Genesis 2 begins another view of creation; another voice; a narrowed focus.
First a context: We have discussed the issues of evolution and common descent in several different posts on this blog. The mounting evidence, most importantly the molecular genetic evidence emerging from the sequencing of human and other genomes, makes the special creation of the human species increasingly difficult to defend – and we lose credibility in doing so. External resemblance, embryology, and the fossil evidence are persuasive, but perhaps not conclusive. However, the internal evidence encoded in the DNA of each and every one of us is, in my educated opinion, impossible to refute. Common descent is now as close to proven as anything in science in general, or biology in particular, ever can be. The general evolutionary theory is the best explanation of common descent. How this works in a theistic, or specifically Christian, worldview is worth discussion – but not today. Today I’d like to stick with Genesis.
This background certainly influences my interpretation of Genesis 2-3. An admission that should come as no surprise. But putting this aside for the moment, on the textual and historical evidence what are we to make of these cornerstone chapters? If Scot still had a “polls tool” I’d use it – but I guess comments will have to do.
Are Genesis 2 and 3:
(A) Appropriation of ANE myth to convey theological truth?
(B) Mytho-historical stories of human history?
(C) Literal descriptions of human history?
(D) Myth – just so stories reflecting a bygone culture?
(E) Something else? (Specify if you wish)
In his commentary on Genesis Bill Arnold does not wrestle with the nature of Genesis 2-3, except that by implication it is “mytho-historical.” But what does mytho-historical mean? Michael Kruse (Thanks Michael) had an interesting analogy in a comment on the last post, and perhaps this will help focus our thoughts:
Two four year olds are asked where their newborn baby brother came from. The first child says, “My mommy and daddy wanted another baby so one day a large white bird with a big beak brought my brother in a basket and left him outside the front door. My mommy and daddy opened the door one morning and there he was.” The other child responds that, “My mommy and daddy wanted another baby so one day my daddy put a seed in my mommy’s tummy. It grew up to my brother until one day when he was big enough he came out and here he is.”
The first story has no concordance with actual historical events. The second clearly does. Is it complete? No. Is it precisely accurate? No. But it does closely concord with historical realities. Yes.
Discussing origins to a pre-scientific ANE culture is much like explaining birth to a four year old. Rather than a stork fairytale about origins, God instead chose to reveal a description that corresponds with historically realities but was comprehensible to its audience.
Perhaps this is what mytho-historical means, although I am not sure it quite catches Arnold’s meaning. The first story is myth. The second story is mytho-historical – the parents didn’t lie, but they also didn’t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in academic scientific or historical form. No analogy is perfect, and mytho-historical may be a continuum, some elements are more mythical and some more historical, yet it is a useful frame for thought.
ANE creation myths – and I have Stephanie Dalley’s translation of Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others before me – read like “stork fairytales.” The text starts by bringing not man but gods – a panoply of gods – on the scene, gods who fight and covet and create and destroy. Genesis 2 starts with God who creates man and goes from there, mytho-historical.
Taking this approach we want to look at the elements of the story told in Genesis and contemplate the purpose and point of the story while keeping in mind the original context and audience. The point is not a scientific description of creation. Genesis 2-3 is literature – and wordplays, hidden in English but apparent in Hebrew, are common. The text also uses other elements appropriate to the time and place – and this includes ANE literature (creation myths), elements of the ANE culture, and ANE cosmology. Some of the elements used include pieces appropriated from the equivalent of “stork fairytales” – the ANE creation myths. It is not lying to use story to tell truth.
According to Arnold Genesis 2 conveys the following ideas, the following truths:
- Humankind is created as the earth’s keeper.
- The man is placed in the garden to till it and keep it – another expression of image of God.
- Woman is created from man – for relationship. As Scot puts it God “split the adam.” This is not a scientific explanation of how; nor is it a description of superior/inferior genders; it is an explanation of, an etiology for, unity despite difference.
This last bears some expansion and may in fact be the core point of Genesis 2.
Just as Gen 1 culminated in an etiological explanation for the cultic institution of Sabbath, so now Gen 2 concludes with the social institution of marriage (v. 24). The verse’s opening “therefore” (‘al-kēn) introduces the narrator’s voice and brings us to the important consequence of the male-female relationship, and some would say to the goal toward which the narrative has been driving from the beginning. Thus marriage is not simply about romance or raising a family, but about reuniting two parts of a sexual whole. … “Every marriage is a union; not a union of two strangers, but rather a reunion, a reconstitution, so to speak, of the primordial unity.” (p. 61, last line quotes H.C. Brichto)
Genesis 2 teaches man created for an intimate relationship with God, with the earth, and with each other (male and female). It is not history or science. But it is true. Perhaps it is myth (as Enns says: an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories) but true myth as C.S. Lewis says, or perhaps more mytho-historical according to Arnold.
What do you think – what is the truth told in Genesis 2?
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