Deconstructing Genesis

Discussion in 'Ancient History and Mythology' started by citizenzen, Jul 12, 2009.

  1. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    You are right, it is a unique environment in that respect :).

    Of course, so is your goal for this thread to engage the literalists in this forum ?

    So it sounds like you have a little catching up to do there CZ :D.

    There have been hundreds of opponents of Bible throughout history. The trick is making the suitably sophisticated argument. I have mentioned Spinoza before, he is one of the critics that I am interested in studying further.


    Right, I think we are having a misunderstanding here. What I meant is that you are building the position as though it is a literalist position and then exposing the faults. I was saying that all of us here on the this thread are not literalists, so you are knocking down a strawman as far as I am concerned.

    I think I understand that you are addressing a literalist reader, even if they are not here (yet).

    Often looking at ideas from a new perspective is very enlightening. I encourage you to continue your journey. :)

    Absolutely, as a scientist I would say the inertia is enormous.


    This might be the key to opening the discussion more widely. I will give you a few examples, but there are many more possible:

    1) Foundational concepts - so many of the bible stories are found in our everyday lives. In the example you pick, A&E (Cain and Abel), think about sibling rivalry. Think about the fall of man/woman (which you have been discussing). Consider the role of the devil (serpent).

    2) Ethics and morality - again foundational in these areas. Much of western philosophy has grown from biblical examples. A later work called "Ethics of our Fathers" comes for Biblical ethics.

    3) Ideas of the Law - the Jewish perspective on bible, which we call Torah, is that it is the foundation of the Law. Much of this is detailed much later in what is called the Talmud. In my view this was preliminary to later development of Church Canon and then British Common Law.

    I could give you many more examples. Interestingly, I am pretty sure some of the literalists could give you even more examples.

    Another interesting point is that it may be more difficult for the literal believers to debate some of these notions as though they are philosophical arguments. These beliefs are deeply held by many but not always easily explained.
     
  2. Postmaster

    Postmaster New Member

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    The old testament is a blessed book, it holds universal truths that are still valid today. But maybe its power is wearing off?
     
  3. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    how about jews? hehe.

    these people are fundamentalist nincompoops whose most egregious fundamentalism consists of fundamentally misinterpreting the purpose and function of the texts in question. imagine a bunch of people trying to use shakespeare's plays as a tour guide to modern england and you won't go far wrong.

    no. the only reaction to genesis that is an *open-minded* one is "what is this text trying to teach us, how and why?

    i'd certainly agree with that. try reading it in the language it was written in for a start. next, listen to what wil just said:

    i mean, personally, when i want to find out about something, i ask people who understand it, not people who clearly don't.

    who says it's a failure of man? you're looking at a particular type of christian reading of the text. it's a jewish text; perhaps you ought to ask us?

    are we still allowed to participate if we want to question these assumptions?

    well, fair enough, but perhaps it would be fairer to blame the fundamentalist nincompoops rather than genesis? i mean, would you blame shakespeare because you can't find any ghosts at elsinore castle?

    nor should you be. are you seriously telling me that there is no contemporary relevance in the idea that the consequence of humanity's arrogance, hubris and violence might be the destruction of our entire civilisation? i think you might be asking the wrong questions.

    yeah, you kind of are. the starting point for our understanding this sort of text is asking precisely that sort of question, which is precisely what our sages did. it was the ensuing discussions that were the source of enlightenment.

    that's all fine, but it isn't the question we're interested in. genesis is not an answer to the question "how did life begin on this planet?", but "why are people the way they are - and how, therefore, should we live?" genesis certainly has insightful answers to this. what it isn't is a scientific textbook.

    for an insight into this issue, i refer you to previous posts of mine, especially the ones in this thread:

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/garden-of-eden-2328.html

    and this:

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/god-made-coats-of-skin-6848.html

    and there are some important points here:

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/creationism-intelligent-design-evolution-or-6115.html

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/is-christianity-a-negative-religion-6922-4.html#post99365

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/creationism-intelligent-design-evolution-or-6115.html#post81990

    if you want to learn something of the entry-level "what's the real question here?" sort of discussion, i can do no better than point you at the classical C12th commentator rash"i.

    Berei**** - Parsha - Weekly Torah Portion

    that's not what the text says, though. it doesn't say "and G!D didn't Know what adam had done". G!D Asks the questions, but what makes you think that the answer is news? as a parent i often find myself in the position where i know perfectly well what has happened, i just want to hear how my kid explains himself.

    if you look at the links above, you'll see you're not the first.

    oh, certainly. unfortunately, people often see in the text what they want to see in it (such as the idea that there is a "fall", which is not a jewish idea) rather than what the text actually says and implies. if only people used the correct approaches, these errors would not occur. like i say, go and read the links to earlier threads, those will give you some far more interesting questions instead of this aren't-literalists-idiots question-begging approach.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  4. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    BB's comments are very enlightening... will have to check out all the links.

    You ask me what is uplifting about certain Genesis stories such as A&E and Noah's Flood. I can say, personally, mythology is not always meant to be uplifting. Uplifting makes me think of feel-good stories that make me feel better about myself and the world. Mythology's purpose is not always to make one feel good. Sometimes, it is to warn, to teach of processes that occur when we make poor choices.

    I think A&E has been misinterpreted and misused by much of Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist movement. But like BB, I don't think the misinterpretation = the story itself and its real meaning.

    You were saying, CZZ, that this is just how you read the text upon first reading. But have you explored how much your interpretation may be influenced by the cultural knowledge you might have of fundamentalist Christianity? You may be influenced by a certain coloring of the story that is not necessary to read into it- ideas like the "fall of man" and so on. In my experience, one can get out of these sorts of prior knowledge boxes by reading mythology as one would interpret a dream one has. Each line must be read and re-read, asking questions about what "reading between the lines" one is doing and if it is really warranted by the text itself. As BB demonstrates, assigning motivation or cognitive state to God due to God's actions is one such "reading between the lines" that must be questioned.

    The way I see it, there are a few ways to read mythology that assist in generating some useful meaning rather than this sort of fundie-literalist position. First, one can open one's mind to research on the culture, language, and history of the myth and its writers. One seeks to understand A&E, for example, by reading how Jews perceive it and why, by seeking to understand how it would have likely been understood in its time and place. This is the sort of secular reconstructionist position. One seeks to overcome one's own cultural biases in reading the text by stepping out of one's own culture and trying to understand how the authors and primary interpreters would have understood it.

    The second way is the mystical, personal one. I don't think this would work for people who don't believe there is a meaning to be had in mythology. It requires an openness to find personal meaning and truth in mythology. In doing this, one meditates on the story without reading between the lines to begin with. Typically, one takes a lot of time and mulls it over intermittently. I usually do this through meditating for a while first, then directing my attention to the story and allowing my thoughts to kind of run by me. I sift through those thoughts and figure out where they are coming from. What might I be wrongly assuming? What could be other meanings of each symbol in the myth? It can be helpful to approach the myth as if it is a dream one had- what does everything really mean? What is the lesson? It's worth saying that lesson can change over time as one's own life changes. There is no one right answer. I've worked over Genesis 1 and 2 (which, by the way, have internal discrepancies that I think have fairly big implications, so reread those 2 chapters and you'll find a number of them) for years. It is not a cut-and-dried story, and I think anyone who treats it that way and perceives it as a simple story of the creation of the world and fall of humankind is missing a lot of the symbology and meaning.

    As for the Flood, I will say this as a Druid, as it diverges substantially from Christian interpretations... I find the story of the Flood uplifting in its way. What I see from a Druidic perspective is that humanity is one small part of this earth, and can be squashed like a bug by the forces of nature. The earth can knock us back and life keeps on going. We are not the only important thing and perhaps not even the primary important thing. I actually find that reassuring and enlightening. Seems like people would do well to remember that as we cause environmental damage that may later wipe out a good chunk of our population.

    (And by the way, pretty much anyone who is not a fundie-literalist knows the Flood didn't literally cover the whole earth. You can't blame the Jews at the time for thinking it did. After all, people didn't even know the Americas existed. People thought their earth was much smaller, and if water covered all the lands you regularly moved in and knew about, you might have supposed it was the whole world too. This gets to that question of putting things in historic context. To bash on people from thousands of years ago because they wrote stuff that would be considered inaccurate today is ignoring that we are relying on thousands of years of progressive understanding about our world. That said, even if there was never any flood anywhere, the purpose is to ask what does the story mean to me right now?)
     
  5. citizenzen

    citizenzen Custom User Title

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    PoO, I also appreciated BB's comments and yours too.

    While this is a few years old, I thought I'd share it with y'all...

    Most Americans take Bible stories literally

    The Washington Times, February 16, 2004

    An ABC News poll released Sunday found that 61 percent of Americans believe the account of creation in the Bible's book of Genesis is "literally true" rather than a story meant as a "lesson."

    Sixty percent believe in the story of Noah's ark and a global flood, while 64 percent agree that Moses parted the Red Sea to save fleeing Jews from their Egyptian captors.

    The poll, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted Feb. 6 to 10 among 1,011 adults.

    "These are surprising and reassuring figures -- a positive sign in a postmodern world that seemed bent on erasing faith from the public square in recent years," said the Rev. Charles Nalls of Christ the King, a Catholic-Anglican church in the District.

    "This poll tells me that America is reading the Bible more than we thought. There had been a tendency to decry or discount Bible literacy among the faithful," he said.

    "But this indicates a strong alliance among Americans with the inerrant word of God, as opposed to simply the inspired word of God, as viewed in the context of faith tradition," Father Nalls said.

    ...

    This is more than a few fundamentalist. This is still the dominant belief in America.
     
  6. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    I'd trust the PEW Foundation's much better (and larger- 35000 people) study over an ABC News Poll.

    Religion in American Culture -- Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

    From a chart in the "Portrait and Demographics- Beliefs & Practices":
    National Totals:
    33% believe that their Holy Book is the literal Word of God (every word literally true)
    30% believe that their Holy Book is the Word of God, but not literally true word for word
    28% believe that their Holy Book was written by men and is not the Word of God
    9% don't know or refused to answer.

    My guess is that the 1000 people ABC News Poll chose was a poor representation and/or they didn't ask the questions in the best way. Questionnaires are famous for being tricky things to write, administer and interpret.

    In any case, if you are arguing that the fundamentalist-literalist view of the Bible is incorrect, I would agree. If you are arguing that the problem lies with mythology itself, such as the story of A&E or the flood, then I do not agree. Like BB, I would say it's not the responsibility of authors of mythology thousands of years old to ensure useful interpretation for people today. That's our job- to educate ourselves, to critically think, to meditate on meaning for our own lives. If people don't do this and want to treat sacred narratives as if they are history textbooks or science reports, it certainly isn't the sacred narrative that is at fault.
     
  7. citizenzen

    citizenzen Custom User Title

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    And this [bolding mine]...

    Nearly Two-thirds of U.S. Adults Believe Human Beings Were Created by God

    The Harris Poll® #52, July 6, 2005

    Earlier this year, the State Board of Education in Kansas reignited an old debate – whether or not creationism should be taught in public schools – and shone the spotlight on a new theory, intelligent design. While many in the scientific community may question why this issue has been raised again, a new national survey shows that almost two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) agree with the basic tenet of creationism, that "human beings were created directly by God."

    At the same time, approximately one-fifth (22%) of adults believe "human beings evolved from earlier species" (evolution) and 10 percent subscribe to the theory that "human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them" (intelligent design). Moreover, a majority (55%) believe that all three of these theories should be taught in public schools, while 23 percent support teaching creationism only, 12 percent evolution only, and four percent intelligent design only.

    ...

    I have no problem with Christianity being taught in public schools... as part of a comparative religions course. Teaching it as a science, on par with evolution is a ridiculous notion, and will only serve to further dumb-down an already (arguably) idiotic culture.
     
  8. citizenzen

    citizenzen Custom User Title

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    I have absolutely no problem with incorporating mythology into our lives and our culture. I have a big problem when what is obviously mythology is misconstrued as fact, especially when that mythology then invades (like a horrible flesh-eating plague... with fangs) into the secular realm of civil law and public education.

    BTW, thank you for the Pew results.
     
  9. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    No problem- the PEW study is really pretty fascinating.

    And I entirely agree about evolution and the misuse of mythology.

    The way I see it, most Americans are poorly educated. This is the primary reason they do not "agree with" evolution. Yes, there are exceptions. But the vast majority of my students have come in with little to no understanding of population genetics (or even genetics in general, for that matter), had never actually read Darwin or any modern evolutionists' works, didn't understand the forces of natural selection, didn't understand how mutation works, and didn't understand statistics well enough to make sense of scientific articles on evolution. A bit of information is handed out, a few lab activities done and voila! people understand evolution and most "agree" with it.

    It isn't the Bible that is the problem. It's a lack of critical thinking and education. We're a nation of sound-bites and dumbing it down for half-hour television programs. Evolution and mythology... neither one do well when given out in sound-bites, commercials, and sit-coms. :eek:
     
  10. Faithfulservant

    Faithfulservant New Member

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    lol fundamentalist movement. Like its some newly spread thing..

    And CZ bless your confused egotistical heart. I know you just want to be heard and you have some issues with Christians but after reading through this thread it is exactly what I said it would be... a lot of (biblical) Christian bashing. So I will beg off because nothing I say will be valued much and thats ok too :) I'll keep my pearls to myself.

    ;)
     
  11. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    um er yes if you litterally interpret it.

    and almost 50% of high school graduates need remedial math in college.

    What you are speaking of is a problem with us not with the bible.
     
  12. nativeastral

    nativeastral fluffy future

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    no but 'intelligent design' could and should be part of a philosophy class as there are plenty of academic articles on it; giving the youth the full spectrum of logical arguments would enhance critical thinking.
     
  13. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    Another version of the story has it that people were "bio-engineered"/created as a work force or slave species.
    Adam/Eve/early humans were designed to be servants, their primary function being to till the soil and care for the crops and gardens owned by his "God".
    As long as they accepted their servitude and obeyed their ever-present masters, all their physical needs would be met and they would be permitted to remain in their "paradise" indefinitely.
    There was however, one unpardonable sin they must never commit.
    They must never attempt to seek certain types of knowledge which have been symbolized in the story as trees.
    Tree #1 symbolizes an understanding of ethics and justice.
    Tree #2 symbolizes the knowledge of how to regain one's spiritual identity and immortality.
    One of the beings (or this could refer to a group or faction) who did this had second thoughts about the results and decided to teach early man (Adam) the way to spiritual freedom.
    The biblical word for snake is nahash coming from the root NHSH, meaning "to decipher, to find out".

    Despite all of their reported good intentions, the "snake" clearly failed to free the human race.
    Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian and biblical texts relate that the "snake" was quickly defeated by other custodial factions.
    The "snake" was then banished "to earth" and was extensively villainized by his opponents to ensure that he could never again secure a widespread following among human beings and complete his objective.

    So the story has more to it than what one would gather at face value.
    When you compare this story against the story of accidental evolution from primordial slime with no assistance whatsoever, it is the latter which looks fanciful and requires more faith to believe it.
    The A&E narrative has been derived fro earlier Mesopotamian sources which described life under the rule of Custodial Gods.
    The "God" or "Lord God" of the bibles A&E story can be taken to mean "the custodial rulers of Earth".
    The story is entirely symbolic.
    Adam and Eve symbolize the first people who were artificially created.
    They lived in an abundant paradise, a garden.
    They were designed to be servants, their function was to tend the lush gardens and crops "owned" by the Custodians.
    As long as they accepted their servant status and obeyed their masters, all of their physical needs would be met and they would be permitted to occupy this station indefinitely.
    But there were conditions.
    They must never seek certain types of knowledge.
    Those forbidden forms of knowledge are symbolized in the story as 2 trees:
    -the tree of knowledge of good and evil which symbolizes an understanding of ethics and justice.
    -the 2nd tree symbolizes the knowledge of how to regain and retain one's spiritual identity and immortality.

    When the snake presented his opinion in Gen 3:22 the passage reveals an important truth which is echoed in many religions, namely that a true understanding of ethics, integrity and justice is a prerequisite to regaining one's spiritual freedom and immortality.
    Without a foundation in ethics, full spiritual recovery becomes nothing more than a pipe dream.
    The Custodians clearly did not want mankind to begin traveling the road to spiritual recovery.
    They wanted servants.
    It is difficult to make thralls of people who maintain their integrity and a sense of ethics.
    It becomes impossible when those same individuals are uncowed by physical threats due to a reawakened grasp of their spiritual immortality.
    If spiritual beings could no longer be trapped in human bodies, but could instead use and abandon material bodies at will, there would be no more spiritual beings available to animate slave bodies (golems).
    So the Custodians had to act.
    The flaming sword symbolizes the no-nonsense approach the Custodians undertook to insure that genuine spiritual knowledge would never become available to the human race.
    To further prevent access, additional genetic tinkering was effected to deal with humanities "original sin".
    Material existence was made intentionally arduous and humans would have little time to seek out the understanding we need to become spiritually free.
    This has continued through the millenia as we see that all the major "custodial" religions always seek to limit people's progress by restricting various kinds of specific knowledge.
    Now why would they do that do you suppose???
    For our collective betterment.
    NOT.
    The age old dilemma has always been that of slavery.

    And yes....I know....it reads like fiction.
    But when confronted with religious fiction vs science fiction, I prefer the science.
     
  14. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Shawn, is this your own idea or did it come from some other person / group ? If the latter, could you please give us the name(s) ?
     
  15. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    There are numerous people who have been discussing this for a long time, Tellinger, Sitchin, Bramley, etc.
    So...no, this is not my idea at all, I just figured it would be good to throw another aspect into this discussion.
     
  16. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    So Shawn, I am not clear about your own position on this description, are you an advocate of this notion or a critic ?
     
  17. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    I think it is plausible, but who can really say?
    All these notions of ours are learned speculation.
    Would you agree?

    (Cz has poetically compared all our opinions to a pile of steaming turds, but I think the boy was just into the sake a bit.)

    Just a simple yes or no would suffice.
     
  18. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    No .... :D
     
  19. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Shawn, I couldn't resist :D.

    Ironically, your post does more to support CZ's thesis than all of his rationalist argumentation could achieve. :)

    How could I dispute your seemingly irrational description, given the one I am advocating, Genesis, is not exactly quantum physics ?

    And perhaps that is really the point here. It seems like science is the discipline that is really in the best position to tell us the origin of the universe, the world and humans. We can argue about the data, the results, the analysis, but that should be the focus of the argument.

    Religion can interpret the results, hopefully through an ethical and moral lens. Where the religious view disagrees with science, there should be serious doubt about the religious view. It might be interpreted metaphorically or allegorically. The scientific view should not be rejected without some more rational view.
     
  20. shawn

    shawn New Member

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    So you know do you.
    (somewhat presumptuous and arrogant of you, but who am I to judge:D)
    Now I am not clear on your position.
    You are of the mind that your cherished speculations are indeed fact and the last word??????
    Or you allow for modifications as new information comes to light?
    or ....what????
     

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