Question 4. What can we learn about Genesis from comparable ancient Near Eastern literature?Clearly, the author's belief is that extra-biblical literature sheds valuable light on the authorial intent of the biblical text. That doesn't mean I disagree with everything he says. For example, I agree that many Christians read Genesis 1-2 as little more than an apologetic against Darwin. Clearly, it is far more than that. But the conclusion simply seems inescapable to me that if we need to understand extra-biblical literature to understand Scripture, then the very foundation of our professed commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture crumbles.
The stories of Genesis have analogues from the other Near Eastern cultures. Israel was not the only people from this general area and time period to present an account of creation or even a devastating flood.
There are many dimensions to comparing ancient literature, but the main point that becomes obvious as soon as we become aware of literature written in other Semitic (e.g., Akkadian and Ugaritic) and non-Semitic languages (e.g., Egyptian, Sumerian and Hittite) of the Near East is that God did not create a unique form of literature any more than he created a unique language to communicate his truths.
However, we must tread carefully here. Too often the similarities have lured scholars and others into thinking that the Bible is just a superficial re-working of, say, Mesopotamian literature. They fail to see the significant differences between rival creation accounts—that is, between the biblical account and those from the ancient Near East. As we study ancient Near Eastern literature, we will remain attentive to both the similarities and the the differences. We will also inquire into the reasons for both. The important point that comes to the fore through theis kind of study is that the Bible is a literature of antiquity and not modernity. This truth will have a great impact on our study. For instance, we will come to realize that the biblical creation accounts were not written in order to counter Darwinism but rather the Enuma Elish and the other ancient ideas concerning who created creation.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
While reading in How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman III, I encountered a perfect example (among many) of what I'm talking about. Here's a clipping (pp. 24-25):
Posted by Ben at 10/24/2006