Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Smiling Sun: A Reflection on Human Spirituality

Child psychologists, such as the Swiss scholar Jean Piaget, tell us that children instinctively give animate, personal characteristics to inanimate objects—draw a face on the sun, for example. Anthropologists tell us that all pre-scientific people are animistic in their religious beliefs, investing every tree, brook, and celestial body with personhood. What could be more natural? What metaphor is more ready at hand than the thing we know best: our self. For all of its grandeur and refinement, the idea of a transcendent Person who acts in the world is only the final manifestation of a primitive animism. A divine Person is not the Heraclitean mystery seen through a glass darkly, but a reflection of one's self in a mirror brightly (p. 20).

The above profundity draws a line connecting the most elementary stages of child development with Paleolithic human spirituality down to belief in the singular and refined immaterial monotheistic God of today. But, where the child attributes personhood to the sun and the earlier hominid to a brook, what is the theist today attributing personhood to?

Obviously, the [Western] theist today is not investing inanimate objects with divine personhood; instead, the theist today finds more abstract realities, real or perceived, with the divine animus. These realities include ignorance, mystery, fear, coincidence, personal feelings of transcendence and other such biological operations of the brain, etc.

Raymo, Chet. When God is Gone Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist. Sorin Books: Notre Dame, 2008.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A More Authentic Experience? -- Allowing Experience to Change Your Worldview

In the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter finds himself presented with a vision while on the roof of one Simon the Tanner in Joppa. Though presumably a kosher Jew, Peter is shown a vision of unkosher animals and asked three times, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat," to which he replies thrice, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." On the heels of this vision a group of pious gentiles arrive asking Peter to go with him to home of Cornelius, a gentile god-fearer and a Roman centurion.

The Apostle Peter states, "Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation…" and so expresses that Torah holiness creates an ethnic segregation intended to prevent the domestic and table intermingling of Jew and non-Jew. The Apostle, despite his biblical scruples, enters the home of Cornelius and lays out the early Christian kerygma of Jesus's death and resurrection. To the Apostle's surprise, the text states, "…the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word." Relaying the surprise of Peter and the Jewish Christian men who had joined him, the text states, "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."

Why were they astonished? The text seeks to establish the Jewish pedigree of the Apostle and the Jewish Christians who joined them. Knowing that covenantal participation and fellowship with God was contingent on circumcision and Torah observance, they did not expect God to bestow a seal of approval on a group of gentiles. Note the Apostle Paul's description of the Torah perspective on non-Jews:

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).

Yet, despite the Torah preclusion of the non-Jew, the book of Acts presents God reaching out and expressing acceptance of non-Jews. Peter and his Jewish companions witness the sealing of gentiles through the "gift of the Holy Spirit." Peter's experience hence becomes the basis for his theology. From this singular experience, Peter discards his acceptance of biblical (the Hebrew Bible) boundary lines. He allows his experience to be an authority over the Bible and so reformulates his theology such that he forgoes with biblical boundary lines which before had defined the boundaries of who was in and who was out of the community and the covenants of God.

Paradigmatic?

Christian fundamentalists today, including Evangelicals, are quick to assert boundary lines so boldly defined christocentrically around one's dogmatic affirmations of Jesus. If one believes in Jesus as the Son of God, second Person of the Triune godhead, one's Personal Savior, etc., then one is saved. Gays, Muslims, Jews, and a myriad of others are not included in the Christian fundamentalist circle. "The Bible tells me so…" the fundamentalist will parrot ad naseum, "We must maintain biblical orthodoxy."

But, what if the Acts 10 is meant to be paradigmatic? What if it is meant to teach the Christian that experience is to hold sway? The Apostle Peter allowed his experience, an experience that crashed through biblical lines of exclusion, to change his theology and worldview? What if the Christian experience with those outside her circle is meant to change, yes change and alter, her worldview? What if, by excluding and demonizing the outsider, the fundamentalist Christian is failing to understand the limits of human potential and violating the biblical paradigm expressed with the Apostle Peter? If so, then the Christian should come to know and understand that the experience of the those outside her boundary lines: the Muslim, the Jew, the gay, the atheist, etc. are meant to change how she thinks, to extend her boundary lines.

The Christian who denies her experience the opportunity to trump the Bible is not following the example of the Apostle Peter. She is being unbiblical.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More False Dichotomies

True or False: This is the day that evolved from slime; we will be bitter and
waste our time.

This quippish remark was made recently by a friend of mine. This might become an enduring repeat for me as an example of a false dichotomy in the creation-evolution controversy.

Let me start off by attempting to interpret what this pseudo-aphorism is trying to relay. The reference to slime is apparently an allusion to the unscientific concept of “primordial slime” or the so-called “pre-biotic soup” of amino acids in which life supposedly found its inception. Hence, “slime” is a synecdoche for evolution. As such, “slime” suggests “molecules to man” evolution from the most “simple” to the emergent complexity that we call humanity today.

The references to bitterness and time wasting is apparently then correlated with the theory of evolution. The author is hence positing that acceptance of the theory of evolution leads to bitterness and time wasting. The structure of this pseudo-aphorism is derived from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This restating of Psalm 118 around the theory of evolution makes the suggestion that belief in creation versus acceptance of the theory of evolution results in lack of industry (time wasting) and bitterness. The implicit message of this quip is hence: If one accepts creation (“This is the day that the Lord has made”), then one is motivated not to be bitter or wasteful of time where one who accepts evolution “from slime” one is more likely to be bitter and wasteful of time.

Bitterness and lack of industry (wasting time) do not correlate with acceptance of methodological naturalism and the theory of evolution. Industry, as the opposite of time wasting, correlates with a number of variables including early childhood experiences, education, and a sense of ownership. There is an undeniable correlation between the degree of education one has and the likelihood that one will accept the theory of evolution. There is a similar correlation between education and industry. So, instead of there being a negative correlation between industriousness and accepting the theory of evolution, the correlation is in the reverse: acceptance of evolution correlates with higher levels of industriousness.

Now, as far as bitterness goes, we all know that there are bitter peoples in every political and religious group. For myself, I often feel bitter toward fundamentalist Christians not because of evolution but because of the socially-constructed false realities that they brainwashed me with. And, most of the bitter people I have known in my life have been political conservatives and fundamentalists.

Another dichotomy worth noting is that the theory of evolution is not opposed to the belief that God is the creator. One can accept evolution and believe that God providentially guided or set in place the process of evolution. If one wants to set aside science and methodological naturalism and allow for miracles, one can suppose, as the Old-Earth Creationists do, that God may have even intervened in the process with varying frequency.

The dichotomies of the initially-stated quip are hence shown to be false. If anything, the lack of education among many fundamentalists should be noted. Most of the people on welfare in America, I would venture to guess, reject evolution and accept conservative models of creationism.

So, as an alternative, I might state the following:

This is the moment that is shared, it’s in our hands to make it squared.
Feel free to offer your own alternatives.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creation from Nothing

One of the cardinal doctrines of historical Judaism, Christianity and Islam is that God created all that exists—both visible and invisible—from nothing. This doctrine is called creation ex nihilio (from nothing). The primary implication of this doctrine is that God literally produced all things as an act of will. A secondary implication of this doctrine is that God therefore has complete power over all of creation.

The primary "proof text" for creation ex nihilio is Genesis 1:1 which in traditional English translations reads.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

From as early as the late second Temple era (c. 50 BCE) it can be documented that Jewish readers began to find in this verse the basis for the assertion that God created all things from nothing. This doctrine became the heritage of Christians and of Muslims in the generations that followed. However, Genesis 1:1-2 do not support the idea that God created all things from nothing—in fact, they express the opposite: that God created from pre-existing chaos.

The Cosmic Battle Motif

Nahum Sarna, in describing the available ancient Near Eastern creation accounts states,

"…polytheistic accounts of creation always begin with the predominance of the powers of nature, and invariably describe in detail a titanic struggle between two opposing forces" (21).
This statement from Sarna is of immense importance. Variously the forces of watery chaos are presented as the primordial state and are personified as a dragon or deity against which the hero-creator god gains victory. This mytheme is not only present in Genesis 1:1-3 but is also expressed variably in the cosmic ordeal between Yahweh and Levianthan, Rahab, Tannin, and Yam (see Isaiah 27:1; 51:9-10; Job 26:12-13).

Into the cultural context the cosmic battle between the forces of nature or chaos against the hero-god enters Genesis 1:1-3. The ancient readers of this text would have immediately recognized the thematic correlation with the primordial chaos and the various gods of chaos (e.g., Tiamat, Rahab, Leviathan, etc.) against whom God (Elohim) enters as the hero and victor.

Corrected Translation

Jewish scholar of Hebrew and Bible translator Everett Fox, in accordance with the majority understanding of this verse in Hebrew scholarship today, translates Genesis 1:1-2 as follows:

At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness was over the face of the Ocean, rushing-spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters…

Everett comments on the above passage, "Gen. 1 describes God's bringing order out of chaos, not creation from nothingness" (p. 13). Note also that he capitalizes "Ocean," adding the following comment: "The primeval waters, a common (and usually divine) image in ancient Near Eastern mythology" (p. 13). Everett here makes it clear that the ancient reading of this text saw not creation from nothing but rather the act of creation as the bringing of order out of chaos. This understanding militates heavily against the classical theistic doctrine of creation ex nihilio

Conclusion

Though brief, this post is intended to at least introduce the reader to this important study. Genesis 1:1 does not teach creation from nothing. If Christians and others desire to be true to the text of the Bible, they need to become current with what Hebrew linguists and what the ancient Near Eastern literature are telling us.


Everett, Fox. The Shocken Bible: Volume I: the Five Books of Moses. Random House: New York, 1995.

Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis: the Heritage of Biblical Israel. Melton Research Center, New York, 1966.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Biblical Inerrancy: A First-Line of Defense

Inerrant the Wind: the Evangelical Crisis of Biblical Authority, 2009 is a modified republishing of Robert M Price's 1981 doctoral dissertation at Drew University. In it Price presents the sociological development of the pluriform debate over biblical inerrancy and biblical authority in Evangelical Christianity from the modernist-fundamentalist controversy until today (appendices).

In discussing the general non-use and frequent disdain for higher criticism among Evangelical defenders of inerrancy, he observes that "[i]nerrantist apologetics abound…[as] exercises in rationalizing a position taken on other grounds (p. 47). He goes on to state the following:

[Inerrantist apologetics] construe the authority of the Bible in such a way that historical criticism would be proscribed from the outset. If [the Bible] were held to be totally inerrant, then criticism would be pointless. No Bible believer would be tempted to use [higher criticism] to elucidate scripture any more than he would find a Sanskrit-to-English dictionary to use for this purpose. Thus inerrancy was intended as a bulwark to defend the Bible's authority, not as a reason for believing in biblical authority in the first place (p. 48).

Here Price notes that inerrancy is a self-defense mechanism, a means by which the believer in inerrancy can dismiss with higher criticism. Time and time again in dialogue with fundamentalists, I find that believers use self-defense mechanisms that allow them to dismiss of evidence that his incompatible with their world views. Instead of facing the facts, the fundamentalist will deem the information that I present or the sources that I recommend as though they were demonic or as though it was lacking in virtue to even consider them—thus making their faith and their worldviews too sacred to even face the outside world and realities beyond.

Last year I recommend Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer to a friend. This is an excellent book that is friendly to religion as the author goes to lengths to explain why the theory of evolution is compatible with Christian and theistic beliefs. She agreed to read it, but she refused to bring the book into her house. From what I recall, she preferred to keep the book in her garage or outside the house because she feared demonic influence, etc.

This is what I am talking about—the defense mechanisms that prevent those who need information to the contrary the most from encountering it. Such behaviors and beliefs, including the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, are dangerous and damning.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sabbath Driving: the Messianic Slippery Slope to Gay Butt Sex

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day (Exodus 25:2-3).

And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them (Leviticus 20:13).

What do the two above verses have in common? How does the prohibition against fire on the Sabbath day relate to homo erotic behavior? Let me explain.

As a former Messianic Christian I identified with the "one-law" Messianics and sabbatarian Christians who believe that the Law of Moses is incumbent on Christians in whole or in part. I used to keep the Sabbath from Friday sundown until Saturday sundown, but unlike most of my former co-religionists yet in agreement with observant Jewry I understood the verses quoted above to be a prohibition against fire for cooking, for heating, for enjoyment, and for starting and running an internal combustion engine in a vehicle. This resulted in many obstacles for me as it precluded worship with others unless I was willing to compromise and drive my car or travel by other means (e.g., by foot or bike).

Oh, and I was criticized. I was called "too Jewish" and a "legalist" who missed the "spirit of the law." I was told that the Law of Moses wasn't referring to cars because they were not invented yet. I was given a long stream of rationalizations that exonerated the majority who drive on the Sabbath while relativizing the prohibition against fire into a command against chopping down trees, gathering heavy logs, and other such burdensome labor related to making a fire. Yet, I stood by the text and with the observant Jewish community—legalist or not.

Now, exegetically sound, or not, a series of arguments have been raised regarding the prohibition against male-male sex in Leviticus 20:13 from gay Jews and Christians and their sympathizers. These arguments often point out that the concepts of sexual orientation and gay marriage were not available at the time Leviticus 20:13 was penned and that the only male-male forms of sex known placed patriarchal priorities at risk. It is argued that we no longer look to the Law of Moses for how to sell or daughters into concubinage (Exodus 21) or for patriarchal family structures, so we likewise should not apply Leviticus 20:13 (and Leviticus 18:22) to non-heterosexual orientation or marriage.

How do sabbatarian Christians and Messianics reply to the above rationale? Well, they shoot it down. They argue that it is makes the Torah too relative and that it does not matter if the concept of sexual orientation was not yet invented because the text prohibits a specific behavior. Ultimately, they show no tolerance for the same rationalizations and exonerations that they use on themselves regarding driving on Sabbath though both behaviors (male-male sex and fire on Sabbath) carry the same punitive weight in the Torah: the death penalty. They tolerate their trivialization of the Torah regarding Shabbat but then use the Torah as a blunt weapon to criticize LGBT peoples.

Is it just me or is this not utterly hypocritical?

People often speak of gateway behaviors. Pot is a gateway to stronger and more dangerous drugs. Social drinking is a gateway behavior to alcoholism. Conservatives often speak of the slippery slope. They reason, if you compromise on one behavior what is to stop you from compromising further down the road? If you compromise with respect to one doctrine, what is to keep you from eventual atheism or heresy? Using this same concept of gateway behaviors I am satirically calling Sabbath driving a gateway sin. If one accepts the arbitrary voice of authority that is the Torah as a source for morality, one is obliged to accept the conclusion that fire on the Sabbath is a sin. If you compromise on this item, they why do you not accept other peoples' compromises and sins?

And, as a disclaimer, homosexuality is not a sin it is an orientation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 3: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1b

An essential aspect of exegesis is recognition of a text’s sitz im leben. Sitz im leben can be loosely defined as “context.” The term is German for “situation in life” or “life setting.” In exegetical endeavors the modern reader of ancient texts is apt to read modern-day questions, issues, perspectives, etc. into the text. A reading that retrojects modern-day exigencies into an ancient text is eisegesis—interpretation reflective of the reader’s own ideas or biases rather than true to the authentic reading of the text. Eisegetical readings abuse texts by stealing or covering up the meanings most authentic to an ancient text.

Disciplined consideration for a text’s sitz im leben is one means through which the modern-day reader can avoid abusing the text. Attempts to construct scientific ideas on the basis of Genesis 1 are certainly eisegetical abuses. Such uses of Genesis exhibit little or no consideration for its sitz im leben and hence for how the ancient Hebrew reader would have understood the text. Additionally, through eisegetical excess, such scientific ideas are not based on the text itself; rather, they are based on a select, idiosyncratic, highly-contingent *interpretation* of the text. Through jettisoning an authentic sitz im leben, such readings are guilty of eisegesis.

Genesis 1 is composed in the rhetoric of soft polemical diatribe. It is written against the backdrop of antecedent polytheistic cosmogonies. The exigency of the composer was not that of 21st century Creationism in any of its flavors. Rather, the composer sought to provide a morally and religiously monotheistic, non-idolatrous reworking of existing myths for the desired goal of religious purity and functional etiology. To posit any other goal is to eisegetically abuse the text in the interest of modern exigencies.

Genesis 1:6-8

ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם. ז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. ח וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ, שָׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שֵׁנִי.

6 And spoke Elohim, let there be firmament-rakia in the midst of the waters, and
let it separate the waters from the waters. 7 And made Elohim the
firmament-rakia to divide between the waters from below the firmmanet-rakia and
between the waters which [were] from above the firmmanet-rakia—and it was so. 8
And called Elohim to the firmament-rakia, “heavens.” And there was evening and
there was breaking, day two.

The reader will recall that the ancient Sumerian-Babylonian cosmology, like that in Genesis 1, began with the victory of the hero-god over the waters of chaos depicted in the dragon Tiamat. The hero-god of the Sumerian-Babylonian cosmology divides the dragon of chaos in two. Each half is used to hold water-symbolic of primordial chaos-at bay. Likewise, in Genesis, Elohim gains victory over the primordial waters, no doubt through an unmentioned combat with the watery chaos dragon. Such a combat is not specifically mentioned in this text, though other biblical portraits of creation do depict such a combat. Consider Psalm 74:12-14 for an example:

"You divided the sea by your strength; by your power you cleaved the
sea-monster in two, and broke the dragon's heads above the waters; you
crushed the many-headed Leviathan…"

Through conspicuous refusal to mention the dragon deity (other than the reference to T’hom-Tiamat in vs. 2), the author of Genesis 1 realizes that the reader, in her sitz im leben, is more than likely familiar with antecedent cosmologies. As a result, the author assumes that the reader will inject her meanings into the hegemony that Elohim gains over the waters.

With new-found hegemony over the original aqueous chaos, Elohim divides the waters. In so dividing the waters, the text specifies the purpose for the firmament-rakia: to hold the waters (chaos) in place. The author identifies the localities of the waters: above the firmament-rakia and below the same. To the ancient reader the hegemony of Elohim over chaos is described through the construal of the firmament-rakia. This same reader understood the firmament-rakia as a solid structure that vaulted the observed heavens.

Verse eight identifies the firmament-rakia as heavens-shamayim. In so doing, the author and reader understand that the solid structure of the firmament-rakia is also called heavens-shamayim. It is unnecessary and eisegetical to read modern ideas of heavens as “open space” into this passage.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Christian Gospel and Politics

I listen to a lot of conservative Christian and political talk radio, and I also read a lot of conservative Christian and some conservative political books and materials. If nothing else, I feel that repeated connection with those to the right of me helps me maintain relevance. I often notice incongruous platforms between conservative Evangelical theologies and their often associated conservative politics. One such disjuncture is that between the Christian message of mercy for the undeserving and the conservative ideal of "trickle-down economics." Many an Evangelical will gloat in her "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" theology while refusing to extend such a mercy to the many upon whom "the system" bestows the favors of structural injustices. Such an Evangelical will speak of God's mercy and then blame the minority for his apathy and psychology of servility when she herself is part of the systems of alienation that prevent the minority from socio-economic fecundity.

The general Evangelical Christian protection of oppressive conservative political and economic platforms contrasts heavily with the Pauline gospel of increasing inclusivity. Pauline theology, which heavily influenced the content of the four canonical Gospels, was initially focused on the inclusion of non-Jews into the benefits of covenant—benefits from which non-Jews were alienated by birth and foreskin. Galatians 3:13-14 reads:

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

According to Paul, Jesus died as one "cursed of the law," i.e., as one outside of the Torah and the covenants, in order to redeem, to include those likewise outside of the Torah and the covenants—the Gentiles. Hence, Paul's gospel is one of inclusion, bringing the formerly alienated Gentiles into the "family of God." This message was revolutionary—upsetting the social order of Jew-Gentile separation along with the Torah order that fortified such distinctions.

Along the lines of Moltmann, whom I quoted last night, the following comments are worth noting:

Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted the proclamation that in [Jesus] God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned of God (p. 19).

According to Paul, the Christian is to identify with the crucified Christ (Gal 2:20). Moltmann asserts that identification with the crucified Christ is acceptance of the kerygma, the message that God in Jesus identifies with the alienated. Moltmann goes on to state,

Christian identification with the crucified Christ means solidarity with the sufferings of the poor and the misery both of the oppressed and the oppressors… By alienating the believer from the compulsions and automatic assumptions of an alienated world, Christian identification with the crucified necessarily brings him into solidarity with the alienated of this world, with the dehumanized and the inhuman. But this solidarity becomes radical only if it imitates the identification of the crucified Christ with the abandoned, accepts the suffering of creative love, and is not led astray by its own dreams of omnipotence and an illusory future (p.25).

So much can be drawn from the above. However, I find this to be a slap in the face against modern Sara-Palin Evangelicals. Would that said Evangelicals identify more with the crucified, dehumanized, and inhuman Christ!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Science Vs. God

A contributor to my blog recently made the following accusation against me:

Science is your god. The LORD is my God. You will continue to defend your god; I will continue to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to me, and defend the truth of God's Word. You have faith in man; I have faith in God. We are poles apart.....and dialogue is not fun anymore.

In the above comment it is clear that the writer esteems the use of scientific logic and reason to be antagonistic and dichotomous to "biblical faith." This writer hence presents scientific ways of knowing and "biblical faith" in polarity, as alternatives to one another. This accusation reminds me of the following quote from the esteemed German theologian Jurgen Moltmann:

For Christian faith to bring about its own decay by withdrawal into the ghetto without self-criticism, is a parallel to its decay through [unbelief]. And the decline into pusillanimous faith [through not confronting the real world] and superstition is a parallel to the decline into unbelief. How close this parallel is, is shown by the way debates within Christianity become polarized into false alternatives (pp. 21-22).

In the context of the above passage, Moltmann is discussing the stagnancy of Christianity as evidenced through the rise of "superstitious faith" which, instead of confronting the issues, shields itself into self-contained worlds of "just-so" constructs. These constructs, Moltmann asserts, are falsely dichotomous, and he includes faith vs. science in his listing of such polarities. Is it not obvious that faith has become pusillanimous when it refuses to think and then shrouds itself with "just-so" or ad hoc models that are intellectually and scientifically barren?

The writer of the opening accusation then goes on to assert:

I am convinced that your objective is to discourage me, rob me of my faith in God and the Bible, and drag me into the atheistic bleakness and darkness in which you find yourself. I am no longer impressed with your intellectualism and learning, for it led to a dead end......a place I have no interest in going.

The polarity of this person's faith with its fortification by false alternatives is a clear attestation its intellectual bankruptcy. One can accept all of the data that I have submitted about fundamentalism, about the Bible's retrograde moralities, about the unscientific and false models of biblical cosmology, evolution, etc. and still believe in the God of the Bible. The fact that there is such a polarity between these positions is an attestation to the ghetto mindedness of Evangelicals.

Multmann, Jurgen. The Crucified God. SCM Press: Philadelpha, 1974.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Biblical Cosmologies, Part 2: Pentateuchal Portraits – Genesis 1a

The reader will notice that the term “biblical cosmology” is not used in the singular in my titles. The author finds that it is tenuous to assume that the biblical authors all envisioned an identical model of the cosmos. Though the models of the cosmos found in the biblical texts contain commonalities, not every portrait is comprehensive. Some portraits focus on only one constituent of the cosmos while others reflect on a more complete construal. Hence, the author will focus on the explicit cosmological aspects of a given passage before addressing implicit connections.

For the reasons described above, the author has chosen to deal individually with texts that describe the cosmos. Though a systematic, biblical study could be done of “biblical cosmology” with fruitful results similar to those in this study, the author prefers to focus on each portrait individually. Patterns will emerge through systematic reflection on each portrait, and the author aspires to make connections so as to benefit the cognition of the reader.

The Genesis 1 creation narrative contains numerous convergences with pre-biblical Sumerian-Babylonian and Canaanite creation traditions. Some of these parallels are of the utmost importance as the exigency of Genesis 1 is likely found in these polytheistic creation myths. Genesis 1 is polemically directed to combat polytheistic cosmogonies through literary reworking and anesthetization of existing polytheistic creation myths.

Leeming (52) explains the Sumerian-Babylonian creation myth contained in Enuma Elish as the victory of order over chaos. In Enuma Elish, the hero-god Marduk combats the dragon goddess Tiamat who represents the chaotic waters of primordial existence. Marduk crushes Tiamat—dividing her dead body in half. Tiamat who was the dragon of primordial watery chaos becomes the vehicle to establish the separation of the chaotic waters. Part of her corpse was used to hold the chaotic waters above at bay while the other half is transformed into the terrestrial abode of humanity and the threshold against the waters below upon which the earth floats.

Contrary to popular assertions of creation ex nihilo, Genesis 1 follows the lead of the ancient cosmologies with the assumption pre-existent primordial water (Beltz, 35). Notice, at no point is there a specific creation of water in Genesis 1. Water is assumed to exist. The Hebrew T’hom (“without form”) of Genesis 1:2 linguistically and thematically correlates with the Sumerian-Babylonian Tiamat. Though sanitized of reference to gods and goddesses, Elohim ("God") in Genesis 1 combats the primordial, watery chaos to achieve victory. Creation itself is initiated through separating order out of chaos (darkness and water).

The first act of Elohim in the Genesis 1 creation myth is the separation of light from darkness. This act is followed on day two with the creation of the firmament (Hebrew rakia). The Hebrew word for “firmament” (rakia-- רָקִיעַ) is derived from the root raka. This root means to “spread out by beating” (BDB) or “to beat, stamp, beat out, spread out, stretch” (TWOT). It carries the idea of beating out a solid malleable material such as a metal.

Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) define rakia- רָקִיעַ (“firmament”) as follows:

…the firmament of heaven, spread out like a hemisphere above the earth (from the
root [raka]), like a splendid and pellucid sapphire (Ex. 24:10, compare Dan.
12:3), to which the stars were supposed to be fixed, and over which the Hebrews
believed there was a heavenly ocean (Gen. 1:17; 7:11; Ps. 104:3; 148:4…
When read against the backdrop of the ancient cosmologies and the literary-etymological etiology of the term rakia- רָקִיעַthe picture of the cosmos portrayed in Genesis 1 becomes a reciprocation of the pre-scientific cosmologies of the ancients—a flat earth with domed heavens.

The next post will develop build upon the Genesis 1 references to the firmament.

Beltz, Walter. God and the Gods: Myths of the Bible, trans. Peter Heinegg. Middlesex: Penguin, 1983.

Leeming, David. Jealous Gods, Chosen People: Mythology of the Middle East. New York: Oxford, 2004.