Origins of the Genesis stories

I think that part of the problem of Genesis as they are read today is that there is a lack of understanding about how they may have originated, even if they were in some way “inspired”.

Various historial and archeoligical studues over the last 200 years have suggested they came from traditions of oral transmission long before some unknown scribes gathered them together at different stages of the history of Israel. There is the study of “source criticism” that tries to understand where the orginal sources came from and may have moulded the stories, against a background of Canaanite and Babylonian influences that had ther own stories of creation.

We are prepared to call the Canaanite and Babylonian stories “myths” but don’t want to apply the same criteria to Genesis because we possibly think that detracts from biblical truth. But there can be truth about people and what we are like in these “myths”. To say something is myth need not be to say that it is untrue, but possibly contains truth about ourselves and God

It is for this and other reasons that I think we should think of the stories as dramas about what our life is like and not an ancient history infallibly recorded and which won’t allow for an alternative understanding of how we actually came to exist and how we are imperfect and sinful etc etc.

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I like to think there is some historical background to Genesis 2-11, based on my research both in the Bible and Ancient History, but I don’t think Genesis 1 is the actual history of the cosmos, it is merely a story which establishes the purpose of the universe, using a phenomenological, not scientific understanding. Whether or not it is a ‘myth’ is something which I am unsure of. Certainly Genesis does use mythical ideas from Egypt and Babylon, but at the same time, it still has a meaning, which I believe is divinely inspired.

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I feel that Genesis can be taken literally as inspired without conflict with science. I believe that if you simply read the narrative as if for the first time, there is no indication that the second creation story is a retelling of the first creation story. The view that the two stories are separate and sequential removes contradictions between the two stories (was man or plants created first?) and removes contradictions with evolution, if not all of science.

Genesis is the book of origins and generations. A key aspect of the book of Genesis is to describe the genealogy leading to the Messiah and the genealogy not leading to the Messiah. The line not leading to the Messiah is always given first.
The generations of Cain (Genesis 4:17-24) are given before the generations of Seth (Genesis 5).
The generations of Japheth (Genesis 10:1-5) and of Ham (Genesis 10:6-20) are given before the generations of Shem (Genesis 10:21-31 and 11:10-32).
The generations of Ishmael (Genesis 25:16-18) are given before the generations of Isaac (Genesis 25:19-26).
The generations of Esau (Genesis 36:9-43) are given before the generations of Jacob (Genesis 37:2).
The 1st creation story closing with the phrase “these are the generations of heavens and of the earth…”. Men and women were created in the first creation story. This is the line not leading to the Messiah.

The offspring of these men and women were the “daughters of man” described in Genesis 6. The “sons of God” are the offspring of Adam and Eve, which it is why Noah needed to be “perfect in his generations”. Throughout the Bible, the “sons of God” typically refers to those in the will of God, but specifically refers to Adam in the genealogy in Luke 3 (the term is also used for angels in Job, but that use would not be consistent at all in Genesis 6).

Jesus had opportunity to make corrections, and He often did when it came to religious traditions. Instead of correcting what is written in the Torah, he often quoted from the Torah which I feel is an endorsement of the current state of the document.

To my knowledge, there has been no document or artifact ever found that supports any of the Documentary hypothesis, but it is speculation based on content (character of God, emphasis on religious ritual, application to the Norther Kingdom, etc.)

Also, I offer two possibilities for any perceived alignment between the Near Eastern myths and the Bible:

  1. Alignment between common terns in the Enuma Elish are intentionally use to show the superiority of God to the local gods in a similar way as the plagues in Egypt were designed to show the superiority of God over the Egyptian gods.
  2. The oral tradition of the Torah is very old and influenced the Near Eastern myths (this would be impossible to prove, I realize).

If Genesis was influenced by Babylonian myth, would it not mention that Abraham could read and write, and was capable of putting together some written law similiar to Hammurabi? He is the “founding father” and close friend to God. That was not even a claim given to Hammurabi.

It is also not a given that the godly line was from Adam. It is noted that God did forsake Adam and his offspring, and Enoch was the first to seek God. Genesis does not say that Adam and Eve were the first one’s created. It says that God took Adam and placed him in the Garden. Adam made the comment that Eve was the mother of all living as if he was unaware that there were others like him. This claim was also done after Adam sinned and lost the spiritual godly part he was created with that allowed a direct relationship with God. Humanity as we know it was in Adam’s image, not God’s via the line of Seth. That is the literal reading of Genesis. If we view Genesis as figurative we can make up any account like all the creation stories from the ANE. If God said that the account was given to Moses, is God being figurative, or giving humans the exact record needed for all of human history?

I personally see Genesis 1-2 as “true myths” as C.S. Lewis would call them while Genesis 3-11 and the rest of it is based off actual history, though it may be exaggerated to some degree as ANE story telling was biased to do. I belive that the accounts of Genesis 3-11 and onward were passed down by God-fearing people all the way to the time of Moses and the Levite scribes. That is when they got written down.

I take this to be the very meaning of the word “myth” – a story so old that it predates the specialization of human activities into things like history, law, science, religion, philosophy, and entertainment. And this is precisely why they have the creative elements of all of these mixed together, and speaking to a mixed audience on multiple levels employing symbolism for complex truths.

To be sure they are the product of an interaction of a long line of both storytellers and audiences, but I don’t think this necessarily reduces to distortion and fiction, for depending on the tradition it can also represent a crystallization of the truth, digging deeper into the meaning of events instead of being overcome by cumulative errors. And then there is the belief in divine inspiration having a hand in the final result.

No. It cannot. Taken as having some basis in historical events? Yes. But it is most definitely should not be expected to comply to modern standards of historical documentation. That would be absurd – not working for any part of the Bible let alone the first part of Genesis. When the elements of the story are more obviously symbolic than anything else in the Bible, such as the names of those two trees, then it is just stubborn willful ignorance to insist on a literal understanding. Take it literally with talking animals, magical fruit, and golems of dust and bone, and the story is trivialized as nothing but a Walt Disney entertainment for children. So at the very least we understand that the talking snake represents the angelic being who became our adversary. By treating elements of the story symbolically you open it up to the possibility of so much more meaning than a fantasy comic book.

Yes! This not only agrees with the scientific evidence that the population of the human species was never smaller than 10,000, but it eliminates the need to resort to incest with sisters which are never mentioned. It also explains why Cain is afraid of wandering the Earth because of people who would kill him. And it certainly means that you don’t have to resort to fairy tale giants from angels breeding with women in order to make the text conflict with science.

I do not think trying to fit Genesis into “modern thinking” works one way, but not another way. You say it fits if taken figuratively. It should fit both figuratively and literally. The problem is with modern acceptance. The philosophical approach demands we make it fit our modern thought instead of changing our modern thought to fit what Genesis is saying. The method of falsifiable evidence demands we eliminate all that does not fit our knowledge. The only way to do that would be if we are all knowing. Even the disciples of Christ warned against that before science became the “go to” tool for finding truth to what we know.

Jesus demonstrated to the early church what the old world was like before the Flood, but we have less knowledge of that time now, than 1st century Christians. While there is genetic code distributed in the current form of humanity from before the Flood, we do not have the whole story. We even refuse to admit that there was even a smaller genetic period of history with Noah. Once again, we do not have the whole story, and we toss out Noah with all the Flood water mentioned in Genesis and turn it into an allegorical account as well. I do not think we have the license to do that just because it does not fit our modern knowledge base.

The Flood was a destruction of the earth as it was known, just like the next destruction will be of fire and the sun changing from a friendly star to a destructive star. Those who heard it directly from the source, known as Jesus Christ, claim it could have happened at any time. Was that a lie from God? They definitely did not have the modern scientific knowledge we have. It would not have had any purpose in their life. As technology advances it gives us more insight and understanding, but it should never negate what God gave us in the Word.

Was it a lie when God said in Genesis 8:21 that God would never again destroy every living creature as He did with the flood?

Is your god a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) like some kind of sun god? My God is not a destructive force described in a Bible with everything taken literally (as done by those closing their eyes, ears, and minds to the truth as Jesus describes Matt 13). My God is a source of truth described in a Bible full of symbolism, where “fire” is explained many times to represent various things like truth or God’s word Jeremiah 23:29 & Ps 39:3, God’s Holiness Isaiah 34:14, the Holy Spirit Acts 2:3, the power of love Rom 12:20, trial and suffering (Ps. 66:12, Isa 43:2 & 1 Peter 1:7), evil Prov 6:27, lust Hosea 7:6, greed Prov 30:16, …

Which all goes to reveal the absolute lie of those claiming the Bible interprets itself. The Bible does no such thing. The Bible is routinely abused to justify evil in every way imaginable and yes this most definitely should be stopped.

So… when the methodology of science (though technology can sometimes help a tiny bit) reveals the truth about the natural world, it most definitely should negate and destroy the willful twisting of the Bible to prop up the self-righteous entitlement of religion mongers because their obsession with power and use of the Bible for manipulation does not come from God at all.

The more conservative Christians may not like to accept it, but I believe we have to view the ancient stories of the early chapters of Genesis within the wider context of other middle eastern mythologies that predated the writing of Genesis. The flood story is then one of several from that region of the world. it is quite possible that an older story was reshaped by the Genesis writer to give a specific story related to the God of Israel as the chief actor, who selects a reasonably moral (but not perfect) man (Noah) as the “saviour” of a small represenation of all creation. There is the promise that God would not deliberately do such a thing again.

We live in very different era and context where accidents of nature (like flood, tornados etc) are not seen as being deliberately sent, but are parts of freely acting secondary causes within nature.

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I would align with being very conservative as doing the will of God. Not sure what that has to do with God’s Word. I assume that God is responsible for every little detail, in the whole of the universe, and not what we deem should be attributed to God.

Hmm … so if a tornado comes through your neighbourhood and destroys everything in its path, destroys your house and all your neighbour’s houses, flattens a nursery school and kills all the children in it it, its a direct act of God, sent by God?

(You may respond, because of where you live, it can’t happen in your neighbour hood, but just pretend for point of argument that it is possible, and that you lived somewhere it could happen)

I can’t believe in God who would do that.

I would not be able to speak directly about God unless God claimed it was for a specific reason. It comes down to accepting; were the host of the publishers of God’s Word, writing down their made up God, or were they just recording both good and evil as they experienced it. The universe as presented does not choose why it does what it does. Humans as ethical beings tend to want to make judgment calls, because we are in partial God’s image in physical reality.

I would never say that the biblical writers were “making up” God, but inspired by things they heard and knew and percieved and felt at the time,in their age and speaking and writing of things for the purpose of their immediate audience. I do believe their perceptions of the world and all that happened was partial. I do think we need that kind of historical-critical view of the OT, and to some extent with parts of the NT as well. I don’t think that it downgrades scripture to take such an approach, but I appreciate that to some folk, it does.

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Someone obsessed with power would indeed assume that God would never relinquish the slightest bit of power or control over anything. They simply cannot imagine that anything could be more valuable. But the God I believe certainly does value some things more than power… things like love, freedom, life, and relationship.

When you value love more than power and control then you are willing to give up some of the control even over your own life to make a life with another in a relationship founded on trust and cooperation – on faith. When you do that you don’t feel a need to dictate every moment of their life and their choices. And when you value love a little bit more then you are willing to give up even more control over your life as a parent to children, and when you do that based on love then I guarantee it will be a very humbling experience. These are not small things to me but the biggest things and so believe God is big in this way too.

And where to do I find evidence God is like this in the Bible? That would be passages like Matthew 20:26, 23:11, Mark 9:35, 10:43, and Phillippians 2:6-7, where it is clear that God does not see greatness in power but rather in love and service to others. So what do you think? Is God a hypocrite who cannot even conform to His own idea of greatness?

Neither do I.

But I do believe in a God who creates a world that operates according to fixed rules because this is a basic necessity of life itself. It is the difference between reality and a dream. Indeed I think that a god of power who has to be in control of everything would only indulge in dreams where he would remain in control of everything. Only a God of love would relinquish control enough to create something real, let alone something with life, free will, and choices of its own.

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God relinquished control when Adam was given the choice to allow both good and bad to happen. The control you are referring to is a sociopath god.

I do not think it wise to claim on our own cognitive ability what is good or bad. That is in step with a universe that runs on rules. Rules that when broken have consequences. I assume before Adam and sin, the sons of God were not bound by the results of braking a rule. This includes ethics as God did not demand Cain to die for killing his brother with full intent of the act. Nor did God indicate that Cain had broken any rules. If there were no consequences to the deed, anything Cain could have done to Abel, would not have resulted in death. God then turns around and said whoever kills Cain will be punished 7 times more than the punishment Cain received.

But the claim about God is that God has no right to claim control that we deem “wrong”. That to me is creating a God in the image that we deem correct.

God relinquished control when He created life and free will. That is when He chose love and freedom over power and control.

No. A control freak and a sociopath are two entirely different things. To be sure many a parent has been something of a control freak and I do not think it is correct to say they were incapable of love or feeling, only that their drive to manipulate and control was stronger than their love. After all there is a proper place for manipulation in the parental role especially when the child is younger. It is just that you cannot properly keep doing that as they grow all the way to adulthood. You have to eventually let them make their own decisions and manage their own life.

It is not wise to judge other people because you cannot possibly know either their intentions or the circumstances of their choices. But I think it is either irresponsible or sociopathic to make no claim on what is good or bad, for otherwise you would not be able to guide your own behavior.

I don’t believe there were any sons of God before Adam. There is certainly nothing in the Bible to support such an idea.

That is completely incorrect. It does not agree with the Bible. And I don’t even know what to think of you for saying such a thing. God warned Cain that “sin was at the door” and thus that Cain was being tempted to do wrong. And afterwards God said that Cain was cursed from the ground, so he most certainly was saying that Cain did wrong and punished him, just as much as he said Adam and Eve did wrong and punished them. Furthermore, Cain knew quite well that God had punished him for doing wrong, for Cain said so. The most you can say is that God has not instituted or endorsed corporal punishment for the act of murder or fratricide at this point.

We not only have the right to decide what sort of god we are willing to worship and obey, but we must do so. It is the choice between God and the devil. And it is absurd to make your choice only based on the name that people choose to label them. After all did not the religious leaders declare that Jesus was acting by the power of the devil (Beelzebub)? So I shall most certainly examine any description people make of their god and when it sounds more like the devil to me, you can be sure that their god will have no worship or obedience from me.

Dear Tom,
So how do you literally accept that Adam was 930 years old when he died?

Though, I do agree that you can literally accept that Jacob took the ladder to Heaven (after Esau killed him). This explains the 400 year generational gap that exists from Abraham to Joseph. It also explains that Jacob (Israel) was a new man.
Best Wishes, Shawn

The Bible is neither science or history is should not be taken as either. I believe that creation was revealed to an individual, either Moses or kept alive through through oral tradition until it was documented by Moses. I thought Sailhamer’s book The Meaning of the Pentatuech gave a very strong argument for how the Bible was created.

It is a very slippery slope taking what is not described as a metaphor and making it into a metaphor. You either beige in miracles through the intersession of God or you do not. Did God really pert the Red (or Reed) Sea? Was Jonah swallowed by a large sea animal? Did Balam’s donkey speak? Did Jesus rise from the dead or is Bart Ehrman correct in that the disciples made Him god after He died?

This being said, there is common sense that needs to be applied. There are many anthropomorphic terms that are used in scripture to describe God’s actions. For example, God is a spirit and does not have “a right hand” at which to sit. You need to argue in terms of the complete scripture. Paul’s writing make it clear to me that through one man, Adam, all have sinned and have death, and through one man, Jesus, all have life. You can use these writings to clarify that they are talking about spiritual death and spiritual life as there were people alive before the incarnation of Jesus.

You have to remember, there was no McDonalds, Taco Bell or cigarettes at this time.

I believe Genesis 1 and 2 are sequential (see recent posts for details) and that Adam and Eve were directly created by God, kind of a crazy notion because that is what it says in Genesis 2:7. God could have made Adam to live for any length of time. I feel that this was intentional is that longevity would be a genetic competitive advantage over man created in Genesis 1.

Also not that God limits the lifespan of man to 120 years in Gen. 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

How old would he have to have lived for you to believe it? We are just arguing about a number.

In areas of the world where people live as hunter gatherers or subsistence farmers, the average life span far is lower than in the developed world. You have to do a lot more than posit an absence of junk food to account for 900 year life spans. From Wikipedia

Researchers Gurven and Kaplan have estimated that around 57% of hunter-gatherers reach the age of 15. Of those that reach 15 years of age, 64% continue to live to or past the age of 45. This places the life expectancy between 21 and 37 years. They further estimate that 70% of deaths are due to diseases of some kind, 20% of deaths come from violence or accidents and 10% are due to degenerative diseases.

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