Genesis 1-11: Neither Myth nor Truth

One mistake I hear over and over again that bothers me is this. Genesis 1-11 is not, as some will claim, either truth or myth. It is an allegory - an explanation of the context of the world, by people at that time.

It is subject to mistakes, like the rest of the Pentateuch. And I do not claim this alone - Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 disagree as to the order of when God made man. The Samaritan Pentateuch has some 5,000 grammatical differences compared to the Jewish one. Numbers are imprecise - for example, why do we translate the same word(a Hebrew word translated elsewhere as time, ages, and weeks) in Genesis 1 as days and then for the Antediluvian Genealogy as years?

Then there is the fact that in two generations - or, if you count Moses’s mother as a sister of Levi and not a daughter - the Bible claims that seventy people became two million, so that the average Jewish couple would have had 180 children.

Genesis is, in large parts, a metaphor, just as are Daniel and Revelation. I am surprised that those who are so literalist do not literally expect a goat to grow ten horns.


A metaphor for what?

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Welcome JohntheMethodist. Watch your head! Just kidding. I tend to agree with you for the most part. I enjoy Walton’s take on things also, but find it a little too contrived to make me comfortable when allegory does a good job.
I will comment on your statement:

In the way C. S. Lewis defined myth, myth can actually be a greater truth than a literalistic reading. Myth can tell of historical events but not in a historical way, and it is not to be confused with a false story of little or no consequence. Thus, it can be both truth and myth, which is about the same as you said.
In any case, welcome to our little corner of the internet, and after you are comfortable, it is safe to remove your mask, though maintain good digital hygiene.


Hello JohnTheMethodist, first off greetings from one Methodist to another and welcome to our forum. On your statement on Genesis 1-11 is that

In that Gen.1-11 then you would be correct though I do see the people such as Adam, Enoch, Noah as real historical people but the family line of Adam to Abraham is told in a style of story telling that was common in the Ancient Near East. But other then that most events in Gen. 1-11 are allegorical.

To me a myth is a fantastical hyperbolic ahistorical telling of a event as a story. It’s fiction and nonfiction combined. Genesis 1-11 definitely fits that. An allegory to me does not fit that.

To me there is a lot of semantics involved with this type of debate which is why I use multiple words freely.

I feel mythical is a better word than allegory though since it’s a typical Mesopotamian creation story. The others were all similar even if something’s were inverted.

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Hi John, and welcome to the forum. I’m curious what your reference is for this, as I haven’t heard that claim before.

The mythical Joseph would have lived around 1700 BC, so the Israelites - Jacobites - could have easily gone from 70 to two million in 250 years assuming less than 6 kids per family and a lifespan of 50 or 8 and 25, back of an envelope. I wonder what John’s looks like?


I haven’t looked into it, but I’d conventionally always heard that the Israelites were enslaved for over 400 years, so the “two generations” comment made no sense to me.

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Exodus 6

17 These were the names of the sons of Levi according to their records:… Kohath… Levi lived 137 years.

18 The sons of Kohath were Amram… Kohath lived 133 years.

20 Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.

Pick a number. 430 years, 215 years. From Abraham or Jacob. Whatever : )

It’s ALL myth.

I believe they are real people, so I wouldn’t call it all myth, but I also wouldn’t assume that the text uses numbers for all of the same purposes that Western 21st-century journalists would.

The names and relationships might be basically real. But what else? This wasn’t finally edited for a thousand years and more. How can it not be mythic?

Oral tradition is strong. I’m not saying it’s 100% journalism – and my faith doesn’t rest on whether every single detail happened exactly as described – just that I don’t put it in the category of “myth” as we often think of it.

Hi John, I think the problem is that people haven’t worked hard enough to solve these problems. If there is a way for the events to be true, shouldn’t we take a look at it? No, I am not a young-earth creationist, I am an geophysicist who fully accepts the age of the earth and that we arose at least in part though evolution. My problem with changing what seems to be written as history (Gen 2-11) into mythology or allegory is that we cease trying to solve the problems. I also have an ethical problem with changing what the Bible clearly says. My friend Klax says the whole thing is mythology. At least he is logically consistent which is to be preferred to the position where one gets to pick uncomfortable parts of the Bible and say they are allegory/mythology, but then proclaim other parts as historically true(the resurrection). So, here is why I dislike altering the Bible to make it what we want it to be. In my mind, either make it true or make it mythological–all of it, but don’t inconsistently pick and chose due to the need of the moment.

Over in the thread " Did Noah’s Flood Kill All Humans except his family?" I have presented a scenario whereby the events of early Genesis could be true, so far as observational data can confirm. Unfortunately people prefer not to have a true Eden and a true flood. Yet we are still assured that this book full of mythology is God’s word.

I am often asked why historical events in Scripture is important. I am always amazed by this question because we supposedly worship a living, real God. Why don’t I just change what appears to be historical statements into mythology and then we don’t have to have to worry about these unlikely events. From my point of view, if I have to change accounts like the Fall and the flood to mythical, it seems that I am changing what the Bible seems to say. Changing data is bad and I’m going to tell a couple of stories from my career which illustrate why one shouldn’t change data–ever.

Back in the mid 80s, I found myself unemployed because of my young-earth beliefs at the time. A vice president of the company I had worked for from 1974 until 1986 had found out that I was a YEC and she wanted me gone, no matter that I had gotten the top performance review 3 times in those years. I was a YEC and had to go.

Four months later I found a job as a consultant for a small oil company, which turned out to be a very strange place to work. There was a guy who sold oil deals to this company and I was asked to review one of them. The general manager(GM) and my boss flew me down to Louisiana to meet with this guy. I will call him Buster(not his real name) cause we used his real name as a euphemism for dry hole. We called them Buster dusters The prospect had major problems, which I noted. Indeed, we debated quite strongly about the issue. What was weird was the louder I squawked about the prospect being a dry hole in the making, the larger the percentage the GM wanted. It turned out to be a dry hole.

A bit later this same guy came to us showing a seismic line with a Texaco well with a small bit of production and a good reservoir possibility up dip of that well. What he showed is shown in diagramatic form below. The tan water bearing sand was penetrated by the Texaco well, which barely intersected the presumed gas reservoir (orange). Our proposed well would be up dip from that Texaco well, and such wells, up dip to pay have a high chance of success.
The General Manager asked me 3 times in the meeting if we could get up dip to that Texaco well. I thought that was odd. My boss, who reported to the GM, didn’t trust Buster, and my boss, a friend, had me take a hard look at the data, so I went to my office and stared at the line. There was no doubt that this was a good prospect.

Well, we drilled the well and guess what? We didn’t hit the sand updip of the Texaco well, we hit it down dip, lower than the Texaco well. I was shocked. I pulled that a xerox I had kept out of my file and stared at it wondering how I could have been so wrong. In a phone call with the guy who sold us that prospect I told him in no uncertain terms to bring that seismic we saw when he came to sell us the well.

When he showed up, he had an entirely different seismic line. It is shown below. There was clearly a major fault just to the right of the Texaco well, and it was clear that we would hit the sand DEEPER than the Texaco well. Deeper is bad. I told the GM that this isn’t the original seismic. The GM told me that the original seismic was ‘field processing’. I told him there was no such thing. He repeated that it was field processing and I got the idea that I best throw in the towel. I did.
What the guy who sold us this deal and the GM didn’t know, was that I had xeroxed part of that original line and had it in my file. I called my boss, who was also a good friend of mine, into my office and showed him the original next to what this crook has brought us. He told me that he knew that this was a scam but couldn’t do anything about it.

I started looking at the original line very closely and realized that someone had carefully cut out the original data and pasted it into the annotation for the real line. It was quite a good job, but tiny gaps that shouldn’t exist on a seismic film, were to be seen all around that original line. I hadn’t noticed them originally because they were so small.

We had been defrauded by fake seismic. Two days later, the president of the company and the GM’s boss asked me in the elevator on the way up to work what I thought of that well. I told him flat out that we had been defrauded by fraudulent seismic. He proclaimed that we would get to the bottom of that. And nothing happened. This place was weird. I left at the first opportunity. It took years for me to figure out what had been going on at that place.

Now I suspect that everyone will agree that perverting scientific data is a real no-no. It is unethical and fraudulent. I have seen people remove dry holes from maps so that they could get their prospect drilled. Such changes are making the world more 'accommodating to their views of the world, or of their needs. So why is changing what the Bible says any better?

When God made a covenant with Abram, The scripture says: When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. Gen 15:17
Do we believe that is what happened? We all know such things are not normal. Pots and torches don’t move on their own. Do we change this from meaning an actual pot and torch moved on their own to mean that it is a piece of mythological fluff from the Neolithic? It is just a small change and so easy to make. But is it different than what Buster did? No!

If we make the Bible say what we want it to say, turning places like Gen 15:17 into something we don’t really have to believe, are we not doing to the Bible what Buster did to the seismic? He changed seismic to suit his needs; we change Scripture’s obvious meaning to meet ours. Some say Eden didn’t exist. Others say the Flood was not as described but was really a puny riverine flood which matches nothing the Bible says about the flood… Still others say the Exodus didn’t happen. etc. Isn’t that just a theological version of cutting and pasting seismic data as described above? Isn’t that making up our own private reality (the Bible really didn’t mean to teach of a talking snake)? Doing this is no more ethical, in my opinion, than changing seismic data to make the earth appear more to Buster’s liking.

I await the clear non-contradictory answers explaining how doing this to God’s word is different than doing it to seismic data. sarcastic mode on- In the former, it is just the afterlife that might be affected, but the latter risks something more important, our money! Isn’t that right?-sarcastic mode off

Aye Laura. Folk tales are the strongest. Rapunzel goes back to the last ice age. The supernatural details of Genesis; Eden, the Flood, Babel, Sodom & Gomorrah, the Exodus are myths no matter that we might want to believe them to be God’s honest truth, preserved perfectly by the Spirit. I did for 30-40 years. But we made them all up. We being Chaldean settlers. There are three different Biblical timings for them being in Egypt. None from history. The details of names, no matter how accurately preserved, don’t feed back in to justifying the myths around them. And long lists of names in folk tales are as accurate as their lifespans I would suggest.

I can see why you see it that way – but I believe there is room between the false dichotomy of “we made it all up” and “it’s 100% literal to Western, twenty-first-century journalistic standards.”

So what’s real, Laura? These stories were finally edited three and half to one thousand years after they were set. The former distance from now takes us back to… the setting of Exodus. The latter takes us back to the Norman Conquest. Record keeping had vastly improved by then and we still don’t know and never will if William the Conqueror had a valid claim. He almost certainly didn’t. All of the supernatural events (and people’s ages) described in the Pentateuch are myths. That is a fact. Why would one want to believe them to be fact? But not the myths of Babylon, Egypt, Peru, India, China, Scandinavia? The myths and religion of the first two cultures predate and heavily influence Judeo-Christianity and Islam to this day through the time of Christ. Are they not therefore true, valid, inspired? Or evolved narratives.

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I’m content to believe that God revealed himself to the Israelites and inspired them to use common myths of the day to record truths about humans and about himself. It’s not important enough to me to try and parse all the historical details out right now. I may look into it more at another time.

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I never heard that before, but then Rapunzel is not my area of expertise. Such information sounds fascinating… What is the evidence for this?

I’ve overstated the age by factor of more than two, according to the BBC, my apologies. And Wiki is sceptical!

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Never apologize for making a correction. Going with the data is what people should do. It has happened to me and too often when I make a correction, people dismiss credibility. That is the wrong way around. Someone who makes corrections is someone you can trust.

That story even as it is, is quite fascinating. Whether it is true or not, I don’t know but it is an interesting possibility.

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