Origins of the Genesis stories

(Mitchell W McKain) #41

To be sure this is highly unlikely. Fish do not use air and human beings cannot live for three days without air. Whales use air, but could they swallow someone whole? There is a story from the early 1900s of a sailor being swallowed by a sperm whale and even surviving the experience. Sperm whales do feed on large fish and octopuses. But both stories are still highly unlikely because the whale’s stomach does not hold air to breath and any gases in the stomach are most likely methane and unbreathable. But unlikely things happen all the time. It is conceivable, however unlikely, that a whale with some sort of illness might have air trapped in its stomach. So I will not rule out the possibility of this being true, but I would rank the book of Johah second after the book of Job with the short list of books in the Bible that are most likely homiletic rather than historical. I personally do not put the book of Genesis on that list, for I consider it to have an historical intent for the most part.

It does not sound like that to me at all. It reminds to me of the many times I have referred to characters and stories in books and movies to illustrate a point even though they are completely fictional. Here is a couple of examples…

  1. I frequently refer to the scene in “The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis with Jill confronting Aslan when she is thirsty, to illustrate the proper role of a fear of God.
  2. I sometimes refer to the cowardice with which people cater to Voldemort in the Harry Potter books to illustrate how people make a virtue out cowardice in an improper fear of a god who has a character and behavior more like the devil or a mafia godfather.

In neither case is there any implication that the events and characters in these stories are people who really existed or things which have actually happened.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #42

I don’t for a moment doubt that I have much arrogance and pride yet to be dealt with in my heart. Apart from needing to discern for myself which understandings of scriptures are the most faithful ones (as we all must do when we decide which scholarly and spiritual leaders we trust) I’m certainly no authority any more than any other faithful-hearted reader attending to these things among brothers and sisters of Christ.

Thank you for considering me a brother in Christ despite pride and other faults showing through my words.

(Tom Larkin) #43

Base on New Testament references, my interpretation of this event is that Jonah was dead for three days as Jesus was dead. You are right in that it is silly to think of Jonah as being alive in the fish for three days. I believe he prayed as he was dying in the fish.

This is also a good example of the story of Jonah being lost in the details of the fish. This is a wonderful story of “love thy enemy” and God not only being the God of Israel, but the God of Gentiles as well.

(Randy) #44

Just for fun, the Babylon Bee does a good job of writing about extremes–eg Revelation:

(Quinn) #45

Kinda the tragedy of being EC and also taking a “liberal” view of Scripture (and I use the term “liberal” loosely as it can mean many things to people) here within BioLogos. I take a very, very critical hermeneutical view of Scripture which can be seen as “liberal” by fellow conservative Christians. There are many miracles within the OT and NT but yet I think we need to see what is a parable/story or not. Creation itself can be considered the first true miracle from God. Moses calling down the plagues upon Egypt were miracles, the events afterwards were also true along with other events from the prophets. Of course others could debate about which stories are literal or not but we need to see the Bible as a book on morals and spiritual truths rather then a science text book and solid history. A lot of the “historical” books (and I use historical loosely as well) are not accurate to secular history of the Canaanite region and the best way to see it as a mix of pro-Hebrew bias and also that its rather teaching a theological message rather then a historical one.


I would concur that much of OT stories, particularly the most early parts, are testimonies of faith by the community of Israel. They come from a varied background due to the influences of the Canaanite, Assyrian and later Bablylionian influences. OT scholars over the last 100 years or so have divided up the texts into strata that come from different points of Israel’s history, a dynamic and changed and adapted traditions, inspired in the different circumstances to meet the specific needs of the times.

I realise that for those of a much more conservative frame of mind that seems a dangerous position to take because it seems like a slippery slope to unbelief in the Word of God. But for me a dynamic relationship between culture, tradition and inspiration is liberating and perfectly in accord with science and historical exploration. God speaks in the moments of history to bring a meanful word that can the comminity can understand and respond to, not a once for all inerant text.

(Tim) #47

When you say, “solid history”, it seems you are ruling out probably the best source of written history available for that time frame. The rest is just archeology and the search for patterns in what has survived. What people think and leave behind in context is more interesting to me, than what we can discern from discarded trash heaps. I also think that every day what humans experience can be used as lessons in teaching morals and other spiritual truths. Just viewing the past in that way is perhaps the need to look at life in novel ways apart from our own mundane experiences.

Having said that, even our best efforts will never be a solid history as humans record it in each and ever generation. Can you imagine humans in 2000 years trying to sift through the trillions of bits of data from present day, trying to get a grasp on what actually happened? What is to stop them when reading our best historical books, not claiming the same things about us as we do the publishers of the OT? They will just be viewed the same way and some will be taken as literal and some will be taken as just figurative. There is no gaurantee they will grasp firmly the thoughts we were trying to claim. Now this may just be a strawman to point out the inconsistency in avoiding truth by looking for another truth that may or may not have been implied. Nor am i tossing out archeology because that is just as helpful. However the written record is a direct connection to one’s thoughts while artifacts are indirect with more variables to sift through.

It would seem that if Moses were to present to us today what he actually wrote as from God and what was from his classical education and how his works compare to other ANE accounts, would we even believe and accept his own account? I think the biggest pattern seen in the two covenants is when God appears to directly engage with God’s chosen people at the time they need it the most. That is the most solid history that I would like to be prepared for.


Only if you can read the written record with the same sense of what the words mean and in the same context as the original author. And this is without throwing in the complication of reading the record in a fallible human translation.

(Quinn) #49

@Timtofly While the Old Testament does give us a historical setting of the events that took place and I truly do belive that the events of Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther did take place but we need to see that of the history has a heavy pro Hebrew-bias and it seems to be teaching a more theological message rather then a solid historical one though one is obviously present in it. The books that have made me accept this critical view of the historical books have been these two books by Richard S. Hess. The first is “The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction” and “Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources.”
These two books have shaped in how I see them. Yes, these were real events in which the God of the universe intervened in human history to play out His Sovereign plan of salvation through the Hebrew people.

(Mitchell W McKain) #50

Yes. One can believe that the Bible is the word of God, without thinking that it perfectly meets the standards of totally different forms of writing and other human activities like history and science.

(Scott Garrison) #51

Well said. I’ll piggyback on that w/ a couple additional thoughts:

My understanding is that there are a number of OT scholars who hold that the Genesis 1 “seven-day” narrative was actually written post-Babylonian exile, in part due to cultural influences as guys like Ezra we’re trying to put Hebrew religion & culture back together again, while knowingly under Persian control. Then it was effectively tacked on to the front of Genesis as a prologue of sorts.

Also, language in the ANE & Mediterranean evolved dramatically over the millennium between 2,000 & 1,000 BC…all that Greek Linear A & Linear B and the like, which we all heard about once upon a time in high school Western Civ class. So if one recognizes the date of the exodus as sometime between the mid-15th century (as is traditionally claimed) to maybe 150 or so years later (as some archaeological findings have suggested), there are perhaps legitimate questions about how advanced Hebrew would have been as a written language by that time, also noting that the Israelites were fresh out of slavery in Egypt. That is, when does written Hebrew move beyond “Herschel owes me two goats” to a written language with the enormous storytelling power that we encounter even in the early chapters of Genesis. This is no small question, of course, because now we’re conceivably putting Mosaic authorship of the entire Pentateuch on the table.

I’d be curious if others have recommended resources along these lines, because what I am certain about here is:

(a) what I really know about this kind of stuff & 3 dollars will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and

(b) I’m pretty certain I don’t have enough rope to hang myself with.

(Tim) #52

If Moses was the author and actually educated in Egypt, he would be writing either in hieroglyphics or cuneiform, depending on how broad his education was. Since it said it was on stone tablets the originals may have been cuneiform. It is possible that after 400+ years in Egypt , the Hebrews still could have retained some Sumerian dialect.

According to Wikipedia, the parent language was Siniatic and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The Hebrews may have brought written language out of Egypt into Canaan. I am not sure the Hebrews were ever given credit for the Phoenician alphabet.

My question would be if Genesis 1 was not given to Moses by God, but was added over 1000 years later, why would God be the central character? How could the Hebrews be so sure that God was even involved? Did they rewrite the Psalms to reflect on a creation that no one before the Babylonian influence even knew about?

Rebooting religion and culture is one thing. To convince the Hebrews even at the time of Moses that God was central to their way of life was not easy. If it would not be accepted from God alone, how is it to be accepted by a few Humans hundreds of years later without any proof?

(Phil) #53

Well, that is not to say that the creation stories were not part of the oral tradition up until that time, Or perhaps were written in an earlier language. However, the word play that is written into the Hebrew text could not of been there until it was written in the Hebrew language, so there is that to consider.

(George Brooks) #54

Genesis has many of the markings of a post-Babylon exile document.

Priestly undergarments are designed as trouser-like shorts, an influence from the trousers of the Indo-European priests called the Magi.

There are at least four Creation themes in Genesis that the Jewish priests would have encountered in Babylon: The God Ea (which, in the Semitic alphabets would have been written like Y[a]h, or Y[a] or, Yh) created humanity. I located an old set of notes… and I’ll use the alternate reference ENKI, which was the original name of the Sumerian God of Life:

[1st Element - ENKI: Warns of the Flood]
Genesis 6:7 where Yahweh warns Noah of the coming
disaster, was based on the archetype flood myth in
which the god Enki [= Akkadian “Ea”] warns the flood
hero. As discussed in Chapter 5, the Sumerian Noah
sacrificed at the temple of Enki, a story element
that was adapted for Genesis 8:20: “Noah built an
altar to Yahweh … and offered burnt offerings on
the altar.”

[2nd - ENKI: Confusion of Speech]
Likewise the Genesis 11:6-7 story where Yahweh said
“let us go down and confuse their language, that
they may not understand one antoher’s speech” was
adapted from the Golden Age myth: “Enki, the lord
… of Eridu, changed the speech in their mouths
[bringing] contention into it, into the speech of
man that had [previously] been one.”

[3rd - ENKI: Forbidden Fruit - see Summary of
this at end of post]
Likewise the story about eating forbidden
fruit in Genesis 2:17, 3:1-19 was adapted from
the myth “Enki and Ninhursag” [Footnote 32:
third edition (Philadelphia, PA: University
of Penn. Press, 1981), p. 142.

[4th - ENKI: Creation Story - see summary
of this story at bottom of the post]

"The Sumerian god Enki played an
important role in
1] the Creation Myth;
2] the forbidden fruit myth,
3] the confusion of speech myth; and
4] the flood myth,
which suggests that archivists had already
collected several myths about Enki [Ea/Yah]
in the Babylonian archives, and these were made
available to Judean priests during the exile.

(Shawn T Murphy) #55

So, who do consider wrote the book of Genesis and when?

(George Brooks) #56


Who wrote Genesis? Priests who had been strongly influenced by the annals and writings of the Babylonian historians…

There is word play on the word Edom that could only be amusing if you knew the Sumerian equivalents…

The word Pharisee is clearly not derived the way the Rabbinical schools say it is derived… it is the word for “Persian” … and the modern equivalent are the Zoroastrians in India called the Parsee… not because they are Persian, but because they originated in Persia.

The more recent books of the New Testament describe how the Jewish mystics were able to master the material better than the local priests… and this appears quite believable.

They get to re-establish their temple complex in Jerusalem… sponsored by Persian authority and funding … as long as the religion nullifies the “old religion” where humans were sacrificed and other distasteful elements…

Post exilic is the broad time frame. But once the Persian sponsorship of the Magi is eliminated by Alexander the Great’s conquest, it would seem Persian ideas become ever more broadly distributed and popularized (as the Magi spread out to find a living and success elsewhere).

The Essenes appear to have adopted the most extreme of the Zoroastrian principles… without becoming Zoroastrians themselves.

(Shawn T Murphy) #57

Yes, the first rewrite to the OT was tainted with the experiences of Babylonian exile as you say, but the original writing wasn’t. This is what the Hexapla uncovered. The yahwehist lived long before the exile and wrote the OT with the help the Holy Spirit, not human history.


The authorship of the whole of the Pentateuch has long been debated among scholars with many seeing it as compilation of many traditions and origins, reaching its final form after the exile. Inspiration by the HS does not exclude the possibility of adapting other religious traditions and philosophies to explain traditional truths to new generations of people.

(Shawn T Murphy) #59

Origen was declared a heretic, but that does not diminish the fact he is the only one to have reconstructed the original inspired text, before it was diminished by the traditions of the satan worshipers in Babylon. I know it is long debated, but we have enough information today to make an enlightened judgement based on new, conflicting information. Especially the genetic research that founded BioLogos. The is no logical way to accept that humans ever lived to be 930 years old.

(Scott koshland) #60

This is interesting George. Where are you driving evidence for all these statements?