Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible, Part 1

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May 13, 2011 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Brian Godawa. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible, Part 1

This is the first in a six-part series based on Brian Godawa’s scholarly paper “Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible”, which can be read in its entirety here.

Throughout history, all civilizations and peoples have operated under the assumption of a cosmography or picture of the universe. Cosmography is a technical term that means a theory that describes and maps the main features of the heavens and the earth. A Cosmography or “cosmic geography” can be a complex picture of the universe that includes elements like astronomy, geology, and geography; and those elements can include theological implications as well. We are most familiar with the historical change that science went through from a Ptolemaic cosmography of the earth at the center of the universe (geocentrism) to a Copernican cosmography of the sun at the center of a galaxy (heliocentrism).

Some mythologies maintained that the earth was a flat disc on the back of a giant turtle; animistic cultures believe that spirits inhabit natural objects and cause them to behave in certain ways; modern westerners believe in a space-time continuum where everything is relative to its frame of reference in relation to the speed of light. Ancients tended to believe that the gods caused the weather; moderns tend to believe that impersonal physical processes cause weather. All these different beliefs are elements of a cosmography or picture of what the universe is really like and how it operates. Even though “pre-scientific” cultures like the Hebrews did not have the same notions of science that we moderns have, they still observed the world around them and made interpretations as to the structure and operations of the universe. The Bible also contains a cosmography or picture of the universe that its stories inhabit.

I have said this before, and I will say it again: I am not a scientist, I am a professional storyteller, and so my interest in Biblical cosmography comes from my study of imagery, metaphor, and story. But a picture of the cosmos certainly has a bearing on scientific notions of the way the universe is and operates. Imagination and science are not completely unconnected. I am also a Christian who believes that the Bible is the Word of God. But does this mean that the Bible will have a cosmography that agrees with modern western science? I used to believe it did. I used to believe that if the Bible was scientifically errant in anyway, then it could not be the Word of God, since God would never communicate false information to us. That would make God a liar, or so I thought.

This led to the corollary that whatever modern science has proven would have to be in accord with the Bible’s own revelation. This is called “scientific concordism.” So, if we now know that the earth is a sphere and that the universe is expanding, then Scripture would not contradict that truth. What’s more, I might even be able to find a verse that would have that truth hidden it: Behold, I thought I found it: “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth…who stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (Isa. 40:22). In this scientific concordist paradigm, the Bible contains veiled scientific truths before their time in a gnostic hiddenness that is uncovered by initiates into such mysteries.

Unfortunately, this paradigm would lead to much cognitive dissonance for me as I tortured the text to fit whatever scientific theory I was trying to support at the time. First, I accepted Genesis as literally explaining material creation chronology and relegated evolutionary scientists to dishonest manipulators of facts.1 Then I tried to find dinosaurs in the Bible by interpreting the Leviathan or Behemoth as references to ichthyosaurs and sauropods.2 Then I tried to make six literal days and young chronology of Creation in Genesis square symbolically with the seriously old age of the earth.3 Then I tried to creatively reconcile the billions of years of the Big Bang with 24-hour earth-bound solar days though gravity-warped space-time.4

I also thought that the best interpretation of the Bible was the “plain reading” of the text. That is, any interpretation that would turn the meaning into unwarranted figurative, symbolic, allegorical or metaphorical language would be disingenuous hermeneutics. I didn’t mean obvious figurative and allegorical language like parables of talking brambles and trees (Jud. 9:7-15) or clearly poetic expressions of singing mountains and clapping trees (Isa. 55:12). I meant that when the Bible talked about the physical order and events in heaven and earth it would mean just what it said since the Creator of the cosmos would know best what was actually happening.

But something started to seriously challenge these assumptions. First, as I studied the ancient Hebrew culture and its surrounding Near Eastern background, I began to see how very different a “plain reading” of a text was to them than a “plain reading” was to me.5 The ancient Hebrew mind was steeped in different symbols, ideas, and language than I was. If I read a phrase like “sun, moon and stars,” my western cultural understanding, which is deeply affected by a post-Galileo, post-Enlightened, materialist science would tend to read such references in terms of the physical bodies of matter, gas, and gravity spread out over vast light years of space-time. When ancient Israelites used that phrase, they would have pictures in their minds of markers and signs (Gen. 1:14), and more personal objects like pagan gods (Deut. 4:19), heavenly beings (1 Kg. 22:19), symbolic influential leaders (Gen. 37:9), or the fall of governing powers (Isa. 13:10).6

An ancient Jew hearing the words leviathan and sea conjured up notions of a disordered world without Yahweh’s rule, and Yahweh’s covenant creation out of chaos.7 Whereas for me, hearing those words makes me think of a monster fish swimming in the ocean – or maybe Moby Dick, a symbol of man’s hubris – but primarily the physical material being of those objects. It is easier to see now that my plain reading of the text through my modern western worldview could completely miss the plain meaning that the Scripture would have to an ancient Israelite. My so-called act of “plain reading” was ironically an imposition of my own cultural bias onto the text removed by thousands of years, thousands of miles, and thousands of cultural motifs.8 We must seek the “plain reading” of the ancient authors and their audience, and in this way we can be “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Something else had always haunted me like a nagging pebble in the shoe of my mind, and that was the Galileo affair. We’ll look more at this in my next post.

Notes

1. I never believed they were all lying, but many were certainly blinded by their worldview bias. I still believe that some scientists do in fact lie, cheat, and manipulate facts and studies just as in every other discipline because they are human like everyone else and can be just as driven by political and personal agenda as everyone else. A good book that documents this is Betrayers Of The Truth: Fraud And Deceit In The Halls Of Science By Nicholas Wade William Broad (Ebury Press, 1983); Michael Fumento is a science journalist who reports on current scientific fraud and its widespread economic and political effects at www.fumento.com.
2. Scientific Creationism by Henry M. Morris (Master Books, 1974, 1985) is an example of this viewpoint.
3. Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy by Hugh Ross (NavPress, 1994) is an example of this viewpoint.
4. Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible by Gerald Schroeder (Bantam, 1990) is an example of this viewpoint.
5. The seminal book that opened the door for me to a better understanding of this ANE cultural context of the Bible was John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).
6. “The worship of the host of heaven [was] often set in parallelism to the worship of foreign gods (Deut 17:3; 2 Kgs 17:16; 21:3; 23:4–5; Jer 19:13; Zeph 1:4–5).” K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking and Pieter Willem van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD, 2nd extensively rev. ed., 429 (Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 429.
7. Brian Godawa, “Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant,” The BioLogos Foundation.
8. Othmar Keel’s The Symbolism of the Biblical World (Eisenbrauns) is an encyclopedia of imagery and motifs that Israel shared with her ANE neighbors that are quite alien to our thinking.


Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of To End All Wars and other feature films. He has written and directed documentaries on church-state relations, stem cell research and higher education politics. He is the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) and Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of fantasy novels about Biblical heroes within their ancient Near Eastern mythological context. He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at godawa.com/movieblog/.

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Arni Zachariassen - #61110

May 13th 2011

The profanity filter censored the great white whale, Moby Dick, from your article.

Good article otherwise. Looking forward to what’s to come.

Brian G - #61174

May 13th 2011

That is too funny! Just a sign of how dangerous censorship can be!


jwpeters - #61134

May 13th 2011

You just described my own story all the way down to the Walton influence.

I look forward to the series.


Brian G - #61151

May 13th 2011

Cool. I look forward to your response about the rest. 


Merv - #61173

May 13th 2011

Godawa wrote:  ...“modern westerners believe in a space-time continuum where everything is
relative to its frame of reference in relation to the speed of light.”

I saw your disclaimer that you aren’t a scientist, but I’ll nit-pick at this anyway since I think it will contribute towards your larger points.  From Galileo to Einstein we have laid to rest any notions of “absolute center”, and even of “absolute still”.  I.e.  the famous quip “all motion is relative” could just as easily be “all ‘stationary’ is relative” too.  Even light-travel was dethroned by Einstein in this regard, and a search for some stationary ‘ether’ by which all motion could be placed in absolute terms has been abandoned.  I.e. light-travel is the same for everybody and itself becomes useless as such a reference.  I don’t know if that’s what you were really saying, and I already make too much of it—but I think it draws attention to another enduring modern myth (and I use this term in its more original positive sense—not as the shallow scientific put-down it’s become)—and that is a myth of successive decentralization.  Or we could think of it as a ‘de-throning’ of privileged position.  This is a powerful myth with much established history (i.e. earth isn’t the center ... then later ... even our sun isn’t the center ... then later ... there are no special ‘living’ elements, but we’re made of the same stuff  as the rocks & hills ...)   So there is undeniable intellectual inertia to reject or at best, hold as suspect any remaining suggestions that anything at all is privileged or special.  I don’t think this is necessarily an anti-Christian myth, but we sure see it enlisted that way to attack Christian notions such as man alone out of all the species, being  made in God’s image.  Or that man should be a special creation out of the whole universe.  Yet even despite this powerful (and enlightening) myth, we still fall prey to its antithetical notion of self-privilege—and here I’m speaking not just of Christians but of the most hardened skeptics against any theistic faith.  We assume that any personal Creator Deity who would try to communicate with people of any age by inspired writings (a Bible) would, of course, have fashioned that communication to specifically answer our 20th/21st century questions and doubts, never mind who was being addressed back then.  We deposed the geocentric universe, but our own sense of privileged historical position is alive and well, showing no signs of being dethroned anytime soon.  The breath-taking arrogance of the latter and its stark contrast with the otherwise powerful modern myth that has imposed so much humility on us must cause a lot of modern thinkers to compartmentalize it away in a separate part of their brains.  I’m guessing those compartments don’t talk to each other much.

Thank you, Dr. Godawa, for sharing your journey into realization that our present culture isn’t the only lens of understanding that has ever existed—and how that has shaken and shaped you.  It’s provoked a lot of thoughts for me too.  I’ll look forward to future essays.

—Merv


Brian G - #61177

May 13th 2011

Hi Merv,

Thanks. These are all helpful thoughts. 
Especially about the myth of decentralization. That is a good way to put it, I think.

I would add that to be consistent, we must also acknowledge that the claim that all privileged positions are suspect is itself suspect. I say this because the act of doubting something presupposes an authoritative criteria by which we adjudicate between truth claims.
What that means to me is that everyone begins with faith in some authority that they assume is privileged beyond themselves, that they then apply as a standard to judge truth claims.
In my mind, the only legitimate “god’s eye” view, the only valid privileged position that cannot be dethroned would be that of the Creator of all perspectives and positions: God.
Unfortunately, we humans are always and already limited in our understanding of God and therefore we must always be willing to acknowledge that even though God is the only ultimate authority, our understanding of that ultimate authority may be wrong. 
So my challenge to the absolutist nature of some Christians’ thinking is that our ability to humbly recognize that our own viewpoint may be wrong is NOT an indictment that God is wrong or somehow false, only our interpretation of God.
C.S. Lewis put it well when he expressed concern after a debate that people would misunderstand arguments for the existence of God with the existence of God.
My corollary to the skeptic is that their claims of knowledge are equally reliant upon faith in their own autonomous reasoning, which is in effect self-deification.
We humans are by nature absolutist. And the relativist is the most vehement absolutist of all.

Steve Ruble - #61223

May 14th 2011

In my mind, the only legitimate “god’s eye” view, the only valid privileged position that cannot be dethroned would be that of the Creator of all perspectives and positions: God.
Unfortunately, we humans are always and already limited in our understanding of God and therefore we must always be willing to acknowledge that even though God is the only ultimate authority, our understanding of that ultimate authority may be wrong. 
And therefore… what? What do you think is the point of claiming that there is some entity which is the ultimate authority on everything, but that we have no reliable access to authoritative answers from that entity? I believe that there is a final “authority” regarding all empirical claims - reality itself - but since my access to reality is no more direct than anyone else’s, I too must rely on my “own autonomous reasoning”, just like you. Such is life. But I’m no more engaging in “self-deification” when I rely on my own reasoning and observations than you are, and I find the accusation itself rather bizarre.  Exactly what are you trying to convict me of? 


Brian G - #61274

May 16th 2011

I don’t think I said “no reliable access,” but rather a humility in our attitudes and thought processes. But this does not negate the validity of our empirical senses or our reasoning because they are based on a Creator who made those senses and rationality and that is why we can believe they correspond to reality. We are finite and fallible. God is not. 


I don’t think that the claim “reality itself” is a legitimate appeal because it begs the question. Reality is precisely what we are debating. So if one appeals to “reality” they are really appealing to “their own interpretation of reality” which is to place themselves in a privileged position of knowledge by sheer proclamation or fiat. Kinda like trying to be a god. 

Steve Ruble - #61298

May 16th 2011

We are finite and fallible. God is not.


Really? Should I assume that you are infallible when it comes to the topic of whether god is finite or fallible? In any case, don’t you understand whether or not there’s an infallible god somewhere, the infallibility of this hypothetical god doesn’t increase the credibility of any arguments you make by any amount whatsoever.  You are fallible, so any arguments you make must stand or fall on their own merits, just like mine.


If you re-read my comment above, you may notice that I specifically disclaim any “privileged position” with regards to “reality”. I must use reason and observation to formulate inferences, just like everyone else (including you). It almost seems like you are so certain that I am taking the position you want to attack that you’ll continue attacking me for it even when I’ve specifically rejected that position. What’s the deal?



Brian G - #61301

May 16th 2011

We all use our empirical senses and reason as created beings in God’s universe. I think the difference lies in who can justify their claims to the reliability of those knowledge organs. Christianity accounts for those claims of both imperfect yet legitimate sufficient usage of reason and science, while atheism cannot. 


I believe atheism falls into the problem that Hume described of not being able to justify it’s own use of induction, which is what science is engaged in with respect to the senses. An atheist uses induction and uses his senses but his own worldview does not comport with that usage, while Christianity does comport with it.

That is why I say the atheist is engaging in a kind of self-deification when he projects inductive reasoning onto the universe with no valid basis beyond himself to do so. The Christian bases it on a God beyond himself who creates and sustains the universe. The atheist reasons from himself, the Christian reasons from God.

Steve Ruble - #61302

May 16th 2011

You have a funny idea about what it means to justify a claim! “Justify” usually means something rather stronger than “assume that the world is such that my claim is correct”, which is how you seem to be using it.


Anyway, it should be obvious to you that it’s exactly as problematic to justify use of induction by appealing to some power that makes it generally reliable as it is to just assume that it is generally reliable, because in both cases you’re doing exactly the same thing.  You’re just trying to push the assumption back a level and then pretend that some qualitative change has occurred… but all you’re really doing is assuming that because the power which makes induction work has made induction work in the past, it will continue to do so. In other words, you’re assuming that induction is reliable as part of your argument that you have a justification for believing that induction is reliable.

Which is fine, really, everyone has to do that. It’s built in to the game; even an infallible god could only assume that because it’s always been infallible in the past it will continue to be infallible in the future. So I’m not saying that your arguments are automatically worse than mine simply because they contain this assumption about a god who ensures the reliability of induction.

I just wish you would stop pretending that assumption automatically makes them better.

Brian G - #61303

May 16th 2011

I don’t think I am pushing it back a level. I am saying that your foundational worldview must provide the necessary justification for your engagement in science. Christianity does not not merely metaphysically but historically.

So for example, if I was an atheist who believed that at bottom there is no God, and all reality is ultimate randomness, then that would not provide the necessary foundation for my use of induction, which assumes regularity. But even worse, my atheism would contradict my use of induction. I do not believe everyone is merely assuming, I believe atheism does not comport with induction.

If you are an atheist, how do you know the future will be like the past? 
If there is no God, then how do you account for the regularity of nature beyond “Just so”?


Brian G - #61304

May 16th 2011

Whoops. sorry, I meant “Christianity does so not merely metaphysically, but historically.” Sorry, I am typing and rereading enough.


Brian G - #61305

May 16th 2011

I’ll take a break. “I am NOT rereeading enough.”

(Okay, I proofed this sentence to make sure I typed it right)
Getting sloppy cause I’m on a deadline for some stuff.

Steve Ruble - #61309

May 16th 2011

So for example, if I was an atheist who believed that at bottom there is no God, and all reality is ultimate randomness, then that would not provide the necessary foundation for my use of induction, which assumes regularity.

I don’t know who are these atheists who believe that 

 “all reality is ultimate randomness”, but they must be in a different reality than the one I’m occupying. My reality displays plenty of regularity, including the regularity that unpredictable events at the quantum level average out to predictable events at all larger scales, the regularity that Newtonian laws of motion are pretty accurate at speeds I’m likely to encounter, but that the theory of relativity is more accurate at higher speeds, and any number of other regularities. I don’t need to assume

 that those regularities exist; observed regularities are by definition in the past, so the evidence for their past existence is in my past, and I remember it.


I do need to assume that all the regularities I and others have observed will continue to be regularities in the future, and I’m perfectly comfortable making that assumption for the simple reason that any other assumption would undercut any other belief or argument I could conceivably form.  Another way to put it is that to deny that past experience is a reliable predictor of future experience is to embrace universal skepticism, which I find myself unable to do. Perhaps for you the position of universal skepticism is a live option, but for me it simply is not. 

Steve Ruble - #61310

May 16th 2011

If you are an atheist, how do you know the future will be like the past? 
I don’t, at least for any definitions of “know” which include certainty. Neither do you. (In fact, if you have anything like a typical Christian eschatology, you probably actuallythink you know that at some point in the future, it will actually stop being like the past in many fundamental ways. That makes this whole conversation even more surreal.) What we both do is assume that the future will be like the past, at least in certain general ways that we usually call laws of nature or something like that. In many other ways,of course, I anticipate that the future will be unlike the past.
If there is no God, then how do you account for the regularity of nature beyond “Just so”?
I don’t. The regularity of nature isn’t something that can be accounted for, because you will need immediately to account for the regularity of the thing doing the accounting, and the thing accounting for the regularity of that, and so on. If you think it’s acceptable to say that the regularity of nature is accounted for by the regularity of some god, but that god’s regularity must be accepted as a brute fact, then you have absolutely no grounds for objecting to my claim that the regularity of nature must be accepted as a brute fact. If you don’t think it’s acceptable, well, enjoy your infinite regress.

Brian G - #61318

May 17th 2011

You have just admitted that you have no foundation for believing in the regularity of nature beyond arbitrary blind faith. 


The infinite regress argument doesn’t apply to an infinite God who is not created.

Hey, wait a minute! What does all this have to do with the Mesopotamian Cosmography article???

Troll alert!!!

Steve Ruble - #61327

May 17th 2011

If you scroll up to the beginning of this reply thread, Brian, you’ll see that you were the one who introduced the topic we’re discussing. It’s rather strange to introduce a tandential topic and then denounce a person who responds to you as a troll. If you didn’t want the topic in your comments, you shouldn’t have introduced it.

Your accusation about what I have “admitted” is a rather brutal butchering of what I actually wrote, as I hope will be obvious to anyone who reads it.

As I said, if you can declare by fiat that your god’s regularity doesn’t need to be accounted for, I can by the same standard declare that the regularity of nature doesn’t need to be accounted for.

So there! (Since that’s the level to which this conversation has apparently descended.)


Brian G - #61333

May 17th 2011

Good idea. We’ll let blog readers decide, and get back to the topic.


freetoken1 - #61195

May 14th 2011

Recommending the very ideological Michael Fumento as a source for determining the nature of scientists in their professional behavior is fraught with problems, given his own penchant for over-the-top titles and positions.


Anyway, besides that, the struggle with concordism is certainly a very common one if my perusal of creationist/fundamentalist blogs and forums is an accurate indication.

Brian G - #61282

May 16th 2011

I realize everyone has their political biases, and I would not be claiming perfection for Fumento, but he does have a proven track record of uncovering ideological and political driven junk science claims starting all the way back in the 80s with the myth of heterosexual Aids and up to the present with the swine flu pandemic. All too often these hysterical claims turn into instruments of oppression in the name of science and obscure the truth to the detriment of our safety and health. 


Norman - #61266

May 16th 2011

I find it interesting that the Terms translated “Heaven and Earth” in the Old and New Testament seem to have a much more restrictive application than a physical connotation. The Terms seem to imply a dynamic dimension that has little correlation to what we moderns think of as physical in nature. In Isaiah 65:17 the creation of a New Heaven and Earth is projected to occur with the eschatological timing of the coming messianic period. This indication of cosmic change should have opened our modern minds to the realization that the Hebrew writers had something different in mind with this terminology than we naturally or literally want to imply. The NT later picks up on this Heaven and Earth dynamic and points to the impending changes taking place occurring with the ending of the Old covenant ways of walking with God.  The Hebrew letter in 1:10-12 says that indeed the H & E which was created is about to be rolled up and discarded. Heb 12:26-27 again reaffirms this eschatological renewal event soon to occur.  Finally in Rev 21 and 22 we see the culmination of Isaiah 65:17 and Ezekiel 47 prophecies projected as about to occur and culminating the age of the apostolic times of the first century.

Surely we moderns should be adept enough to recognize that the language was not directed to our modern concepts of physical dimension but was an ANE rendition of a dynamic covenant world headed By God. The realization that this covenant world could be transformed from one of a works theology and is supplanted by the Grace of God Himself should illuminate the distinction of this Heaven and Earth concept for us. The replacement of the Old H & E with a new Kingdom dynamic inaugurated by Christ in the first century though has been misappropriated by the church through the centuries in many missteps of theology. The most common misapplication has been to apply language instructed to the times of the first century as continualously about to occur in each generation since.  It leaves us with each generation exploiting the faithful with the idea that the physical world is about to end and we need to get ready or be left behind. So much of Christianity has been misdirected because we simply do not understand the ANE concept of the “Heavens and Earth” and we have reinvented through the ages what was originally intended as a covenant application into a physical cosmological discussion. Both Genesis and Revelation are better served when we fully appreciate the ancient context of the terms. 

Thanks to Brian for helping us to recognize some of these distinctive. Sometimes the person trained in the big picture story telling has an advantage over those who dissect from within. The latter is often called not being able to see the forest for the trees.


Brian G - #61276

May 16th 2011

Thanks for your input, Norman. I agree with what you wrote about the Heavens and Earth and I have written much about that very perspective in my book Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination. It was pretty upsetting to my eschatology when I was younger when I came to realize the NH&E was covenantal in most all of its references. In fact, it makes more sense to realize that all the passages in the Old Testament that Christians think apply to a “second coming of Christ” are all contextually about the FIRST COMING of Messiah. THAT is a mind blower.


Norman - #61283

May 16th 2011

Brian,

Once the Christian community eventually comes to grips with this issue on how to read ancient literature then you will begin to see a transformation of the modern church. The left behind will be left behind and those looking for the earth to be destroyed like a roasted marshmallow will sorely be disappointed to find out that 2 Pet 3 wasn’t about such things. People will adapt and the Christian community will be stronger for it although it does challenge one’s common preconceptions for a while.

What is surprising is that often those scholars who readily recognize that Genesis is not a physical cosmology haven’t made the connection with the eschatological ending of the old covenant yet. It seems to be ok to test the waters in Genesis literature but folks are still gun shy about drawing the natural biblical conclusions for the NT and Revelation. This has huge implications for the way they often interpret Paul and his conversations employing Adam. It is often still not fully recognized by some that Paul read Genesis allegorically himself and frequently used “death” as a metaphor to help illustrate separation from God. I still see some of our best Genesis theologians that think the Hebrew writers were just ignorant about science and thus the reason things don’t match up. They still haven’t applied the realization that the Hebrew was writing theology with a specialized proprietary literature and were not really concerned with what we often think they should have been.


Brian G - #61284

May 16th 2011

It’s a long road of process to paradigm change. It has taken me years. But I see hope in the beginning of such major change when some name scholars step out and challenge the establishment hegemony which results in their firing from those institutions. Watching guys like Enns and Waltke and Wright and Walton has been a great encouragement to me to speak up.  


I believe Kuhn was right that society wide paradigm changes only win when the old guard dies out, unfortunately. But I can say if it happened to me while I was still living, so if it can happen to others.

Brian G - #61285

May 16th 2011

I wanted to add that when you consider the stranglehold that hyperliteralism has had on the Church, it is no wonder that the covenantal nature of Cosmic language will die hard. It completely dismantles alot of theological Shibboleths, like the ones you’ve mentioned. 


Brian G - #61286

May 16th 2011

Whoops I meant the literal nature of cosmic language dying hard, to be replaced by covenantal interpretation.


Norman - #61292

May 16th 2011

Brian,

One of the disappointments that I have with Biologos is the inclination of some readers to continue to have a prevalence in following metaphysical discussions by and large instead of theological ones first. Even with writers such as Enns trying to direct them toward theology they will often drift back ultimately toward a biological or physical extrapolation for trying to understand the purpose of scripture. What I often believe is over looked by the science minded biblical inquirer is that once they have unraveled the theological implications of the literature then they are free indeed to think through the “metaphysical” implications. However trying to concord it with scripture is still a strong allure for many of the science minded biblical investigators.

Like Moses and Martin Luther King; we may not be in the Promised Land theologically at this moment; yet we can see it before us.


Brian G - #61294

May 16th 2011

Well said.


Steve Ruble - #61312

May 16th 2011

One of the disappointments that I have with Biologos is the inclination of some readers to continue to have a prevalence in following metaphysical discussions by and large instead of theological ones first.

I suppose you could try to have the theological conversation first, if you were discussing a god which was not metaphysical in any way - like the gods in Thor, for example, I guess - but I don’t think most people believe in gods of that sort. Most gods seem to have a decidedly metaphysical component, which makes it pretty difficult to figure out what your theology is even about if you haven’t first constructed a metaphysical framework which can support a god. It’d be nice to have an ontology available too…


One of the disappointments I have with BioLogos is that people seem entirely willing to engage in metaphysical, ontological, and theological disputations when they haven’t even defined an epistemology yet. It’s pretty pointless, I think, to try to figure out which things exist in which ways and how they act when you haven’t specified how you’ll assess whether your conclusions are correct or not.

nedbrek - #61358

May 17th 2011

Hello Steve, that’s an interesting point you make.

What is your epistemology?


Steve Ruble - #61373

May 18th 2011

I don’t have time to write this morning, but I sympathize strongly with the position layed out here: http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm  To m.e the most vital parts of a responsible epistemology are a method for discovering when you are wrong, and a method for reducing the chances that you are fooling yourself. Then, of course, you need a method or set of methods for discovering what is most likely to be true… but first you need to be able to tell when you’re making a mistake.


nedbrek - #61427

May 19th 2011

Thanks Steve.  I am posting a series in reply to that paper on my blog.


Brian G - #61433

May 19th 2011

nedbrek,

What is your blog URL? Or won’t they let you post that kind of stuff on this blog?

nedbrek - #61440

May 19th 2011

Hi Brian, it is in my profile (click my name).


Kris Song - #61339

May 17th 2011

Brian, this is great work!  I’m in agreement with you on this.  Could God have corrected the way the Israelites perceived the way their universe operated?  Or could God have explained a heliotropic model of our galaxy as a correction to ancient cosmology?  Of course he could have, but that was never the point of divine revelation.  Genesis in particular has a primarily theological agenda and delivers that message in a way its original readers would have understood (and, of course also in terms we ourselves would understand). It is also important to stress that the similarities Israel shared with its neighbors in their cosmology paled in comparison to the differences.  No civilization in the ancient Near East conceived of one God like YHWH who is over all, of whom even the highest heavens could not contain.  Further, no civilization in that time ever imagined that this one God would covenant with his people and bind himself to them.  YHWH’s revelation to Israel is very unique indeed (even though it still comes to them in a shape and form that made sense to them).  


Keep it up Brian. This is tremendous.   

PS, Walton’s academic submission along the lines of “Lost World of Genesis” is supposedly out any day now.  Should be a great read.  Hope you’re well!

Kris Song - #61340

May 17th 2011

oops.  heliocentric.  haha.  heliotropic!  really should have edited.  


Brian G - #61342

May 17th 2011

Thanks Kris,I have written on that very issue of the similarities and differences of Israelite polemics in several other articles. One is on: BioLogos: http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/godawa_scholarly_paper.pdf


Brian G - #61434

May 19th 2011

Kris,

What academic submission of Walton are you talking about? A book? A paper? Do you know where I can get at it?

Kris Song - #61442

May 19th 2011

Brian, it’s a book (actually quite large). My OT prof was telling me about it and read the advance copy.  I’ll get the working title to you and the expected release date.  His latest book-length submissions have been more lay-oriented and this certainly has more of an academic perspective to it, which I’ll be excited to see. 


Brian G - #61443

May 19th 2011

Woo hoo!! Can’t wait. I checked Amazon and there is no evidence of it’s release.


Kris Song - #61444

May 19th 2011

Eisenbrauns is the publisher.  No information yet on their site, but check there in a week or two. 


Ed Babinski - #61466

May 19th 2011

Brian, you wrote, “Ancients tended to believe that the gods caused the weather.” And a lot more than just the weather. The ancients believed that the gods held the earth, kept it fixed, supported the earth (the Egyptian god ka supports the earth disc in one ancient image found in Keel’s book). They also believed the gods held back the sea, the cosmic waters, from covering the earth, reducing everything to chaos as in the primal watery chaos of the beginning. And they believed that the gods determined the course of nations, along with sending famines, pestilences, earthquakes, floods if they were not worshiped properly or displeased. Hence every ANE culture was busy building temples, supporting priests, and kings whom they believed were linked with the divine, sacrificed animals, prayed, invented holy rituals, to keep a nation on the right course. See “The Cosmology of the Bible” in The Christian Delusion, ed. John Loftus


Brian G - #61468

May 19th 2011

Hi Ed,
Yes, you are right about all those things you mentioned about deity and sovereignty.  


Why would you think BioLogos would not post your post? There is nothing inappropriate about it. Oh, i see, you mean because you are pitching your own book? I don’t see a problem there.

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