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Chapter 8 - Evidences of Antiquity

Chapter 8 - Evidences of Antiquity

Table of Contents
Chapter 7 - The Testimony of Archaeology
Chapter 9 - Creation In Genesis - Gradual or Instantaneous

There has been general agreement among Biblical scholars that the first narrative of Genesis is very ancient, but divergent views have been held as to the date it was first put into writing.

The view current from the Middle Ages to the early part of the nineteenth century was that the account of creation was based upon a primitive revelation made known to the Patriarchs and first put into writing by Moses, though some held that the narrative was first revealed to Moses. The main reason for this view was that before the days of excavation few could conceive that writing was sufficiently known in the time of the Genesis Patriarchs to enable them to possess a written account. Indeed commentators in the early part of the last century found it difficult to assert-for there was then very little evidence to support it-that writing was practised even as early as the time of Moses.

The 'liberal critical' view is that the first chapter of Genesis was put into writing by an unknown writer, or school of writers, about the eighth century B.C. But many of them, however, freely concede that this alleged unknown writer took an earlier account, or an oral tradition which had been handed down among the Hebrews from the remote past and put it into the form in which it appears at the beginning of the Bible. A more extreme critical view (which in Chapter VI we have seen to be unreasonable) is that after the Exile some unknown writer took the crude Babylonian accounts and purified them of their absurdities and so constructed this account.

Does the narrative itself give any clue as to the time when it was written? In addition to the ancient literary methods referred to in Chapter V there are, I think, some pieces of evidence which should assist us in ascertaining its chronological place in the Old Testament.

Perhaps the most significant fact about it is that it contains no reference whatever to any event subsequent to the creation of man and woman, and of what God then said to them. The significance of the omission of all later events may best be judged by comparing this record with every other account extant, not merely those existing in the eighth century B.C. but those current centuries later, it then becomes impressive. It has been said that "every religion has tried to give some explanation of the universe in which we live. All axe either fantastic or puerile or else disgusting ". For instance, the Babylonian version, which is known to go back to a period before the days of Abraham, contains references to events of a relatively late date, such as the building of Babylon, and the erection of various city temples.

Another thing. of considerable significance is that all the references in this first chapter are universal in their application and unlimited in their scope. We find no mention of any Particular tribe or nation or country or of any merely local ideas or customs. Everything relates to the earth as a whole and to mankind without reference to race. Compared with the second narrative, the difference in this respect is very illuminating; in the second there are historical notes; we are told that the cradle of the human race was near the rivers Hiddekel, Euphrates, Pison and Gihon. References are made to later developments, to Ethiopia, to Assyria, to gold, and bdellium. These notes regarding countries, rivers, and minerals have been included in the second narrative in order to explain the geographical situation and circumstances. They are absent from the first narrative. Every other account of creation extant contains some references to a limited historical or purely national outlook. All who handled this account throughout these earlier ages must have regarded it as so sacred that they refrained from altering its primitive character by adding anything to it.

Another instance of its unique antiquity may be seen in the childlike simplicity with which reference is made to the Sun and the Moon. These are referred to simply as the 'greater and lesser lights'. It is well known that astronomy is one of the most ancient, if not the oldest of all the branches of knowledge. It originated in Babylonia-the land from whence the Father of the Hebrew race came, and long before the days of Abraham Babylonian writers had given names to both the Sun and Moon; moreover we cannot disregard the persistent tradition that Abraham was well versed in the astronomy of his day. When he lived at Ur certainly, that city was renowned for its worship of the Moon god named 'Sin', while the Sun god named 'Shamesh' was one of the oldest and best known of all the gods in the Babylonian pantheon. I have in my possession many seals and tablets written long before Abraham was born, on which the Babylonian names Shamesh and Sin occur. Yet this account must have been written before these ancient names had been given to the Sun and the Moon, which means it must have been written before the days of Noah.

The brevity of the narrative is a further indication of its ancient character. If this account is compared with the Babylonian series of six tablets of 'creation', it will be seen that the Bible uses only one-fortieth the number of words. Writing in the earliest days was necessarily brief and later became more extended.

In regard to the idea that an alleged eighth-century writer eliminated not only all mythical and legendary matter, but also any reference subsequent to the creation of first man, this idea is not tenable in the light of certain other characteristics of the narrative. For instance, there is the statement, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". This has often been explained as the 'plural of majesty', but, as Professor Skinner says, "The difficulty of the first person plural has always been felt". Surely it is impossible to imagine an Hebrew writer of the eighth or of any century originating such a sentence. Neither is it reasonable to suppose that any Hebrew into whose hands this document fell would leave it there if he knew that he had the right either to edit or suppress it. The narrative must have been ancient and held to be so sacred that notwithstanding their belief in one God this statement was regarded as unalterable. The main characteristic of the Old Testament writers, living as they did in a country surrounded by nations whose ideas were polytheistic, was their intense monotheistic faith, summarised in the statement, "Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord".

An argument precisely the opposite to that which asserts deletions and corrections of an ancient text, is that put forward by Dr. Driver and Dr. Skinner and others, in an endeavour to explain the narrative as an attempt by an alleged eighthcentury writer to incorporate into this ancient account of creation a reference to the sabbath day. They say that he did this by artificially dividing the narrative into six days of work and one of rest, so as to enable him to make a dramatic reference to rest on the sabbath day. Thus we find one school of writers asserting that everything which is subsequent to creation has been expunged from the original account, while the other says that this unknown writer deliberately introduced into it something which they think is of a later date. When we turn from these speculations about the sabbath to the narrative itself we see that the sabbath is never referred to. It is simply called the seventh day. On any rational and even 'critical' grounds this would be regarded as clear evidence that the narrative had been written before the word sabbath had been introduced, or at least before it had become a common name in the vocabulary of the people to describe the seventh day's rest. It is surely more reasonable to say that the document is ancient than that the alleged eighth-century writer set himself the task of intertwining the idea of six days' work and a Sabbath rest into the narrative of creation yet avoiding even mentioning the word sabbath. The omission of the all-important word is clear evidence against this theory, and good evidence of the antiquity of Genesis i.

In previous chapters we have noticed that for six days God told man about creation, and that from the earliest times in Babylonia the story of creation was written on six tablets. The assumption at present prevailing is that early ideas about creation were transmitted orally and there can be no doubt that this did often happen, though one thing that archaeology has shown us is that the ancients committed even trivial things to writing at a very early period and that their traditions often refer to a primeval revelation to first man.

Was this Genesis record transmitted to subsequent generations by word of mouth? Dillman, arguing against any possibility of accuracy in an oral transmission, writes, "The creation of the world was certainly never a matter of human experience. Where, then, can anyone get knowledge of it, to tell us? This question must be faced. On its answer depends our whole conception of the passage. First of all, it is evident that the account is not a free poetic invention of the author. In his whole work he represents himself always as a historian, not as a poet. What he narrates, he held also to have happened, or found it reported as having happened" (Genesis, Vol. I, P. 28). "Important external events, highly influential in the history of man, are forgotten; how then should an occurrence, so purely in the mental sphere as the one here under consideration, be preserved and transmitted by human memory? Besides there would be poor guarantee for the truth of this narrative if, like that of all other history, it had to be founded upon the credibility of a chain of external tradition" (p. 99). But if as he says, "in the main the authority gives what has been handed down by tradition, still the question arises, when has this tradition its origin? To this formerly it was simply answered that it rested ultimately on a special Divine revelation . . . but that hypothesis of a Divine revelation about the process of creation does not merely fail to furnish what it should, because on account of the length of the chain of tradition a guarantee for the undistorted tradition could not possibly exist, but is in itself untenable". He then explains why a primitive revelation is considered by him to be impossible because "it is dependent upon the formation of language" and "full development of the thinking faculty. Before these powers existed there could be no word of revelation dealing with such a question", and adds rather weakly "that we should not look for light on this".

Dillman is of course right in implying that a revelation is useless unless the man to whom it is made can understand speech, and meaningless unless he has a mind capable of comprehending such a revelation. Probably he is also right when he doubts the possibility of the human memory retaining in a pure state a revelation which is transmitted orally over a long period. It must however be remembered that Dillman's assumptions are clearly contrary to the Bible statements as to first man, for the Genesis narratives explicitly state that he was made in the image and likeness of God, endowed with a brain and given the faculty of speech, and made capable of assigning names to animals.

It has been said that early man speculated about the origin of things and that this first chapter of Genesis is the result of these speculations. Is it possible to imagine that some writer thought things out as best he could, writing this narrative as the result of his reflections? To suggest this as a solution would imply that the speculations of this alleged eighth century writer are nothing less than miraculous in their insight. If the chapter is no more than the ideas of a human mind, how comes it, that in the words of Professor Wade, the account is so accurate that he writes "of the inherent improbability of an ancient writing anticipating accurately the conclusions of modem science" (Old Testament History, P. 41) - It is not practicable to suppose that this chapter is merely a miracle of literary insight, seeing how absurd were all the other prevailing ideas of a creation. It is far more reasonable to believe that it is a revelation than that some unknown writer made so perfect a guess at it.

Apart from the Genesis record, does the Bible throw any light on how man originally became possessed of his wisdom? Some information on this will be found in Appendix II.

The fact that this account of creation (a) does not contain any reference whatever to any event subsequent to the creation of first man and woman and what God said to them, and (b) all its references are universal in their application and scope, no mention being made of any particular tribe or country or customs, and (c) that the current names for the Sun and Moon do not appear but that they are simply called the greater and lesser lights, and (d) it contains the plural 'us' which no late writer would ever have dared to use, and (e) the use of the word ,seventh' instead of 'sabbath', all show that this first page of the Bible is very ancient indeed.

Chapter 9 - Creation In Genesis - Gradual or Instantaneous