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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

History and Literature: Enuma elish and all

On other blogs run by SAD boosters, there has been some reference to John Dixon’s thesis (in a paper presented at ISCAST) that ‘literary devices’ are a (the?) sign of an account not being history. The basic silliness of this thesis has to be pointed out: all writing involves literary devices, devices consistent with the literary treatments of the day: that’s how we write! An author may as well be criticised for resorting to words!

A couple of articles in Journal of Creation deal with this: Kay M., “On literary theorists’ approach to Genesis 1”; published in two sections in Journal of Creation 21(2) and 21(3): I’ve seen the journal in the Moore library serials room, so you might drop in to read it if interested. I’ve not found it on line.

A useful connection with Kay’s discussion is made by Osborne, G.
“Historical Narrative and Truth in the Bible,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/4, 2005 pp. 673-88.

Because Osborne is an NT scholar (at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) I take it that he directs his thoughts to the NT in the main; nevertheless, his comments make stimulating reading if applied to OT writing; and he does mention OT historiography…so a connection may be quite valid.

“For biblical literature and other ancient texts, it is critical to isolate the characteristics of the ancient genre…” noting, inter alia, that for ancient literature “literary innovations were not valued as highly as they are today” (quoting Temper Longman’s PhD dissertation for Yale University)…”(4) we must be careful not to depend entirely on the comparative method, that is, assuming that outside parallels are the key to biblical literature; (5) we must not center only on small units and ignore the larger discourse in which they are embedded (a mistake at the heart of form criticism) [all reminiscent of the need to approach literary units in terms of the ‘macro’ genre that characterises the literary parent material.]

He mentions an ‘ethic of reading’ in which the reader is responsible “to determine to what kind of communicative act a text belongs, and to respond to this communicative act in an appropriate manner”

“Much of the time the generic type must be derived from a careful analysis of the material itself…[t]he key is the illocutionary stance of the author, as non-fiction works make certain commitments with the reader that are not relevant to the speech acts of fiction, such as tying the reader to the real world implied in the text, while fiction breaks this connection…” [so consider Enuma Elish and compare its general a-temporality and use of unreal or disconnected causality with Genesis 1 and its detailed temporality and causality that is soberly initiated in the fiat speech of the creator, who comes to us unadorned, in opposition to the pointless elaboration (and I mean ‘pointless’ from a literary point) contained in EE.]

“In fiction the author presents certain states of affairs for reflection, but the historian takes an assertive stance, making truth claims about the world in the text”

Three further criteria are offered:

“... (3) the authors and readers connected to the story provide an atmosphere of history (that is used for factual history). For instance, historical narrative will seek to ‘tell it like it is’…”

And contrary to this, “for a parable the truth lies not in the event described but in the message taught”

[Note that some critics attempt to make of Genesis 1 a parable, but it does not have a shared point of reference with the reader which a parable requires in order to do its parabolic work; for example, in the parable of the tenants we all know what tenants and vineyards are, but Jesus introduces a twist into the story to create the parable; we have no external reference for creation, so Genesis 1 could hardly be a parable. Nor does it take the everyday and introduce surprising inversions, which parables also do.]

“While biblical history is presented in narrative form, this by no means obviates its status as history. There is no theoretical reason why literary and historical interests cannot coincide, and why the stories cannot be trustworthy representations of what really happened.”

"Yet the historical-critical method [the one seemingly operating in the SAD], the product of the Enlightenment [that is, at root anti-theistic], is ill suited to do so [that is, evaluate historical literature] because it centres on the principles of analogy (the criterion is normal, everyday experiences, usually ruling out divine intervention) and correlation (all events arise from secular causes rather than being unique or supernatural in origin). Such a sceptical approach is no longer mandated in modern historiography. So the biblical historian must be open to the possibility of divine action.”

“We have already shown that the historical narratives of the Bible demand to be read as accurate history as well as theology. Hence it must be recognized that the burden of proof is not only upon the one affirming its accuracy but even more upon those doubting the texts.
All, whether our tendency is to accept or reject, must allow the data to carry us to our conclusions [that is, seeking authorial intention, in the final analysis].”

There was some good stuff on ‘reader-response’ theory, but I’ll leave that to the keen ones to head off to the Moore library, and look up the article themselves.

A final note from Pun’s book “Evolution” (which takes a ‘Bible can’t be right’ view):

“Heidel concluded his treatise with the following succinct comments: "We have a number of differences between Enuma elish and Genesis 1:1-2:3 that make all similarities shrink into utter insignificance. These exalted conceptions in the biblical account give it a depth and dignity unparalleled in any cosmogony known to us from Babylonia or Assyria". Therefore, the authenticity of Genesis is not easily dispensed with by its comparison with Near Eastern mythological writings.”

Both Dixon’s ISCAST paper and the recent blogs about Enuma elish betray a complete, and either arrogant or ignorant, lack of interaction with the literature. Dixon has failed to deal with a lot of the older discussion that would criticise his own position and that Kay cites in his paper; Lankshear and others fail to understand, interact with or even acknowledge the voluminous scholarship on Enuma Elish. It’s as though they think they’ve come up with a unique insight, when in fact they trot out long debunked tendentious ideas that no longer have real credibility.

The most fascinating part of this whole thing with Enuma Elish is that the idea of its influencing Genesis 1 came from Gunkel, if my memory serves me correctly. Gunkel’s program was to find legends in the Bible where everyone else found history. I’ve heard say that his initial plan was to carry out his program in the NT, but as he expected opposition he chose the then much less controversial OT: so it was all a bit preconceived, it would seem! Now, I don’t have a reference for that shard of memory, but if I come across it I’ll post it up.


Warwick said...

Eric in reading your blog I was reminded of doing a creation seminar at an Assyrian church. In question time two men insisted the Enuma Elish predated all of Genesis, being what inspired its creation (no pun intended), what it was based upon. I confirmed they were Christian, and further believed that Jesus was the Creator therefore obviously there at the beginning. Therefore obviously well aware which was the true record from day one on.

I then pointed out that Jesus made numerous references to, and quoted from Genesis without any suggestion that it was not the whole truth, and the primary source. In fact that everything He said pointed to its absloute historicity.

How anyone would consider that the straight-forward sober account of creation as per Genesis could spring from such fantasy as the Enuma beggars the immagination.

Surely only someony wanting to reinterpret Genesis to comform to man's fallible opinions would propose such a thing.

Didn't one of the SAD bloggers talk of the chaos of the first verses of Genesis? What chaos I ask?

Ktisophilos said...

Kay's two-part article was most instructive, and I highly recommend it. For that matter, the Journal of Creation is well worth subscribing to.

AngloMoores won't though, because then they would have no excuse for their knocking down of straw men.

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Ktisophilos said...

Where is the slightest proof that the Israelites coming out of Egypt were influenced in the slightest by a Babylonian epic? This EE derivation smacks of the old JEDP crap that denies Moses wrote the Pentateuch and dates it to the Babylonian captivity.

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John said...


Here is a quote from the fifth tablet of the Enuma Elish. Can you tell all of us whether the days in this passage are ordinary days or the similar type of literary, non-literal days you believe that Genesis 1 contains?

"The Moon-god he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him.
He appointed him, a being of the night, to determine the days;
Every month without ceasing with the crown he covered him, saying:
"At the beginning of the month, when thou shinest upon the land,
Thou commandest the horns to determine six days,
And on the seventh day to divide the crown.
On the fourteenth day thou shalt stand opposite, the half...."

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John said...


I see you've returned to your usual evasive and childish personality.

Since you didn't answer - you're far too dishonest and hubristic to do that - we at this site can only conclude that my question has cornered you and shown up the shallowness of your parasitic theory/heresy.

So let me spell it out instead.

That you would agree that the EE passage I've quoted contains clear and unavoidable - unavoidable for an honest person, that is - 'day' time markers that one HAS to take literally, then it would be a sign of complete irrationality to not take the same, even stronger (i.e. 'evening and a morning'), day time markers in Genesis 1 as literal constructs. This obviously indicates a tendentious positioning by you.

EE written 200 years before Genesis? Yeh, right! Got any hard evidence for that ultra-liberal proposition?

BTW, David, re this New Age obsession with numerology you have, thought about seeking a little counselling from your minister? Or have you been sneaking in for a few evening services at a nearby charo church? Or has all the inhaling of war game fumes and smoke finally taking its toll?

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Ktisophilos said...

//KT, who do you think wrote Genesis? Where was the nation of Israel when it was written? And are you really going to try and insist that they had no idea what was happening in the cultures around them? Why all the commands against idolatry?//

I think Moses wrote it, and like Luke he made use of other historical records. But it has obvious Egyptian flavours, not Mesopotamian. Russell Grigg points out in Evidence for Moses authorship of the Pentateuch:

"The author is obviously an eyewitness of the Exodus from Egypt, familiar with the geography, flora and fauna of the region; he uses several Egyptian words, and refers to customs that go back to the second millennium bc."

And in case you didn't realise, Egypt was steeped in idolatry, so Moses presented the genuine history of creation.

Ktisophilos said...

More dishonest straw men from Lankshear. He is still trolling that creationists don't recognize figurative language in the Bible. No, we DO recognize it, and notice the huge contrast between such passages and the historical narrative of Genesis. Lankshear and his idol Dickson still haven't dealt with the fact that Genesis has the verb structure that characterises historical narrative in the Old Testament.

Warwick said...

It's all in the way we look at things, who or what is our authority. An evolutionist once said to me that similarities between animals shows common descent. I countered that this is just as likely evidence common design. I illustrated my point with an automotive example, me having some petrol in my veins. If we look at the original 356 Porsche and the earlier VW beetle we see many similarities because they has a common designer. For one example they both have flat, horizontally opposed, air-cooled push-rod, alloy engines, rear mounted.

When we read Aboriginal creation or flood stories we see they contain clear similarities with Genesis. However in constrast to the sober language of Genesis these other stories are fanciful.

Similarly the EE is a fanciful epic which has some similarities with the Genesis account plus fantasmagorical content.

There is no way anyone has of knowing that the EE predates the Genesis account. I would imagine as this cannot be known, that a Christian would give the Creator the benefit of the doubt, if any exists.

An English writer philosopher (GK Chesterton I think) said something along these lines-when men stop believing in God it is not that they believe in nothing but that they will believe anything. We see that in those who reject God, for example at the Mind Body Spirit festival where otherwise intelligent people accept as true all sorts of contradictory nonsense. In the same vein those who begin to walk away from the straight-forward meaning of Genesis begin to dabble with all sorts of nonsense; in this case the fantasy that God used the EE for His source. The evidence is of course that the Genesis account is the source for some EE material.

Warwick said...

Hey Dave the newsreader recently said it was raining cats and dogs. You have confused me, are you inferring it wasn't raining?

John said...

Hey, Davey, still praying for us silly fools who can't see what you imagine you're seeing and who just can't believe that John Dickson is right worthy of worship.

Davey, open up now. It's time for your PINK pill. That's pill number 2. Look it's pink and it's number twoooooooo.

Let's see...what does gematria say about 2? Davey, you're the expert here, so it's over to you.

We're at your feet now, David. What secrets have you been keeping back since age 15? What have the prophets been saying to you about the mystical message of 2?