The Bible Project: Genesis 1-3 Read in Context

Much of the religious half of the unnecessary science vs religion debates (when the religion is Christianity) is anchored in readings of the first three chapters of Genesis that don’t take the context of the writing of Genesis into account. A quick search on the forum reveals that this topic has been discussed here quite a few times already. I am not trying to rehash the same conversation, rather, I’d like to introduce a new exhibit into the ongoing conversation.

Genesis 1-3 introduces the themes that are developed and repeated throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

The attempt to understand what Gen 1-3 is doing without knowledge of its ancient context is flying blind. And the misunderstandings that come from reading Gen 1-3 through a 21st century lens are at the root of the current science vs religion debates. There are other roots (culture war is one), but an out of context reading of Genesis is a major player.

I’ve been hanging out here for a couple of months. I heard about Dr. Swamidass’s book (GAE) while listening to a BibleProject podcast and then followed that rabbit trail to Peaceful Science. Today the BibleProject released Episode 1 of a podcast series that will explore the ancient cosmology that is the context for the writing of Genesis. The BibleProject is part of a wonderful movement (as is Peaceful Science) of scholars who effort to get their content to lay people.

I’d like to invite any who will to take a listen.

Here we go. :slight_smile:

https://bibleproject.com/podcast/genesis-1-and-origins-universe/

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Hi Chad
I am a big fan of the Bible project. This podcast is quite thought provoking. Thanks for the post. When you put the Bible (Genesis 1 thru 3) in context and pound out all the speculation in science we appear to be no where near a conflict.

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I was just interviewed for this series last week. It should come out in about a month. The John Walton interview comes out next, and I’m curious if he will make a comment on the GAE.

Thanks for the pointer here @Chad_the_Layman .

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You’re welcome, Bill!

I’d say that reading Genesis in its own context can free a Christian to consider the evidence offered up by the natural world unhindered.

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That’s exciting! Congrats, you’re going to get your content out to a great audience. I love it when some of my sources start interacting with each other. :smiley:

I mentioned above that Tim had mentioned you on a past episode. Did someone already tell you about that?

Another Bible scholar that you’d probably dig is Esau McCaulley. Have you found him yet?

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I’d love an intro to Esau, but I haven’t met him yet.

As for the the Bible Project, see here: The Bible Project is Thinking About the Genealogical Adam and Eve .

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Haven’t met Esau, but know his work? Or haven’t been introduced to his work?

Thanks!

I finished Episode 1. It’s an introduction to the series, which will be released at a rate of one episode per week. And it sounds like from what Josh said above that the series will be wrapped up with interviews of Dr. John Walton and our very own Dr. Swamidass.

For anyone that partook, would love to read your thoughts. Would especially be interested in thoughts from YEC and ID folks that are roaming the forum these days.

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I know his work, but have not met him :slight_smile: .

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Here’s Episode 2. It came out this morning.

https://bibleproject.com/podcasts/the-bible-project-podcast/

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I haven’t finished listening to the episode yet (I’m on vacation now), but I’m both agreeing with a lot and maybe making completely different assumptions/conclusions about some of the Egyptian and Babylonian cosmology than others would.

For example, it makes sense to me that the Israelites coming out of Egypt (and Moses as the author) would have understood the “waters” of Genesis 1 to be “nothingness with potential” based on culture. The hosts mention that you probably don’t need anything but a Hebrew bible and a good concordance to figure some of this out - I think that’s true. When I decided to really ponder what Genesis 1 actually means or to actually understand what I previously ignored, it wasn’t hard to decide that “waters” could mean a primordial mix of matter that looks and acts like water at least, and maybe is water but isn’t water. :sweat_smile:

I think @deuteroKJ and @structureoftruth gave me some grief for this concordism, especially when I found it fun to think about dimensions and Planck length and how all of that fits together. Well now I feel like teasing you because maybe my imagination and “concordism” is a little crazy sometimes but really not that crazy. :wink: See below.

(I also wanted to comment to keep this thread open because I think it would be interesting to discuss future episodes of the podcast.)

The ratio between the viscosity of a fluid, the measure of how runny it is, and its density, decides how it flows. Whilst both the viscosity and density of quark-gluon plasma are about 16 orders of magnitude larger than in water, the researchers found that the ratio between the viscosity and density of the two types of fluids are the same. This suggests that one of the most exotic states of matter known to exist in our universe would flow out of your tap in much the same way as water.

Importantly, it’s not just any liquid viscosity that coincides with the viscosity of quark-gluon plasma. Indeed, liquid viscosity can vary by many orders of magnitude depending on temperature. However, there is one very particular point where liquid viscosity has a nearly-universal lower limit. Previous research found that in that limit, fluid viscosity is governed by fundamental physical constants such as the Planck constant and the nucleon mass. It is these constants of nature that ultimately decide whether a proton is a stable particle, and govern processes like nuclear synthesis in stars and the creation of essential biochemical elements needed for life. The recent study found that it is this universal lower limit of viscosity of ordinary fluids like water which turns out to be close to the viscosity of quark-gluon plasma.

Professor Kostya Trachenko, Professor of Physics at Queen Mary University of London and author of the recent paper, said: “We do not fully understand the origin of this striking similarity yet but we think it could be related to the fundamental physical constants which set both the universal lower limit of viscosity for both ordinary liquids and quark-gluon plasma.”

And of course, I’ve mentioned before, water metaphors are used to describe the heavens even in science today. So how long before all churches decide “matter” and “nothingness with potential” was always supposed to be how Genesis 1 “waters” was meant to be read? :slightly_smiling_face:

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I’m really enjoying TBP as well. Ive listened to I think almost every episode up to date. I am also really love long forward to this series. Though so far it’s all things I know but that’s expected when you spend years studying this topic and listen to a 1 hour long episode. But there are many who have never been introduced to proper contextual analysis of genesis 1-3 and this series will probably bring them a lot of hate but will also be a introduction for many who will see the wisdom in it.

I’m really hoping they will dive more deeply into things like Conditional Immortality and annihilation.

I really enjoy Esau’s work as well. Or rather his book, “ Reading While Black” and the various interviews he’s done with BL, TBP and Jude3. Though I do place him and Tim Mackie as very different. Esau seems focused on showing how slavery was permitted as a byproduct of the hardness of hearts and Tim is more focused on showing how biblical patterns and imagery continues on throughout the Bible. I think Tim’s work is closer to John Waltons.

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I know there were some great interviews with @swamidass @NLENTS and a few guests last summer. Getting McCaulley here would be fantastic.

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Somewhat embarrassingly, this thread slipped past my notice. I’ve enjoyed a lot of work The Bible Project has done that I’ve seen through RightNow Media (one perk of working at a Christian university). I had no idea they had a podcast until my brother mentioned it about a week ago. Do you remember by any chance, the episode that mentioned the GAE?

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It is this one right here:

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https://bibleproject.com/podcast/greatest-elohim/

Episode 3. Tim and John are moving from their discussion of the creation stories of ancient Israel’s neighbors to a discussion of Gen 1. Amazing stuff and worth some discussion.

@Edgar, this is the kind of material that could get you caught up on what “reading Genesis in context” is about. It’s not about secret or mysterious alternate interpretations. It’s honoring the intent of the authors.

Genesis was written to folks with ancient near east stuff in their heads. Because of this the meaning you derive from a reading of Genesis is much different from the meaning that would have been taken from the text by an ancient Israelite, Egyptian, Canaanite or Mesopotamian. Richness and clarity not readily available to a typical modern reader is made available with understanding of the context in which the literature was written.

A simple example of this is the word “earth”. When an ancient Hebrew read “ərTH” they didn’t think of a globe or a planet. They didn’t know they were on a globe or a planet.

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Hi Chad. I’m in the middle of the 3rd episode and enjoying the information, but I really disagree. I think that if Genesis 1-3 were all we had, a misunderstanding wouldn’t be a major cause of debates. I think it’s actually the rest of the Bible and its reliance on these texts that is at the root of these debates.

I say that in part because I didn’t understand Genesis 1 and 2 very well previously. Now I have with much more study, and the cultural context described on the podcast also adds much to that, but my understanding of how these chapters fit into scientific and religious origin debates hasn’t really changed.

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This is my pet peeve. :laughing: There should be evidence to prove the claim. I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to prove that claim is solid. Just recently read an article about possible evidence for humans in a cave in Mexico dated to 33,000 B.C or B.C.E. whatever it was. Had to have gotten there by boat.

Anyway, I was disappointed by the last half of the 3rd episode. They mentioned the “solid dome” without giving any cultural context (maybe they will get into it later). I think they said that created light is not a “thing” - that seems silly to me. They seemed to overemphasize the waters idea, and their focus on the middle of Psalm 74 was quite narrow. There are obvious allusions to the flood and Exodus in that Psalm too IMO. I guess it wasn’t the topic of the podcast, but it gave the impression that was all that part of the psalm was about. I also thought they were too narrow in their interpretations of the Hebrew definition of words. Without being in the culture, I think we should be quite liberal in allowing for the widest meanings available - for instance I’m not convinced raqia HAS to refer to something solid and can just mean a thing beaten/ spread out. Or at least I’d like to see some justification for a narrow definition.

I will keep listening - still learning stuff, it’s interesting definitely how the Bible was in contrast and dialogue with their culture.

The metaphor of the waters made me think about the NT passages comparing baptism to dying. Thought I’d look that up! It’s definitely imagery and metaphor I appreciate because it saturates the Bible.

Excellent point.

Using leeches to cure diseases probably seems quite silly to you, as well. It certainly does to me; I cannot for the life of me understand how that belief in curative leeches ever became a thing.

The point is that our standards – of what seems silly and what does not – are not necessarily helpful.

Cheers,
Chris

@thoughtful : Hi Valerie,

Most ancient near-eastern scholars, or Semitic scholars, for decades have argued what Tim Mackie in BibleProject shares in critical commentaries on Genesis (and some other books such as Job and the Psalms) as well as in peer-reviewed articles that the biblical authors did not know the earth was spherical or as big as we know it actually is today.

Timothy Mackie from this Podcast is not jumping-the-gun, it’s a standard viewpoint in scholarship. If you want data, email me at blop2008 at gmail and I will send you extracted portions from Logos Bible Software in which I have almost all my scholarly, specialized literature. It’s a vast, complex subject, so a podcast would not be sufficient; so you are correct to guess that they may discuss this later (or not), and that you are genuinely just questioning.

Dr. Michael S. Heiser never produced a thorough video proving what Tim Mackie discusses, but Heiser does have some videos about Genesis 1 or 3 that explains this on YouTube. I can re-find them and send them to you if you will. Dr. Heiser had us read through Paul H. Seely’s two-parts peer-reviewed articles:

  • The Firmament and the Water Above - Part 1 (WTJ, 1991)

  • The Firmament and the Water Above - Part 2 (WTJ, 1992)

For now, look at this video from Ben Stanhope, a young M.A. graduate in ANE scholarship who published his first book: (Mis)interpreting Genesis: How the Creation Museum Misunderstands the Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Bible (December 14, 2020):

The Solid Sky Dome of Biblical Cosmology and the Ancient Near East - YouTube

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