Is the reason the origins story uses extensive visual symbolism because of limited language & cognition?

John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam & Eve does a good job in describing the spiritual functions of the creation story and continually points to the idea of being cognizant of what the ancient hearers/readers would have understood from the Genesis 1-3 origins story. Walton also notes that Founding of Eridu, Atarhis, Enuma Elish, Instruction of Merikare, Song of Hoe, etc and other ancient stories tell somewhat similar, very visually imaginative stories. Even the new secular “The History of the Ancient World” book starts out with the mythic story of the community of Eridu and King Alulim and notes many “Great Flood” accounts. That brings up a line of thinking:

  • Early language, even in the Egypt where Moses was raised, was quite limited, perhaps somewhat similar to an isolated third world community is today. It would have been hard for people to think in advanced ways with limited language and to grasp the meaning of a deeply spiritual, non-visually oriented creation story. You begin to understand why God would have chosen to tell the creation story in a very visual way, using supernatural trees, talking snakes, and humans created from dust or from the side of Adam. It would have been almost impossible for the human author chosen by God, to tell the story from in a very natural world scientific-like way and any attempt would have likely completely confounded the hearers/readers.
  • Going further back in time (for those of us inclined to believe that the earliest spiritual humans were at the time of the Great Leap Forward or earlier), it is clear that those early behaviorally modern humans had no writing and very rudimentary language and cognitive development. If God interacted with a couple of them, as I and some others believe, they would have had difficulty understanding the concept of good and evil and other spiritual concepts. It is possible that God gave them a supernatural understanding and insight in their interaction with him and/or perhaps it took months or years for everything to play out in a way they could understand. But it also seems possible that God could have used supernatural visualizations of a serpent, fruit, trees, etc. to convey the spiritual message to these ancient ancestors of ours. Perhaps some of the written story was real and maybe some of it was in the form of a vivid vision.
  • This idea of easily visualized stories could apply to many early OT stories, including the Flood, etc.
  • Even today, while some people are quite advanced intellectually (which definitely doesn’t mean they are superior moral creatures), others are not. This is particularly true in third world countries. God surely did not want only the more cognitively advanced in society to understand his message. If we admit it, I think most of us in this Forum read some things which are hard for us to understand fully and figurative illustrations help. And there are certainly ‘visual learners’ in our Western society. Plenty of reason for God to use a story heavy with symbolism.

What do you think?

Of course, as more and more people become more knowledgeable, people start to recognize the problems of accepting the Genesis story as completely literal. Fortunately, we have more accurate translations and scholarship (like from OT scholar Walton) that help those that are ready to understand a more scientifically compatible story.

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