Continuing yesterday’s conversation – if YHWH did not choose reveal scientific truths to the people of Israel that they would not have already known, and I’ve yet to come across a place where he does, why then do we assume Genesis 1 is a modern scientific account of creation?
Now, right away that question becomes problematic, or at least it seems to. It’s one thing for God to accommodate his speech to fit ancient ideas like thinking with your entrails, and quite another for him to fabricate an entire creation narrative that turns out to be misleading at best.
But what if it’s not a question of making Genesis 1 fit either Young Earth Creationism or Evolution?
What if the text is about something else altogether?
In The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton makes what I find to be a quite convincing argument that we’ve imported an idea of creation into the text that was quite foreign to the ancient mind.
We, as good post-Platonic Westerners, are concerned with creation as material – the story of how there was no “stuff” and then God brought that stuff, that material, into existence.
In the Ancient Near East creation narratives were never about the creation of matter, but rather the creative act was a matter of bringing function and order to elements which were not serving their proper role. Case in point, the idea of “nonexistence” in Egyptian literature could be used to speak of the desert, which clearly exists in material terms but has not been given function or order in relation to the life of people or the gods.
So the story of Genesis 1 becomes the story of how the ancient world went from “formless and void” to properly ordered and given function by the God who, at the end of the story, sits down to rest and rule in his newly inaugurated temple – the cosmos.
Of course, the question behind the question for many of us will be this: if Walton’s understanding of Genesis 1 is correct, and it’s not about the creation of material, is there any biblical reason not to take up the scientific account of material origins?