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Genesis: History Book or Faerie Tale?
How should Christians approach prehistory?
Something that has been particularly on my mind this year is ancient history and mythology, researching lost civilizations and the antediluvian world. Many of my articles have delved into this.
When I research something, I try to present the best facts I can and I look for the best information available.
As I look into these subjects, nothing has been more frustrating to me than the responses I’ve seen from many Christians.
It would seem to follow from a Christian worldview that honoring God would mean cultivating mastery in every field. This conclusion, coupled with the European tendency for expansion and conquest, is what made the Christian West the most powerful force in known history.
So it would seem to follow that Christians should be the ones spearheading historical research, archaeology, and geology, right?
There was a time when we did. But no longer.
If you grew up Christian, or even as a non-Christian in the Bible Belt, you’re probably familiar with the “fundamentalist” interpretation of the first few chapter of Genesis. Essentially, that the world is only 6000 years old, and all dates and genealogies given are meant completely literally, and that all “real” Christians MUST adhere to this literalist view.
The young Earth creationist movement presents two options- you can affirm a completely dogmatic literal reading of Genesis, or you are an atheist Darwinist. This is a false dichotomy, and I’m almost convinced it’s been intentionally propagated by those who want to make Christians look bad.
Because the book of Genesis is not a history book in the modern sense. But it is also not fiction.
I can’t support the view that the Earth is 6000 years old when we have human history that goes bank further than that. That’s not even the Neolithic era- the first recorded cities were popping up around that time and even thousands of years earlier.
But this worldview is treated as Gospel in many regions of America. There are entire creationist societies and a full sized Noah’s Ark exhibit in Kentucky dedicated to pushing this view.
Needless to say, I don’t agree with these people. I also don’t intend to convince any of you that may agree to change your minds. Rather, I want explain why there is no “required” view on this topic that Christians must take.
How can I be a real Christian and reject the fundamentalist view?
You may be surprised to learn that this modern attitude is not really a traditional Christian view, and that many of the church fathers themselves would not have agreed with it.
In fact, the “young Earth creationist” movement is barely 100 years old.
And it wasn’t started by what you may think of as Christian fundamentalists- the man who started the movement, George McCready Price, was actually a Seventh Day Adventist. It was Price’s beliefs that influenced Henry M. Morris, who then founded the “Institute for Creation Research”, from which most of the current young earth creationist movement has roots.
My point here is that this movement is really a modern fad.
So what have Christians actually traditionally believed?
During the enlightenment, the majority of leading Christian geologists did not hold the fundamentalist view. Views ranged from the Earth being infinitely old, to millions of years old, to countless other theories, but never was it taught until more recent decades that these theories of Christian scientists were somehow heretical. Many Christian scientists were leaders in the scientific advancements of the enlightenment. No one was expected to take the early chapters of Genesis literally, in fact you probably would have been laughed at if you did. During this age, the “Day Age” theory was prevalent, basically that the “days” of creation in Genesis represent ages or time periods, not 24 hr days.
And when it comes to the very early church fathers, it’s not that none of them ever took the timelines in Genesis literally, as some of them did. But they did not read Genesis the same way the fundamentalist movement does.
Why? Because there’s a difference between taking something seriously and believing it to be true, and taking it as factually or historically literal. This nuance is lost on the fundamentalist movement.
The early chapters of Genesis have always been read as mythic and symbolic. This does not mean that they are untrue, or that the events they describe did not take place.
But it does mean that you have to understand how to read mythic literature. The authors of these texts were concerned with conveying much more primordial stories and truths than literal and scientific time tables of the creation of the world. The fundamentalists are just so inherently modernist and materialist in their worldview that they can’t accept this.
St. Augustine taught that we should read Genesis as “literal’, in the sense that the events described did take place. But not in the sense that we should not read the early chapters of Genesis as poetic or symbolic literature, because that’s exactly what they are. Something can be both poetic and mysterious while also being true. Here is a quote demonstrating that Augustine did not have the same definition of literal as the fundamentalists:
“When we reflect upon the first establishment of creatures in the works of God from which he rested on the seventh day, we should not think either of those days as being like these ones governed by the sun, nor of that working as resembling the way God now works in time; but we should reflect rather upon the work from which times began, the work of making all things at once, simultaneously”
For another example, even a short study of ancient Biblical numerology would teach you that the number 40 is used to symbolically represent an epoch or time period, specifically one relating to some trial or tribulation or devastation.
But it does not necessarily mean that Noah’s flood for example literally lasted exactly 40 days and nights- but this is the belief the fundamentalist movement requires of you.
Rather, what Genesis is telling us here is that the flood lasted for a long time until the evil of the antediluvian world was fully washed away. (Although to be fair, it also doesn't mean it couldn't have lasted that long, it’s just that that isn’t the point).
The further back you go in Genesis, the more this symbolic imagery and language is used, and the harder it becomes to interpret things. If you don’t understand myth and symbology, you can’t understand Genesis. However, those using to a literalist interpretation just hold on tighter. The account of the creation of the world is such a big deal to these groups that they almost act that your salvation depends on your view of it.
But really, it just doesn’t matter. Genesis doesn't exist to inform our scientific understanding of the geological formation of the world, that sounds laughable even to type out. Rather, Genesis exists to explain our place in the world and how mankind fell from grace into death. That’s what’s important, and 100 years ago Christians were better aware of this. They could keep this in mind while also doing genuine, honest research in the scientific fields.
But that isn’t the world we live in now. These fundamentalist groups dominate Christian science, to the point that we can hardly even talk about these subjects in any way that it interesting.
It’s a travesty that the best researches on these topics these days are guys like Randall Carlson and Graham Hancock- non-Christians.
Because I and many people I know want to talk about the flood, and the great pre-flood civilizations, and Atlantis, and Indo-European origins, and Numenorean bloodlines, etc. And it’s important that Christians be able to research these topics without feeling like they’re somehow being a traitor to their faith.
So, let’s quickly cover a couple ideas presented as fundamentalist dogma.
Before I do, I want to stress that my goal isn’t to prove alternative theories in this article, but only to show that there are options out there. I’m not a scientist and there are real researchers out there who do this much better than me.
My goal also isn’t to disprove YEC. I don’t have a problem with YEC theory existing, only with it being taught as necessary.
My goal here is to maybe help some Christians break free from feeling guilt in not accepting the fundamentalist movement. Everything beyond that is an article for another day.
You’re probably familiar with the teaching that all human peoples are split into three groups, that we’re all descended from one of the three sons of Noah. It’s possible you may have been bothered by this teaching before- because it is completely incompatible with our understanding of genetics.
But did you know that until recently, it was not usually taught in Christian circles that literally all humans descend from Noah’s three sons? It was traditionally understood that the Semites, Japhethites, and Hamites describes in Genesis were only the ancestors of Caucasians (Europeans), Semites (Arabs and Jews), and Hamites (Caucasoid North Africans). Sub-Saharan Africans and East Asians are not mentioned at all.
And for most of church history, this was ok. It was taken for granted that other peoples had different ancestry, it fact it was taken as obvious.
It was only with the advent of strict fundamentalism and literal readings of Genesis that Christians decided that since ALL people MUST be descended from Noah because the “Bible says so”, a shoehorned-in racial doctrine was created, which gave rise to maps like the one above.
But any study of genetics will show you that this is impossible. Just look at the “Hamites” on that map- It’s ridiculous to believe that the North African Egyptians and Arabians are descended from the same man as Sub-Saharan Africans. Their DNA doesn’t match up. In fact, Africans have DNA not shared by anyone else on the planet. Whatever their history is, it is their own.
Not only that, but ironically the fundamentalists that teach this are actually adding to the Bible themselves here by adding in East Asians, Native Americas, and Sub-Sharan Africans to Biblical genealogies that do not mention them. A real “literal” reading of Genesis here would have to admit that these peoples are not mentioned.
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A more “literal” reading of Genesis actually paints a pretty scientifically accurate picture of how ancient peoples spread out from the caucus and created the first kingdoms in Mesopotamia.
In fact, rejecting the fundamentalist interpretation is the only way that the story of the Tower of Babel (Babylon) makes any sense. Read correctly, it’s the story of how the tribes of the sons of Noah broke apart in ancient Mesopotamia. Of course, as the origin of everyone on Earth it doesn’t make any sense. But read correctly, its another story that actually lines up the Bible with known history rather than creating conflict.
Where did the other peoples of the world come from? I’m not claiming to know, but I am saying it’s something worth researching for those inclined to do so. And as a defense of Christianity, I want to show that the Bible actually isn’t wrong about human genetic science- only the fundamentalist interpretation is.
For another example we can turn to Noah’s flood. This is probably the number one focus of the fundamentalist movement. They are totally obsessed with not only proving that the flood happened, but that it happened 4000 years ago.
Your reaction may have always been that this is ridiculous and impossible, as recorded human history itself goes back further than that. But this has only become ridiculous because of the fundamentalists, not because there’s no evidence for a world-wide catastrophe in our past.
There is actually an incredible amount of evidence for this event being historical that can be uncovered if you actually want to research it (evidence that should inspire and excite Christians, instead of being discarded by them).
The fact that every people group on Earth has a similar flood story should tell you that there’s something behind this tale. That a cataclysm really did happen in our ancient past.
Well, there actually is evidence of events like the flood and the subsequent spreading out of peoples from the Caucus mountains as told in the Bible. But not less than 4000 years ago. If you try to shoe-horn that interpretation in, you’re forced to ignore real history and archaeology.
Personally, due to the sheer amount of evidence I am entirely connived that the story of Noah’s flood took place around 12,500 years ago during the Younger Dryas climate cataclysm.
The Younger Dryas climate catastrophe fits the bill as a truly world wide age of destruction, one that would have wiped out any advanced civilization that existed at the time.
I won’t do a whole bit on the evidence of this since that’s not the point of this article, but here’s an overview:
The Neolithic revolution mysteriously sprang up in the fertile crescent around 10,000 BC after the Younger Dryas had ended.
Blue eyes are believed by geneticists to have first “appeared” around 10,000 BC with a man from the Caucus mountains.
The evidence of the destruction of the Younger Dryas is truly worldwide and suggests years of floods, fires, earthquakes, and glacial melt.
Civilization first sprang up south of Mt. Ararat in the near East around this date and then spread outwards. (Fundamentalists use this as their own evidence, just ignoring structures like Göbekli Tepe that date back to as far as 9500 BC).
This date creates no conflicts with known archaeological and genetic history
Anyway, you don’t need to agree with me, my goal is just to show you that there are alternatives to the fundamentalist interpretation as a Christian. If this peaks your interest I’d recommend checking out the work of Randall Carlson on the evidence of cyclic geologic destruction, the most recent being the Younger Dryas (here). I’d also recommend the work of Graham Hancock, though he isn’t a scientist per se.
You don’t need to agree with me on any of these examples because my goal isn’t to prove them to you, rather my goal is to show you that 1) as a Christian, you do not have to accept the fundamentalists’ teaching on these subjects and 2) that these stories aren’t just faerie tales - they do have historical evidence behind them if you choose to look for it.
I want you all to realize that the evidence of these ancient events is out there if you really want to get into them. In fact, Christians should be at the forefront of all scientific and historical research.
I hate to think of how many young men have been turned off to researching these topics because the version of them presented by the evangelical church was in conflict with known history and science. So many of them passionately defend it because they feel it is somehow central to the Christian faith and that if it were disproved, the Bible would somehow be disproved.
On the other hand, I also hate to think of how many intelligent young men and women have been turned off on Christianity itself because they did not accept fundamentalist teaching. They were probably never told that there are valid alternative theories and approaches. And that is a truly evil thought, to think that there are some that have left the faith because they were being forced to accept certain scientific teachings.
The idea that you have to choose between science and faith has always been wrong. I look forward to the day that the Christian community takes back its place as the leaders of scientific advancement.
Please feel free to voice your own opinions on the subject in the comments, I look forward to discussion. I’m happy to discuss more of my own theories with anyone who is interested.
And as always, thank you for reading.
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