Arguing from the English Translation?

Parts of it. There is no clear evidence that Genesis is, AFAIK.

Your statement is like saying the stories of Adam and Eve in the Quran are the product of Islam.

On what basis do you decide that Genesis isn’t part of the Judeo-Christian worldview but other books are?

2 Likes

Two things. One, readers do come to a text needing to decide the “limits” of the interpretive grid. One could conceivably limit the scope of a story (e.g., Gen 2-3) on its own terms. Or, one could read it in light of a larger literary (or even canonical context). For Jews and Christians, this story is part of a larger (meta-)narrative, and thus the large and small stories will be mutually interpretive.

Two, there is plenty of (linguistic, literary, theological) evidence that Genesis is integrated into the Pentateuch, which is integrated into the Primary History (Gen-Kings), which is integrated into the Hebrew Bible. In fact, I can’t think of counter-evidence! The standard critical model is that Genesis (as the Pentateuch as a whole) is ultimately a product of the exilic/post-exilic community (regardless how much earlier material was reworked).

No, it’s not. Judaism and Christianity predate Islam. However–and this is where you have a point–reading the Eden story within the context of the Quran does (theoretically) change the way the story should be read. It’s a different canonical context. Even so, there’s quite a bit of crossover between Muslims, Jews, and Christians on how to understand this story. Go ahead and ask a Muslim if Allah is good, and if that affects his reading of this story.

2 Likes

I do wonder if the story of Utnapishtim is relevant? I believe one dose of his particular plant was sufficient to render him immortal, and that was also the implication for Gilgamesh.

I didn’t say that. I said that it cannot be known that it is a product of that worldview.

It is also part of the Islamic worldview, but Islam did not produce this story.

Sure.

In this discussion, I am concerned with the story on its own terms.

I think it’s worth noting that the way the Tree of Knowledge “worked” was that, once you ate from it, you got the effect permanently.

I presume the Tree of Life worked the same way. Accordingly, the notion that it was eaten from continuously appears to me to be odd and unlikely.

1 Like

If that’s what you want to do, look at actual scholarly interpretations by non Christians. Test your theory. Find examples that agree with you. You can. But you will also find examples that don’t. Report those too.

3 Likes

Did any Christian (even a YEC) ever claim that they read Genesis 2-3 in isolation from the rest of the Genesis and the Bible?

Not that I am aware. Why do you ask?

I’m just asking to understand what this method of reading is ultimately trying to achieve. Based on your answers so far, it seems that it has little to do with rebutting arguments made by Christians about what the biblical text says, or arguing that the text is inconsistent with Christianity. Rather it seems that you are just embarking on your idiosyncratic way of reading, which in my opinion is rather anachronistic and possibly incoherent. But of course, it’s a free country.

Understanding the plain meanings of the words in a text is hardly anachronistic or idiosyncratic. My daughter is a graduate student in English, and she has to do that all the time.

1 Like

Any suggestions?

Yes, but your daughter isn’t a graduate student in Old Testament Hebrew.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that if your daughter were studying Shakespeare as a scholar (for example), she would not rely on an edition with modernized English to make arguments based on the “plain reading”. Rather, she would carefully study the text in its original early Modern English (possibly even analyzing different manuscripts and editions of the text), analyzing idioms and difficult terms by looking to other instances of the term in other works of Shakespeare or contemporary Elizabethan literature. Even high school students do this when studying Shakespeare.

In contrast, what you’re doing here is like taking Act 1, Scene 1 of King Lear in the “No Fear Shakespeare” edition and then trying to understand the characters through that scene alone without looking at other scenes or what happens later in the play. This is OK if you just want to retell the story to children or laypeople for personal enjoyment, but not for any serious scholarly study of Shakespeare.

2 Likes

How many Christians have done this, would you say? Or is this only mandatory for atheists who have the temerity to question the received reading of those who are operating under the influence of a faith that only arose many centuries after the story was first told?

The problem with that analogy is, AFAIK, no one seriously questions whether King Lear was the work of a single author over a finite period of time which was meant to be understood as a unified whole (though there is considerable disagreement over the identity of that author).

Whereas we have people here treating Genesis and Revelations as if they were conceived as part of a single work.

1 Like

All Christian biblical scholars do this! And that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to convey in this entire thread. In fact @deuteroKJ gave a little taste of that in this very thread. Read any professional scholarly commentary on Genesis (whether liberal or conservative) and you’ll see this careful, scholarly study.

Now, lay Christians who aren’t scholars can’t do this because they don’t have the skill to read Hebrew or Greek. They have to read English translations, and so must rely on pastors and teachers to guide them towards features of the text which may be missed in the English translation, including cultural context, cross-references, intertextual resonances, and so on. They might read popular-level commentaries about the passage which incorporate some of the latest professional scholarship about this but without getting into the technical details.

On the other hand, if they don’t want to do all this additional work and just want to read it as it seems to read “plainly” to them, that’s fine too, but they shouldn’t expect their interpretation to be authoritative for others.

I’m not sure what you mean. First, Christians are well aware that there are multiple authors in the Bible and that it was composed over a period of centuries, if not millennia. They freely admit differences in literary style, cultural background, theological emphasis between different biblical authors. Yes, Christians take both Genesis and Revelation as part of authoritative Scripture, but this is more of a “presupposition” (this term is also a crude one - canonical development is a complex topic and I can’t go into it here) rather than logical conclusion based on purely intellectual analysis of the text. We approach the 66 books of the Bible with the assumption that it is all God’s Word and trace the intellectual consequences of that.

Second, as I said before, even if you assume that Genesis was based on a pre-Israelite work, the Genesis story you read in the KJV has definitely been edited and reworked (by Jewish scribes, editors, and compilers of Genesis) into something which reflects Hebrew cultural and theological concepts and categories. In other words, the story of Genesis as it’s presented is already somewhat tailored to harmonize with the rest of the Hebrew Bible. This influence goes both ways: post-Genesis biblical authors (including the NT) were also well aware of Genesis and referenced it when developing their theology.

As I said, if you’re not interested in any of this theology, then you have to first do some scholarly work to identify the pre-Israelite kernel of the Genesis 2:4-4:26 story. There is no way you can accomplish your goals with just analyzing an English translation of the Masoretic text, period.

1 Like

Suffering from a bout of mild curiosity, I googled:

So El is a Caananite deity?

1 Like

Mike Heiser makes a very convincing case that Elohim is used with multiple different definitions depending on the context.

I’m not familiar with Mike Heiser (checked his Wikipedia page) but I have no reason to disagree. The scope for linguistic misunderstanding seems limitless, even when communicating in a common language.

2 Likes

I find it strange, then, that with all this scholarship contradicting the wording given in the usual English translations of Genesis no one has seen fit to provide a translation that more accurately conveys the meaning of the original Hebrew. Of the ones I have read, the only one that might be consistent with the Christian narrative is the Amplified Bible, but you say this is not a respectable scholarly work.

What should I conclude from that, other than that the existing translations actually are accurate representations of the original text?

That is my impression. yes. Glad you agree.

Or, if not me, then someone else. Are you saying no one has done this?

Yes, and it’s used of the God of Israel in the OT. El, Elohim, Eloah, Elim–even Allah–are all related in the cognate languages. In the OT, this term (and its variations) is not really a name (like Yahweh) but a designation for deity. Like English “god(s).” But the Hebrew does not mean what the English usually means to us (i.e., a set of attributes like omniscience, omipoentence, etc.). This is what @swamidass is referring to by pointing to Heiser (who has helpful YouTube videos giving brief summaries). The OT recognized the existence of other elohim (as well as imaginary ones), but no other elohim is like YHWH.

4 Likes