In part 8 we read Enns’ argument that modern critical scholars were not the first people to rethink how we read the Book of Genesis. Ancient Jewish and Christian readers struggled with the text as well. Today I will outline Enns’ understanding of how modern scholarship contributes to our hermeneutics.
Enns introduces the modernist horizon by reviewing the impact of the natural sciences, especially on areas like the fossil record and human origins. He says that this is one of “three” factors. The second would be biblical criticism: “…the academic study of the Bible that is marked mainly by a historical investigation into the date and authorship of biblical books (Kindle Locations 384-385).”
Those who are familiar with debates over the evolution of the Pentateuch know that most modern scholars have departed from the idea that Moses sat down and wrote Genesis-Deuteronomy. The third influence would be so-called “biblical archaeology,” that introduced “external data” like Babylonian creation and flood narratives.
Scholars began to see the Book of Genesis as a produce of the ancient world more than the mouth of God.
As I have stated Enns does retain a high view of Scripture. The Pentateuch remains the Word of God, but the “ontology” of Scripture must be rethought in his estimation. He affirms critical scholarships understanding of how the Pentateuch evolved, and the influence of other cultures on Israel’s story, and the findings of modern science.
In Chapter Two, “When was Genesis Written” Enns traces the development of thought that began with people asking questions about what seemed to be contradictions or alternative accounts within the Pentateuch. He begins with the observation that although Deuteronomy was considered to be a work of Moses it: (1) Ends after the death of Moses and (2) begins as a third person, past tense account about Moses written by someone who had made it into Canaan.
As early as Jerome there seems to be some hint that some thought the author might be the scribe Ezra. Several hundred years later the Jewish Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra began to notice several problems with Mosaic authorship. He dates some of the Pentateuch to the time of David. Enns traces this development of thought forward from Spinoza to Astruc (who developed theories around the “two names of God [Elohim and Yahweh]” in the Pentateuch) to Eichorn to Wellhausen (J, E, D, P theory) and on.
Enns notes some problems with the theories proposed by scholars, but overall he does affirm that the Pentateuch developed over time. He notes some observations such as the third person accounts about Moses, the fact that no where in the Pentateuch does Moses identify himself as author, the commentary that seems to explain things to people of a later era, the double accounts of the same story, and so forth.
Enns acknowledges that some traditional scholars have contention with the conclusions of modern scholarship, but he is committed to the overall proposal that the Pentateuch was finalized after the exile, and it is the work of more hands that those of Moses.
So what does this have to do with the historicity of Adam and Eve? Enns writes the following:
“In a book on evolution, why is it so important for us to see the Pentateuch as a post-exilic work? Because it helps us understand the broad purpose for which it was compiled. That purpose can be put into sharper relief by taking a step back from the Pentateuch and looking at the Old Testament as a whole. The date of the Pentateuch is part of a large cluster of issues: What is the Old Testament? When was it written? Why was it written? As with the Pentateuch, the strong scholarly consensus is that the Old Testament as a whole owes its existence to the postexilic period. Although our focus is on Genesis, looking at the Old Testament as a whole, even briefly, will flesh out what we have seen about the date of Genesis and Israel’s self-definition.”
That last part–“Israel’s self-definition”–will be an important part of Enns’ understanding of Genesis and Adam specifically.
In the meantime, share your thoughts. What do you think about the history of critical scholarship on the Pentateuch? Does it impact how you understand the Book of Genesis? Should it be rejected as liberal propaganda by Christians or accepted as helping Christians better understand the Bible?
Disproving Mosaic authorship need not undermine faith in the book. Lots of biblical books have authorship attributed to them by tradition, including new covenant books (attributing the Gospel of John, for example, to John is largely by tradition (with some minor semantic arguments thrown in)).
I suppose the question is, if indeed the OT as a whole owes its existence to the postexilic period, what does that do to the theology of biblical inspiration?
Brian, to answer your question critical scholarship should not be rejected as liberal propaganda. The 19th cent. German scholarship was overly liberal but that is no reason to reject it all. There are always new theories coming up but going back to the idea that Moses wrote it is not an option. About how it impacts my understanding of Gen. It would be helpful if dates of when things were written were more certain. For example, I am sure J was written before P but if I could know that J was written in say the time of David, long before the exile, it would cast some doubt on Enns’ idea that Adam is Israel.
Agreed, I think that is a right way to frame what is important about Enns’ discussion on scholarship and the OT.
Well said, we shouldn’t run from critical scholarship. If it reaches accurate conclusions we should rethink our presuppositions. But there is a lot of work to be done.
As far as the Adam is Israel concept I don’t know that his argument depends on J,E,D,P as much as the canonized/received version of Genesis. So Enns might not argue that J thought this, but that whoever out the Pentateuch together did it in such a way that it did say this.
Incidentally – I don’t believe in ‘natural selection’. I believe that is another unwarranted presupposition (along with black-holes) .. Before you ask (or dismiss), my position is not irrational.
Consider Stephan Wolfram’s A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE; In the Genesis vs. natural selection debate, people always seek explanation for the complexity found in nature. The prevalent humanistic explanation, since Darwin, has been ‘natural selection’, which points to biological systems as the supreme example of higher order complexity without God as its source. (Hence also, your series of posts). Natural selection comes with the assumption higher order complexity is a consequence of unique processes of adaptation and natural selection in the system (leaving no room for God).
Stephen Wolfram, an atheist, came along and discovered rule 110, the simplest Turing complete ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness ), finite automata with the most unusual properties. This discovery seems little to most, but what it means to the believer is that higher order complexity does not require, or even likely result from any adaptive or selective process since complexity arises naturally in any system so designed, even simple systems.
Wolfram’s rule 110 is an example of such a system WITHOUT natural selection; but WITH simple initial conditions, and simple rules (having only 8). It is Turing complete and exhibits the property of being neither completely repetitive nor completely random and produces local properties whose emergence are undecidable in a computational sense ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undecidable_problem ). The appearance of this higher order complexity isn’t even apparent in the initial conditions, or in its governing rules – but falls out of the structure of the designer’s creation rather than a process of adaptation or selection.
In Genesis, God laid out the initial conditions for creation, then set creation in motion with ordained laws and rules. Creation itself is also Turing Complete, yet the no believer I know believes the emergence of higher order complexity in creation requires a Natural Selective process without God. However, few believers can show Natural Selection is wrong or point to such a system.
Stephen Wolfram’s Rule 110 gives us a simple human example of a Turing Complete system which is neither quite random, nor quite repetitive, and which is capable of higher order complexity as a consequence of the design of the system, all without natural selection. This example contradicts every assumption necessary for belief in Natural Selection and proves it wrong; and Wolfram doesn’t even believe in God. Oh what humour God has!
Samual Clemens once wrote that “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example “.
Brian, in all of your posts on Genesis, you’ve pitted evolution against creation (as a sort of dichotomy), but Wolfram’s rule 110 – with its exhibition of pseudo-random behaviour, and computational completeness inherit in the system’s design, is actually a third option – no one considers.
To provide additional clarification here’s an example of what the above might imply:
1. Stephen Jay Gould’s opus on evolutionary theory suggested that though we can imagine many possible ‘shell types’ we only find 6 in nature – this being evidence of natural selection (since nature is paring down the number of shell types we encounter).
2. Wolfram showed (as a consequence of rule 110 behaviour ) that ONLY six types of shell were possible in nature, and that all 6 types would appear (and disappear, and reappear) at some time or another with NO NATURAL SELECTIVE PROCESS (as a consequence of the initial conditions of nature and the rules governing growth)
Here’s a quote:
“Take seashells. One of the most esteemed documents of modern paleontology is Stephen Jay Gould’s doctoral thesis on shells. According to Gould, the fact that there are thousands of potential shell shapes in the world, but only a half dozen actual shell forms, is evidence of natural selection. Not so, says Wolfram. He’s discovered a mathematical error in Gould’s argument, and that, in fact, there are only six possible shell shapes, and all of them exist in the world.
Michael S. Malone, Forbes ASAP, 11.27.00”
I agree with Andrew.
Jesus is said to have brought grace and truth and He didn’t literally pen the NT, so Moses doesn’t need to have written the Torah to be the one who is said to have brought “Torah” or be the one everyone named “the law” after.
Critical scholarship is excellent so long as it is honorable ( I know some that is not). There are Aramaic words in the OT text, so we kind of know some of it is post exilic era. It doesn’t change my high view of scripture at all or my theology. Neither does editing, redactions, etc. I assume God is in all of that.
Andrew T., I must disagree with you when you say that Brian’s posts pit evolution against creation. Evolution is a means of creation not an alternative to it. Many people use “evolutionary creation” to describe their approach. Also, Brian is posting about Enns’ book in it Enns writes that he sees the audience for his book as those who accept evolution. His aim is not to make people see that evolution is true. There are lots of books out there that debate evolution this is not one of them.
Thomas, most people mean ‘natural selection’ when they speak of ‘evolution’. Natural selection means that that process ‘selecting’ certain traits over others is ‘reproduction’ not God. The absence of God is precisely why atheists are drawn to it. Speaking of ‘evolutionary creation’ sounds like a nice middle-ground, but it a difinitionless notion. Where there is natural selection (evolution), there is no need for God since it is still reproduction doing the selecting. (What would God’s role be in evolution creation? Would God influence the reproduction doing the selection? Those who advocate for ‘evolutionary creation’ tend either to not understand evolution, or they tend to brandy about the phrase without having thought throw how such a notion might work)
Besides, I wasn’t criticizing Brian. He’s done a great job reviewing Enns. Likewise, I wasn’t criticizing Enns. I was pointing out that one need not accept evolution / natural selection to deny creationism. Only seeing creationism and evolutionism as the only two options, notwithstanding ‘evolutionary creation’ whatever that means, is a false dichotomy.
I deny creationism (in the strict evangelical sense) yet also deny natural selection (even as a means of ‘creating’). I believe it is possible for God to establish the initial conditions of creation and set creation in motion (through the word of His power) as a type of extant finite automata, to have this creation (or finite automata) manifest all possible complex forms determined initially by the design of the system – as Wolfram’s Rule 110 does ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_110 ). The complexity we see is a function of the design; as creation ‘evolves’ the finite automata is mistaken for natural selection (but as Rule 110 shows, natural selection is both absent and unnecessary).
In narrating Enns, Brian is bound either to react to the things Enns advocates, or the things he opposes (or perhaps share his own insights – as he’s done). Accordingly, I doubt very much Enns is aware of Stephan Wolfram (and his Rule 110) or other models of creation (such as creation as a finite automata (google ‘Conway’s game of life’)
Andrew, I can understand your comment better now that I see you were pointing out that one need not accept evolution / natural selection to deny creationism. The point I was trying to make was that I didn’t think the posts were about evolution vs creation. The posts about Collins’ book and Enns’ book seem to me to be more about a historical Adam. As to the meaning of the terms evolution and natural selection. This is the way I understand them, evolution means change and natural selection is the means by which change happens. It seems to me that you don’t like natural selection because you think it leaves God out of the picture. You may be right about that I’ve just never heard of such an idea so I don’t know what to make of it. About Evolutionary Creation(not creationism) it is not intended as “a nice middle-ground” but as a substitute for the term Theistic Evolution. Here is the definitions: in Theistic Evolution, evolution is the noun and theistic modifies it thus evolution is the more important term, but with Evolutionary Creation, the noun and thus more important term is creation. People can use either term they mean the same thing. It’s just that some prefer one over the other. Of course if you deny natural selection as a means of creating you might think of EC as “a difinitionless notion”.
Pt 10: http://nearemmaus.com/2012/06/18/collins-and-enns-on-the-historicity-of-adam-pt-10/
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