Teaching Genesis Creation at U of Montana this fall

If there are any Biologos readers/members here in the Missoula area, you might be interested in a 6 week course dealing with the two Genesis creation accounts that I will be conducting here in Missoula MT. The course is being held under the auspices of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Montana.

Here is the link to the course description.

Here is a link to the Syllabus


Thanks for sharing. I am not up there, but was very interesting your personal interpretation of Genesis, let’s say the UMPV (unauthorized Michael Peterson version). I am impressed by the amount of ground work that you’ve done on it and suppose was personally curious if any Ancient Near Eastern sources were also helpful to you in your translation. I assume you are more focused on the Biblical text and not as much on the scientific side (despite your background?). Best wishes to you.

Just a couple of quick thoughts:

First an apology. I love this stuff, so I’m sure this response is going to go way too long.

Now, as to extra-biblical sources from the ANE: sources before and contemporary with the writing of the books of the Bible are critical to understanding the biblical text. Context is everything in Bible translation especially when translating the Genesis creation stories. Translations that do not take into account the cultures and world-views of those days are not credible. Period.

Here are four examples of how ANE literature provides context:

  1. In the pagan cultures of the ANE, time is thought to be tethered to nature and, therefore, cyclic. In Genesis 1, time is not cyclic. It is represented as linear, never-ending and never repeating. Unlike the other ANE cultures, the ancient Hebrews believed that one was accountable for one’s actions in the past. The other cultures did not believe this as a matter of religion. Rather, in their view “time” started over in the new year and, provided a sufficiently large and earnest sacrifice was made, all was well again. This way of looking at time has profound moral consequences. In Ground Hog Day, for example, Bill Murray’s character became a hedonist and a thoroughly detestable fellow. What he did in the ‘now’ had no effect in the future.

  2. Most ANE creation stories of which I am aware have a “Tree of Life” in which the protagonist remains immortal so long as s/he as access to, and eats from, the Tree. Once access to the source (be it a tree, or well, or spring, or sea weed) s/he once again becomes mortal. In this context, expulsion from Eden means a loss of immortality and eventual death. Loss of access to the Tree of Life was widely and immediately understood as a loss of immortality.

  3. Of all the creation stories ever studied no Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil exists. The concept behind the Tree of Knowledge exists nowhere outside of Genesis. Now, in these other creation stories, loss of immortality is not associated with human misbehavior as much as it is associated with misfortune and circumstance. With this context in mind, the Genesis author uses the Tree of Life motif as a plot device to show that their expulsion resulted, not from circumstance like the other stories, but from a willful disregard for God’s will. The author intended, I think (along with the scholars I cite in my translation) that to willfully disregard God’s will results in separation from the divine.

  4. In no other ANE creation story is the creation of woman even mentioned. But in Genesis all that changes: in Genesis 1 she is given equal weight with the man - including the command to rule creation. In Genesis 2, she gets 6 verses whereas the man gets only a part of one verse. Moreover, in Genesis 2 it is the husband who bears all the responsibility for her well-being and is the one who must stand-by his wife no matter what. In the ANE context where women are an afterthought, the elevation of the woman as a civilizing force on human society is remarkable.

Those are just four aspects of the creation stories whose meanings are profoundly influenced by competing ANE creation accounts.

Finally, I have at my desk a number of ANE books including Bottero’s “Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Pilch’s “A Cultural Handbook to the Bible”, Podany and McGee’s “The Ancient Near Eastern World”, E. O. James’ Myth and Ritual in the Ancient Near East: An Archeological and Documentary Study", and then a host of Bible commentaries which reference other ANE works. I also subscribe to Biblical Archeology - a magazine of ‘popular’ archeology, but that often cite some really interesting, more scholarly works.

Finally, all of my go-to Bibles are written and translated by the scholars themselves. In other words, these Bibles are commercially published, personal editions. I like these Bibles because they incorporate the latest research (and controversies). For example, I have Bray and Hobbins, Genesis 1-11, Alter’s “The Five Books of MOSES - A Translation with Commentary”, Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah, E.A Speiser’s Genesis, Sarna’s Genesis edition of the JPS TORAH Commentary, Cassuto’s Translation and Commentary "From Adam to Noah, The Book of Genesis, Robert Altar’s among others.

Anyway, thanks for the interest.



One more point: it’s my background that got me interested in the biblical text as expressed in ancient Hebrew. The problem, as I saw it back then and still see it today, is that arguments over science and faith most frequently begin at the wrong place. Too many people who disagree, say with YEC, begin by attempting to counter YEC arguments with science.

That’s a totally wrong way of going about these kinds of arguments. The YEC proponent is making a linguistic case for understanding a religious text as a literal, historical account. That’s a perfectly understandable position and the YEC deserves a response that employs linguistic arguments why interpreting ancient Hebrew literally is a recipe for madness.

A quick anecdote: Ken Ham visited Missoula a few months ago and I was asked by a reporter what I thought. Now, I think the reporter had an agenda (to discredit Mr. Ham), but my answer was that to engage YECs with science is pointless. What we need to do is focus on the text of the Bible properly understood. For example, in Genesis 1:5 we first encounter the Hebrew word yom which means light and its counterpart layla means without light. The author is likely attempting to contrast his version of time as untethered to nature with the pagan conception of time as intimately bound to natural cycles.



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