The Historicity of the First Eleven Chapters of Genesis
by Dr Surya Kumar Daimari
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“The first eleven chapters of Genesis were not meant to be taken as history. They are stories which reveal truths which are mere record of what took place.” Thus state the allegorists.
A sincere and careful Bible student will straight way ignore the statement in the first place, simply because, it overwhelms the simplicity of historical narratives of the sacred writer. The statement itself is the result of so called the allegorical interpretation which seeks some spiritual or hidden meanings out of its lateral contents by ignoring the historical facts. The reason for taking Gen. 1-11 as quite unhistorical by many is because of its extreme remoteness of the ages beyond the human capability of description and also because of its parallelism to the ancient mythological literature such as the Babylonian epic of creation known as ‘Enuma Elish’ as in the myth of Adapa legendary tale . But it will be very gratuitous to conclude that the biblical account is non historical merely because of these reasons while there are ample scientific and historical evidences.
Truly saying, Genesis is a sacred record of historical events and facts which truly took place in God’s time for man designated by scientific research findings which involve geology, botany, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology and so on. Another important fact is that Genesis 11 interlocks the preceding and following narratives with the history of Israel. The genealogy down from Adam integrates the entire history of Abraham. The genealogical line resuming from Adam in subsequent biblical historiography has been ultimately traced to Jesus (LK3:23-38) the promised redeemer born of a woman in Gen 3:15. The covenant theme is another important thing to note. The original relationship of God and man, the covenant broken by the fall have been traced in Gen 3.Through the redemptive reestablishment of fellowship with God the same covenant is concentrated in the Abrahamic covenant. A general outline of the first eleven chapters of Genesis will help us to study the subject thematically and systematically in order to avoid our support towards the given statement.
2. The outline : Gen 1-11
I.The Creation Narrative. Chapters 1-2
1.The creation of heavens and the earth.
2. The creation of plants and living animals.
3. The creation of man .
II.The Description of Eden and the Fall of Man. Chapters 2:8-3:24
III. The Description of Cain and Abel. Chapter-4
IV.The Genealogy of Adam and Noah. Chapter- 5
V. Noah and the Wickedness of the World and the Flood. Chapters-6-8:1-14
VI. God’s Blessing upon Noah and His Covenant with Noah. Chapters-8:15-9:1-19
VII. The Generation of Noah. Chapter -10
VIII. The Tower of Babel: The Language Conflict and the Diaspora of Nations. Ch. 11
1. The Creation Narrative :
Many try to interpret the creation record as mere stories by trying to derive some spiritual or moral lessons. Very precise to note that the record is a history and not a myth or legend. There has been a very remarkable agreement between the facts searched out in modern scientists from the rocks and fossils, and the creation architect of God as recorded by the sacred writer. God however did not create everything all of a sudden . He followed processes of development . We need to notice the two words- ‘Create’ and ‘Form’ in this respect . The word ‘Create’ in Hebrew is ‘BARA’ which means to form , fashion, to make, produce a thing made. The other word for ‘Form’ is ‘YATSAR’ which gives the idea of fashioning, forming, framing, making. Therefore these two words are sometimes identical and interchangeable. For example,
Is43:1, “ Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O, Jacob and formed thee, O, Israel.”
Amos 4:13, “He that formeth the mountains and createth the wind…..”
Gen 2:19, “The Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air.”
Gen 1:21, “God created monsters and every living thing.”
God when first created the earth it was “without form and void”. The phrase “without form and void” suggests that the earth was geologically immature in structure as it is thought to be coming out of the sun as a hot plastic mass or glowing gas liquid mass. God then formed, fashioned and molded the earth to make it suitable for dwelling for man.
Gen 1:1 is a fresh creation of God out of nothing “ex-nihilo” which perhaps took place in the illimitable and unfathomable past, but the rest is actually a recreation or refashioning of the earth and the solar system. According to the Genesis record, the process of recreation and creation of living beings is as follows-
1. The first day- (day may be interpreted as an era or a specific time period of geologic ages). After the creation, God brought the light and separated the light from the darkness. 1:3-5
2. The second day- God separated the chaotic mixture of atmospheric waters from the terrestrial waters. 1:6-8
3. The third day- God separated the land from the sea to constitute the earth and produce possible luxuriant plant and tree growth. 1:9-13
4. The forth day- Here the text does not say about the original or fresh creation of the sun, moon and the stars but it says that they were brought into order to put into solar system. And thereby the earth received light from the sun the only source of heat for all the geologic development of the earth. 1:14-18
5. The fifth day- Sea life and birds created. 1:20-23
6. The sixth day- Land life and man created. 1:24-31
The Genesis record in no way contradicts the scientific research findings. Rather, all the scientific investigations reaffirm the record for the modern man who finds it hard to accept it as true. In other words, the biblical account of creation in Gen 1-2 truly accommodates all the known facts of science. Sir James in his book “ The world, Whence and How” (p-4) gives us sufficient information as to how the earth came into existence-
1. The earth was at first a gas (as it perhaps came out of a sun) cf. Gen 1:2
2. It then became a liquid at a very high temperature.
3. Later, as it lost heat, it became a hot plastic mass.
4. It cooled with a solid crust as at present. #1
We must keep one thing in remembrance that the intention of the sacred writer was not to make a scientific investigation ( and obviously it was not written for scientific men) but to show God’s program for man. However says Beasley, “ We shall not only observe that the order in which all these were introduced is scientifically correct, but we shall see that there are groups of things mentioned together, and these display a remarkably intimate anticipation of events which are in perfect harmony with modern scientific investigation.” #2
An Archaeological Light
In between 1848 and 1876 some creation tablets of the Babylonian creation epic known as “ Enuma Elish” written in cuneiform on seven clay tablets have been discovered at ancient Ninevah in the library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (669-626C) which is supposed to be composed in the reign of Hammurabi (1728-1686BC). Although the account is a corrupted version of an original tradition full of polytheistic encrustations there are a good number of similarities in respect of order of events- light, firmament dry land, luminaries man and God or the gods of Babylon at rest. WE cannot say that Moses took the idea of creation from this epic, but the fact is that the truth was granted to Moses by inspiration.
2. The Creation of Man and the Garden of Eden.
The refashioning of the earth was now complete. And God created the first man out of the dust with his own hand with much care, breathing His own breath into his nostrils. Man did not come into existence by chance as propagated by the Darwin Evaluation Hypothesis. It is God Himself who was involved personally and so closely in his creation The scientists presumed previously that there were signs of a family connection between the modern great apes and early man. But it has been recently discovered that the excavated fossil evidence does not identify any family connection with human. The garden of Eden was specifically meant for the unfallen man created by God Himself in His own image. The location of Eden or the story of Eden is not a myth or imaginary tale. There has been an archaeological light which establishes the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley at Palestine- Syrea as the location of Eden and also as the cradle of civilization. ”Hiddekel”- (Idigla, Diglat in Babylonian) is the ancient name for Tigris River. The Pishion and Gihon were probably the smaller tributaries which flowed into the Tigris and Euphrates river beds.
Walter J Beasley,
Creation’s Amazing Architect, p.23
Gospel Literature Service, Bombay-1
The Fall of Man
Many do not like to interpret the fall story literally by trying to connect it with the myth of Adapa. But the fact is that the story is a fact and sin is a fact. The result of sin was curse and death physical death as well as spiritual death i.e., the separation from God’s presence. This is the greatest tragedy of man. It shows how sin separates man from God. But herein also hinges God’s promise of redemption atonement work- the promise of a redeemer born of a woman culminating in Christ Jesus.
3. The Description of Cain and Abel.
This is a true history of the earliest civilization in the world. Prof. R. Braindwood while excavating on behalf of the Oriental Institute University of Chicago at a place called Jarmo near Kirkurk in Mesopotamia, called the place as “The earliest village life of mankind in Asia.” The excavated details exactly coincide the record of the Bible in Genesis. According to his investigation, agriculture and domestication of animals such as sheep and goats were practiced. Interestingly the place, Jarmo is located near the area of two of the rivers namely, Tigris and Euphrates mentioned in the Bible-‘Eden Story’. The civilization is dated 5270-4630 BC by using the latest C14 carbon method. #1 Another excavation at Tel Hassuna, Ninevah and Tepe Gowra in northern Mesopotamia reaches down to Neolithic times, 5000BC which shows beautiful pottery and architectural skills in early civilization. These kinds of excavations affirm the succession of cultures in the pre-historic age of mankind which exactly bear out the biblical record. #2
The Generations of Adam.
This gives the lineage of Adam through Seth to Christ, the last Adam (Math1:1). Man is now scientifically known to have been existed long before 4000BC as both paleontology and archaeology had shown. The ten generations from Adam to Noah and the ten from Noah to Abraham and the fourteen generations from David to Babylonian unto Christ (Math 1:1-17) show the clarity in the historicity of Genesis 5
The Flood and the Archaeological Evidence (Genesis 6-8)
“ At a later date the writer expects to present evidence gathered from many modern authorities (glacial, geological and archaeological) and demonstrate that the world wide flood mentioned in Genesis cannot be easily brushed aside as being merely the exaggerated account of a local Mesopotamian incident. The facts gleaned by scientific men without any religious bias will be produced. These make a tremendously interesting, fascinating and thought provoking story. “ #1 . There is also a Babylonian flood story in the book of the Assyrian Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh unearthed at Kuyunjik (Ninevah) in 1853. The biblical and the Babylonian accounts are almost parallel except that the Babylonian is polytheistic in character.
#1 Walter J. Beasley, Creation’s Amazing Architect. P-119
Gospel Literature Service. Bombay-1
#2. Meriil F. Unger., Unger’s Bible Handbook . p-46,
Moody Press, Chicago.
God’s Covenant with Noah and the Diaspora f the Nations.
Because of his faith Noah found grace from God and God called him righteous. God promised that every living thing should never again be destroyed. God commanded Noah and his sons to increase and subdue the earth. The Rainbow appeared as the sign of the covenant of God with Noah. The Diaspora of the nations began from the line of his three sons Shem, Ham and Japhat (9:19) which were distinguishable by the geographical, linguistic, ethnological and political differences. Noah linked his covenant line with Shem which was later realized in Abraham. God’s covenant with Abraham comes from the line of Shem through Terah. Shem has been designated as “ the father of all the children of Eber” (1021) which comprises all the Arabian tribes as well as Israelites, Ismialites, Midianites and Edomites- which is a real history of mankind.
The Tower of Babel:
There is a gigantic artificial mountain of sun-dried bricks in Southern Babylon called Ziggurats, “Zigguratu´in Assyrian Babylonian meaning “pinnacle” or “mountain”. The oldest Ziggurat has been excavated at ancient Uruk (Gen 10:10). The Tower mentioned in Gen 11 was the first such tower , a historical symbol of man’s rebellion against God from where the confusion of languages and dispersion of nation began which was possibly resulted from super natural intervention intended by God Himself.
Thus by making an exegetical survey of the whole book bringing together all source of material available and passing a righteous judgment, we can affirm and claim the historicity of Genesis 1-11. Moses, the sacred writer of the book being divinely inspired by God intended that the early history of mankind and the creation should be recorded in order to manifest the whole program of God for man. This is the very heart and purpose of Genesis 1-11.
The Purpose of Genesis 1-11.
We will further explain the main purpose of Gen 1-11 in the following way-
The purpose of Gen 1-11 lies in the thematic concern of the whole book, i.e., God’s program for man. In other words, the purpose is to manifest man’s sin and the initial steps taken for his redemption by a divine covenant made with a chosen race. Moses did not simply write the history of our earthly ancestors which was not his purpose but he being divinely inspired presented the history of God’s covenantal relationship to man. The perfect genealogical frame work and the selected genealogical lines down from Adam to Abraham without any missing link in between astonishingly determines the theme and purpose of Gen 1-11 i.e., the historical treatment of God’s covenant with man. Gen 1-11 is the right place where the covenant begins with a promise of a redeemer born of a woman which is later concentrated in Abrahamic covenant a line leading to Israel and then to Messiah. The covenant itself was the provisional pre-figuration of the eternal Kingdom of the New Covenant.
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