Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

12
Genesis and History

As just indicated (Chapter 11) Genesis's history-like thread is secondary to its portrayal of human life. History, while important, is not ultimate. What then is the relationship of Genesis to history?

Frye's answer is noteworthy: “If anything historically true is in the Bible, it is there not because it is historically true but for different reasons” (1981, 40). There is much truth in this. In dealing with the past, the Bible often shows radical freedom. It depicts the past, but its interest lies elsewhere, generally in something more permanent, something about the present. This principle may be illustrated in two ways, concerning the origin of humankind, and concerning the origin of Israel. According to the Bible, the earth and humanity were created about 4000 BCE, and Abraham entered Canaan about 2000 BCE. Modern research, however, has a more complex view.


The Origin of Humankind

From sources other than the Bible it is known that the universe is billions of years old: the universe itself, perhaps fifteen billion (or somewhat less); the immediate galaxy about ten billion; and the solar system, including the earth, about four billion (Sagan, 1977, 13; Corey Powell, 1992; Bolte and Hogan, 1995).

Humanity arrived late, not billions of years ago, but, in primitive form (hominids), about two million years ago, beginning apparently in Africa (Wilford, 1996, 1). The age of human beings proper, homo sapiens, is less than a hundred millennia. During that hundred millennia, it was only in the last ten, especially the last five, that agriculture and cities began to develop (Cheilik, 1991, 11).

If the age of the universe is compared to one year, then the solar system and incipient earth life were formed in September. Hominids appeared on December 30, and full-fledged humans, homo sapiens, late on the last day, December 31, around 10:30 P. M. The dinosaurs (lasting 140 million years) had come and gone the previous weekend. Agriculture and cities came later still, shortly after 11:59 P. M. The whole of history, from the invention of writing to the second millennium CE, has taken place in the final ten seconds of the universe's year (Sagan, 1977, 13–17).

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