Tag: genesis

The Love of God

The Love of God (painting: The Sun by Edvard Munch)

    The Sun by Edvard Munch It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the kind with too many hurried mornings to get to school before the bell rings and too few slow afternoons to help you remember why you hurried in the first place. The kind of week where the laundry will get done and the bills paid and the children raised and the home kept and the dreams stoked. The kind of week where all those true blessings felt a little like burdens. The kind of week where the questions about faith and fact break across my eyes in the morning and sift like so much sand into the the creases of my dreams at night. The kind of week where I overreacted to the kids fighting and undercooked the pork chops…again. And yet. And yet, in the quiet of the night, with music humming across the room and the windows open, I can’t help but rejoice…

Initial Short Speculation on Three Book of Mormon Passages and Ancient Cosmology


Part of writing a book about ancient cosmology and Genesis 1 is… reading lots about ancient cosmology and Genesis 1. In doing so, I’ve had some thoughts about three Book of Mormon passages. I’ve generally set these on the shelf, so these are initial thoughts which upon further investigation may turn out to be highly significant or completely baseless. But I float them here for public interest and as a reminder to myself later.

Everything is a Remix, Genesis Edition: Intro


In this recent post (which I plan to revisit in the near future) and others, I mentioned the discovery of various ancient Near Eastern texts related to Genesis, such as Enuma Elish. The relationship between these accounts and Genesis has never been definitively settled, though dominant interpretive trends have been clear. At first, German scholars such as Friedrich Delitzsch, driven largely by Protestant bias against the Hebrew Bible and a good bit of anti-Semitism, seized on them as the original sources of Genesis, assuming the relevant bits had been taken more-or-less whole cloth from the Israelites neighbors. This undermined longstanding assumptions of their originality or uniqueness, easily conflated with claims of religious and/or revelatory value. (See “Babel and Bible” controversy.) Other scholars pushed back, particularly conservative scholars. Others came to recognize that claims of direct borrowing were highly overstated, and ignored important and significant differences. It is a rare scholar today who argues that Genesis has nothing to do with these other accounts. Positions run from (paraphrasing…

Study Genesis and the Gospels through Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this weekend only (updated)


One issue that appears repeatedly when studying scripture is dealing with conflicting accounts and multiple perspectives. We have four Gospels that vary in detail, several creation stories, both inside the Bible (Gen 1-2:4, 2:4ff, and the scattered watery Chaoskampf account), and outside (Genesis accounts, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Temple), as well as two conflicting accounts of Israelite history (Samuel-Kings vs. Chronicles), and two interpretations of the destruction of Ammonihah (Alma 16-17 vs 25, see Grant Hardy’s article). Our modern tendency is to treat all of these, and indeed nearly all scripture, strictly as history, although bad or inaccurate history, and since we really don’t like multiple accounts, we then wrest ahem… harmonize them. To some extent, that misses the point; none of these were written as history as the modern person would understand it, as a dispassionate, journalistic wie-es-eigentlich-gewesen how-it-really-happened neutral account written down by an eyewitness clerk. Perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated.

Genesis vs. Science: Background, Readings, and Discussion

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One of the problems that crops up with Genesis is its proper context, its genre, what background it should be read against (modern science or ancient Near East?) That is, modern western English readers have a particular (modern) worldview with various questions and issues. When they read Genesis, they naturally place it into that setting, and read it against that (modern) background, which creates conflict. It’s as if we’ve summoned an expert witness to trial, only to surprise her with questions far outside her area of expertise. Although she gives strong indications to that effect, the judge forcefully says, “Just answer the questions please!” The lawyers seize upon any statement, and force it into relevance. Only recently have defense attorneys appeared in the courtroom to object to this treatment, with several lengthy briefs detailed below. The history of interpretation of Genesis’ early chapters is fascinating, particularly the science/religion debate. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition is a great…

Writing about Genesis: Status Update


 Last year in September, I posted some thoughts on a book project dealing with the early chapters of Genesis. A good number of my (too rare) posts since then have dealt with those chapters in certain ways: Problems of language and culture (1, 2),  issues of translation (six parts so far, begin here), the structure of the first creation account, and my posts from teaching a Genesis Institute class (start here). I started researching the book and doing some initial writing. Here’s a very quick update.

Institute Report: Genesis Week 5 (corrected)

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

(We’re a few weeks behind here on the blog. I hope to catch up. Most important for my students: We WILL have Institute this week, contrary to what I said last Thursday.) Tonight we finished off Genesis 1 and introduced the second creation account in Gen 2. Had a few more people, so I started by recapping Walton’s theory of functional creation (references in previous post.) Seven days It’s long been noticed that days 1-3 parallel days 4-6. Walton argues that days 1-3 create three primary and basic functions, while 4-6 create functionaries that either carry out those functions, or carry out their own within the parallel sphere. Day 1 creates the basis of Time, the cycle of night/day. This is simply the function; the functionaries who carry it out are designated on day 4. Day 2 creates the basis of Weather, which mostly means precipitation. That is, Israelite cosmology held as per Genesis that there were waters below which…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 4

Far Side

This week, we continued talking about Enuma Eliš and Genesis 1, beginning with a review of some of the similarities we talked about last week. Similarities– 1) Opens with temporal clause. 2) pre-creation darkness 3) precreation cosmic waters 4) wind/spirit 5) division of the waters to create space for human existence 6) a solid “roof” created to restrain the cosmic waters from reentering that space. There are also stark differences, which generally fall under the category of semi-polemical monotheistic reinterpretation. That is, while Genesis shares with Mesopotamia (as well as all the other ancient Near Eastern cultures we know of) a very different conception of the physical universe and some other elements, it differs sharply in who’s in charge. Differences– Lack of combat– In contrast to Enuma Eliš, other creation accounts, and other parts of the Old Testament (per the last post), creation is portrayed as being free of combat with other deities or cosmic waters/chaos. Monotheistic. – Things which are deities…

Institute Report:Genesis week 3

The Biblical View of the Universe

(updated!) Attendance down a little this week; I know one student had a date, the weather was poor (no one likes to travel in the rain), and so on, but I also heard that last week was too much for at least one person. But, I felt this week went quite well, and we finally got into Genesis itself. As per the syllabus, class today was divided in two parts. And due to my own schedule and time commitments this week, I’m afraid my notes here are much rougher, less complete and posted later than I’d wish. I. Tools part I We went over a handout about language and dictionaries, talked about why Webster’s modern dictionary isn’t useful, how to use Strong’s Concordance, where to get it for free, and what’s wrong with it, then some resources that you can use once you understand Strong’s and have the number for a word. Here’s the handout (ask if something isn’t clear),…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 2


I was gratified to see most of the class come back, but we’ll see if it happens again. Here’s the tentative syllabus for the next few weeks. I was really apprehensive about today, for two reasons. First, the material in this lesson was largely groundwork for the next few weeks, and really shouldn’t stand on its own, because you don’t see the payoff. Time constrained me, though.  Second, this is some of the most tentative material I’m working with, and I’m hesitant about some of it. I’m still working it out in my own mind, but this seems to be the direction the evidence points in. Because of those two things, and the amount of material to cover, I’m not sure it all got presented in the clearest way, and I know at least one of the major arguments didn’t get presented. Reverse summary: Next week, we’re going to start reading Genesis against other creation accounts, particularly the Babylonian Enuma…

Institute Report: Genesis, Week 1


If there’s sufficient interest,  I will post some general notes, handouts and materials here instead of mailing out everything to my class. Handouts are pdf format and have live links embedded. I felt the first week went well; in contrast to the last time I taught this, few students had a science background, and only 1-2 had previous experience with me. I introduced myself and established some formal bona fides. The more important informal trust that comes from personal experience and knowing someone will come over time, I hope. I had students introduce themselves, give a bit of their own background in terms of studies and interests (only one with hard science, several in literature and humanities, a few in business/finance), and express what had brought them to the class, what they hoped to discusses, or nagging questions or issues in Genesis. As expected, questions ran the gamut, but no one expressed a desperate struggle trying to “square evolution with…

Scripture Unchained: A New York Institute Announcement


After taking off 18 months or so, I’m returning to teaching Institute in my free time. Beginning January 12, 8 PM in the Union Square chapel of Manhattan, I’ll be teaching a class called “Genesis, with an Introduction to Studying the Bible in Hebrew.” The Institute Director added the last part, but I don’t mind one bit. I’m quite looking forward to it. Institute can really be a breath of fresh air, especially for those who are looking for a deeper exploration of the scriptures than Sunday School allows. After all, there’s no schedule to follow, no manual to adhere to, none of the constraints that people argue over. Instead of 45 minutes with ambivalent mostly non-readers, I get 75 minutes with a self-selecting group of slightly less ambivalent reading-a-bit-more. This is not to say there are no constraints; in a lesser implementation of Helaman 10:4-5, teachers generally get vetted one way or another, and then are simply trusted to…

Beyond Translation: Job and Isaiah at Ugarit? Part 2


In Part 1, I promised some Biblical examples of where translation alone fails to convey all the meaning an Israelite would have grasped. I’ve broken these examples into three fuzzy categories. 1) Israel is often described in the Torah as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” We probably all have milk and honey in our kitchen, yet not quite what is described here. In the Old Testament, milk doesn’t usually come from cows, and honey doesn’t come from bees. Cattle were primarily used for beef, while milk came primarily from goats, only rarely from cattle. Israelites didn’t raise bees, so honey was likely difficult to acquire. “Honey” was a boiled-down thick sweet syrup, usually made from dates or  some other fruit, though on rare occasion “honey” does seem to clearly indicate bee-honey. Israel, we might say then, was “a land oozing with chèvre and fruit-honey.” 2) Several times in Genesis 1, curious circumlocutions appear. There’s no mention of the…

Priests, Babylonians, and Seven 24-hour Days of Creation


Even though it comes first in the Bible, Genesis 1  represents the youngest of three Israelite creation traditions. As happens in culture and even inspired religion, traditions of the past were once again adapted and (re)appropriated to meet the needs of the time. Genesis 1-2:4 is generally believed to have come from a priestly tradition associated with the tabernacle/temple, and received its current form sometime around the Babylonian exile (which explains some of its anti-Babylonian polemics, which go totally unnoticed by modern readers.) Several characteristics of Genesis 1-2:4a suggest priestly and temple associations, but the most important for our purposes here is the emphasis on sacred time over sacred space (see here, #3 in particular.) If you’ve ever talked to Jehovah’s Witnesses about birthdays, you know they don’t celebrate them, because no one in the Bible does. And this is generally true, because Israelites weren’t the ultra-specific hour-by-hour calendrically obsessed society we are today; as with literacy, they neither had…

Beyond Translation: Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, part 1


Communication is not just about words, but the context, culture and worldview in which they are embedded.1 A simple translation of words will fail to communicate the entire message, because it doesn’t include this information. The complexities of communication are manifest in obvious and less obvious ways; sometimes we know what we’re missing, and sometimes we don’t. Here are some examples. Teenagers can carry on entire conversations at the dinner table or on Facebook by quoting movies their parents haven’t seen. If it goes far enough, the parents realize that something beyond the actual spoken words is being communicated. They may not know what the actual message is, because they haven’t seen the movie; they’re unaware of the culturally-embedded context, which carries meaning beyond the words. If it doesn’t go far enough that the parents catch on, then the kids have communicated a message in plain sight with the parents completely unaware. Let’s say I’m a college chemistry professor with…