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GENESIS HISTORY OR MYTH?
Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It contains incredible stories of the creation of the universe, man's fall from grace, the story of Noah and the great flood, and the stories of the first generations of man. This book is perhaps one of the most controversial as well. The contents of the book are not as source of dispute. However, the interpretation of the content is a source of great scholarly debate for many reasons.
The first source of debate is exactly what type of work Genesis constitutes. Conservative Christians consider Genesis to be a history. Using this interpretation, events in Genesis happened exactly as written. Other more liberal interpretations consider Genesis to be something other than a historical account. There are many liberal viewpoints on how to categorize Genesis. Some believe that Genesis is an allegory, others a myth, and still others compare it to the Viking Sagas. This paper will examine both sides of this issue and present evidence to support both viewpoints. It will discuss the major accepted viewpoints surrounding the Book of Genesis.
Conservatives and Liberals argue on the historical accuracy, literary classification and other points of Genesis. The arguments are presented as if they are about the entire Book of Genesis. However, the true essence of the question lies in solving the problem of authorship. In this respect, several models have solved this question, at least as far as the latter portions of Genesis are concerned. The tablet theory of Genesis clearly identifies authors for at least ten of the eleven sections of Genesis. The only section for which no author can be found using any currently held theory is for the creation story. This research will support the thesis that the argument for the authorship of Genesis does not concern the entire Book of Genesis, but rather the only true argument lies in Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:4, the creation.
Overview of Prevailing Liberal and Conservative Theories
The underlying question regarding the many viewpoints about the literary categorization of Genesis is the question of how and who wrote it. Genesis exhibits several different writing styles. Strict conservatives tend to ignore this fact and proclaim that Moses wrote the entire book start to finish as God dictated it. They purport that it is the direct and exact word of God as transcribed by one person. Other conservatives acknowledge the different writing styles and still hold that it is the direct word of God, but that different people were used as instruments to accomplish the task.
Liberals, however, are quick to point out that Genesis demonstrates several very distinct literary styles and language patterns. There are several theories to explain this phenomenon. One popular theory is the "JEDP Documentary Hypothesis" (Sewell, 1994). This hypothesis states that many of the stories in Genesis were passed down through the generation orally, with each telling adding embellishments and deletions, much as with the "telephone game" that children play. In this game one person whispers something to a person, who in turn whispers it to someone else. In the end the story that is returned to the original teller and many times only slightly resembles the original. According to JEDP theory these oral traditions were written down by four different authors known as J, E, D, and P. The JEDP theory supports the categorization of Genesis to be that of a myth.
The JEDP theory does not lend support to the historical accuracy of the Book of Genesis and is highly disputed by the Conservatives. A contrasting theory is presented by the conservatives called the "Tablet theory" (Sewell, 1994). This theory suggests that portions of Genesis were originally written on clay tablets by men who personally experienced the events. The tablets were said to be assembled by Moses into the book now known as Genesis. Conservatives favor this idea as the tablets are considered to be an eyewitness account and therefore should be historically accurate. This supports the idea that Genesis should be a historical account (Sewell, 1994).
Archeological Evidence limited amount of archeological evidence does exist that would suggest multiple authorships of various sections of Genesis (Sewell, 1994).
Literary evidence also supports this theory. It appears that Genesis was written by several men and that these men did sign their names at the end of their respective section.
Archaeology has uncovered complete libraries which can be dated to the time of Abraham. The digs at Mari revealed writings that contained named used in the Bible such as "Peleg, Terah, Abram, Jacob, Laban, and others" (Sewell, 1994). They cannot be linked directly to the Biblical characters that they represent, but they do show that those names were in usage at that time. The Nuzi archive held over 20,000 clay tablets, mostly legal documents and laws and customs of the land (Sewell, 1994).
The existence of these documents, does not confirm the historical accuracy of Genesis, but does lend credibility to the tablet theory held by conservatives.
The beginning of the Liberal movement
Until the late 1700s, the conservative ideology was the primary mode of thought concerning the Bible. Ideology was passed down from the educated upper class and religious leaders to the population at large, who had virtually no choice, but to accept the ideas being handed to them and in some cases in history, handed down by law. The lower class was largely illiterate and uneducated. They looked to the educated leadership to tell them how to interpret their surroundings. The late 1700s saw an advancement of educational level in the population at large. Many more were literate and the arts and philosophy were a thriving source of debate in many social circles. Education was no longer a thing only afforded to the upper class and religious circles. It was during this time that some began to doubt and critically examine the dogmas that had been handed down to them in earlier ages.
Criticism of the Bible, as we know it today, was started by G.W.F. Hegel in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Hegal was a German philosopher who taught that religion developed gradually, over a long period of time. He believed that religion developed in stages with the rest of civilization (Sewell, 1994).
Charles Lyell published the "Principles of Geology" in 1830 which first described the "Geologic column" (Sewell, 1994) that formed the basis of modern paleontology and archeology. He described the strata and how they relate to geologic chronology. This work set the stage for Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1859 (Sewell, 1994). These theories captured the imagination of scientists and a brutal debate ensued between religious conservatives who held to the old doctrines and those who believed that the Bible was a nice piece of literature, but was not supported by science. Conservatives called the ideas of "scientists" blasphemous and scientists called conservative ideas "ridiculous."
Those agreeing with the scientific viewpoint later formed the basis for the liberal movement. In the beginning these two movements were in direct opposition. Since those early days, many degrees of conservative and liberal thought have evolved. It is now no longer and "all or nothing" debate and both sides can agree with the other on some basic points, such as the multiple authorship of Genesis.
It was another theologian, K.H. Graf and one of Hegel's students, Julius Wellhausen, who first formulated the JEDP theory. These early proponents of the theory based their premise on the idea that the early parts of Genesis could not have been written in the time periods that they described, as writing was not invented until 1000 BC (Sewell, 1994). They condsidered Genesis to be a compilation of sagas, epics, and poetry that had been passed down for many millennia before being compiled and written down.
The JEDP theory says that the various authors, who wrote down these sagas can be identified by the name they use for God. The J-author used Jehovah, the E-author used Elohim, the D. And P. authors were named for Deuteronomic and Priestly (Sewell, 1994). This theory caused many people to lose confidence in the historic accuracy of the Bible, which further served to fuel the liberal movement.
The History of the Tablet Theory
The tablet theory was first examined by Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman, who was stationed in Mesopotamia. He was heavily interested in the archaeology of the area and held a special interest in clay tablets that had been dated to before the time of Abraham. Commodore Wiseman's son updated the original 1936 works of his father in 1985 (Wiseman, 1985).
Wiseman found that the old clay tablets contained phrases at the end that named the author and had words to identify the subject of the tablet. Dates were also included in some of these phrases. In cases where the passage was continued, there was a phrase that indicated the tablet where the work was "to be continued" (Sewell, 1994). The records of these ancient people was extensive, containing…[continue]
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