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Stories in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

How religious conservatives & liberals
interpret the Bible's creation stories

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Conservative Christians' interpretation of stories in the book of Genesis:

Most Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians regard the following as literally true:

bulletThe first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were written by Moses.

bulletAbout 4004 BCE to 10,000 BCE, God created the heavens and the earth, including the land and sea, plants and animals, mountains, rivers, sun, moon, stars, etc. All species of plants and animals were created in the beginning; dinosaurs and humans coexisted together on earth.

bulletIn the Garden of Eden , God created the first person, Adam, out of mud. From Adam's rib, he formed Eve, with the intent that both would live forever and remain in an intimate relationship with God.

bulletWhen Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, sin, death, decay and degeneration entered the world for the first time. (See Romans 5:12 to 19, and I Corinthians 15:21 to 22). Before that time, for example, animals did not kill each other for food. Death and decay did not happen. This is a very important belief, because if Adam and Eve did not "bring sin into the world" by disobeying God, then some Christians feel that there would be no need for a savior, and Jesus' mission would have been pointless.

bullet The flood ocurred during Noah's time, when God killed the entire human race except for one family of eight people. It caused most of the geological formations that we see today. Either 2 or 7 male and female samples from every form of life on earth were collected on board Noah's ark so that they could survive the flood. This would include insects, birds, land animals from snails to dinosaurs, etc. Excluded would probably be some sea creatures who presumably could ride out the flood in spite of large variations in the salinity of the ocean during the time of the flood. Nothing is known about how creatures that could not tolerate wide variations in salinity were able to survive.

bulletPeople originally had a single language. When they built the tower of Babel, God confused them by creating many languages and causing the people to disperse across the world.

bulletSince the Bible is without error, then the creation and early history of the world occurred exactly as the Bible states. All geological formations, astronomical observations and the fossil record must reflect these truths. In case of conflict, the biblical story is assumed to be accurate.

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Liberal Christians interpretation of stories in the book of Genesis:

Few liberal Christians believe that the events described in the first part of Genesis really happened as described. The text of Genesis was derived from earlier Pagan writings from nearby countries in the Middle East. Although not literally true, the myths of Genesis still contain many thought-provoking passages:

bulletThe book of Genesis was written by a number of authors who assembled material from three traditions:

bullet"J", named for the Yahwist tradition who referred to God as Yahweh (generally translated "the Lord" in English)

bullet"E", named for the Elohist tradition who referred to God as Elohim, which was derived from the name of the Canaanite God El (generally translated as "God" in English)

bullet"P", named for the Priestly class who were primarily concerned with history, genealogies, etc.

bulletThe ancient Babylonians wrote a creation story in which the universe was created by a pantheon of Gods. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures adopted this creation myth. They removed most of the Babylonian references to polytheism, leaving only a few traces of multiple Gods in:

bulletGen. 1:1 which would be more correctly translated "In the beginning, the Gods created..."

bulletGen. 3:22 "...Behold, the man is become as one of us..."

bulletGen. 11:7 "Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language..."

bullet The creation myth adopted from the Babylonians contains a multi-step creation of the stars, sun, earth, seas, plants, and animals that vaguely resembles the findings of paleontologists, although the order is sometimes reversed.

bulletIn the original Babylonian myth, the Gods created the first people: a man and his wife Lilith. The Gods cast Lilith out of the garden because of a variety of transgressions. She retained her immortality and was believed to come awake only during the night and to feed on the blood of children and animals. She was perhaps the first vampire-like character. Eve was then created as the second wife. This ancient myth was adopted by the Jewish J tradition and inserted into Genesis, Chapter 1 circa 550 BCE. They stripped out the references to the first wife. Lilith is now only seen in Isaiah 34:14 where her name is variously translated "screech owl", "night monster" or "night hag".

bullet Genesis includes references to a snake and a fruit as being involved in the "fall". The fruit is not identified in the Bible, but is traditionally interpreted as an apple. The apple and snake are two traditional Pagan symbols. When the apple is cut through its "equator", the seed core is in the shape of a pentagram (a symbol long associated with the Goddess). The snake, because it periodically sheds its skin, is a Pagan symbol of immortality. By associating Pagan, polytheistic symbols with the downfall of humanity, the monotheistic writers of Genesis may be attempting to bring disrepute upon the previous Pagan religion of the ancient Israelites.

bullet The fruit that Eve and Adam ate was from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9). If interpreted in the light of evolution of the species, the tree becomes symbolic of humanity's positive development. At one point, many hundreds of thousands of years ago, animals who were the precursors of modern-day humans, became humans. One of the fundamental differences between people and more primitive animals is our moral and ethical sense; our knowledge of good and evil. Elements of ethics are observed in some highly developed animals, but is much more present in humans. Thus interpreted, Genesis' story about the eating of the fruit symbolizes our transition from pre-human to early human. Similarly, the first clothes might be another symbol of the same transition. The Garden of Eden passage comes from a much earlier Babylonian text in which the hero Gilgamesh achieved knowledge but lost immortality through the seductions of a snake.

bulletThe curse that God gave to the snake in Gen. 3:14 "...thou art cursed...upon thy belly shalt thou go." might symbolize the evolution of snakes. They once had legs but have since evolved into an animal without feet. The remains of hip bones still exist in modern snakes.

bulletThe curse that God gave to Eve in Gen. 3:16 " sorrow thou shalt bring forth children" also has symbolic meaning. The increase in the complexity of the human brain required a larger head. This, in turn, made human birth the most painful in the animal kingdom.

bulletThe Chaldean Flood Tablets from the city of Ur in what is now Southern Iraq, describe how the Babylonian God Ea destroyed all of the men, women, children, babies and infants by a world-wide flood. A comparison of the story on these tablets with the Bible indicates that the writer(s) of the story of Noah clearly copied the earlier Babylonian text. There is some indication that the inspiration for the flood stories was a massive series of floods in Ur and surrounding areas circa 2800 BCE. Some indications that both flood stories are simply charming myths are:

bulletThere would have been no way for all of the species unique to Australia, North America and South America to make their way to the middle east to be loaded on board the ark. Oceans would have prevented their passage.

bulletMany animals would have starved to death on their way to the ark as suitable food would have been unavailable and/or they would not have been able to survive extremes of climate, lack of water, etc.

bulletWhile the ark was being loaded, Noah and his family would have had to categorize and settle hundreds of different species per second.

bulletNoah and his 3 sons and their wives would each have had to feed, water, control, and clean up after about 500 mammals, 1000 birds and 125,000 insects, and untold numbers of other types of animals. This would be clearly impossible.

bulletA wooden boat the size of the ark would have required many more people than were in Noah's family just to pump out the water infiltration and keep the boat afloat.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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