July 16, 2019

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 3- Propositions 10-13

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, Part 3- Propositions 10-13

We are blogging through the book: The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton.  Today we will look at Part 3 Text: Understanding the Biblical Text Literarily and Theologically, Propositions 10-13.

Proposition 10- The Flood Account is Part of a Sequence of Sin and Judgment Serving as Backstory for the Covenant.

Before moving to the analysis of this proposition, Walton and Longman issue a caveat.  They strongly caution about using the Genesis account of the flood to interpret any or all other catastrophes as divine judgment.  Oops!  Too late.  They point out the ability to identify any catastrophe as divine judgment is entirely dependent on the presence of an authoritative voice.  They say the Bible provides that authoritative interpretation.  So, presumably, outside of the Bible, no catastrophe can ever be conclusively interpreted as a manifestation of God’s anger or judgment (Pat Robertson- please call your office).  At first blush, I want to agree with this.  Jesus seems to have agreed with this according to Luke 13.  And how would anyone ever know if a catastrophe was God’s judgment—because Rick Joyner said so… /sarcasm off.  Do you think that these New Orleans gays were worse sinners than all the other New Orleanians because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Do you think that these Hawaiians were worse sinners than all the other Americans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  But if only a Biblical flood is God’s judgment; how is that not special pleading?  And how is Yahweh not like Zeus, or more appropriately, like Baal?  I suppose that flooding from climate change induced by carbon emissions might be a case of judgment being the consequence of one’s actions.  Except the people being flooded are the poorest people who have no means to move to higher ground.  Kind of like the Johnstown flood where the villagers (and their children) were devastated so the fat cat industrialists could have their fishing/recreation lake and not take responsibility for keeping the dam up.  I get what Walton and Longman are saying, and I don’t want to disrespect scripture, but it seems to me that either all natural disasters are God’s judgment or none of them are.

Walton and Longman point out a recurring pattern in Genesis 1-11.  In each case, Adam and Eve’s sin, Cain’s sin, and finally mankind’s sin in the Flood story; before judgment is executed there is extended a token of grace.  God clothes A & E in skins, puts a mark on Cain so he won’t be harassed, and warns Noah to build an Ark to the saving of his family and animals.  Thus they say these stories highlight three main theological points:

  1. Humans are sinners
  2. God consistently judges sinners
  3. God remains graceful toward his sinful creatures.

Noah and his family don’t deserve to survive the flood, he does not earn his right to live because of his righteousness; but God desires to pursue order and reconciliation, and his love for his human creatures leads him not only to tell Noah to build and ark in order to survive the flood but to enter into a covenant with him after the waters recede.  The sign of the covenant is the rainbow.  This is the first covenant mentioned in scripture and the rainbow is the first sign.  Later we see that circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, the Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic covenant, and the Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant.

Walton and Longman also comment on the genealogies in Gen. 4:17-5:32, 11:10-26, and 36:9-30.  They note that genealogies are part of the rhetorical strategy and aren’t constructed for purely genetic-historical purposes.  They weren’t constructed to be exhaustive so we cannot just “do the math” to get back from Abram to Noah to Adam.  W.H. Green demonstrated this over a 100 years ago by noting the skipped generations in comparing genealogies that cover the same time period e.g. 1 Chron. 6:3-14 and Ezra 7:1-5.  We can also see the skipping of generations in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 when we compare it to the history of the monarchy in the book of Kings.

Propostion 11- The Theological History is Focused on the Issue of Divine Presence, the Establishment of Order, and How Order is Undermined.

This proposition asserts that Genesis 1-11 can be understood as framed by the concepts of divine presence and the order that it brings.  Divine presence has significance in the ancient world not only as enabling relationships between God and humans, but as that which maintains order in the cosmos.  In the beginning was non-order i.e. Hebrew tohu wabohu (Gen 1:2).  This condition is not evil or flawed, it is just a work in progress.  In the ancient world existence was defined by purpose.  Material objects would be considered non-existent if their role or purpose could not be identified.

The primary act of creation was not just bringing into existence, but ordering the cosmos as well as human society.  This included activities such as naming or separating.  In God’s creative acts he brought order into the midst of non-order, but in that process did not totally dispel non-order, even though creation was called very good.  So the point was not perfection, but functionality.  This proposition seems to be totally missed by YECs who think “very good” means no animal death at all before the so-called fall.  Even the garden of Eden was not perfect, witness the presence of the serpent (a symbol of disorder) from the very beginning.

After ordering the cosmos to be sacred space, and then setting up Eden as the place of his residence, access is lost to that sacred space when Adam and Eve decide they want to be the center of order.  From that point on people consistently follow their inclination to make themselves the center of order and God responds with correctives that are order-bringing.  The genealogies provide the framework for the narrative asides, even as they document the continuing blessing of God (being fruitful and multiplying) and the results of sin (“and then he died”), the ultimate contrast between the results of order and disorder.

Someone who brings comfort or rest (Heb. nhm in Piel Stem) also restores order (nwh, the root of Noah’s name).  Walton and Longman say:

The connection of Noah’s name to the flood suggests that besides being presented as an act of judgment, grace, and deliverance, the narrator is recounting this event as a sort of order “reset button”.  God uses non-order (the waters) to eliminate disorder (pervasive violence) and then to reestablish optimal order (even as he recognizes that disorder remain [Gen. 8:21].

The following table shows the intertextual connections between Genesis 1-3 and Genesis 6-9.

Items Genesis 1-3 Genesis 6-9
Non-ordered cosmos 1:2 7:17-24
Order established in cosmos 1:3-2:4 8:1-22
Blessing given 1:26-30 9:1-8
Blessing non-functional 2:5-6 7:17-24
Blessing renewed 2:7-24 9:9-17
Plant connected with fall 2:9 9:20
Naked and unaware 2:25 9:21
Offense related to blessings boundaries 3:1-6 9:22-23
Eyes were opened and knew 3:7 9:24
Pronouncement 3:14-19 9:25-27

 

The flood account specifically has the role of showing how God reestablished order after bringing the waters of the non-ordered cosmos to wipe out the disorder that had come to dominate.  In this way the flood account recapitulates creation.  That is why the narrator includes the story.  He is showing how God had worked to bring about order in the past (creation and flood) to introduce God’s strategy to advance order through the covenant.

Proposition 12- The “Sons of God” Episode is not Only a Prelude to the Flood; It is the Narrative Sequel to Cain and Abel

There is a pattern to the narrative in Genesis that is known as recursion.  For example, in Genesis 25, after recounting the death of Abraham, the narrator is ready to move on to the next stage in the story.  Before doing so, he provides the genealogy of Ishmael.  This genealogy pushes forward in time well beyond the period of the ancestors, but then the narrator steps back to the story of Isaac represented in Jacob and Esau.  This is narrative recursion—moving forward through time to clear up a loose end, then coming back to the main account.

Based on the observation of how recursion is used in Genesis, Walton and Longman apply it to the account of the sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4.  They say the genealogy of Cain in Genesis 4:17-24 had been followed by a recursion that returned to Adam and Eve and their new son Seth (Gen. 4:25-26).  Genesis 5 then contains the Seth genealogy, which leads to Noah.  If we follow the pattern of recursion, the narrative of Genesis 6:1-4 then returns to the time after Adam and Seth.  Therefore, the description of what is going on between the sons of God and the daughters of men (whoever they are) extends throughout the period of Seth’s genealogy.  In other words this is how the biblical text characterizes the entire antediluvian period.   In this view, the sons of God marrying the daughters of men (intermixing what ought not to be mixed) is not identified as the cause of the flood.  It is simply part of the antediluvian landscape that contributes to the escalation of violence and corruption in that world.  Chaplain Mike had a post suggesting something similar.

So the interpretation of the “sons of God” as: 1) those from the lines of Seth indiscriminately marrying the ungodly line of Cain (view of most Christian writers from the second century on), 2) kings in the ancient world styling themselves as semi-divine “sons of god” engaged in polygamy and “right of the first night” (rabbinic interpreters), or 3) quasi-divine “members of the divine council” i.e. angelic beings (2nd Temple Book of Enoch and NT books of 2 Peter and Jude), really doesn’t matter in the overall rhetorical strategy of the Genesis narrative.  That strategy is the quasi-presence of God represented in the sons of God, which form of presence is rejected by God because it resulted in further disorder and not order.

Proposition 13- The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is an Appropriate Conclusion to the Primeval Narrative

The building technologies referred to in the Tower of Babel, burned brick technology, was unique to Mesopotamia, where the location in the alluvial plain would have required stones to be imported over great distances and great expense.  Bitumen mortar was commonly used with kiln-fired brick and this technology was first attested to in the Uruk period, and becoming more common in the Jemdat Nasr period, thus dating to end of the fourth millennium.

The tower was a ziggurat; in ANE texts it was common to describe a ziggurat as built “with its head in the heavens”.  These structures were the visible center of the temple complex but served a peripheral function in sacred space, where the true center was the adjoining temple.  The ziggurat and the temple served as a cosmic portal, bridging the gap between the realms.

The interpretive issues revolve around the phrases “make a name for ourselves” and “lest we be scattered”.  The desire not to scatter was normal.  Scattered families bring discontinuity and disrupt relationship and tradition being passed on.  The need to scatter due to limited food inhibited order; building a city represented an attempt to bring increased order to their lives.  Walton and Longman say:

Consequently, contrary to a strong tradition to identify the offense of the builders as disobedience to the creation mandate (“fill the earth”), we must note that before there to be disobedience, there must be a command.  No connection should be drawn to the creation mandate in Genesis 1, because “filling” is accomplished by reproduction, not by geographical dispersion.  Furthermore, the so-called creation mandate is not a command but a blessing, and cannot be disobeyed.

Regarding making a name, it should be noted that also was naturally desirable for people to achieve that objective.  It could be motivated by pride but perhaps more importantly associated with the idea that a person might benefit in the afterlife by their name being remembered.  While conquests and big building projects might accomplish that, so could having children; so not necessarily offensive to God.  Walton and Longman say:

We propose instead that the contrast is not found in the verbal action (making a name rather than not making a name) nor in the subject (them making a name rather than God making a name for them), but in the indirect object (a name for themselves rather than for God).  If sacred space is being constructed (as a ziggurat would suggest), its objective should be making a name for God, not for making a name for themselves…

The ideal that construction of sacred space ought to make a name for deity is reflected both in the ANE literature, such as in names of ziggurats and temples, and in the biblical ideology.  Such an offense does not represent encroaching on divine boundaries (as has often been suggested as the offense of the builders) as much as diminishing divine attributes.  The builders were attempting to establish sacred space, itself a commendable activity, but their motivations were flawed.

Having already traced the development of the theme of order in Proposition 11, Walton and Longman can now add the following points in the development of theme and the coherence of Genesis 1-11:

  1. Just as creation in Genesis 1 established order, so after the flood order is reestablished in a recapitulation of creation. Dry land appears from the waters, people and animals are brought forth and blessing is given.
  2. The covenant with Noah does not repeat “subdue and rule” but humans are still called to maintain social order (e.g. judging capital crimes).
  3. The Babel project represented disorder in the divine-human interrelationship and resulted in God’s interruption or order by confusion of languages.
  4. Tower builders conceived of sacred space as focused on themselves thus repeating the Garden of Eden scenario.

Genesis 1-11 serves the function of providing an introduction to the ancestral narratives of Genesis 12-50, where God’s initiative will lead to relation in his abiding presence and the establishment of sacred space which will eventually be the Temple.

Comments

  1. Robert F says

    Before moving to the analysis of this proposition, Walton and Longman issue a caveat. They strongly caution about using the Genesis account of the flood to interpret any or all other catastrophes as divine judgment. Oops! Too late. They point out the ability to identify any catastrophe as divine judgment is entirely dependent on the presence of an authoritative voice. They say the Bible provides that authoritative interpretation. So, presumably, outside of the Bible, no catastrophe can ever be conclusively interpreted as a manifestation of God’s anger or judgment (Pat Robertson- please call your office). At first blush, I want to agree with this. Jesus seems to have agreed with this according to Luke 13. And how would anyone ever know if a catastrophe was God’s judgment—because Rick Joyner said so… /sarcasm off. Do you think that these New Orleans gays were worse sinners than all the other New Orleanians because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Do you think that these Hawaiians were worse sinners than all the other Americans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. But if only a Biblical flood is God’s judgment; how is that not special pleading? And how is Yahweh not like Zeus, or more appropriately, like Baal?

    What about when the Old Testament calls the invasion of Israel by foreign powers the judgment of God? Do you also believe that, if the few occasions of that labeled as judgment in the OT are truly judgment, then all occasions of invasion of one nation by another are also necessarily God’s judgment, and to claim otherwise is special pleading? Remember that the suffering involved in invasion/war also falls disproportionately on the poor, as you note in the last part of the paragraph I quoted above, and for most people throughout history, the inevitability of suffering invasion or war in which they had no say was and is as inevitable and uncontrollable as natural disaster.

    • Robert F says

      My blockquote for some reason did not appear around the long paragraph I cited above.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Yep, Robert, same problem.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yep.

        I cannot help but give some slack to the text as Humans are so potently disposed to talk and think this way. It is not difficult at all, if you listen closely to any real conversation, to hear some derivation of chickens-come-home-to-roost. Or just good old “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this therefore because of this); and the selected “this” is most often very prejudiced.

        One can take classes [for those leading meetings and/or public engagement] focused on strategies to try to keep conversation out of that tar pit. And the conversation will often still find a way to drive itself there.

        In a way that follows the arc of God continuously dragging people back out of the mud back towards a state of Order.

      • Robert F says

        I get what Walton and Longman are saying, and I don’t want to disrespect scripture, but it seems to me that either all natural disasters are God’s judgment or none of them are.

        Let’s go with none of them are; let’s go with grace.

        • Well that solves one dicey problem but creates another. God allows it to happen.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > God allows it to happen.

            This one does not bother me.

            The alternative is? How would that work?

  2. Dana Ames says

    John Walton is to be commended (along with Longman) for his terrific textual analysis. Yes, there are a few things that are not explained completely; but for the most part, Walton (and Enns) provide an interpretation of Scripture that allows for believing God is actually good. That is *so* important.

    Dana

  3. Iain Lovejoy says

    I am not sure the Genesis author is portraying the flood as a “judgement” in the sense of a punishment at all. His thought seems to be rather that it is salvific. Mankind is portrayed as ruining the earth through sin, and God acts to “ruin” the earth himself (the Hebrew uses the same verb), the purpose of which is so that God can salvage Noah and his family as a remnant through which the earth can be restored.
    This is explicit in 1 Peter 3 in which the flood is seen as a prefigure of baptism, with the earth dying to sin and rising to new life. The letter says that a remnant of 8 are saved not from the waters, but *by* the waters, and their descendant, Jesus, then himself brings preaching of salvation to those who perished in the flood.

  4. seneca griggs says