The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode 14: Origin Stories

The music this week is Bruce Cockburn’s “Creation Dream,” from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws (1979).

General Introduction
– Reader feedback
– What’s on the blog this week?

The Genesis Account of Creation
– When did we first encounter it?
– Oh, those strategic bushes!
– We take another shot at Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf
– The Breeches Bible
– We plan Nathan’s first book

Scholarly Approaches to Bereshith
– Is the first clause independent or dependent?
– A plurality of versions of every story
– The “telescope” theory
– Other creation stories in the Hebrew Bible

Extrabiblical Ancient Creation Stories
Enuma Elish
The Rig Veda
Gilgamesh
– What do we have to fear from these similarities?

New Testament Creation Accounts
– What does John 1 add?
– Christ as the “first fruit of creation” and “wisdom of God”

Greco-Roman Creation Stories
– Plato’s Timaeus
– How do the Gospels react to Platonic ideas?
– Where does John get his Logos language?
– Hesiod and Ovid
– Love as the first element

English Creation Stories
– Caedmon’s Hymn
– Anthropocentrism
– Why Caedmon is not the first English poet
– Mystery plays
Paradise Lost: Milton’s hedged bets

Where Have All the Creation Stories Gone?
– The Enlightenment
– Romantic individualism
– Post-Darwin literature
– Evangelical anxiety
– Lewis and Tolkein
– Hesitancy as hallmark of modern creation story
– Scientific origin stories

Advantages and Disadvantages of Creation Stories
– A call for humility
– Making doctrine out of poetry
– The multiplicity of stories


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Trans. Leo Sherley-Price. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Experience.” Essays and Lectures. Ed. Joel Porte. New York: Library of America, 1983. 471-492.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation. Trans. Andrew George. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Enuma Elish: The Seven Tablets of the History of Creation. Trans. L.W. King. New York: FQ Classics, 2007.

Hesiod. Theogony, Works and Days, and Shield. Trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2004.

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: Collier, 1977.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: Norton, 2004.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. David Raeburn. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Plato. Timaeus and Critias. Trans. Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford UP, 2009.

The Rig Veda: One Hundred and Eight Hymns. Trans. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. New York: Penguin, 1981.

Tolkein, J.R.R. The Simarillion. Ed. Christopher Tolkein. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004.

13 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode 14: Origin Stories

  1. I think the most pressing issue in Genesis to me is that it’s “Adam and Eve” and not “Adam and Steve.”

    I was wondering if you got around to parsing the bumper sticker industry’s take on the book of Genesis.

    I’ll take my answer off the air.

  2. I enjoyed your discussion of the first words of the Genesis creation story. I was wondering if you could say a little more about the nature of God as it is revealed in the Genesis account. Specifically, could Nathan say a little bit about the Hebrew word that is usually translated “almighty.” Is Hebrew word Shaddai or El Shaddai in the creation story? Best I can tell it’s not. However, I still think this relates to the creation story because if God is what causes everything to be then God would seem to be omnipotent. If God isn’t the beginning of everything (was always there) then the implication is that God’s power is somehow limited. So, to the “Calvinists” is there any room for a wimpy God who “keeps changing ‘his’ mind” after creation or did everything get settled at the moment creation began? Your guys feedback would help me out a lot because I’m just starting to read Clark Pinnock’s MOST MOVED MOVER. From what I hear this book has been rather controversial among evangelicals.

  3. Phil, I’ve not read that book, though Gilmour and I discuss Pinnock briefly in Episode #5.1 of the podcast.

    I don’t know a word of Hebrew, so I’m gonna let Nathan handle that question. I am opposed to any reading that would limit God’s power in any way; I suspect this position came across fairly well in the podcast itself. So my impression, not being a Hebrew scholar, is that everything was settled at the moment creation began. (Again, I can send you back to Episode #2, where I talk about the philosophical peg my Calvinism or quasi-Calvinism hangs upon.)

  4. Phil,

    Good question in general, though I’d expect a bit more than Calvinist-baiting from you. I did read Pinnock’s book shortly after listening to the audio tapes of his recent lectures at Emmanuel School of Religion, and much of what he writes resonates with the way I do theology.

    My own approach to questions of the texts of Scripture, translations thereof, tradition, and how all of them relate to each other might be a good topic for a full post in its own right, so I’ll plan to write that up for my blog post this week. Look for it either Wednesday or Thursday.

  5. I look forward to your post. I’m about thirty pages into the Pinnock’s book and so far the impression I get is that he’s upset a lot of people in evangelical circles. Oh but don’t group him with process theologians. Yet both want to limit God’s power in some ways.

  6. For a fresh perspective of the Genesis account being an origin story of functional ontology rather than material ontology, read the book “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John H. Walton.

  7. In the subject of God’s knowledge, I’m one of those convinced that God’s knowledge is not infinite (because there is not an infinity of things to know about) but that it is exhaustive and complete. That is, in the absolute sense God knows everything about everything.

    I would say that God does know infinite sets, such as the collection of numbers, but then we know them too.

    God knows the future because from the perspective of an eternal being it has already happened. Like a librarian at the end of time with books containing records of every event that has ever happened, he knows what has happened and consequently what will happen (from our perspective).

    Washington made a decision to fight against the English, but from our perspective no other choice could be made because that’s what happened.

    Likewise God does not know all alternate futures (as some argue) because there are no alternative futures.

    People will make free decisions to follow Jesus. Their decisions are written in the books at the end of time. God already knows who will be saved.

    The fact of the choice is the cause of God’s knowledge of it.

  8. Jason,

    First of all, thank you for listening and reading.

    I’ve read variations of that argument as old as Boethius and as recent as C.S. Lewis (not including papers I’ve graded that attempt to argue Boethius’s point, but those are hardly available to the public), and I’m still not convinced. I might write on this subject in a couple weeks.

    In the meantime, I do have to note once more that I always scratch my head when people argue that one position is “how human beings see it” and the other is “how God sees it.” I would think that a view from inside God’s eyeballs (figuratively or otherwise) would be required for that latter sort of view. A mortal can say, “there are no alternative futures,” but I can’t make any sense of it.

  9. In a very limited sense we could use the ant on a ribbon analogy, where we can see the whole ribbon whilst the ant can see only the section of ribbon immediately available to her. We being the ants, and the ribbon history.

    I agree that a God’s eye view would be necessary to construct a God’s eye view as it were. How about a philosophical analogue of a God’s eye view constructed within the limitations of an ant’s eye perspective? =)

  10. I really enjoyed this episode, especially the discussion about the similarities of the Genesis account to various other Creation myths, and the discussion toward the end about scientific origin stories, and the subsequent call to humility. I noticed that throughout your podcast you three were careful not to knock any particular method or approach to Creation stories, but you approached the subject with scholarship and care, which I find refreshing.

    As a scientist myself, and as I’ve stated before on Nathan’s blog, I think that storytelling is a critical part of communicating science to the public, but I won’t belabor that point here.

    My question to you three would be, what do you think about scientists getting into the business of storytelling, and how could this facilitate a point of intersection between science and the humanities, for example? More generally, what role or roles does the scientist have in the Christian faith, in your view? I have my own thoughts about this (which have evolved considerably since my staunch YEC days), but I’m curious to hear perspectives from those in the humanities.

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