Subject: The Bible Has Two Creation Stories A close reading of the first few chapters of

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From: lip@amid..ARPA (Loren I. Petrich) Subject: The Bible Has Two Creation Stories A close reading of the first few chapters of the Bible reveals not one, but two different -- and contradictory -- stories of creation. These are from two of the (at least) four traditions that are interweaved in the first books of the Bible, the Priestly and Yahvist traditions, out of the set that includes the Elohist and Deuteronomist traditions. This conclusion is reached by consideration of stylistic elements (for example, the Priestly tradition is heavy on statistics, the Yahvist and Elohist traditions refer to the Deity as "Yahweh" and "Elohim", respectively, and the Deuteronomist tradition is found in the Book of Deuteronomy), and is generally accepted by non-literalist Biblical scholars (for a good introduction to the historical background behind the Bible, see _Asimov's Guide to the Bible_, both volumes). Here is the order in the first (Genesis 1), the Priestly tradition: Day 1: Sky, Earth, light Day 2: Water, both in ocean basins and above the sky(!) Day 3: Plants Day 4: Sun, Moon, stars (as calendrical and navigational aids) Day 5: Sea monsters (whales), fish, birds, land animals, creepy-crawlies (reptiles, insects, etc.) Day 6: Humans (apparently both sexes at the same time) Day 7: Nothing (the Gods took the first day off anyone ever did) Note that there are "days", "evenings", and "mornings" before the Sun was created. Here, the Deity is referred to as "Elohim", which is a plural, thus the literal translation, "the Gods". In this tale, the Gods seem satisfied with what they have done, saying after each step that "it was good". The second one (Genesis 2), the Yahwist tradition, goes: Earth and heavens (misty) Adam, the first man (on a desolate Earth) Plants Animals Eve, the first woman (from Adam's rib) Then, there follows the story of the serpent leading Eve, and Adam, to eat that (unspecified) fruit, and get expelled from the Garden of Eden, whereupon that serpent was ordered to crawl on its belly (no mention of how it moved about before that). The Deity is referred to as "Yahweh" here, and creates plants, animals, and finally Eve for a lonely Adam. Yahweh seems to be trying to fix his creation as he goes, with not too satisfactory results -- his prime interest commits a big no-no (why not simply create a psychological inhibition to eating forbidden fruit? It would probably be more reliable). Neither tale, it must be said, has much resemblance to the geological record, but in all fairness to the inventors of these tales, the geological record only became clear in the nineteenth century. I am not denying that one can come up with a Bible interpretation that somehow harmonizes these two tales, but such an interpretation would require rejection of the dogma of the literal truth of the Bible -- two contradictory statements cannot be true at the same time. The first of the two stories is sometimes claimed to be a good match; "Let there be light" supposedly means the Big Bang. But the Big Bang happened well before the Earth even existed. There are other discrepancies. The Sun is almost certainly slightly older than the Earth, and the Moon is as old as the Earth, or a bit younger (from current theories of planetary formation; the time differences are ~100 million years out of 4.6 billion years). The stars have no single age, but have been forming ever since the galaxies came into existence (or even before!); some are older than the Earth, some younger. The order of appearance of various is terribly mixed up. Though blue-green algae are much older than any multicelled animal, the first land plants appear ~400 m.y. ago, as opposed to the first sea animals ~600 m.y. ago. Flowering plants (the most common land plants) appeared about ~120-150 m.y. ago, well after the first land animals appeared, ~400 m.y. ago. Also, flying animals appear after closely related land animals appear; flying insects after early wingless ones, pterodactyls after proto-dinosaurs, birds after certain small carnivorous dinosaurs, and bats after early placental mammals. Some sea animals are descendants of land animals; consider (partially aquatic) otters, seals and sea lions and walruses, penguins, alligators and crocodiles, and sea turtles and (completely aquatic) whales and dolphins, sea snakes, ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs. The second of the two stated that humanity originated in the Garden of Eden or a garden in Eden (depending on which translation you read). "Eden" turns out to be some marshland near where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers flow into the Persian Gulf. And where did humanity actually originate? Charles Darwin proposed Africa because that's where our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees and gorillas, live. This hypothesis turns out to be correct for nearly all of the hominid species, including _Homo sapiens_. All the earlier hominid species, the Australopithecines and earliest _Homo_, are found only in Africa; later species, like _Homo erectus_ and _Homo sapiens_, seem to have originated in Africa and spread to other parts of the world. Concerning the Flood, the Biblical tale is a copy of an old Mesopotamian tale; the Tigris and Euphrates rivers sometimes flood, and a flood can seem like one of "all the world" to someone living in nearly level terrain. In the tale of Noah's Ark, we do not learn why Noah did not take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to get rid of all the "unclean" animals once and for all. In early modern times, it was commonly thought that fossils were the remains of animals and plants buried in the Flood; the Free Thinker Voltaire felt compelled to discredit this seeming evidence for Noah's Flood -- he suggested that fossils were fakes or were dropped by pilgrims. But closer examination of fossils suggested too-neat layering for an all-at-once flood, and Flood advocates retreated to some of the most recent sediments (see Stephen Jay Gould's essay "The Freezing of Noah" in _The Flamingo's Smile_). In the early nineteenth century, even that seeming evidence was shown to be the work of glaciers (floods of solid water), and only in the more northern parts of the globe. Gould even reproduces the "recantation" of one of the last reputable "Flood Geologists", concerning this subject. And in several places in the Bible, the sky is referred to as a vault, with the stars stuck on it. Genesis 1 refers to water above this vault (an idea no doubt borrowed from the Babylonian cosmology, which pictured the Earth as a flat disk inside a cosmic bubble in a cosmic sea). The Book of Revelation states that the stars will someday fall out of the sky like figs from a tree. The Bible says little about the shape of the Earth, referring in one place to the "circle" of the Earth (a disk shape), and in another place to the "four corners" of the Earth (a rectangular surface shape). In one of the Gospels, the Devil tempted Jesus by taking him up a mountain where he could see "all the kingdoms of the world" (no further info on this remarkable mountain). This would only be possible if the Earth was flat. The Bible does indicate more clearly, however, that the Earth is motionless. Witness Joshua's telling the Sun (and not the Earth) to stop just so he could win one of his battles, and some of the Psalms that state that the Earth is motionless. The Joshua story can be used to find a Biblical estimate of the distances of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth. Since we are told that the Sun was stopped to illuminate the Valley of Gibeon, and the Moon to illuminate the Valley of Aijalon, we conclude that either one of them would have been insufficient for both -- and that requires that the Sun be low when viewed from the Moon's valley, as it were, and vice versa. This implies that the distances to the Sun and the Moon are comparable to the distance between the Valleys of Gibeon and Aijalon, which is about 10 mi. In all fairness to the writers of the Bible, none of this cosmology is any worse than the cosmological pictures developed by surrounding peoples, with one exception. Ancient Greek proto-scientists (if that is the proper word) were, without any modern technology, able to establish that the Earth was approximately spherical, and were able to work out the approximate size of the Earth and the distance to the Moon. The distance to the Sun was more difficult, and almost all were agreed that the Sun moved around the Earth. But this knowledge was gained only after the Old Testament was written, though some of the writers of the New Testament may have learned of Aristotle's demonstration of the approximate sphericity of the Earth three centuries ago. The Greeks had data which anyone else living before modern times could collect, but they put the pieces together in the right fashion, and, for some reason, there is no hint of that in the Bible. There are further scientific difficulties in the Bible, In one of the Books of Kings, there is a reference to a "molten sea" with a diameter of ten cubits and a circumference of thirty cubits. This would imply that pi = 3. Though this is certainly a convenient approximation (5% too small), it is not exact. Thus, one part of the Bible is not "absolute truth". In the part of Leviticus which lists proscribed animals, we find that rabbits (or hares, depending on the translation) chew the cud and that grasshoppers have four legs. Since rabbits twitch their noses, that might lead to the misunderstanding that they are ruminants; but the number of legs possessed by grasshoppers should have been easy to find, since several people in the Bible reportedly ate grasshoppers, and one can always count the number of legs a grasshopper has before eating one. But this may have been an extrapolation from knowledge of larger multi-legged animals. There is also the classification of bats as birds, even though a bat looks a lot like a mouse with front legs turned into wings, and most other "birds" don't. Finally, I note that the New Testament contains the view that disease is caused by demonic possession and can be cured by exorcism. Jesus himself was something of an exorcist. He drove some demons into the Gadarene swine, and drove them into a lake, which suggests that he may have been unable to destroy these demons. He even states in his Sermon of the Mount that his followers ought not to brag about such accomplishments as how many demons they exorcised. Maybe the reason that crucifixes are supposedly so effective in driving out demons is because they duplicate the effect of Jesus the Exorcist. One wonders what effect the symbols of other religions would have -- has anyone ever tried exorcism with a Star of David or a star and crescent or a Hindu mandala or a Yin-Yang symbol or a statuette of the Buddha or a miniature Greek temple column or an Egyptian ankh or a Hammer and Sickle? As I noted earlier, it is possible to get around all these difficulties by stating that the Biblical statements in question have a higher level of truth than simple literal meaning, but such an escape hatch requires rejecting the hypothesis of the literal truth of the Bible. And the implications for Fundamentalist dogma? Simple. In _The Great Monkey Trial_, by L. Sprague deCamp, we read of some Tennessee mountain folk who denounced William Jennings Bryan (the Ronald Reagan of the day) as a heretic because he believed that the Earth is round. They wanted "good Christian books" for our schools which teach the flatness of the Earth. A flat-earth evangelist of the time, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, proposed that Bryan and him should run for the Presidency on a platform to eliminate the twin heresies of evolution and the roundness of the Earth. Voliva believed that, if the Earth was moving, there would be a big wind, which is not observed. He also believed that it would be wasteful for God to put the Sun about 150 million kilometers from the Earth -- after all, the Sun was created to light the Earth. He also complained about the "so-called fundamentalists who strain out the gnat of evolution while swallowing the camel of modern astronomy" (for more, see Martin Gardner's _Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science_). I wonder why present-day Fundamentalists do not call for equal time for flat-earth science in our schools. And why don't they push for a revisionist taxonomy that places bats among the birds instead of the mammals? Or to have the schools give equal time to the "demon theory of disease" whenever they discuss the "germ theory of disease"? ^ Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ / \ ^ / One may need to route through any of: \^/ <<<<<<<<+>>>>>>>> /v\ / v \ / v \ v "What do you MEAN it's not in the computer?!?" -- Madonna


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