According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Part 1 - How Are We to Understand "Noah and the Flood?"


File:Noahs Ark.jpg
Noah's Ark (1846), a painting by the American folk painter Edward Hicks.


Not as Myth as We Understand It

I recently ran into an explanation of the Noahic account of the Bible as one that was described as a mythological legend rather than as a historic portrayal from a theologic perspective set within an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. Within ANE Semitic cultures are several well-known flood narratives each similar with the other but each very different from one another as well. The oldest is a Sumerian narrative (The Atrahasis Epic) which was later used by Babylon to create their own account of that same regional catastrophe (The Epic of Gilgamesh) and then by Israel a little later in the Old Testament's retelling of Noah and the Ark found in Genesis 6-9.....

In a separate article we'll review the [theological] differences between each of these legends and their value for each culture's ideological identities but today we'll focus on the topic of "Ancient Flood Literature and Mythology" in general while asking how Israel's flood motif differed from the other two more popularly known flood narratives. By way of introduction I might suggest that much as a surviving Christian will look at a  natural catastrophe and see God's protection in their lives, another may look at that same disaster and not see God's help or even materiality in that event. So too Israel reflected upon the flood event (and by hypothesis any destructive event) and differed in its theologic and anthropologic value for humanity from her more powerful neighbors. But before discussing these themes let us first proceed into flood mythology itself and set some historic parameters that may be useful when reviewing the Noahic flood....

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Ancient Flood Myths - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myths

A flood myth or deluge myth is a symbolic narrative in which a great flood is sent by a deity, or deities, to destroy civilization in an act of divine retribution. It is a theme widespread among many cultures, but is perhaps best known in modern times from the following examples: The biblical and Quranic account of Noah's Ark; the foundational myths of the Quiché and Mayas; Deucalion in Greek mythology; the story of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh; and the Hindu puranic story of Manu. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a [divine] measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who strives to ensure this rebirth.[1]

Assyriologist, George Smith, translated the Babylonian account of the Great Flood in the 19th Century. Further discoveries produced several versions of the Mesopotamian flood myth, with the account that is closest to that in "Genesis 6–9" found in a 700 BC Babylonian copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this work, the hero, Gilgamesh, meets the immortal man, Utnapishtim, and the latter describes how the god, Ea, instructed him to build a huge vessel in anticipation of a deity-created flood that would destroy the world; the vessel was not only intended for Utnapishtim, but was built to also protect his family, his friends and animals.[2]

The great deluge is mentioned in Hindu mythology texts, such as the Satapatha Brahmana,[3] where, in the Matsya, an Avatar (fish incarnation) of the Hindu deity, Vishnu, takes place, in order to save the pious and the first man, Manu.[4][5][6]

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Comparing Other Regional Flood Accounts

Understandably there have been many instances of large regional flooding in the ancient world caused by volcanic-based tsunamis along Asiatic coastlines, glacial melts and runoff (sic mid-western Canada's Lake Agassiz), seasonal melts and mudslides (South America, China), hurricanes (Central America), and such like. However each of these disasters would be unrelated in time and place to the ANE flood of the Bible as first referred to by the Sumerians and later, the Babylonians:

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Ancient Flood Myths [continued] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myths

Adrienne Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters and Fossil Legends of the First Americans promoted the hypothesis that flood stories were inspired by ancient observations of seashells and fish fossils in inland and mountain areas. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese all documented the discovery of such remains in these locations; the Greeks hypothesized that Earth had been covered by water on several occasions, citing the seashells and fish fossils found on mountain tops as evidence of this history. However, Leonardo da Vinci postulated that an immediate deluge could not have caused the neatly ordered strata that he had found in the Italian Apennines.

Speculation regarding the Deucalion myth has also been introduced, whereby a large tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea, caused by the Thera eruption (with an approximate geological date of 1630–1600 BC), is the myth's historical basis. Although the tsunami hit the South Aegean Sea and Crete it did not affect cities in the mainland of Greece, such as Mycenae, Athens, and Thebes, which continued to prosper, indicating that it had a local, rather than a region-wide, effect.[7]

Another hypothesis is that a meteor or comet crashed into the Indian Ocean around 3000–2800 BC, created the 30 kilometres (19 mi) undersea Burckle Crater, and generated a giant tsunami that flooded coastal lands.[8]

It has been postulated that the deluge myth may be based on a sudden rise in sea levels caused by the rapid draining of prehistoric Lake Agassiz at the end of the last Ice Age, about 8,400 years ago.[9]

One of the latest, and quite controversial, hypotheses of long term flooding is the Black Sea deluge hypothesis, which argues for a catastrophic deluge about 5600 BC from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea. This has been the subject of considerable discussion, but a news article from National Geographic News in February 2009 reported that the flooding might have been "quite mild".[10][11]

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As shown above, there have been many deluges and floods, some locally experienced and others regionally (or multi-regionally) experienced. Consider the more recent 2004 tsunami that began with a massive earthquake in the Indian ocean not many years ago and wiped out entire coastlines from Africa to Indonesia. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to understand that ancient tribes and cultures were capable of discovering ancient sea fossil beds and seashells on mountain ranges and mountainous shelves. Such original discoveries would at first be considered a curiosity until they worked out for themselves various theories of gods (or cosmic animals) destroying the Earth and mankind within it by some means like a flood. Not considering from an evolutionary standpoint that there may have been at one time or another ancient seas covering those areas (nor understanding that sea beds can lift up due to volcanic activity and continental drift). Consequently, there are many ancient creation stories using animals, gods and humans, celestial bodies and natural occurrences (such as flooding), to explain those ancient geologic discoveries. Today, our sciences of evolutionary geology quite adequately explain the modern understanding of earth's cataclysmic formation and continual continental slippage along the Earth's outer shell marked by volcanic activity (as even now can be observed around the Pacific's very active Ring of Fire).

Hence, the biblical flood is one of many similar geologic cataclysmic events. It may have seemed unique to those living within its destructive path but is unsupportable by geological strata worldwide, the biological diversity found on the earth, the given populations resident in other locations, and by many other observations not mentioned here (see Part 2 - Noah and the Flood). Each culture had their own stories of cataclysmic destruction as each story is unrelated to the other in time and place between a variety of ancient cultures found around the world. The biblical flood of the ANE is but one of those stories. But as a biblical narrative that was historic and most probably founded upon the massive rise of the Tigris and Euphrates river system along central Mesopotamia somewhere shortly after 3000 BC (refer to Paul Seely's Biologos article here - http://biologos.org/blog/the-flood-not-global-barely-local-mostly-theological-ii). This is the historic background of the occasion. And so, we must now ask why its account should - and should not be - considered mythic in the contemporary sense of its usage.


File:Gustave Doré - The Holy Bible - Plate I, The Deluge.jpg

"The Deluge", frontispiece to
Gustave Doré's illustrated edition of the Bible.
Based on the story of Noah's Ark, this shows humans and a tiger doomed
by the flood futilely attempting to save their children and cubs.


Comparing Ancient Religions

When comparing ANE religions, especially those in close proximity with each other both temporally and geographically, such as those civilizations found in the Mesopotamian region around 2500-2400 BC, there may necessarily be discovered shared views of important events skewed only by that of a dominating culture's religious beliefs and sociological outlooks. This then would be the case for the more mature Sumerian/Akkadian culture (begun around 4000 BC) as it faded away before the newly arisen Assyrian and Babylonian cultures (roughly 2500 BC) while another smaller Semitic nation of federated tribes known as Israel was in its earliest stages of infancy and growth (cf. Abraham's call to UR around 2100 BC, and Moses' Exodus from Egypt, 1447 BC; cf. the History of Ancient Israel and Judah). Politically, one of the very first things an ancient kingdom must do to prove its right of rulership is to develop a nationalized view of itself that would substantiate its rising presence and power. Consequently a nationalized creation motif could establish that ancient nation's dominating religious beliefs while a catastrophic story of salvation from something like a large regional disaster (such as a flood motif) could prove that nation's favored status before the gods they worshipped. Together, these self-proclaimed histories and beliefs could be used as important sociological boundary markers vindicating a foreign kingdom's right to rule and reign as an invading power over existing local alliances and fiefdoms.


Overview map of the ancient Near East




Consequently, ANE historians would expect to find similar types of nationalized proclamations in the charters of the kingdom of Israel (later to become the separate kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah in the south). And such was the case when Israel likewise declared their historic religious beliefs through the presentation of a creation motif and flood motif and religious origins based upon antediluvian and Patriarchal stories each of which retold prior historic events through their own religious experiences with a God by the name of Yahweh (roughly translated as "Lord" in the English, meaning "Almighty God"). To the (pagan) nation-states surrounding Israel Yahweh was largely an unknown Deity (unlike Abraham's earliest experience of Yahweh when visited by the Gentile high priest Melchizedek who affirmed Yahweh as his God and put definition to Abraham's heart who this mediating God of grace was that had called him from Ur of the Chaladees). Consequently, Yahweh was little known or feared by the nations but over time, at Israel's insistence that this God was the one true God of the universe and of mankind, the theology of Yahweh took root and grew as an expanding acknowledgement of Yahweh's presence into other dissimilar cultures as Israel worked up its national charter and heritage based upon Yahwistic belief.

What made Israel's belief in Yahweh unique was their corroborating and personalized experiences through godly men and women - through  individuals, leaders, prophets, priests, and salvific events by the Spirit of God building a growing body of revelatory experiences and event-driven processes proving to be divinely inspirational and illuminating to their recipients. That is, when seeing disaster or blessing they uniquely interpreted each event through a growing religious process and theological understanding of their Maker, Sustainer, Fortress, Healer, and Protector Yahweh. Yahweh was becoming their God and their explanation for all things not God.

Accordingly, one would expect Israel's historical narratives to offer a closer description of Yahweh because of this same God's direct, personal involvement in their lives for that intended purpose. However, one may also expect that Israel's ancient accounts of creational origins, the flood narrative, and the progress of mankind's civilizations, would be reflective of their religiously-informed understanding of popular ancient cosmogonies - but with the important difference of reciting God's divine involvement as understood (or re-interpreted by Israel's religious worship) in each of those events. So that when the Jewish or Christian theologian makes a comparative study between the Sumerian/Akkadian (Central Mesopotamia generally), Assyrian (Northern Mesopotamia), Babylonian (Southern Mesopotamia), Greek and Roman religions to that of their own Judahistic or Christian religion, we would expect to find a vast difference between the (poly)theistic/anthropocentric Semitic and Greco-Roman beliefs to that of the Jewish and Christian beliefs. Furthermore, we would also expect to find a great degree of similarity between Judaism and Christianity because of their common heritage and natural progression from one another in the transition between the Old to the New Testament eras.

And so yes, we could call the Noahic account a mythological legend in comparative literary terms because of its relatedness to other mythological flood stories in various ANE cultures. But by this genre designation we do not not mean by implication that Israel's own historical and biblical accounts of Yahweh's activity within itself and later, in the Church, are mythological (theologically, this event process is described as "salvation history" or "heilsgeschicte"). They are not. Especially for the one who believes in the self-revealing activity and communion of Yahweh to mankind through Israel, and later, the church. For whether we speak of Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, the priest and prophets of the bible, or of Jesus and His disciples; of things spiritual or miraculous; of events filled with divine interaction and circumvention; these redemptive and salvific activities of God are not mythological. But richly filled socio-theological stories of Yahweh's communion with Israel and her people. Certainly they are narratively true historical accounts insofar as Israel interpreted them within her religious charters and everyday beliefs. But not mythological literary accounts that have no historical import and connections to God's  self-revelation to the nation Israel and to the faith of the Church grounded upon God's sacrificial atonement through His Son. Pointedly, its is an informed religious epistemology looking at world events and understanding them in spiritually connective terms much as we would do today through our own Christian outlook and epistemology. Or how a Muslim or Hindu religious person who be so informed by their faith when trying to describe or understand world event. The trick in ancient archaeology is to pull apart the religious idea from the actual historical event. That is, if there was a flood then what kind of flood was it, and how did it affect the lives of the ancient people and villages who described it in their religious beliefs. Hence an ancient anthropologist will consider his subject with a bit of skepticism while searching out the details of the actual event believed by religious people. Even so is this the case with the Jewish creation account and flood narrative amongst other subjects and topics. Without a proper historical forensic truth lies only at the door of the teller and not the in the bones of the actual scene (using a "CSI" TV kind of detective logic).

On an religiously-informed epistemological level then we may say that to imply that the Noahic flood was as mythic as Jesus' redemption and resurrection would be inaccurate. In fact, like Noah's Ark (and Israel's Ark of the Tabernacle), we would be betraying Yahweh's own narrative revelation to mankind of these events by saying otherwise. Who then provided His only Son Jesus as mankind's very own Ark of salvation from physical and spiritual death and destruction through His resurrection. And in the spirit of the Noahic account, for those refusing God's vessel of provision in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, than certain destruction may be comprehended as sealed and certain. But for those penitents willing to obey God and allowing His spiritual Ark of salvation release into their lives... than whatever the flood waters to come  in this life - and yes, we're speaking metaphorically now - for the Christian believer s/he will be delivered unto the everlasting tributaries of God's holy refuges unto safety and life eternal. Jesus, then, is mankind's watery Ark and Sanctifying Agent of Mediation (our great High Priest) before the God of Israel who indwells the Holy-of-Holies which is now the Temple of the heavens. Even as He will in His very own Kingdom-to-come upon-this-Earth recreate its further renewal and redemption. How this will be we do not know. Only believe. And this is the Christian expectation, and Christian hope, of things to come. Even so, we believe as a religious body of believers that this is Yahweh's personal promise to be and become humanity's eternal refuge, safety, and hope, against the foreboding shores of sin-and-spiritual-death awashed in the hopeless of wickedness and everlasting destruction. That Yahweh will be our Ark of Salvation in this world as in the next. This is what binds the Christian believer to Israel's religious past in belief, tradition, and epistemology.

Comparing Ancient Interpretations

As was said, in another sense we may allow the term "myth" to be used of the Noahic account when juxtapositioned alongside other ancient Near Eastern religions in a comparative religious study... but by this we mean that these early accounts of human history found in the Bible simply utilize mythological story form as a way to create a very real portrayal of accounts from a theological perspective within an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. God did create and provide, protect and save, and disbursed humanity to the four corners of the world. Science tells us how this occurred through evolutionary fossil records, genetic studies, and comparative ancient legends within anthropological and archaeological discoveries. However, the Bible tells to us the meaning of these discoveries (as afore stated in the paragraph above) regardless of the correctness of the narrative event as depicted by the ancient scribe and oracle. One man's "myth" is another man's "understanding."

Hence, the term "myth" should not be used skeptically of God's biblical narrative or revelation in the modern scientific sense of something incredibly "magical or unrealistic." But in the ancient literary sense of narrative genre and figurative writing. That is, a biblical myth is both an unscientific way of describing an embellished event and a literary genre of that same description that held meaning for its beholder. I say embellished because more often than not a story will grow with its legend - especially in ages of oral interpretation and not written record. However, when we do use this literary category of biblical myth it must be carefully laid out, and not hastily proclaimed, as an implied reflection upon all of Scripture. Nor of the Jewish/Christian faith specifically. For the believer, the God of the Bible is anything but a myth. Nor is our faith a fabled legend without historical interpretation that makes for a good literary story with moral extrapolations similar to the plethora of Greek and Roman tragedies with their many surmised meanings. Whether those stories were known by the ancients, or beheld by more recent civilizations, each people group carried their own legends that held meaning for their nation-state.

For the Jewish or Christian believer we believe and do assent that our receipt of Yahweh is the more correct one. The more gracious and healing one not filled with continuing doctrines of hatred and vengence, violence and perjury - though both the histories of sinful Israel and the historic church would betray themselves in these regards to human rights and freedoms. Still, man being imperfect and limited in divine apprehension, would strive to portray the God he believes. And thus is the need of the societal prophet and preacher. Someone who comes along to re-describe the God of Israel in reflective terms of grace and love. Healing and redemption. Forgiveness and hope. Peace and goodwill. Lofty ideals seldom seen in practice by God's followers and body politic. But ideals indeed requiring spiritual practice and perseverance.

Hence, the Christian belief is based upon Yahweh's very real, intra-historical, interworkings with OT/NT figures and events - with secular ideologies, misguided beliefs, and errant religious practices. So that in all areas a godliness may occur and a God-ward consciousness become living and present. And so, in another sense, just as the mythological/pagan beliefs of ancient cultures guided the actions and attitudes of ancient peoples, so too did Israel and the Church have a Yahwistic culture that guided theirs. But with the important distinction that Yahweh is a real, spiritual Being, unlike the ancient pantheons of gods with their many mystical beliefs, practices, and superstitions (here is beheld the idea of the evolution of religion as religion continues to evolve from rudimentary form to a sophisticated one of equality and justice).

To the one who indiscriminately says that this argument is no different than that of any other ancient or contemporary belief systems, then yes, that may be true. But to the Jewish and Christian believer it is one describing for them the Living Creator God of the universe through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. At university I met many professors and their minion students who were less than complementary towards the Jewish-Christian faith. To them we believed in a living myth that was magical and delusional. However, I understood my task as one of spreading the Gospel of Christ to the spiritually blind and deaf. While God's mission or task was one of converting unto salvation. Together, in a divine-human cooperative, we spread the message... but it is the Holy Spirit's task to convict towards repentance and conversion that the Christian faith becomes enlivened and made real in the heart and mind of the disbelieving agnostic or atheist. But such adamant disbelief or casual proclamations does not disprove God. It cannot. It can only blind the one refusing to believe. Our fellowship is of a different sort. Of a different nature than the religions of the world. It is one of personal redemption and repentance which sets it quite apart from other competing philosophies and religions. And even today we see it evolving through the many ideas formed in philosophy, psychology, science, politics, and earth care. It is a religion first and foremost of redemption and repentance. Of questioning ourselves, acts, ideas, and words, against the larger ideas of renewal, recreation, reclamation, rebirth, and resurrection. An evolving religion that cannot be content until all the world acts with one will within the evolving global structure of Yahweh's provide of self-sacrifice and redemption.

Genesis 1-11 & the Book of Job are Old

Another observation I wish to make is that when we come to Genesis it must be realized that chapters 1-11 are very ancient in their origins. They are in essence very old, oral legends that have been later written down by succeeding civilizations that had possession of alphabets and a means of written communication. This is true also of the book of Job which is yet another very old book of the bible telling of a man who suffered at the hands of God and the devil. Both the early Genesis accounts and that of Job occurred long years before Abraham. And were rehearsed generationally through oral transmission, and later written down, many longs years later after Abraham (by Jewish storytellers, historians, and scribes perhaps beginning as far back as in Israel's many distant years spent in Egypt, and then continuing through their formative Wilderness travels into the early days of their tribal federations).

Moreover, as I understand it, the Noahic account of Genesis was edited and redacted from at least two different transmission sources... one from a 10th century Yahwistic literary source and the other from a 7th century Priestly source. This can be seen in the small differences found within the account in Genesis 6-9. What caused this? For one, the OT books were written and collected through several centuries of Israel and Judah's disobedience to God's directives and counsel, and into their separate exiles. Consequently the bible stories that we are familiar with today imperfectly evolved because of societal/spiritual disruptions from generation to generation which then streamed off into separate, but similar, biblical stories so as to create these separate, collected, accounts. As further example of imperfect transmission and spiritual disruptions in Israel's history recall the lost book of the Torah that when found caused King Josiah to weep (2 Kings 22.10-11)? Imagine the lost Mosaic traditions and cultural observations that came with the finding and knowledge of that book? So that at the last, Ezra, around c. 586, made a final compilation of the Scriptures that found the Pharisees and Sadducees still arguing over their interpretations of God's word as understood 600 years later even as they would  with Jesus' bold insights and authoritative interpretations. It is surely a degree of wonderment that the Christian and Jewish religions have been preserved at all when laid at the hands of humanities wandering, tepid heart and troubling, disjointed paths.

Suggested Theological Themes

So from this I can allow a kind of "mythic" understanding of the Scriptures in Israel's earliest accounts of ancient human history (the Creation of the world, the Flood, the rise of human civilizations). A story form that utilized a mythological story form of ancient cosmogony. But not any type of ancient cosmogony, be it Akkadian, Assyrian, or Babylonian, but a Hebraic view filled by God's directing Spirit upon the hearts and minds of Abraham's progeny that understood this old world to be created by the very word of Yahweh Himself. With expressed intentions, deliberations, purpose, and planning, both spiritual and physical. Each follower fully realizing the outcome and the necessity of God's intimate involvement with His creation's renewal through redemption and re-purposing ultimately through His Son and by every living believer who would come in contact with this re-creative story. A story where man lived in harmony with creation and with himself. A story where communion with God has been reinitiated through the Son of God who died at Calvary and rose to rule and reign at God's right hand. A rule that would restore all things back to the Garden of Eden. Back to when sin did not reign. Where death did not separate man from God, from each other, from nature nor himself (we call this the four alienations of sin and death). A remarkable story of recreation perhaps more remarkable than the making of this old universe itself.

A story that is every bit as true to modern, contemporary man today as it was to ancient, primitive cultures then. That spoke of a God who created. A creation that would serve both as the Creator-God's temple and as a sanctuary to those things created. A meeting place between the spiritual and the physical. Between the immortal and the mortal. The eternal and the temporary. Where fellowship may occur and life is birthed. Where fulfillment is found in whatever activity undertaken by man and was blessed by the God of the universe. Where sin and death are held accountable. Where truth, justice, love become the foundation stones for human community and society. A story that was as relevant then as it is today however its story form. However its literary vehicle of dissemination. This then is the Genesis account of creation, of the flood, of the rise of human societies through disbursement by earth event, be it by water, ice, cold or heat. Or by human event of murder, wars, peaceable culture, ideology or religion.

After Genesis 1-11, after the story of Job, we are taken to historical events that are much closer to Israel's historical experience... in fact, from Genesis 12 onwards we are taken directly to Israel's formation as a spiritually developing community of believers bound together by their beliefs in the God of the Bible today. Hence, their traditions may have been imperfectly passed along but those traditions were much nearer to their national conscience and recollection than were the much earlier proto-historical occurrences collected in Genesis 1-11 and Job. That were recapsulized into Israel's national history and spiritual understanding of their provisional religious charters. So that whether there was a literal man named Noah or not, or a wooden Ark of proportionate dimensions bearing animals two-by-two is not our ultimate concern. No, our concern lies with the fact of the story itself and what God intended by it when giving it to Israel as their national inheritance in spiritual terms of trusting reliance upon Him as their Father God Creator. For simplistically sake they called this man Noah and understood God to have honored Noah's desire to be faithful to God come hell or highwater. Which he did. And by which his family was saved. And through whose agency was saved the ancient belief of this Creator later to be described and known as Yahweh by other God-fearers. Though not a Hebrew (since Abraham had not been borne yet) Noah was a God-fearer. And by historical import we see the nation Israel's salvation again and again at the hands of God - whether in the man Israel's story, or his son Joesph; or of the Israelites from Egypt itself; or from the harsh desert spaces of their Wilderness journey; or time-and-again in their tribal federations under Judges and Prophets; or within their monarchies until the time of the Church arising from the ashes of what was left of the nation-state Israel. In all, through all, by all was God ever there to guide and protect His covenanted remnant of believers through the fires and trials of life. This then is the story of Noah and the ark and its relevancy for today.

Consequently, we must pointedly discriminate (i) that the early proto-mythologies found within Genesis showed a remarkable comparative relatedness to their contextual literary cousins (which themselves were much older than Israel's accounts) as pertaining to religious mythologies of creational origins, natural floods and destruction, and the normative events of population drift and movement. As well as (ii) due to the historical fact that the stories found in Genesis 1-11 were written much later (c. 1800-586 BC) to the other ANE stories held by much older proto-literary civilizations (say, pre-8000 BC in oral form per creational accounts; and, 2800-2500 BC for the flood account of the Tigris-Euphrates flood event). Otherwise, it would be better to speak of the Creation of the world (Gen 1-3) and of the Noahic flood (known as the second Creation, or Rebirth, of the World), from a (ANE) Judeo-Christian understanding that is not mythic - though perhaps not "literal" either as used in today's evangelical cultures proclaiming literal interpretations. But one that was very real (and very "literal") to the ANE cultures then, both in substance and occurrence, as beheld and understood by the people within their ANE cultures of that day. Stories that were very old. That were passed along by very old civilizations. That were divinely informative about God even as they were spiritually formative both then and now for today's modern and postmodern civilizations. That are true but scribed from within ancient world-and-life views of cosmogonies telling of creational origins and apprehended knowledge of regional disasters and beneficial blessings. Stories that were trying to comprehend God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. That were asking even then, the meaning of life when confronted by natural catastrophic disasters and of the subsequent beneficial blessings experienced by survivors protected from such destruction. This much we can suppose and even allow as it has been illustrated again and again even within our contemporary cultures (as example, consider Western Kentucky's tornadoes of March 2012 which found tragic stories of survivors searching for life's meaning when having survived through the horrific winds of destructive tornadoes and malevolent storms).

As example, when we think of the Creation account we might think of it in spiritual terms using Israel's familiar Temple-based institution as a paradigm for thinking of God communing with mankind in terms of sanctuary and worship rather than get lost in a "literalness of explanation" or in a science-based evolutionary discussion. Or when we speak of "the Flood" we might see it as God's way of protecting the believer through the various Arks He places in our lives beginning with the Ark of the Covenant and then, by extrapolation, the Ark of God's spoken Word and decrees, of assurances and warnings; the Ark of the Holy Spirit or even that of Christ Himself; the Ark of the fellowship of God's people (as obedient communities found within Israel, or that of the Church); the Ark of marriage; the Ark of God's justice and ethical laws that are fair and equally applied; the Ark of Salvation; the Ark of the Kingdom of God.

Consequently, my own version of the "creation account" might utilize an evolutionary understanding. Or my own "Flood theory" may perceive Noah's flood as a large regional disaster and largely rewritten to convey the spiritual presence of God. But separate from these differences the believer and theologian each seek to understand those ancient accounts as early descriptors of the kind of God we worship and believe. In the quantum physics articles I've recently written God has been shown to be in the land of science. In the human pathos articles communicated in this web blog we find God's presence in our daily lives and routines. In the songs and devotional pieces submitted herein we sing of an impassioned God and of His great goodness to this world of sin and woe, tears and valleys. The Scriptures tell us of God. They are not a science book. But they do accurately tell us of God and His Sovereignty. God is no myth. Nor is the spiritual account of His people Israel and the Church an unreal, mythic faith. No. God is a great God... and He is our Great God who has revealed Himself to mankind over eons of human history to tell us of His love and salvation, presence and intentions for our lives and for this old world.

R.E. Slater
July 2, 2012
March 21, 2014

*For more on God's names and who He is go to a past post entitled The Names of God in Scripture.



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continue to -
Part 2 - Noah & the Flood
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/07/part-2-noah-flood.html


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Helpful Biologos Articles
that may be perused...


Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology, Part 1
http://biologos.org/blog/biblical-and-scientific-shortcomings-of-flood-geology-part-1/CP2
Gregg Davidson
August 5, 2010

The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, II
http://biologos.org/blog/the-flood-not-global-barely-local-mostly-theological-ii
Paul Seely
January 31, 2012

Science and an Incarnational Approach to the Bible
http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-an-incarnational-approach-to-the-bible/
Peter Enns
Nov 6, 2009

An Incarnational Model
http://biologos.org/blog/an-incarnational-model/
Peter Enns
Nov 13, 2009

Mesopotamian Myths and “Genre Calibration”
http://biologos.org/blog/mesopotamian-myths-and-genre-calibration/
Peter Enns
Nov 27, 2009

Genesis 1 and a Babylonian Creation Story
http://biologos.org/blog/genesis-1-and-a-babylonian-creation-story
Peter Enns
May 18, 2010

The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point
http://biologos.org/blog/the-firmament-of-genesis-1-is-solid-but-thats-not-the-point/
Peter Enns
Jan 14, 2010

Yahweh, Creation, and the Cosmic Battle
http://biologos.org/blog/yahweh-creation-and-the-cosmic-battle
Peter Enns
February 2, 2012

The Second Creation Story and “Atrahasis”
http://biologos.org/blog/the-second-creation-story-and-atrahasis
Peter Enns
May 25, 2010

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 1
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood
Peter Enns
June 1, 2012

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 2
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood-part-2
Peter Enns
June 8, 2012

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 3
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood-part-3
Peter Enns
June 22, 2012



2 comments:

  1. The above article is flawed when it states: "The oldest [account of a worldwide flood] is a Sumerian narrative (The Atrahasis Epic) which was later used by Babylon to create their own account of that same regional catastrophe (The Epic of Gilgamesh) and then by Israel a little later in the Old Testament's retelling of Noah and the Ark found in Genesis 6-9". There is most certainly historical evidence that the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh epics were written LATER than Noah's account of The Flood. The various and numerous accounts of a worldwide flood found in so many cultures across the globe can then be explained as the re-telling of that cataclysmic event, albeit then significantly corrupted in the re-telling of the story. The physical evidence for the Flood of Noah is evident from the world's sedimentary rocks, which could only have been laid down by huge volumes of rapidly-moving water carrying masses of sediment. The trillions of fossils equally bear witness to the instantaneous burial of creatures and plant life by the Flood waters. Genesis 1 was God's account of the creation of the universe, recorded by Adam, and passed on to Noah. Noah and his sons wrote the history of the Flood, and later patriarchs wrote the remainder of Genesis. Moses edited Genesis and edited/wrote the other 4 books of the Torah in around 1400 BC. As the above article notes, the book of Job was an early book, probably written about 2000 BC, around 3-400 years after The Flood. At the end of this book of the Bible, Job gives an excellent, detailed description of two contemporaneous dinosaurs.

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  2. Please forgive the lateness of my response. I was dealing with a death in my wife's family which prevented my attention to this blog site. Recently I've taken the time to update and expand this article's content to provide further background in my initial assessments.

    However, as you have noted we do differ substantially from one another's understanding of the Flood. My intention when first forming Relevancy22 was to update evangelic Christianity using contemporary discoveries and findings in science and archaelogy primarily from an Christian evolutionary perspective. As such, the biblical account of the flood must be seen in comparison to its ANE setting and not apart from it.

    Overall my main concern was to describe why bible stories should not be considered as ancient Jewish myths or compared to Marvell comic books and their mythologically superior heroes. If the Bible is mythic then so too can the comparison be made to Christ's atonement. Hence, I refute this mythic appendage of ancient bible stories and have attempted to describe the Flood's theological importance for the Jewish/Christian faith of today.

    This was my primary concern. Thank you for your response.

    - res

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