The Erosion of Inerrancy
- Thursday, January 01, 2009
I think the answer is that Old Testament writers record history as we would understand it—as events that happened and that correspond to past reality—but they do not attempt to record in some sort of strict chronological fashion or with so-called modern scientific precision (which, of course, are kinds of accepted history writing done even in modern times). To say that ancient people could not narrate history in a way that sufficiently represented actual events of the past because they were not modern historians is a false dichotomy.
I want to repeat and underscore that Enns himself states that beginning with the tenth century BC, history "is recorded with a degree of accuracy more in keeping with contemporary standards" (p. 43). If so, why could not earlier writers have written with the same historical awareness? What is particularly troubling about Enns's view is that he does not include "essential historicity" in his definition of the kind of myth contained in the Old Testament (see the above quotations in this respect) in distinction to ANE myth, which is how he categorizes the creation and flood accounts in Genesis and also possibly the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as the event of the Exodus, since they are also pre-monarchic. Recall that all pre-monarchic historical narratives, for Enns, face the problem of "essential historicity" in contrast to monarchic history writing; does he see a historical core to such narratives, and if so, how much or how little?15
It would be good if Enns could tell us the grounds upon which one can decide what parts of Old Testament history are true and which are not, since some scholars may think that there are more places than Enns has pointed out where mythical or legendary material is positively affirmed by biblical writers. Even when he says that the history recorded in the monarchic period of Israel's time is more reliable than earlier history recorded in the Pentateuch, how can we be sure of that? There may have been other mythical traditions in circulation that had affinities with significant strands of that monarchic history and which could cast doubt on the veracity of that history.
Thus, it may be true that Enns almost never makes the explicit verbal statement that the accounts in Genesis and Exodus are not historical, but he often conveys the concept. Nevertheless, the following quotations (that I repeat to make the point), especially when understood in their contexts, are virtually explicit statements that these biblical accounts are not essentially history but myth.
"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. (p. 53)
"The biblical account, along with its ancient Near East counterparts, assumes the factual nature of what it reports. They did not think, ‘We know this is all ‘myth' but it will have to do until science is invented to give us better answers.' (p. 55)
"The point I would like to emphasize, however, is that such a firm grounding in ancient myth does not make Genesis less inspired." (p. 56)
It is striking that the second quotation even affirms that biblical writers "assumed the factual nature" of their "reports," even though they were really not factual but "myth."
Therefore, the most probable assessment of his view so far is that conceptually, at the least, he affirms that the biblical writers imbibed myths at significant points, recorded them, and, though they were not essentially historical, they naïvely affirmed such myths as reliable descriptions of the real world because they were part of their socially constructed reality. Furthermore, divine inspiration did not restrain such social-cultural osmosis. John Walton's assessment of non-evangelical approaches to the ANE and the Old Testament is generally applicable to Enns's: "The attempt has been made to reduce the Old Testament to converted mythology whose dependency exposes its humanity."16 There are, however, three important caveats to be made about Enns's approach that differ from the customary non-evangelical approach: (1) He believes the point of the Pentateuchal mythical narratives, like that of the creation and of the flood account, is to highlight for Israelites that their God is to be worshiped in contrast to the other ANE Gods. (2) Enns apparently sees more reliable history being recorded beginning with Israel's monarchic period. (3) He believes the Bible is fully inspired by God.
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