The Erosion of Inerrancy
- Thursday, January 01, 2009
"Are the early stories in the Old Testament to be judged on the basis of standards of modern historical inquiry and scientific precision, things that ancient peoples were not at all aware of?" (p. 41)
He answers by saying that it is unlikely that God would have allowed his Word to come to the Israelites according to "modern standards of truth and error so universal that we should expect premodern cultures to have understood them." Rather, more probably, God's Word came to them "according to standards they understood" (p. 41), which included mythological standards of the time. Recall once more that part of Enns's definition of myth includes stories that were made up. He concludes that the latter position is "better suited for solving the problem" of how God accommodated his revelation to his ancient people (p. 41).
Enns acknowledges that beginning with the monarchic age (1000-600 BC) more historical consciousness arises, so that history "is recorded with a degree of accuracy more in keeping with contemporary standards" (p. 43). He immediately adds, however, that a negative answer must be given to the question, "Can we not also conclude that the same can be said for Genesis and other early portions of the Bible?" (p. 43). He continues, "It is questionable logic to reason backward from the historical character of the monarchic account, for which there is some evidence, to the primeval and ancestral stories, for which such evidence is lacking" (p. 43). He says the same thing even more explicitly on page 44:
"One would expect a more accurate, blow-by-blow account of Israel's history during this monarchic period, when it began to develop a more "historical self-consciousness," as it were. It is precisely the evidence missing from the previous periods of Israel's history that raises the problem of the essential historicity of that period" [my italics].
So, in one respect, we are on somewhat firmer ground when we come to the monarchic period because it is there that we see something more closely resembling what one would expect of good history writing by modern standards: a more or less contemporary, eyewitness account.
Likewise, Enns says a little later:
"The Mesopotamian world from which Abraham came was one whose own stories of origins had been expressed in mythic categories. . . . The reason the opening chapters of Genesis look so much like the literature of ancient Mesopotamia is that the worldview categories of the ancient Near East were ubiquitous and normative at the time. Of course, different [ancient] cultures had different myths, but the point is that they all9 had them.
"The reason the biblical account is different from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts is not that it is history in the modern sense of the word and therefore divorced from any similarity to ancient Near Eastern myth. What makes Genesis different from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts is that . . . the God they [Abraham and his seed] are bound to . . . is different from the gods around them.
"We might think that such a scenario is unsatisfying because it gives too much ground to pagan myths. (p. 53)
"God adopted Abraham as the forefather of a new people, and in doing so he also adopted the mythic categories within which Abraham—and everyone else—thought. But God did not simply leave Abraham in his mythic world. Rather; [sic] God transformed the ancient myths so that Israel's story would come to focus on its God, the real one. (pp. 53-54)
"The differences notwithstanding [between Babylonian myths and the Genesis creation and flood accounts], the opening chapters of Genesis participate in a worldview that the earliest Israelites shared with their Mesopotamian neighbors. To put it this way is not to concede ground to liberalism or unbelief, but to understand the simple fact that the stories in Genesis had a context within which they were first understood. And that context was not a modern scientific one but an ancient mythic one.
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