Category Archives: methods

5 Minute Post: Ken Ham’s Biblical Interpretation Is as Clumsy as his Science

Tonight Ken Ham and Bill Nye will face off to debate the origins of life. The whole exercise is a farce. James McGrath (@ReligionProf) has posted numerous pieces illustrating the absurdity of Young Earth Creationism (the idea that the world was created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago) and I refer you to his blog to explore the multitude of reasons why such a view is entirely untenable. In this quick post I want to simply draw attention to the fact that Ken Ham’s ideas are thoroughly unbiblical. The irony here is that his website “Answers in Genesis” has the proud tagline, “Believing it. Defending it. Proclaiming it.” Well, dear sir, maybe you should actually know what “it” says. As a public service, here is a tutorial.

1) Genesis 1-11 narrates three events of creation. Only one of them is concerned with six days. Gen 1:1-2:4 is a distinct creation story and it is written with theological not historical intent. The author organizes the account around six days of creation to affirm God’s sovereignty (compare this account to the popular ancient creation account, the Enuma Elish, for example) and the holiness of the seventh day. There is no concern with science or history here, these concepts did not even exist as we know them. To read it as such is to impose a hermeneutic that the text itself does not demand (and one that Mr. Ham seems to be oblivious to).

2) The second distinct creation story (Gen 2:4-25) uses a different title for God (LORD God in Gen 2 vs. God in Gen 1), has a different order of creation (e.g., humans early on vs. humans last), and a different mode of creation (molding vs. speaking). The number of days required for the events to unfold are unclear. The original editors of Gen 1-11 saw these discrepancies and inserted a toledoth formula (“these are the generations of”) to announce that we are dealing with different accounts (for other examples of this strategy, see e.g., Gen 5:1, 10:1, 11:27). In short, the Bible itself does not tell a single story of creation in a set number of days.

3) The third account of creation (still in the first 9 chapters of Genesis!) is following the flood when God again makes a wind blow over the waters (Gen 8:1), reissues the command to be fruitful and to multiply (Gen 9:1), and reiterates that humans are created in the image of God (Gen 9:6). Again the time frame is irrelevant and the concerns are theological and moral.

4) Leaving Genesis, we see that creation is described in many ways throughout the Bible. In Job 38, God wrestles with primordial forces (no speaking here!). In Psalm 104 God stretches the heavens like a tent. Perhaps more importantly for the question of time, God continues to create to to the present. In Proverbs 8 God gets help from Lady Wisdom in the ordering of the cosmos (mono-what?). Christ plays a part in creation Colossians 1:15-20. And on and on.

In sum, the Bible has many ways in which creation is conceived. None of the descriptions are concerned with history or science, but with what it means to be human and how we ought to relate to God, to one another, and to creation. Questions of history are foreign to the text. Ham’s “literal” interpretation is nothing of the sort.

Mr. Ham, your biblical literacy is as tortured as your scientific inquiry.

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Filed under bible, culture, methods, religion

5 Minute Post: The Gospels and Jesus

Jesus the JewI am preparing the syllabus for my Spring course, “Jesus the Jew, Jesus the Christ.” The title and course description (which were assigned to me but I like) provide a direction for the course that suggests an exploration of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The tricky part for me is that I question our ability to say much about Jesus historically. The Gospels are proclamation (John 20:30-31 is clearest about this). Even Luke, with his claims to history (see e.g., Luke 1:1-4), is writing a very different type of history than we write today. In short, I am not sure if we can recover a historical Jesus that is anything more than either a personal projection (Schweitzer’s famous well that all historians look down) or an affirmation of communal claims. I am not satisfied calling either of these historical; both are Christs of faith (or in some cases, unfaith).

Here’s the rub: The Gospels are documents of a faith community and reflect well the interests and needs of later communities. I can only access Mark’s and Matthew’s and Luke’s and John’s Christ. Since the Gospels are not historically reliable for me, how then shall I teach the “Jesus the Jew” portion of the course? What suggestions do you, wise reader, have to offer? I look forward to the conversation!

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Filed under bible, early Christianity, methods

Musings on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Jesus' Wife FragmentHello blog! Long time, no see. Getting started early on my resolution to blog more often. That way I can blow it sooner in the new year. Anyhow, I’ve been doing a bit of work with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (learn more about it here) and I am left with a few questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any.

1) Since doubts about the authenticity of the fragment were raised, publication of Dr. King’s article in HTR was suspended. As such, we do not have a formal publication of the find. Dr. King has provided many resources on a webpage devoted to the fragment, but lacking any formal proposal about how to treat the artifact scholars have been limited to online conversations and informal papers. This raises curious questions about the seriousness of online scholarship. Can we have legitimate scholarly interaction through informal papers and blog posts? Must we wait for the formal publication in (print) journals before we publish our own research? How is biblical and theological scholarship changing (or how does it need to change) in the digital age?

2) The issue of private (and anonymous) ownership of ancient manuscripts and other artifacts creates significant issues and can lead to dubious scholarship. To what degree are important manuscripts our common human heritage? How is private ownership adversely impacting our ability to understand the past? In the present case, private ownership is directly impeding our ability to solve the riddle of the fragment’s date by blocking (or at least moving very slowly on) the testing of the ink. Would the whole fiasco have been avoided if money were not an issue?

3) Perhaps related, what responsibility do historians and other scholars have to the public when presenting potentially sensational finds? What obligation do we have as the people who have been entrusted with safeguarding and transmitting knowledge? How is our work being distorted (or at least pushed in certain directions) in the midst of a torrent of sensationalist treatments? What safeguards can (or ought) we put in place?

4) Finally, what does this episode suggest about the work that we do as historians? History to a certain degree is always fictive and mirrors the zeitgeist. It has only been in recent years that the question of Jesus’ marital status came into question. Through works such as Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code the possibility that Jesus could have been married entered popular consciousness. That two eminently careful historians could be hoodwinked (if indeed the fragment is a modern forgery) by something that so clearly mirrors contemporary concerns gives reason for pause.

Comment away!

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Filed under early Christianity, Gospel of Jesus' Wife, methods