Good resources on textual evidence of allegorical creation?

What evidence convinced you of the allegorical meaning of Genesis? And is there good textual evidence? There is a professor (I forget his name) that believes using the Bayes theorem that the author(s) of Genesis meant a literal interpretation (99.944% chance). Is there a way to challenge this?

Hi, Sam!
Could you explain what you mean by “allegorical meaning of Genesis?” Sorry, I just don’t know what you mean by this.
Thanks!

Allegory is a method of interpretation used by some of the early church fathers. The text wouldn’t say “read this as allegory.” There are analytical methods to determine genre but they are beyond my pay grade.

If you want to read Genesis as science you can, but it is “ancient science” that isn’t correct given what we currently know.

I would have to see where the professor got his probabilities to run a Bayesian analysis but if he is YEC I would expect to find problems.

I am a linguist professionally who consults on Bible translation and I have never in 20 years heard of anyone who knows anything about how language works using Bayes theorem to determine the meaning of a text. (Deciding whether something is intended as literal or figurative has everything to do with the shared context between the speaker and hearer and predicting likely inferences, not some statistical analysis of the words used. Meaning is constructed by human minds in cooperation, not by mathematical decoding.

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YEC or not, that kind of calculations are way above the current understanding. I come from a regional culture where people appreciate those being frank and direct in telling opinions, rather than those speaking bad things and rumours behind the back. Therefore, I hope you can forgive if I say that this kind of claims are [deleted].

I doubt it, but with no reference to the source who knows.

No matter where you are from the forum rules require gracious dialogue. I didn’t call BS on the claim but simply expressed my expectation based on my review of YEC literature. I could be wrong.

I didn’t require any convincing. Coming from a scientific worldview to start with, it is how I read it from the very beginning. I did find evidence after the fact. But it would never have occurred to me to that any text that wanted to be taken seriously would expect the reader to believe in magical fruit, talking animals or that we are all descended from golems of dust and bone. That is the sort of thing we would find in Walt Disney animations made for the entertainment of children. So…

when I read “formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”
This sounded to me like it was saying that God created us from the stuff of the earth (matter) and provided the inspiration which brought the human mind to life.

when I read “tree of knowledge of good and evil”
Rather than a species of angiosperm this sounded like a symbolic representation of some aspect of human existence.

and when I read “and at the east of the garden of Eden he place a cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” It sounded to me like an allegorical way of saying the truth made eternal life inaccessible to us. And unlike the other tree we see many references in the Bible to a meaning of this “tree of life” as something other than a large woody plant.

For the serpent, I had to wait much longer for an explanation, for this comes in the last book of the Bible explaining it to be the devil, though I came to understand that in Genesis 3:15 God had made the serpent our adversary which is the meaning of the name “Satan.”

People telling me that these should be taken literally would have made no more sense to me than claiming that Walt Disney’s “Robin Hood” should be taken as an accurate historical record of events in medieval England.

Maybe I was too straight. However, my opinion is based on my knowledge of statistics and the little knowledge I have on interpretation of old biblical texts. Calculating this kind of accurate statistical probabilities about a literal interpretation of Genesis is not possible with current knowledge. Maybe it will be in the future but not with current understanding. If somebody claims that kind of calculations to be accurate, (s)he either does not understand the limits of statistical tools and calculations or someone is cheating.

I am fully ready to repent and ask forgiveness if anyone shows that this kind of calculations can be made with reliable probability values that go to that level of accuracy.

Edit:
I agree that my wording was not the most gracious one. Next time, I try to find another way to express the opinion that something is “full BS”.

Your question reads logically like “When did you stop beating your wife?” There is a claim in the question itself.
I would like to understand what you mean by “allegory”, before I start looking into this professor’s claims.
Relying on a question that assumes a binary choice (literal or allegory) assumes that there are only two options for answering the question. The explanations people might give may lie far outside this binary and any assumptions made by the professor you reference.

Sounds to me like attempted mathematical hegemony (or imperialism). If all somebody has is a hammer, they try to do everything with it, from sewing a patch on their britches to mixing their pancake batter. Chefs and tailors would just laugh.

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Because allegory is the simplest, most rational, natural; only possible explanation. The textual evidence is that it’s an allegory; a story made up by the Jewish priestly elite exposed to Babylonian and Persian culture, three and a half thousand years after it is set with no natural transmission mechanism from then. Platinga uses Bayes in his spurious attempt to make human reason flatly unreliable, as in unreliably flat. Find the professor and he’ll be just as mediocre if not worse.

Just reading it without imposing a presupposition of genre on it. If you read a story about magic trees, talking animals, utopian conditions, running around naked with no rashes and scratches, what is your conclusion as to what kind of story it might be? The textual evidence is the story itself.

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Here is the way I do it. It does not matter how impossible or supernatural the story is I will still look at the context. The reals why is because the story of the gospel is impossible. The dead can’t come back to life after a few days and have become immortal beings that float away.

So I am up to anything being real. It’s why I believe Samson was real, it’s why I believe that the witch of Endor brought up a ghost and it’s why I believe in angels and demons and the supernatural.

However, when I read genesis , the clues that I see is the way it’s written. It covers thousands of years and dozens of kept people and events in just a few chapters. It leaves a lot of questions opened such as who was the other people, what was the sign of Cain and ect… when I read other texts being wrote as historical or biographical I see a very different style. Compare genesis 1-11 to exodus , Deuteronomy, Matthew, and so on. They all have a very different style from genesis 1-11. Those chapters most closely fits in with places like psalms
74 or even the book of revelation. So that clues me into the fact that it’s literary style is not meant to convey a literal historical account.

“Allegorical”. Different people mean different things by this word. It is a slippery label, and discussion on it only makes sense if people agree, beforehand, on what they each mean by the word (or recognise how the participants might be using in different ways).

the allegorical”. See previous. Because the word itself means different things to different people, even attempting to say “the allegorical” can become fruitless.

“textual evidence for [the allegorical interpretation]”: The problems with this mount up. And strong pieces of this “evidence” can be non-textual, such as contextual, and cultural.

“The Bayes theorem … interpretation”: The Bayes theorem may be used in textual analysis to attempt to determine likely authorship. (If you have a body of work by an author, Bayes can give a likelihood of a different piece of work being by, or not by, that author.) But authorship is not interpretation. Bayes cannot (as far as I know) shed any light on interpretation.

So it is difficult even to begin to answer your question, because the question itself rests on questionable foundations. But, on the positive front, I hope that the above gives you an idea of why the alleged claim of “Bayes…‘literal interpretation’… 99.944%” is itself questionable.

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“Allegorical” could refer to a more elaborate symbolism where the entire narrative is viewed as a picture of something else (e.g., Pilgrim’s Progress), or merely to the presence of a significant level of symbolism and figures of speech. Convincingly arguing that Genesis 1-3 is purely symbolic (e.g., representing each person’s individual pattern of turning away from God to our own way) would require a good deal of work and probably would not convince all. But finding highly symbolic and figurative aspects is quite straightforward. Conversely, the idealizing of a strictly pedantically factual narrative is a modern phenomenon, quite out of place in interpreting an ancient Near Eastern document.

The claim of a Bayesian demonstration is not only implausible, it is puzzling as to exactly what they would claim to use in their calculation. One popular bad argument is to claim that particular phrases in Genesis 1 only occur in literal use elsewhere in the Bible, therefore it must be literal in Genesis 1. [E.g., that none of the other instances of yom plus an ordinal are figurative, which also happens to be untrue]. Besides the problem of precisely defining literal (do you mean ignoring figures of speech?, etc.), this is a silly approach to trying to determine if something is literal (as Christy noted). Figurative language is not characterized by a more restricted vocabulary and grammar than literal; if anything, the trend is in the opposite direction. Figurative language is determined based on A) context and B) comparison with objective reality. This pseudoscientific word analysis approach curiously parallels the claims from a rather different point on the theological spectrum that analysis of vocabulary implies things such as that Paul didn’t actually write a particular epistle. The small sample size, the disparate topics, and the subjective judgements of “is this usage significantly different?” make such analyses rather doubtful, no matter what conclusions they are trying to support.

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The Kabbalah

I can’t present the type of textual evidence your looking for, but when I teach Genesis 1 in my middle school Sunday school class, I first explain to the students that some Christians prefer a literal reading, while others prefer an allegorical reading, i.e. a reading that doesn’t sweat whether the specific events are historically true, and yet where the story teaches us essential truths about the character of God, our own propensity for rebelliousness, and the resulting problems with our relationship with God. I challenge them to ask “What did the authors of this text really want us to learn?”

And then I point out to them that God’s creation is way, way more amazing than Genesis could begin to describe. God didn’t just create the heavens and the earth, for example. He created a universe that includes the PROCESSES that make it go (gravity, time, energy, nuclear reactions, etc). The universe God created creates solar systems, complete with their own Suns and planets. We can look around at our nearest neighbors in our Galaxy and see this happening all around us, even as we speak.

Then we read the text of Genesis 1 and I let them reach their own conclusions.

Joe

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This is based on the use of a Hebrew construction called the waw consecutive (has to do with verbal forms), which is often a distinguishing feature between prose and poetry (i.e., prose narrative uses it commonly, poetry usually excludes it). The problem with this interpretation (I’ve read the article) is that proving something is more prose than poetry in form is not the same thing as establishing a text as “literal” or “historical.” Lots of non-literal, non-historical genres can be written in prose (e.g., parables). I suspect the Bayes theorem is just for smokescreen.

(BTW I don’t read the text as allegory, so I can’t help you there!)

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Can you provide a link to the article? I would like to read it.

My understanding is that the waw consecutive is a common verb form that generally links sequential events. Most events in the creation week are chained together by these waws, which can be roughly translated as “and then.” Even before this Bayesian approach (thanks @KJTurner for showing the connection), other sources – mostly young-earth – pointed to the waws as evidence the creation week is prose rather than poetry.

I wish the young-earth sources had the curiosity to ask the next obvious question: If this verb form shows a careful sequence of events within the days, what is that sequence? These words don’t need to be isolated and calculated. They’re meant to be read.

During day one, the following events are linked by those waws:

  1. God commands light to exist
  2. it happens
  3. God sees that it is good
  4. God separates light from darkness
  5. God names light Day
  6. God names darkness Night
  7. there is evening
  8. there is morning

Even in the day for making Day and Night, God’s work is done by evening! This pattern repeats each workday. During the half-day between evening and morning – six times – nothing happens. The repeated phrase that ends each workday, “and there was evening, and there was morning,” doesn’t sum up the entire day. For that we’d expect morning followed by evening. Instead, it shows the uneventful passing of a night. Each night, God does no work.

While the waws are indeed evidence for a narrative of sequential events, the actual sequence shows that it can’t be pressed too literally. God is being depicted like a human ruler, doing the work of giving orders and judging how they are followed on six days, ceasing each night, and resting for the entire seventh day. The weekly pattern is so important that it’s imposed even when it doesn’t make sense, such as showing God creating and naming Night before the first evening.

Later references to these days help us not miss the point. Exodus twice connects these days to human work and rest. As far as I know, the days aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the First Testament, even though the events of the days and creation as a whole are described many times. Other biblical creation accounts use different arrangements without the days.

So yes, the creation week is structured prose and not normal Hebrew poetry. But we shouldn’t stop there. Read what that structured prose is saying, paying close attention to the sequence of events, and a simplistically literal interpretation no longer holds up. In order to set the pattern for the Israelite labour and rest, the mystery of creation was placed into a week. We can only work and rest like God because God first stooped to allow their unfathomable works to be pictured as working and resting like us.

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