“The Genesis myth was born in an oral tradition… such stories were often filled with much frill and lace and fancy trim…”Father Sean Major Campbell
A few friends alerted me to Father Sean Major Campbell’s recent column in the Jamaica Gleaner (August 21, 2022) ‘The Essence of the Biblical story’.
While what my brother said about myths in religion may be defensible generally, with reference to English language story-telling, his claim lacks substance when applied to the book of Genesis, a Hebrew language document.
If one is familiar with biblical Hebrew, one would know that there are features of a Hebrew text that strongly indicate the genre/type of that text.
A Hebrew text purporting to be a historical narrative uses special verb forms which you would not find readily in a poetic, non-historical text.
These special verb forms are a past tense (perfect or qatal) with subsequent verbs in the Hebrew narrative called waw (sound of the ‘w’ is like our English ‘v’) consecutives. So, in Genesis 1.1and 3, we find ‘…created’ (bara), followed by ‘and… said’ (wayyomer), ‘and there was’ (wayehi), ‘and… saw’ (wayyare). Don’t take this by faith because you may know and trust me. Ask a trained clergy person who studied Hebrew and good luck in your search (smile).
It should matter even if one knows no Hebrew to take the view of Genesis held by other authors in the Bible and by Jesus himself.
Jesus quoted Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 about a real first man and first woman who became the first couple, and He stated that this was the basis for marriage between one man and one woman.
In 1 Cor. 15 Paul too affirms the historical reality of Adam. Luke traces Jesus’ lineage from Mary all the way back up to Adam. (see chapter 3).
In 1 John 3.12 the Apostle affirmed the historicity of Cain and Abel.
In 2 Peter 3. 3-7, Peter affirms belief in the flood as historical fact.
Modern clergy persons who doubt the historical intent of the text of Genesis must pause and consider the words of the late Oxford University Hebraist James Barr. Barr, based on his theological outlook disagreed with the authorial intent of Genesis 1-2 as history but acknowledged that intent based on the peculiar markers of a historical narrative in Hebrew.
Barr said in a letter to David C.C. Watson, 23rd April 1984: “… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
a. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
b. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
c. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”
If some modern clergy persons have a philosophical problem with miracles or the mention of a deity in the biblical texts, they need to be educated on another aspect of the biblical texts as documents from the ancient Near East.
Kenneth Kitchen, British Egyptologist and specialist on the languages and literatures of the ancient Near East says: “The support of deity is repeatedly invoked in what are otherwise straightforward historical accounts, because that is simply how the ancients saw their world. Again, the Ten-Year Annals of Mursil II are a good example among very many. This feature does not imply nonhistoricity either outside the Hebrew Bible or inside it.” (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, 175).
We all need to broaden our education on the book of Genesis. It is neither myth nor allegory, but history revealed by God, as evidenced in the characteristic features of a Hebrew narrative purporting to be historical.
[Ender: Rev. Clinton Chisholm is a retired Jamaica Baptist Union Pastor and holds an MA in biblical languages from Sheffield University in England and was a teaching assistant in Hebrew in the University’s Biblical Studies department]