Adam and Eve and the Bible

My brother David emailed me a link to an article, “Adam and Eve and the Bible” by David Lose, from the Huffington Post religion section. He and I have had an ongoing discussion on whether Genesis should be taken literally and how this relates to one’s scientific view of origins. The modern tension is whether to take the Bible as a literal account of creation and discount evolutionary theory or whether to say that Genesis 1 and 2 is mythology and as such is non-literal. In the U.S., this has been no end of controversy. It has divided us into liberal and conservative camps that exist to this day. Interpretation of the Bible continues to influence public policy in the United States in significant ways on everything from abortion debates to gay marriage to global warming. If you listen closely to politicians in the Republican presidential race, you will probably find them making implicit and even explicit statements about their belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I’d recommend reading the article by David Lose in the Huffington Post….or you can just read my analysis! Lose definitely seems to fall into the classic liberal school of thought, which is a position I can agree with, to a large degree. But I do find some things that Lose says to be a bit problematic.

Early on in the article, Lose says, “…the Bible never presents itself as a scientific or historical textbook.” True enough, but the Bible never presents itself as non-scientific either. The Bible never purports to merely be mythology or poetry, as Lose suggests.

Lose continues…..”Poetry, metaphor, simile, myth, parable, story, advice, analogy — all these and more are employed by biblical authors who were more poets than historians, more muses than scientists, and more interested in faithful persuasion than rational explanation.”

Says who? The biblical writers never qualify their accounts by saying, “Don’t worry guys, you don’t have to take this stuff literally. It’s only mythology.” Interpreting the Bible (taken as a whole) as poetic, mythological, etc. is an interpretive decision we must make. It does not emerge from the text. Or, if it does emerge from the text, it only emerges as one of many possible options.

Lose also brings the Apostle Paul into the discussion. “Paul stretches language and metaphor to render God’s accomplishment as vivid and accessible as possible rather than reduce it to historical or even theological formulas. Jesus is neither a data point in Paul’s larger rational argument nor a cog in some machinery of salvation; rather, he is the narrative linchpin and interpretive key that holds together and makes sense of all of Israel’s stories and, indeed, all the stories of the world.”

I find this to be even more problematic, because from my study of Paul, I would say he certainly evoked and developed theological formulas. From my reading, I would also say that Paul clearly believed in the importance of Christ as a historical person.  While it is true that Christ was “the narrative linchpin,” as Lose puts it, Paul also is concerned about Christ coming “in the flesh.” It is not merely the Christ as a metaphor; rather, Christ was a historical reality that had theological ramifications.

The biblical writers are writing pre-Modernity, which means that they do not seem interested in making the Modern distinction between “history” and “poetry” or between “science” and “musing.” It’s all just the truth to them. Certainly there were some writers who would classify themselves as “poets” or “muses” if they came into our modern world. But likewise, there were certainly biblical writers who would describe themselves as “historians” and “scientists,” by our modern definitions. Look at the book of Luke. He says he went about investigating the life and times of Jesus and then sat down to write an orderly account of it all in his Gospel.

My point is this: the biblical writers were not writing in Modernity or to Modernity, so any attempt to make the Bible a book that fits Modern language is doomed to failure. So, although I definitely prefer to approach the Bible in a similar way to the author, to appreciate its myths and poetry rather than dwelling on the historical details, I find him to be guilty of the same crime as fundamentalists, because he forces the Bible as a whole into one category or the other. That’s not going to go very far with fundamentalists is it? It also sounds like he lacks respect for the position of fundamentalists. If a fundamentalist wants to take the Bible as primarily a historical and scientific document that gives them the key to life, that’s their prerogative. While I do not agree with fundamentalists, I have to extend them basic respect in their ability to choose to interpret the Bible in what I consider to be a strange and odd manner.

Last quote from the article: “Yet read these stories literally and all the artistic nuance and poetic beauty of these distinct confessions is immediately flattened by the need to have them conform to post-Enlightenment ideas of rational verifiability imported in the mid-19th century to repel attempts to read the Bible as a historical document. If, however, we look to Genesis not for historical datum from which to construct a pseudo-scientific cosmology we find a different story all together. It’s a story about the insecurity that is endemic to humanity and the ever-present temptation to refuse the identity that comes from the vulnerability of authentic relationship in favor of defining ourselves over and against each other.”

Keep in mind, though, my dear reader, that it is also a “post-Enlightenment ideal” to be a reverse-fundamentalist and to strip the Bible of its literal meaning and only look for the “artistic nuance and poetic beauty” therein. The author seems to me to fall into the trap of classical liberalism when he reacts against conservatives who “flatten” the text and make it into a primarily historical document. The trap is that he reads the text as a nonhistorical document. If fundamentalists are guilty of flattening the text, perhaps Lose is guilty of warping it in the opposite direction.

The Bible is not a homogenous document. It was not written by one author but by a multitude of writers. In my opinion, a good reader is sensitive to this, noting where the author is more a poet than a historian and when a writer is trying to relate historical details that might be of significance.

Along with this, my general approach is to say that it is most honest, as readers, for us to simply begin reading by acknowledging that the Bible does not belong to our time or to us. It is ancient. Let’s respect it and take each passage for what it says and doesn’t say. Then let’s be honest about whether we agree with it or not. It’s okay to disagree with the Bible. God probably doesn’t agree with everything that was written in the Bible.

How might we interpret Genesis 1 and 2, then? It isn’t clear to me exactly what the author/s of Genesis 1 and 2 had in mind. Was he just an imaginative poet? Or did he really want to convince us that the creation took place in 7 literal days? I’d say let the ambiguity stand. My Modern scientific belief of origins need not be dictated one way or the other by an ancient text. If the Bible did teach a literal seven days with emphatic resolve, then I would be inclined to disagree with the text. There are portions of the Bible that suggest that God sanctioned genocide. I’m inclined to think that God did not sanction genocide. The Bible is important to me, and it continues to be my teacher, but as a Christian I rely on the Holy Spirit as my teacher and guide, always remaining humble and willing to learn, looking for truth wherever I find it. To put this whole point another way, I want to say that I do not feel that my theological beliefs and positions need to be verified by reference to a book of answers.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

26 thoughts on “Adam and Eve and the Bible”

  1. This is one of the best post you have written in a long time. Not that your other post were sub-par, but this is stellar. I will have to read it again to have a comment other than this.


    1. Thanks Kelly. I actually had my doubts about this post, so thanks for the kind words.

      I hope you do come back and leave some comments. You can expand the family discussion on the topic.


  2. Thanks for your analysis, Jon. I once discussed the Bible’s metaphorical (to me) meanings with my brother and sister-in-law, who take the Bible as a completely literal book. My brother wanted to show me “the one right way” to interpret things, but my sister-in-law thought for a moment about a passage her Bible study group had just read, and commented that the “hand of God” felt on one’s shoulder isn’t necessarily God’s actual hand. I loved her example!

    Poetry/history, left/right, science/religion…It’s so hard to let go and live with the mystery of it all. I am grateful for those, like you, who do go with the mystery of truth wherever you find it – the Holy Spirit, whatever you experience that to be – rather than black print on white paper. Even though I love print and long for certainty as much as anyone! One of the few things I’m certain about is that science, faith, history, and the unknown are ALL part of the deal.


    1. Yes, I want certainty too. And stability. I think the problem is when I start looking outside of myself to find it, looking to find the answers in a book or in some other external reference. We can also start trying to change the world, or we retreat from the world, or we develop any number of strategies to deal with the world — everything except to deal with the cause, which is within us.

      Like you, I think that science, faith, history, and the unknown are all part of the deal. Most of us kind of keep readdressing how they relate as we learn more and our horizons expand.


  3. I was schooled in the literary-critical – method and I have a deep respect for the approach. But like you you I have seen how practitioners of this method have become just as fundmentalist as those who have apposed them. For me the Bible is literature, but also more, and therefore literary conventions pertain to it. Now I know that when we speak of these conventions they were not part of the consciousness of the Biblical writers, but I feel they do help me in my interpretation of the Bible without me imposing them on the text. So genre would be important to me but I wouldn’t dare become dogmatic about it. After all there is a clear distinction between Apocalyptic writing and, say, the wisdom writings.I think I’m with you on this, perhaps a little different, but your last two paragraphs does it for me. A great post – really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Don. Are you familiar with Dale Martin? He’s a biblical scholar at Yale of the biblical criticism camp, but he is also a committed Episcopalian. He wrestles with how biblical criticism relates to how the church actually uses the Bible. He finds biblical criticism to be insufficient and talks about possible ways to read the Bible theologically within the context of faith. He’s not the only one, of course, to be asking such questions, but he comes to mind because he is a leading biblical scholar who has a foot planted in the academic study of the texts and another foot in the church. He’s supposedly coming out with a book on this subject sometime soon.

      I agree with you. Genre studies are important. Apocalyptic literature is quite a can of worms to open, isn’t it?

      Did you study formally? When did you study the lit-crit method? And how did that inform your view of Scripture? That is, did it change a good deal?


  4. I studied at Rhodes university in South Africa and had the benefit of some fine professors. The theological faculty was pretty liberal in its approach and I will always be deeply grateful for that. At that stage of my life the whole critical approach to scripture was not really a threat. I kind of took to it like a duck to water. I tended to become one of those liberal fundamentalists you described and imposed the critical method religiously. I suppose one always tends to move to an extreme before that lovely sense of equilibrium. My struggle was always with the gap between my liberal theological education and shaping and the predominantly theological conservatism of the church. It was a struggle experienced for the full duration of my ministerial life, and I still experience it to a degree. But this tension has been good. I think it has done two things. Firstly, it has engendered over the years a much needed attitude of graciousness, and secondly, it has nurtured a far more dialectic and holistic way of thinking. I feel I’m in a good place.

    I’ll certainly look up Dale Martin – sounds good. Thanks very much. Again, thank you for a really good post and a great blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To elaborate…

    The meaning of Genesis 1-2 is clear enough, isn’t it? It can be hard to understand a poem, but no such difficulty arises when reading the Biblical creation stories. “Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers” (Gen. 2:10) — that is an easily understood sentence.

    I agree that it’s irrelevant to assert that the Bible is or is not a scientific treatise. “It was sunny and hot out yesterday” — you can understand my meaning without questioning my knowledge about the physics of solar light and heat. So too can all of the assertions in Genesis 1-2 be understood in layperson’s terms.

    If I say that it was hot and sunny yesterday whereas in fact in snowed all day, then what I said wasn’t a fact, wasn’t true. If a river didn’t flow out of Eden or it didn’t branch into four rivers, then what the writer of Genesis 2 said wasn’t factually true. Why would the meaning of such assertions have been different 3 thousand years ago than it is today? While these stories were written long ago, it’s not that long ago in evolutionary terms. The human mind isn’t biologically different now from what it was then. And all known human languages, including ancient ones, are structurally quite similar to each other. Why would you assume some unbridgeable gulf between Bible writers/readers and us? They were biologically modern humans too.

    It seems to me that the main issue is whether the writer intended to convey factual historical statements or not. The “myth” contention seems most likely, doesn’t it; i.e., someone speculating on where the universe came from, or why snakes have no legs, or why men dominate women. It’s remotely possible that the writer was just telling a story, a fiction. And I suppose the most radical contention would be that the writer intended strictly figurative meanings, so that when he wrote “river” or “water the garden” he was talking about something other than what we today or people 3000 years ago would have ordinarily understood by those words. It’s impossible to know authorial intent for certain. However, as you say, evidence strongly suggests that the historical origin of the universe and of humanity did not unfold as described in Gen. 1-2.

    I suspect that you agree with most of what I’ve written here. Your last paragraph sounds reasonable. “I want to say that I do not feel that my theological beliefs and positions need to be verified by reference to a book of answers.” Can you clarify this, specifically with respect to the origins of the universe and of humanity? I.e., if you discount Genesis 1-2, are you prepared to entertain the possibility that God had nothing to do with material creation?


  6. John,

    First, a bit of hermeneutical banter….In terms of thinking of a “gulf” between we moderns and the ancient writer(s), I think that getting back at the “original intent” of the author seems so daunting (as you suggest). There have been plenty of postmodern theorists who have also commented on the fact that we ourselves do not necessarily have access to our own authorial intent, let alone that of someone else, let alone if that someone else happened to live in the ancient world and used a “dead language.” Besides the intentions of the author being so elusive, there is also the fact that the Genesis text has been interpreted and appropriated in myriad ways over thousands of years. These interpretations seem to me to work as additional barriers and walls that keep us from getting at “the text itself,” if there is such a thing.

    What we do have, though, is the language and the text. So, we work with the tools we have and try to use the language in ways that seem reasonable enough. As you say, a river is a river, etc. Yet, as you also suggest, we do not know whether the author(s) of Genesis 1-2 intended for this to be an accurate account of origins or if the story developed by imaginative Arabian nomads who swapped stories around the after-dinner campfires. Maybe it was a bit of both. Perhaps there was the sense that the authors were embellishing facts. That’s not too difficult for us to grasp, is it? Authors cross genres all the time these days. I’m reading James Joyce, for God’s sake! So, I can relate to this blending process.

    Now on to your question: “if you discount Genesis 1-2, are you prepared to entertain the possibility that God had nothing to do with material creation?”

    Yes. But for clarification, as a Christian, I do not discount Genesis 1-2 or any other portion of Scripture. Admittedly, some portions seem more significant to me than others, but any part of the received canon is important as a part of the traditional sacred texts. And as you know, a person can uncover many layers of meaning in a text. You’ve written about the Genesis 1 account as a story of the creation of creativity itself, as God demonstrating the way to make meaning, to name, to imagine.

    Regarding God’s role in the material creation, I am uncertain. I rather prefer to keep it as something of a mystery. As a mystery, I feel I am more at liberty to just enjoy the narrative of Genesis 1-2, without feeling I have to fit it into a certain Modern theory of origins, whether that be a Creationist or Evolutionist ideology. I kind of want to let the text stand, apart from the interference of theories of origins. For me, this frees up the text for imagination and creativity.

    Wasn’t this one of the obstacles you ran into when you were writing on the Genesis account? That there was no interest in publishing any accounts of Genesis that did not either support or refute the standard theories (of Creationism or Evolution)? Perhaps a bit like our current political climate?


    1. I dunno. I tend to think that modernity had stages and phases of development. Technological, sociological, political, philosophical, as well as religious and theological. When would you say modernity began?


  7. I looked again at your post: in it you regard the entire Bible as pre-Modern, which is what I wondered about. Do you then apply the same hermeneutical principles to the Gospels as to Genesis 1-2? I.e., would you suggest that a modern reader cannot know what the Gospel writers’ intentions were, whether or not they were recording historical facts or writing poetically/allegorically, etc.?


    1. On a practical exegetical level, I’ve found that some passages *seem* to yield themselves to what seems to be a relatively clear sense of what the author intended. (Though, one has to be especially careful in these situations!) Other passages seem more ambiguous. Usually when I read Scripture, my intent as the reader is to discern, as best as I can, what the author intended. After that, I might look for ways in which the language speaks to more than what the author intended. Yet even though I look for authorial intention, I suppose that I carry a general assumption that “authorial intent” is elusive. I’ve noticed that my own “authorial intent” carries many levels, both conscious intentions and things from the non-conscious that slip out into the language. Have you ever experienced this?

      So, to answer more directly your question, I think that different passages seem to yield different levels of certainty in regard to the genre of a text. The Gospels seem to be a genre all their own, which does present problems for analyzing their historicity. I tend to interpret the Gospel accounts as being a blend of history and allegory. Certainly there is a good deal that seems historical, but other events, teachings, and accounts seem to fit the message that is being communicated by the author. It does seem, however, that the authors believe in the accounts. It does not seem as though they regard the Gospel events that they are writing as non-historical.


  8. Here’s something hermeneutically relevant that I just came across while reading about the history of the novel. The Odyssey, an epic poem, was written around the 8th century BC, which overlaps the era when the Torah was written. After long wanderings, Odysseus finally lands at his home port of Ithaca. Homer writes:

    “at the head of the harbor is a slender-leaved olive, and near by it a lovely and murky cave sacred to the nymphs called Naiads… Inside, too, are massive stone looms and there the nymphs weave sea-purple cloth, a wonder to see. The water flows unceasingly…”

    Porphyry was a 3rd century AD philosopher, a Phoenician from Tyre, a Neoplatonist but not a Christian. He interprets this passage from the Odyssey allegorically. Porphyry says that, for the ancients, caves were “symbols of the sensible cosmos.” How can a cave be both “lovely and murky”? Porphyry says that these two adjectives represent the two main properties of the cosmos; i.e., form and matter:

    “a cave might appropriately be called ‘lovely’ seen from the point of view of one who… perceives in it the participation of the forms — and, on the contrary, it might be called ‘murky’ seen from the point of view of one who sees more deeply into it.”

    The nymphs, says Porphyry, are the souls who take bodily form in the cosmos; the water is a symbol of life and generation, of genesis.

    “For souls coming down into genesis, and the making of bodies… what could be a better symbol than the stone looms? …Flesh comes into being by means of bones… and stone represents these bones… The sea-purple cloth would clearly be the flesh, woven in blood.”

    Then, returning to the beginning of Homer’s text:

    “The olive tree belongs to Athena… In view of the fact that the goddess was born from the head of Zeus, the theologian found an appropriate place when he enshrined the tree at the ‘head’ of the harbor and he indicated through this tree the fact that the universe did not come to be spontaneously nor was it the work of irrational chance, but rather that it is the result of noetic [i.e., intellectual] nature and of wisdom.”

    So here’s an ancient reader of an even more ancient text, applying an allegorical hermeneutic to what seems like a straightforward narrative, finding deeper symbolic meanings behind seemingly ordinary physical descriptions. This arguably is a hallmark of the Neoplatonist worldview, to see eternal truths behind transient and material things.


    1. Yes, I agree. And the Early Christian Fathers wrote in a very similar way. The simple, straightforward meaning of a text was the most uninteresting to them. The deeper, spiritual meaning was the real heart and soul of a text. The first interpreters of the Christian scriptures would make lousy exegetes by Modern standards!


  9. I just wrote a long comment but I wasn’t logged in so it got deleted and I couldn’t back up to retrieve it. Divine intervention? I’ll try again.

    From p. 147 of The True Story of the Novel, 1996 by Margaret Anne Doody:

    Novelistic narrative, like the epic, allows — or even demands — the presence of the Author Who Knows All, the Authority. In novel criticism we have learned to call this Homeric personage the “omniscient author.” Yet this may be a slightly mistaken term. I take seriously Meir Sternberg’s contention that the Jewish Bible presents us with the only full and uncompromising “omniscient author” in our literature. The narrator of any book of the Bible (until we get to the Minor Prophets) is impersonal and utterly authoritative, speaking uniformly in full knowledge, though sometimes with ironic withholdings of information. This narrator, who “has free access to the minds (‘hearts’) of his dramatis personae, not excluding God himself” always “speaks with the authority of omniscience.” The Bible thus “concretizes the opposition to the human norm” in its characters and readers alike; the author’s “firm hold on the truth” contrasts with their “blindness, stumbling, wonder” (The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 84-85). Unlike other authors, Western or Eastern, the authors of the biblical writings nowhere make any attempt to identify an individual narrating self; all writers have incorporated their telling into the magnificent voice of utter authority. Compared with this model, in which Omniscience is a central subject, even Homeric narration pales, exhibiting as it does fluctuating and illogical degrees of knowlede.

    Who can know what God was saying or doing even before man was created? Who can know what God thinks and feels without His even saying it (“And Yahweh was sorry He made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” — Gen. 6:6). Whether it was the writers’ intention or not, it’s understandable that readers would have concluded that only God could know such things, so God must have been the real Author of these texts. The blind and stumbling readers may make errors of interpretation, but they must bow in wonder before the written Truth, the Word of God. As Doody points out at the beginning of this quote, throughout history fiction writers have to a greater or lesser degree adopted the omniscient narrator strategy in order to lend the aura of truth to their made-up tales.


    1. Thanks for those ideas. I’ve been thinking a bit about that, because the idea of the biblical narrative taking a peculiarly strong omniscient viewpoint is something I had never considered. In places, the texts tend to present themselves as something akin to John Calvin’s view of inspiration, referred to as the dictation theory: that the author was only a vehicle or channel for the W/words of God, like a secretary. This is certainly true of the prophetic books (“the Word of The LORD came to me….”), it is also true of the books of the Law, which God transmitted to Moses.

      The New Testament writers, by and large seem to retain this same understanding: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” I do wonder, though, if this holds true of the New Testament writings, or if this idea of a confirmed “prophetic word” is only true as far as the disciples were concerned, who were the “eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Even here, in Peter’s Epistle, the author doesn’t claim that this letter itself is the word of God, does it? What’s your take?

      Perhaps there is also diversity on this count in the Jewish scriptures. The author of Ecclesiastes doesn’t seem to think he’s transmitting God’s words; he’d rather take shots at other people who try! The Psalmists also do not seem as though they are speaking God’s words; it’s more from the gut, a poetic rather than prophetic word. Some Psalms will even question God. I wonder, too, about the historical narratives. I don’t get a strong sense that the authors believes that Yahweh is speaking to them, giving them the right facts or words, not in the same way as the transmission of the Law or the giving of the Ten Commandments, written by God’s own finger. (Judaism itself holds that certain portions of their scriptures are more inspired, more authoritative is perhaps the better word.) What’s your sense from your study?


  10. The omniscient narrator never identifies himself as narrator; he never says “I am Jon, and God told me to tell you this…” When Yahweh talks to Moses on Mount Sinai, when Moses comes down to the people and tells them that here is the law of God — all of these conversations and revelations are embedded in a larger narrative.Yahweh and Moses are characters in the story, and Yahweh’s revelation of himself to Moses and subsequently to the Jews is an integral part of that story, but the narrator stands outside the story. It’s as if the Biblical stories are being transmitted directly from the events themselves, without any minds intervening in the transmission: objective, not subjective. Even God’s own subjectivity (He wished that He had never made man, etc.) comes across as fact, dependent neither on God’s reports to others nor even on God’s own introspection. It just is.

    Same with Job: there are all sorts of conversations about God’s will and intent, but once God Himself takes the stage there is presumably no question that that’s who it is. But who is reporting this story to us? Who had access to the heavenly meeting in Chapter 1, in which we learn that the trials about to befall Job are really the playing out of a sort of bet made between God and the Adversary? It’s the omniscient narrator, who by never introducing himself seems to be telling us the objective truth.

    Three of the four gospels are written this way as well; only Luke identifies himself as a human author recounting the reports he’s compiled from others. In 1:4 Luke says that he’s doing this “so that you might know the exact truth,” but the other three gospels, not obviously mediated by human narrator, directly present themselves as the truth without even having to make Luke’s explicit claim. The same could be said about your extended quote from 2 Peter: the narrator’s insistence that he’s not following “cleverly devised tales” makes him seem, paradoxically, less convincing than if he just came right out and said what he has to say as if it was objective fact.This suspicion is compounded by the high likelihood that this letter was not even written by Peter, even though in the very first verse the writer claims to be Peter.

    Omniscient narration works this way in fiction too. Ishmael reveals himself as the storyteller at the beginning of Moby Dick — sort of like a prophet might do. So does Humbert Humbert in Lolita. The truth of both of their stories is suspect because the narrators, being human, have imperfect knowledge and may distort the truth to serve their own purposes. But take the famous first sentence of Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Says who? No narrator ever comes forward to tell the reader that this is his opinion, take it or leave it: the sentence is just asserted as objective truth, not dependent on the subjectivity of any particular observer. And then the next sentence picks up the story: “Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house.” Again, without an identified narrator this sentence is to be read not as reportage from a subjective observer but as an objective fact about the Oblonskys.


    1. I see. Thanks for that explanation. I kind of missed the point, then, made early by your novel quotation.

      So, Luke strays from the omniscient narrator, at least a bit. Paul certainly does in his letters. What about some of the other genres? How do the Psalms fit in? What about the apocryphal book of John’s Revelation?


    2. Well, your post specifically addresses the Genesis creation narratives, and these are written in the omniscient narrator style. I extended discussion to the Gospels because they too seem to describe historical events. The Epistles don’t, nor do the Psalms, nor (presumably) does the Revelation — so I’m not sure they’re relevant to your original subject of how to read the Scriptural texts that seem to narrate past factual events.


      1. I only asked because the quotation you posted suggested that this same omniscient narrator was present in the entire Jewish scripture.


      2. The book I quoted by Doody focuses on novels, and in that context it’s the narrative texts of the Bible that are the most relevant. There’s not much wisdom literature or prophesy in fiction, though that would be interesting in its own right. Briefly though, despite the centuries between them I don’t see a basic difference in narrative writing style between the Pentateuch and the Gospels: they recount events that move forward over time.This is roughly the case Doody makes about novels: current fiction is more similar to than different from 2nd century Roman novels


      3. I see. Thanks for the further clarification. So, to recap… see this connection between the Pentateuch, the Gospels, and the modern novel. However, the biblical texts (Pentateuch and the Gospels) take an omniscient narrative perspective. The authors of these books were telling a story, much the same way a novel writer crafts a tale; yet it is likely that the scriptural authors had the sense that they weren’t just telling a story, nor were they relating the events of history. They were telling The Story, the explanatory narrative that made sense of It, of History. This is the narrative that the People of God reference to make sense out of their lives: past, present, and future. Is this a Metanarrative, as we think of it in modern terms? Or is it more of a Narrative, capital “N”? (Metanarrative being an ideological framework with the scope to explain history, a Narrative simply being The Story that makes sense of life and all history.)


  11. “The author of Ecclesiastes doesn’t seem to think he’s transmitting God’s words; he’d rather take shots at other people who try!”

    I agree. Haven’t you wondered how Ecclesiastes ever made it into the Bible? I know I have. Here’s something from Wikipedia:

    Both Judaism and Christianity accept Ecclesiastes as canonical. However, in the first century AD, literal interpretation of the work led to debate over whether it was to be included in the Jewish canon. The House of Hillel and the House of Shammai debated its inclusion, with the Hillel school arguing for it. Its inclusion was decided when Eleazar ben Azariah was made head of the assembly.

    Based on the contents of the majority of the book, it has perplexed scholars as to why Ecclesiastes was included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. While there is no hypothesis that is unanimously supported by scholarship, there have been many suggestions offered. One idea is that association with Solomon had lent enough credibility to the book that it was canonized. However, “the difficulty with this justification…is clear: similar pseudonymous attributions in other texts-texts that were more orthodox than Ecclesiastes-proved to be insufficient reason for those texts to be accepted as canonical.” Another prominent explanation for the canonical status of Ecclesiastes is that the final words redeem the entire book. This view is supported by the discussions at Jamnia, and Rabbi Akiba’s utterances there, “Why did they not withdraw it? Because the beginning and the end of it consist of words of the law” This hypothesis though also has flaws, because of the lack of canonical status for other books that more consistently interpret the laws of Judaism in an orthodox manner.


    1. Maybe the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the canon is proof that God exists, that miracles happen, and that the book is inspired.

      From my understanding of the historical transmission of Christian and Judaic scriptural texts, there is a good deal that is random about it all. The Apostle Paul’s letters, for example, were not immediately popular but gained a following over time. Like much of history, we sometimes lack an interpretation that has explanatory scope, so we kind of just shrug.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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