In The Evolution of Adam Peter Enns moves from a juxtaposition of the biblical creation narrative with the Enuma Elish (Pt. 16) to a reminder that the biblical version is concerned with differentiating Israel’s God from the gods (Pt. 17) to a juxtaposition of the biblical flood story with other ancient near east versions like Gilgamesh and Atrahasis. The point he is trying to make is a simple one: Israel’s creation and flood stories aren’t history for the sake of history or science for the sake of science. These stories are meant to differentiate Israel’s theology from their neighbors.
Enns gives two reasons for discussing the flood narratives:
(1) This story has been deeply impacted by nineteenth-century discoveries.
(2) It is conceptual tied to the creation narrative. (Kindle Location 1229-1250)
Since geology seems to have closed the door on a global flood (along with other problematic aspects of the story like the ship’s size, the amount of animals on board, etc.) Enns ponders the function of this story. In order to understand it he juxtaposes it with the aforementioned Gilgamesh and Atrahasis. Some similarities include a large boat, a “Noah” figure, the boat resting on a mountain, and the use of birds after the flood. The similarities are too much to ignore. Enns argues that the Genesis story is dependent upon these older stories. Therefore, “We must remember too that the flood story, like Genesis 1, has a polemical dimension vis-a-vis its Mesopotamian antecedents.” (Kindle Locations 1275-1296)
Enns argues that there are important differences between the Hebrew story and these others. God is not tired and grumpy when he brings the flood. Rather, Genesis 6 shows humanity had become very corrupt through the “sons of God” intermingling with human women. Genesis 6.5 indicates that humanity was utterly corrupt, save Noah’s family. If humans are corrupt they threaten the order of creation that God established when he conquered the chaos in Genesis 1. In summary Enns exalts the biblical narrative over its counterparts by writing, “The flood is not a divine fit of rage but, theologically speaking, the proper response.” (Kindle Location 1296-1316)
Creation stories, flood stories, and other stories that sound like the narrative of Israel’s neighbors indicate that Israel took those stories and reworked the theology. Enns thinks there may have been some catastrophic flood in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC that evolved into the stories we find today. The people wanted to know what the gods had to do with it, hence these stories. Israel wanted to make their unique point so they adopted the stories.
In my next post I will finished reviewing Enns’ third chapter by looking at the two creation stories of Genesis 1-2.
Enns provides two excellent reasons to pursue this line of questioning; and you’ve done a great job taking us through it. Indeed, geology seems to have closed the door on a global flood, but it has not closed the door on continental flood events which is semantically possible under the Hebrew. Such geological events such as Heinrich Events have drastically changed global climate and ocean chemistry (such as salinity).
However isn’t this a sign, more than anything, such a narrow understanding of the story must be justified exegetically? For example, is a global flood really justified from the use of the word שָׁמַיִם (shamayim H8064) in [Gen 7:19]? It isn’t when ‘shamayim’ carries with it the context of ‘all known’ or ‘all visible’ (such as in [Gen 7:11] where they are described localized as ‘windows’). How about the use of אֶרֶץ (‘erets H776) as global in [Gen 7:22] where otherwise it rarely seems to be, such as in [Gen 12:10] where it is clearly localized (also [Gen 13:6-7] etc). Exegetical exception need to be justified and geology is giving us additional reason.
As Enns ponders the function of this story then do you sense that his critique is more towards the story itself or our understanding? Does he credit the story with the ring of truth and seek the defect in our hermeneutic, or does he have a much lower view of the veracity story because of a confidence in our hermeneutic and science?
It sounds like the latter if he believes Genesis theology borrowed the myth of others for the sake of polemic. Commonality could be explained by positing Genesis as the source of those other stories (Abraham came from Ur where the kernel of Genesis was known; Gilgamesh is residual evidence (but corrupt evidence) that is true etc. (Incidentally this myth isn’t the only Mesopotamian myth that rings eerily like a biblical story).
Incidentally, Mesopotamia also strangely lacks geologic evidence of a flood. However, there is a location east of Assyria [Gen 2:14], rich in Lapis Lazuli [Gen 2;12] which clearly shows evidence of catastrophic flooding, evidenced in hundreds of feet of slate, a sedimentary rock showing further evidence of thousands of feet of sedimentary clay. This location might have been the source of migration into Shinar (Mesopotamia) from the east [Gen 11:2].
I don’t think Enns thinks one can make the flood story palatable for modern readers. He seems to take it as presenting a global flood. Although the particular words have a semantic range that may allow for a localized flood, things like the ark settling on top of a mountain are likely reasons for why Enns feels that the authors thought of the flood as global.
Sounds like Enns is reacting more to a hermeneutic view of the text, than the text itself. Enns’ view aside, are you convinced the only view the author could have held is the one Enns is working with?
I’m not absolutely convinced, but I don’t see reasons (other than apologetical purposes) for reading the text as meaning to convey a localized flood. Texts like 2 Pet. 3 that mention the flood and future judgment in the same breath seem to indicate that most readers of this text over time have seen it as speaking of a world-wide flood.
Does Enns every critically interact with the assumptions of modern archaeology and science, or does he just a priori accept them and then try to interpret scripture in light of that?
Thus far it has been a priori, but he admits that upfront in the introduction:
“Let me begin by explaining whom I see as my primary audience. I make two assumptions my readers. The first is that they consider themselves Christian, of whatever tradition or stripe, and so respect Scripture and recognize that what it says must be accounted for somehow. A significant subset of this group is an evangelical readership, particularly in an American context.” (Kindle Locations 144-147).
“Second, these same people are convinced, for whatever reason, that evolution must be taken seriously.” (Kindle Locations 155-156).
When he says “taken seriously” it implies contextually that for all intents and purposes they accept the general assumptions of archaeology and science.
Thanks, Brian. It is interesting, though, because I have heard much more conservative commentators appeal to archaeology and science from much different conclusions than Enns’ operates from with the same data. In other words, it is obvious, to me, that there is not a universal consensus amongst Christians when it comes to the “general” assumptions of archaeology and science; and yet Enns seems to be presuming that there is, at least for those who are serious. But to me that begs the question, why should I take Enns’ conclusions seriously and not other Christians’ who disagree with his looking at the same data?
I don’t Enns assumes that there is a universal consensus among Christians, but he does seem quite convinced that there is a near universal consensus among scientist and archaeologist on these matters. This is part of the reason I chose Enns book along with Collins book. Their presuppositions set the trajectory right away. They go totally different directions when it comes to hermeneutical, canonical readings, and the function of extra biblical material. This is what I liked though. Both writers don’t hide their working presuppositions. The reader knows what his being presented from the beginning and both Collins and Enns don’t seem concerned with whether or not people walk away from their books early on.
No doubt that Enns believes in a consensus amongst the archaeologists and scientists he deems as such (i.e. archaeologists and scientists). But again, for me, that is circular. But it is good to know what these guys hold to from the get go.
Brian said “Texts like 2 Pet. 3 that mention the flood and future judgment in the same breath seem to indicate that most readers of this text over time have seen it as speaking of a world-wide flood.”
That’s a great argument.
I agree, Andrew. It is an argument one of my profs at Multnomah put forward after we had had Hugh Ross giving a lectureship at our school. Ross of course argues for a local flood. The theological emphasis of scripture holds to a global or universal one, no doubt.
Here’s at least a hermeneutical consideration.
Forget your own personal eschatology for a moment. In Matthew 24, Jesus answered the query of Peter about “when are these things going to come about” from Matthew 23 discourse.
Among other things, Jesus stated, “this Gospel will be preached to the inhabited earth, then the end will come”.
In Colossians(maybe 1:20???) Paul states, “This Gospel has been preached all over the inhabited earth”. It is not reasonable to assume the text means we should think Jesus and Paul meant the “inhabited earth” that we know exists, just “the inhabited earth” they knew existed for Paul to make that statement.
That’s how I view the flood narrative. The inhabited earth didn’t mean the entire globe was flooded, it meant what Moses or whoever wrote that understood of the inhabited earth at the time. That’s their region of the world.
Think about this. It is illogical to imagine any boat could hold or any human could locate every animal over the whole earth or even that a human back then could travel all over the whole earth to find all these animals and bring them back to the ark, that thought is simply ridiculous.
The author of that narrative was not an LSD doped out delusional goof. He could not have been so ignorant as to expect a human to think it could be possible. So, we shouldn’t have a hermeneutic that thinks that way either, IMO.
So, if Enns is drawing theological conclusions about Genesis because we know the whole earth has not been flooded, IMO, he should factor in that those people did not mean the entire globe. They meant what they understood of it which was very limited.
The Hebrew word ‘erets H776 doesn’t mean ‘globe’. It means ‘land’ which is as ambiguous in English as it is in Hebrew. You site two very good examples of where the it was not universal. In fact, it is debatable if ancient Hebrews had such universal scope in their usage of it …
… which means interpretations must be semantically, hermeneutically or theologically justified.
I don’t personally believe in a universal flood. ( I believe there’s been a long tradition of reading that onto the text)
That said, by pointing out 2 Peter 3 (vs 6 particularly) Brian has provided a convincing example of a NT view that seems to interpret the flood as global. I think this is the strongest argument I’ve encountered for a world-wide flood.
Still, the Greek says (something to the effect of ..) ‘δι᾽ ὧν ὁ τότε κόσμος ὕδατι κατακλυσθεὶς ἀπώλετο” which can just as convincingly translated ‘Whereby ‘humanity’ that then was (or at that time), being flooded with water perished – which is still ambiguous. The Greek work κόσμος (kosmos) is the culprit here, used frequently to mean not the ‘globe’ as in [Job 26:7], but the civilized world localized, as in [Mark 16:15].
Back to Brian’s point though, it is sometimes is used in a more universal sense as in [Matt 25:34] which makes the view the apostles held a global flood fairly convincing. (I’m more convinced the Greeks had such a universal sense of ‘world’ whereas the Hebrews probably not).
Andrew said: “I believe there’s been a long tradition of reading that onto the text”, referring to the “world” of Noah as meaning the globe.
The same may hold true for 2 Pet 3:7. It is much more difficult to know the exact meaning of a future event written about almost 2000 years ago, than it is to understand a past event that we have some scientific data for to test our understanding.
I like Weymouth’s 2 Peter 3:
5 For they are wilfully blind to the fact that there were heavens which existed of old, and an earth, the latter arising out of water and extending continuously through water, by the command of God;
6 and that, by means of these, the then existing race of men was overwhelmed with water and perished.
7 But the present heavens and the present earth are, by the command of the same God, kept stored up, reserved for fire in preparation for a day of judgement and of destruction for the ungodly.
Only by interpreting God’s fiery judgement as literal and not as in “salted by fire”, “baptised by fire”, “saved as through fire” and cleansing of the lips by fire (Jeremiah) to name a few, which offers a much more a symbolic fire interpretation, can a whole burned up globe be pictured here. This is probably as much historically read into the text as a flood engulfing the globe at the time of Noah, not so?
A “symbolic” fire is quite probable since fire and judgment are twin concepts at times, but it is hard to avoid the “cosmic” implications of vv. 11-13 that seem to say, “There is no where to run and no where to hide.” God purges the heavens and earth. If the flood is a preview of eschatological judgment for the author then it would seem that moving from v. 7 to vv. 11-13 should lead us to understanding the author as seeing the first judgment as world-wide, no?
The thing signified in [1 Peter 3:20] is more universally true than the sign. That suggests that we mix up the metaphor in our usage of it. Was it ‘the Flood was a metaphor for Christ’s judgement’ or ‘Christ’s judgement was a metaphor for the Flood’?
When you put it that way, clearly Christ’s judgement isn’t a metaphor for anything: Christ’s judgement is Christ’s judgement, and the Flood a metaphor for it. The Flood can thus be localized while Christ’s judgement universal (and by localized, I don’t mean any less catastrophic – flood much of a continent ,especially if surrounded on all sides by a mountains, and I guarantee it will be catastrophic).
Noah’s flood was a shadow of Christ’s judgement (to borrow a phrase from [Hebrews 8:5]). The ark is representative of baptism, and the water Christ’s righteousness (therefore judgement). By entering baptism we are saved from his judgement. We will either be baptised with water in Christ (ark), or we’ll be baptised with His righteousness (flood (or fire)) into his judgement – but we will all be baptised one way or another.
So no, Noah’s flood doesn’t have to be universally true for Christ’s judgement to be (even if it still doesn’t speak to whether or not it actually was) because Noah’s flood was merely a sign for the thing being signified, namely Christ’s judgement. Had the two been equivalent, creation would not still be groaning and travailing for man’s redemption [Rom 8:22].
In Genesis 11, we have chapter 10’s list of nations dispersed. I think the Jews did not know of other peoples outside those 70. That’s not to be seen as all humanity, IMO, just those the Jews knew of.
So it is with Peter. When he said all the world or all humanity, he didn’t know what existed, he meant what he knew existed just as we would if we said all humanity today. The entire bible is like this. You have to be real careful assuming those ANE people meant what we do today, IMO. Peter knew of the Roman empire and Persia.
Paul said the world had been evangelized and I am positive if he were here now, he’d say, “guys, I didn’t mean the globe I see now, I meant the Roman empire and Persia”. Why would Peter mean more? Paul’s statement in Colossians makes it clear, the “whole earth or all humanity” cannot be seen literally.
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