Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The World According to Genesis

Let me ask you a question: How familiar are you with the account of Genesis? You are probably feeling pretty confident that you know what it says. Would it surprise you to know that this creation account is not the only one in the Bible? For further reading, check out Psalms 74:12-17, Psalms 104:1-8, Job 38, Proverbs 8:1-31, and Isaiah 45:12-13.

At one time, I thought I knew what it said until I actually took the time to sit down and read it word for word. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that our culture has created an account of Genesis, the Four Gospels, Revelations among others into something that is akin to pop culture, something that fits into our modern day prism of life. We are suffering from cultural inertia.

Was Jesus born on December 25? It might help to know about the Winter Solstice. Here is a hint: the Bible never mentions what day Jesus was born.

Was Jesus born in an inn? I don't think they had hotel chains back in the day.

Did Jesus cleanse the temple? I recall there being something having to do with cursing the temple as in being like a fig tree that no longer bears fruit.

Did Paul really say that men should abuse their wives? That is what Planned Parenthood and NOW claim. But we know how credible they are when it comes to issues relating to marriage, family and what not.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to focus on the account of Eve and the serpent. The story goes like this: Eve was taking a stroll somewhere in the Garden of Eden while Adam is off somewhere perhaps tending to his chores. A serpent (there is no mention of the serpent being Satan) walks up to Eve and begins talking. Eve is tempted into taking an apple off the tree in the middle of the garden and eats it. Adam walks up sometime later and takes a bite too. God finds out about their transgression and kicks them out of the Garden of Eden forever.

Now open your Bible to Genesis 3. Very carefully read verses 1-7. Do you notice something odd going on? For one, it makes no mention of an apple. Simply fruit. It could have been figs or olives for all we know. Verse 6 (NIV) reads "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."

"She also gave some to her husband, [WHO WAS WITH HER], and he ate it."

This differs from the image in our heads about Eve going for some lonely afternoon stroll and Adam just happened to stumble upon her after she had eaten the fruit. So why didn't Adam stop Eve from doing so? Adam states to God that he ate the fruit that Eve gave her and Eve states that she was tricked by a sneaky serpent. The bottom line is that in seeking to "be like God, knowing good and evil," Adam and Eve sought to place themselves on a pedestal that is unobtainable. After all, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand." Job 38:4

For some insight on what is going on here, Isaiah 45:12-13 provides us with a clue. I found it interesting that this passage mentions Cyrus (as in Cyrus The Great) and the exiles returning home. This particular event occurred in 538 B.C. after Cyrus conquered the Babylonian Empire. The Babylonian captivity began in 597 B.C. with the major part of it occurring in 587 B.C. This gives us a framework in which to refer to. No one is certain who the specific authors of the Old Testament accounts are. Most likely, they were complied by a group of Hebrew priests. The Babylonian exiles were largely people from the upper class, the priesthood and landowning families. Now imagine that you are living in Babylon and you are hearing accounts from the natives about how the earth and heavens were created as a result of some cosmic battle between Gods. You are reading about how the Earth came into being and credit is being given to a foreign God or Gods. The creation stories in the Hebrew Bible particularly Genesis apparently are a metaphor developed in response to the Enuma Elish as is Noah's Ark is in response to Gilgamesh.

People in our modern world by and large take for granted our ability of literacy. We can go to a library where there are hundreds if not thousands of pieces of literature. Literacy in the ancient world by and large pertained to usually no more than 5% of the population. To be literate in the ancient world is akin to being in charge of the money today. They didn't have a printing press, blogs, and the various wireless technologies that are so much a part of our world. These creation accounts never were meant to be taken with a view of them being "scientific". People of the ancient world didn’t have the understanding of the natural world as modern people do. How can one account for the physical aspects when one doesn’t have the knowledge of DNA, geology, physics among other natural sciences. If humans didn't create the Earth, the stars, the galaxies, then what did? Science merely attempts to explain the natural world. It does not prove nor disprove the existence of God or Gods. Faith and science are not opponents. To suggest they are opponents is to imply that since Peyton Manning is a pro football player, it must be because he can't sing very well. Ultimately, faith and science have different criteria and serve different purposes.

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