Reading Genesis 1-3 Pt. 3 – The Fall Narrative

In this blog post, we look at the Fall narrative, especially with regards to other mythologies of the Ancient Near East.

The usual suspects of Adam, Eve, and the serpent are in attendance, but an unexpected visitor makes an appearance…

The Fall (2: 25 – 3: 24)

Although the Fall narrative is not part of the second creation account, it continues the story and also has great relevance to the theory of evolution. Mark Isaak states that “Creationists link death and decay with the second law of thermodynamics, with the consequence that no decay before the Fall means the second law of thermodynamics was not in effect before the Fall. However, the second law of thermodynamics is intimately connected with the flow of time. Since the Bible says that time was established before the Fall, thermodynamics and therefore decay must have existed then, too.”

The Fall Narrative

At the start of the narrative, Adam and Eve live in what can be called a “golden age,” which “was a widespread motif in the ancient world and symbolically represents the ideal for human beings,” according to anthropologist and historian of religion Mircae Eliade. In the Enki and Ninhursag myth, there exists a paradise in the city Dilmun, which is an actual city, and in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (translation here), there was a prior time in which there was one people, one language, no snake, no wild dog, no fear, and no terror. “On that day when there is no snake, when there is no scorpion, when there is no hyena, when there is no lion, when there is neither dog nor wolf, when there is thus neither fear nor trembling, man has no rival!” The different animals were known to the people in that area and serve to summarize what mankind has to fear from nature.

The Mesopotamian tree of life flanked by two images of a Neo-Assyrian king. Above the tree is the god Assur in his customary winged sun disk.

The Tree of Knowledge stands central in the narrative of the Fall. In Mesopotamian tradition, a tree of life is also present, e.g. as the tree of life which also serves to support the constellations. The Akkadian tale of Adapa (translation here) has parallels with the Fall account. Adapa, a priest and sage, angered the god of heaven, Anu, by breaking the South Wind’s Wing by simply saying “South Wind, though you send your brothers against me, However many there are, I shall break your wing!” He was then summoned before Anu to give account. The gods sought to make Adapa a god, because he knew their secrets. The god of wisdom, Ea, advises Adapa not to eat or drink what is offered and Adapa is obedient to Ea’s instructions, resulting in him missing out on the food which gives eternal life. In the Gilgamesh epic, Gilgamesh is told of a plant that gives eternal life by the flood hero Utnapishtim. The name of the plant is “man becomes young in old age” and while Gilgamesh takes a bath after finding the plant, a snake steals the plant from him. In Persian mythology one finds a serpent named Dahâka, which is an incarnation of an evil spirit. Those of you who have played Prince of Persia: Warrior Within will remember this guy:

The music in the background is an instrumental version of Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone,” featured on the Scorpion King OST.

In contrast to the Dahâka, the serpent in Genesis is a mere creature, only more crafty, but without any suggestion that the serpent is to be equated with Satan, even though it has been a popular connection to make. In the myths of Adapa and Gilgamesh, the heroes strove after immortality, whereas in the Genesis account, it was not immortality that Adam and Eve were after, but rather knowledge of good and evil.

Cylinder seal depicting Gilgamesh and Enkidu

In the epic of Gilgamesh, his companion was Enkidu, a friend of all creatures and child of nature. Enkidu was basically the “[h]alf-man/half-beast bestie of Gilgamesh.” After yielding to a courtesan, named Shamhat, Enkidu loses the oneness he had with the natural world, but is said to have gained wisdom, as the courtesan tells him “You are wise, Enkidu, you are like a god.” There seems to be a sexual connotation to the knowledge of good and evil. Robert Davidson explains that the biblical narrative is not meant “as a polemic against sex, but as a warning against the misuse, the deification of sex in the worship orgies of Canaanite fertility cults.” In the tale of Adapa, of Enkidu, and of Adam and Eve, knowledge is seen as something that makes one equal to a god. For Davidson , the phrase “good and evil” has the meaning of “everything” and he states the problem as follows: “Man is being warned that he is subject to certain limitations. He is not omniscient; he is not all-powerful in himself. He can choose to accept this lot as a creature under the authority of God or he can attempt to be ‘Mr Know All’ and go it alone.”

Sources:

Collins, R 2003. Evolution and original sin. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 469-501.

Davidson, R. 1973. Genesis 1-11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Keel, O. 1978. The symbolism of the biblical world: Ancient near eastern iconography and the book of Psalms. London: SPCK.

Mathews, K A. 1996. The new American commentary: Genesis 1-11:26. Volume 1A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.

Skinner, J. 1976. The international critical commentary: A critical and exegetical commentary on Genesis. Second edition. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Wenham, G J. 1987. Word Biblical commentary. Volume 1: Genesis 1-15. Waco: Word Books.

Creationism (Darwin a Friend of Theology? – Part 2)

In my first post of the series I defined evolution and some key terms. In this instalment I’ll define creationism and its different faces.

Perhaps one of the best and most humorous statements made about the nature of creationism is the following by Robert Pennock: “[c]reationism is evolving. Several new species of creationism have appeared recently and are competing to stake out a niche in the intellectual landscape.” He adds a 6-point definition which is applicable to creationism in the general sense: “…the key elements of the creationist view are that there is a (1) Personal Creator who (2) is supernatural, and who (3) initiated and (4) continues to control the process of creation (5) in furtherance of some end or purposes. …but here let me note a sixth element that is implicit in this definition, namely, (6) a rejection of theistic evolution.” The basic tenets of creationism are based on Genesis 1 (the first creation narrative), and Genesis 6-9 (the flood narrative).

With reference to Pennock’s point number 6: creationism of all guises presents people with a false dilemma. The false dilemma is that one must either choose the Christian, Biblical view of creationism or the atheistic view of evolution. Evolution and the Christian faith are posed as mutually exclusive. Creationism presents the conflict model in the religion-science debate.

Young-Earth Creationism

Within the creationist camp there are divisions. One of the biggest divisions is between the young-earth creationists and the old-earth creationists. The young-earth creationists believe that the earth is 6,000 or perhaps as much as 10,000 years old. Johannes Ussher, Irish Archbishop of Armagh, was the first person to make the calculation that the Earth is 6000 years old. He mainly used the genealogies in the Bible. A few years after Ussher’s calculation, John Lightfoot refined the calculations and stated that the first day of creation was the 18th of October 4004 B.C. Adam was created on the 23rd of October 4004 B.C., at 9 a.m. Historian E. T. Brewster wryly commented on Lightfoot’s estimate: “Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the vice Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.”

Old-Earth Creationism

The old-earth creationists recognize that the young age of the earth simply cannot match up to geological findings. Most old-earth creationists hold that the days spoken of in Genesis 1 are not 24-hour days, but “God-sized” days. 2 Peter 3: 8 is often cited as a proof text regarding “God-sized” days. Another alternative is the “gap theory” which states that there was a gap of undeterminable length between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in which geological history and the lifetimes of the dinosaurs fit. Another term is that of “ruin and restoration,” because it can also hold that God had destroyed the initial creation, perhaps as a judgment on the rebellion of Lucifer, and that the new creation, which starts at Genesis 1:2, was completed within 6 literal days. The view also exists that there have been numerous creations and destructions and not just one destruction and re-creation. Another view is that the days were literal twenty-four hour days, but that they were not necessarily consecutive and there may have been millions of years between these days. During these long periods in between, God would be proclaiming the next phase of creation.

Mature Earth Creationism

Another view is that of the mature-earth creationists. This view is similar to the old-earth creationists and is often included in old-earth creationism. In 1875 Philip Gosse proposed that the earth was created as recent as the Bible says, but that God had created the universe with an appearance of age:  “Embedded in deep layers of rock we find what appear to be fossils of long-extinct creatures, but that is because God placed them there when he laid down those beds six-thousand years ago. We see light from stars millions of light-years away because God neatly created it already in transit.” Another term used is “ideal-time creationism.”

Scientific Creationism

Scientific creationism is also called creation science. The following definition is given in Act 590 of the 1981 ‘Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act’:

‘Creation-science’ means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate:

(1)    Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing;

(2)    The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism;

(3)    Changes only within fixed limits or originally created kinds of plants and animals;

(4)    Separate ancestry for man and apes;

(5)    Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and

(6)    A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.

Some creationists hold that science can prove and has already proven that the biblical account of creation is true. Evolution is argued to be a belief and not scientific. Others state that science cannot prove creation as the truth, but that “the Biblical teachings match the observed scientific data just as well or even better than evolutionary theories”. A third position is that neither creation nor evolution is scientific, but that creationism is more scientific than evolution.

Creation science builds extra structures on the foundation of Biblical texts, which Stanley Rice describes as follows: “In order to concoct what they call “creation science,” creationists have had to highly develop their skills of creative twisting of both Bible and science. It is not surprising that they have violated their own publicly stated beliefs regarding both.” An example of this “creative twisting” is the “vapour canopy” theory. This theory explains that a vapour canopy encircled the Earth before the Flood. Genesis 1: 7 is employed as a proof text that there was water “above the earth.” A result of this canopy was that the whole planet enjoyed a tropical climate.

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Rice notes that such add-ons are not built upon texts which deal with other areas of science:

Thus when Job referred to “storehouses of the wind,” creationists do not build a creationist version of meteorology upon the belief there are actually big rooms where God keeps the wind locked up, nor that God opens up literal windows for rain as is written in Genesis 6. When the second book of Samuel says that a plague was caused by the Angel of Death, with whom King David actually had a face-to-face conversation, creationists do not reject the germ theory of disease and champion a creationist version of medical science. Finally, First Kings 1:40 describes King Solomon’s inaugural parade by saying that “the earth was split by their noise.” Creationists do not claim that this literally happened. Generally, creationists insist that even though humans can employ figures of speech, God cannot.

Although there are differences in scientific creationism, the consensus may be summed up following Barker: “Scientific creationists agree that there are variations within a gene pool, and that natural selection can take place within a particular ‘kind’, but not that it can occur between the kinds.” Some creationists do not hold that God created each species on earth as it is now, but that God created certain kinds of animals. The term baraminology is derived from the Hebrew words for “created kinds.” This echoes Genesis 1: 24-25 where it is told that God created animals according to their “kind.” These “kinds” are rather unclear and can refer to species, genus, family, or perhaps some other level of taxonomic classification.

Brief History of Creationism

Before modern science, using the Bible as a handbook for science was standard practice in the Western world. Even as far back as the late 1700’s, scholars began interpreting the Genesis narratives in a non-literal sense. Examples are two Scottish Presbyterians, Thomas Chalmers and Hugh Miller. Chalmers believed there was a gap of eons between the first two chapters of Genesis. Miller, in the early 19th century, interpreted the days of Genesis to be long periods of time and not literal, 24-hour days.  With William Paley’s Natural Theology, the only other theory was that all species were produced by chance. These writers were not biblical literalists, but their views square with those expressed by creationists.

Creationism fell rather silent after Gregor Mendel’s findings in the field of genetics were rediscovered in 1900. Between 1910 and 1915 a series of books called The Fundamentals were published. These books claimed biblical inerrancy and it is from them that the term fundamentalist was derived. Two of the contributors, theologians George Frederick Wright and James Orr, accepted certain tenets of evolution, giving the series of books a non-monolithic stance. After WWI, anti-evolutionary ideas began to stir again and in 1925, it was made a criminal offence to teach evolution in Tennessee. After WWI, the ensuing cultural crisis provided ample breeding ground for fundamentalism, and many Americans began to see sinister links between the external threats of German militarism and Russian Bolshevism and the internal growth of religious and political liberalism. In this context, Darwinism came to be seen as the most identifiable corrupting influence on American society. Prominent fundamentalists linked the name of Darwin with a whole catalogue of social ills, from international conflict to the collapse of family life.

The first creationist writers that can be regarded as similar to what creationism is today, were George McCready Price, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and Harry Rimmer, a Presbyterian preacher. During the 1920’s they preached creationism and Flood Geology. In 1961 Genesis Flood was published by bible scholar John C. Whitcomb and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris. Creationism is not a continuance of age-old Christian orthodoxy, but rather a product of the 20th century. Michael Ruse states that “[c]reationism is an idiosyncratic form of American Protestantism dating from the first half of the nineteenth century”.

Bailey reports that in 2004 a poll showed that 45% of Americans believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” and another poll in 2005 found that 42% of Americans agree with the statement that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”. The biggest concentration of creationism can be found within the United States, but as the Fundamentalist movement spreads, creationism spreads with it.

 Conclusion

As a conclusion, the definition given by Stanley Rice seems appropriate: Creationism is “(1) a product of the 20th century rather than a holdout of pre-Darwinian Christianity; (2) based upon highly imaginative Bible interpretation; (3) supported by bad science; and (4) often politically motivated.”

Sources:

Accelerated Christian Education 1998. Science 1086. s l: s n.

Bailey, D H 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon Thought 43/3, 62-81.

Barker, E 1985 Let There Be Light: Scientific Creationism in the Twentieth Century in Durant, J (ed.) Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 181-204.

Cotner, S & Moore, R 2011. Arguing for evolution: An encyclopedia for understanding science. Greenwood: Santa Barbara.

Du Toit, C W (ed.) 2000. Evolution and creativity: A new dialogue between faith and knowledge. Pretoria: UNISA

Pennock, R T 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press

Rice, S A 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Ruse, M 2011. Making room for faith in an age of science: A response to David Wisdo. Zygon 46/3. 655-672.