their manner of interpretation that seems to be really ‘speaking’ . . . . and there is very little humility about how they call it ‘literally’ or ‘figuratively’. I remember asking on one blog about what determined whether something should be taken literally or not, and I was sharply told ‘I should know’. Well, I don’t know. If the Bible IS the authority for them, are there any ‘rules’ in Scripture that they point to concerning whether or not something is to be taken literally?

    ?

    • I think that’s a question that most people don’t think about too much. Practically speaking, the two criteria I’ve come across the most are 1) if a “literal” interpretation is so patently wrong that it’s absurd to attempt it (Jesus was not a literal “door” with hinges and a doormat, for example, and 2) any interpretation that could yield a non-miraculous explanation is not “literal”. The premises lurking behind these criteria are a) Scripture can and should be picked up, read, and understood by *anyone anytime*, with zero historical and social understanding of the ancient background required, and b) miracles (especially if they flout “scientific orthodoxy”) are essential because they prove Science is Wrong and that God Exists.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        and b) miracles (especially if they flout “scientific orthodoxy”) are essential because they prove Science is Wrong and that God Exists.

        “As if God had nothing to do but Exist!”
        — C.S.Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Continuing on this tangent, this is also the reason for that specifically-Christianese subset of fringe archaeology, “ARK-ology”.

          If Noah’s Ark WERE to be found, exactly as the Bible describes it, THAT would be ABSOLUTE PROOF! that can be rubbed in the face of all those Heathens. “I’M RIGHT! YOU’RE WRONG! SEE? SEE? SEE?”

          After which (just as in the end of the Jack Chick tract “Big Daddy”), Evolution is PROVEN FALSE, YEC is PROVEN TRVTH, therefore GOD Exists, HELL is Real, and everyone will then have to AcceptJesusChristAsTheirPersonalLORDandSavior…

      • “The premises lurking behind these criteria are a) Scripture can and should be picked up, read, and understood by *anyone anytime*, with zero historical and social understanding of the ancient background required, and b) miracles (especially if they flout “scientific orthodoxy”) are essential because they prove Science is Wrong and that God Exists.”

        This pretty much hits the nail on the head. The ‘magic book syndrome’ – the ONLY completely self-interpreting ancient document in existence. Ask those same people to pick up a copy of the Odyssey and make sense of it and they don’t have a clue, but somehow the Bible is different – it’s ‘magic’.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          a) Scripture can and should be picked up, read, and understood by *anyone anytime*, with zero historical and social understanding of the ancient background required

          Because the Meaning of SCRIPTURE is Plain — like the demon locust plague of Revelation plainly meaning helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapon “stingers” and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies.

          The ‘magic book syndrome’ – the ONLY completely self-interpreting ancient document in existence. Ask those same people to pick up a copy of the Odyssey and make sense of it and they don’t have a clue, but somehow the Bible is different – it’s ‘magic’.

          Already anticipated you, Greg.
          They can self-interpret the CORRECT meaning because they’re SAVED and thus have the Holy Spirit!

          • “Already anticipated you, Greg.
            They can self-interpret the CORRECT meaning because they’re SAVED and thus have the Holy Spirit!”

            Yes, of course. But why do they keep getting it wrong? And why can’t any two agree on the meaning of just about any passage? Why do we have stacks of ‘Four Views’ or ‘Three Views’ books, and not just on peripheral issues – but things like ‘Three Views of the Atonement’? As Christian Smith says, that is evidence that ‘biblicism’ just doesn’t work.

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      The snarky answer is that everything that would inconvenience them or require them to, e.g. change, mature or develop in any way, or do anything they don’t care to (the stuff about caring for the weak and poor and outcast, lovi g your neighbour, giving up your possessions etc) is figurative or doesn’t apply when they don’t want it to. Anything that doesn’t practically matter (or is actually more convenient if it is) is literal.
      E.g.
      YEC is literal, because it doesn’t require them to do anything, saves them the bother of understanding the science.
      Jesus in the sermon on the mount is not literal, but “highlighting how all people are sinners” (or something) because it saves the bother of trying to live up to his ethical standards.

  4. I was just thinking…

    A great many intelligent, smart, intellectual people – even those with a scientific mind – have come to believe in Jesus Christ, and the Flood’s meaning/literal-ness never factored into it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That was before literal YEC became a Salvation-level Dogma.

      • Christiane says:

        Headless, I’ve heard that there are many strange ‘Salvation-level’ dogmas out there among fundamentalist-evangelicals . . . it makes me think about each of these groups demanding that its members adhere to a certain teaching OR ELSE, like a controlling cult.

        I’m reading an SBCblog that is heavily into islamophobia and homophobia. It appears on the surface to be a site where ‘traditionalists’ (non-Calvinists) can make their case against Calvinists in the SBC, but a lot more is included that is heavily ‘anti’ all the usual ‘suspects’: ie, Muslims, ‘liberals’, LBGT folks, etc.
        The ONE thing I know is this:
        there are plenty of Southern Baptists on both sides of the ‘traditionalist/Calvinist’ continuum that are NOT heavily ‘anti’ people who are ‘different’ from themselves. They don’t agree with ‘the others’, but they aren’t into ‘targeting’ the ‘others’ with venom. So, knowing this, I am able to understand that there is a diversity of opinion in the SBC which allows for people of good will who don’t buy into ‘throwing stones’ in order to belong.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But once the 80% threshold is reached and Groupthink locks in, there can be NO “diversity of opinion”, only The One TRUE Way(TM).

          • Christiane says:

            well, I kind of get it that ‘unity in diversity’ isn’t very popular among people who NEED ‘group think’ in order to be comfortable. I think that is because they are fearful, but the sad thing is that the isolation, ‘bubble’, ‘group-think’ phenomenon doesn’t allow them to get to know ‘the others’ as human persons.

            It also strikes me that stoking fear in people enables ‘leaders’ to control them more easily; but I don’t think that Christianity IS or was ever meant to cultivate ‘a spirit of fear’, no. . . .

            People have comfort zones. And this grows out of their own need to ‘belong’ at a very primitive level psychologically, I suppose . . . . but the truth is that what seems to be walls they create to protect themselves from ‘wolves, the others, the enemy, etc’ . . . . those walls also become a prison that doesn’t have any windows or exit doors or ‘Everyone Welcome’ mats, no. Fearfulness is its own prison.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              I don’t think that Christianity IS or was ever meant to cultivate ‘a spirit of fear’, no. . . .

              During my time in-country, FEAR was my most common reaction. “Being Saved” not only did not relieve the fear that was there as far back as I can remember, it supercharged the fear to a cosmic level.

              what seems to be walls they create to protect themselves from ‘wolves, the others, the enemy, etc’ . . . . those walls also become a prison that doesn’t have any windows or exit doors or ‘Everyone Welcome’ mats, no.

              Isn’t there something about “the gates of Hell are locked from the inside”?

              • Christiane says:

                Yep!

                It seems actually biblical in the sense that we were given ‘choice’ and advised to choose the good.
                I am open-minded about all of the ideas of what happens to people after death, but I am particularly fond of the Catholic concept of ‘purgatory’ IF it means something that offers a chance to people who aren’t ‘perfect’ . . . . Personally, I don’t know any perfect people. Apparently there are lots of perfect people out there if you read certain blogs . . . . but whenever I get discouraged, I think about Dorothy Day . . . . if the Church could finally see her as a saint, then I have hope for the rest of us. 🙂

                (next to my beloved St. Therese of Lisieux, I love Dorothy Day . . . . two very opposite personalities, which also gives me hope for the diversity among our kind)

        • Burro (Mule) says:

          Christiane, can we please move away from rhetoric that attributes “distrust of Muslims, LGBT people, ‘liberals` and other supposed miscreants” to their being so “different from me”, which makes it sound like their dislike is based on ignorance and fear? Actually the problems I have with Muslims, LGBT people and ‘liberals’ is that are altogether too much like me, and I understand them too well.

          This attitude is very condescending towards people who have genuine differences of opinion from members of these groups and others, but who do try very hard to treat them with respect. I have a friend whose [adult] son is converting to Islam to marry a Muslim girl. As a devout Baptist, he is shattered. To treat his objections as based in fear or ignorance is very hard. For him, this is a separation beyond the circles of the world, like Merry and Pippin saying good bye to Frodo at the Havens.

          • Christiane says:

            Hello Burro,

            thank you for letting me know your request and also giving me some background on why you feel that way.

            If I have offended anyone who IS respectful towards those of other religions or gender orientations, I am most sincerely apologetic . . . . . I’m sorry about your Baptist friend and I can imagine how troubled he must be considering that there is no belief among SBC members in ‘the three Abrahamic faiths’, and sure that must make a big difference in his outlook. In your friend’s case, maybe in time, if the Good Lord sends His grace, your friend may be more peaceful about his son’s decision…… perhaps by getting to know the new daughter-in-law and her family. (?) Still, your friend is suffering right now, and needs support that affirms his upset.

            I am much moved by your comment. I will give a lot of thought. Thank you for being honest about your concern. I hope I can get past some of the ‘stridency’ in my own upset over how people who are different can sometimes be treated very badly for no fault of their own. I may be hard-wired to consider those on the edges who are ‘not like us’ as being unfairly labeled and judged because I raised a child who was bullied . . . . he had Down Syndrome. In me, that desire to ‘care for’ those who are ‘different’ may be somehow tied emotionally to my mothering instincts . . . . who knows?

  5. Peter Wolfe says:

    FYI, there is a interview with Walton and Longman up on BioLogos: https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/the-genesis-flood-through-ancient-eyes-an-interview-with-john-walton-and-tremper-longman

    Also they did a Facebook live interview which is available as well.

  6. Yes the recognition of figurative language is not strictly modern. What’s modern is the distinction between “literal” and “figurative” For the ancients just because something was figurative didn’t mean it wasn’t real. Most believers in most times and places have thought Adam and Eve were real human beings. Origen always gets used in these discussions but he was an outlier, not at all typical. He was a Hellenist Christian who was fully influenced by Greek philosophy. Subsequently he was declared a heretic.

  7. A artrite reumatóide é oposto da artrose. http://indirimtakip.com/profile.php?section=personality&id=1617

  8. This is their job in a cryptocurrency-community. http://blogs.rediff.com/hutchinsoncramer4/2018/03/28/google-photos/