Royal propaganda view of Genesis 1-11

I propose that Genesis 1-11 is to be read as history, this does not mean that it is to be taken as literally true. I propose that it is written using Ancient Middle Eastern Historiographic techniques, namely that the purpose and meaning of history is more important than it’s truth. As John Walton says:

The historiography of the ancient Near East, whether represented in royal inscriptions or chronicles, king lists or annals, has by all accounts a polemical agenda that is intended to reinforce the royal political ideology. As in the campaign speeches of our day, facts can be useful, but they are not central or essential. The intention of the preserved records is to serve not the reader but the king. The recorder is trying to provide answers to the question: “Why should you consider this king to be a good and successful king?” In most cases it cannot be determined whether concealment and/or disinformation are part of the strategy, but negative information is uniformly lacking. We do receive negative assessments of some kings, but, as we might expect, they come from later dynasties seeking to enhance their own reputations.

I propose that the same thing is happening in Genesis 1-11, except the ‘king’ the author is making the case for is the God of Israel, whom is greater than any human king. We begin the Biblical epic by reading of how God ‘named’ the regions of the universe, a statement as to his sovereignty over the cosmos, and we are told that the whole cosmos is his dwelling place. We are then told the story of why human decision making cannot be trusted in Genesis 2-3, then in the Cain, flood and Babel stories we read of what happens when you get it wrong with God. All this shows God as a stern ruler enthroned over the cosmos, whom is to be followed. Scientific and historical accuracy is not the aim of the game here.

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I seem to remember similar arguments being put forward ~40 years ago; and probably long before then. It’s an idea that is embraced in some circle and firmly rejected in others.

Historically Moses is the compiler of the Pentateuch and it can be argued that he had a motive to differentiate his God from the polytheistic religions of surrounding nations.

As one example of the contrary view see Should Genesis be taken literally?

Answer: If we apply the normal principles of biblical exegesis (ignoring pressure to make the text conform to the evolutionary prejudices of our age), it is overwhelmingly obvious that Genesis was meant to be taken in a straightforward, obvious sense as an authentic, literal, historical record of what actually happened.

The amazing thing to me is that Russell Grigg, writing on, does not recognize the irony of his claim. Reading an account like Genesis 1 as a “literal, historical record of what actually happened” is in fact a modern, Western way of reading a text.

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Grigg’s training appears to be as a chemist and at a Bible college. He doesn’t appear to have upper level training in history or theology

Well, the primeval history certainly contains a royal propaganda element - but that is hardly the whole story. Clearly, there are a lot of etiological elements, especially in Gen 2-3. And there are plenty of examples of condemnation of the Canaanite fertility cult and rites - which are both theological and royal propaganda. History to the ancient Israelites was intended to explain how their current situation came about - thus, the presence of the numerous etiologies. It is hard to view the explanations of, for example, why women have difficulty in childbirth and snakes lack legs as royal propaganda. I also find that the primeval history makes most sense in terms of the Documentary Hypothesis, which is accepted by virtually all OT scholars other than very conservative evangelicals and Jews. Properly considering different authors (J and P) in the primeval history who were separated in time provides a progressive revelation view which withstands careful scrutiny much better than the Mosaic authorship claim does.

By “historically,” do you mean that most churches have tended to believe he was, or do you mean that he was historically recorded as such? Because the former is true, but the latter is not. Moses was said to have written “the Law” but that could have meant anything: from just the Ten Commandments to most of the Pentateuch. (I assume he wasn’t responsible for the description of his own burial, personally.) I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle: he started setting down a legal code which was added onto by later generations, since some of the early laws seem clearly in a nomadic setting while later ones assumed solid buildings and temples.

Several hundred years later, people grouped all the reliable records they had from the time of Moses into “the Book(s) of Moses” and here we are.

The Bible explicitly rejects such a notion.

Can you elaborate on that?

How could Moses write about his own death?

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