The more I read Peter Enns, the more interesting I find his ideas. Very cool material, regardless of prior convictions.
Chapter Three of Peter Enns’s new book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins looks at the relationship between the stories of origins contained in the Hebrew Scriptures – our Old Testament – and the stories of origins in the surrounding Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures.
Before the mid-nineteenth century it was possible to read the Old Testament in isolation and marvel at the creation stories in Genesis, to believe that they were a unique special perfect revelation delivered to Moses during the sojourn in the wilderness. A multitude of discoveries over the last two centuries has challenged this view in deep and profound ways.
Among the most important challenges are the tablets that have been found dating from the mid-seventh century BCE and earlier, in fragments much earlier, that relate creation myths and flood myths of Mesopotamia, both Akkadian and Sumerian. I am an amateur here, but have on my shelf books like Samuel Noah Kramer’s The Sumerians and Stephanie Dalley’s translations Myths From Mesopotamia and several others. The ANE stories are both obviously different from and unnervingly similar to the stories of creation, flood, and re-creation in Genesis 1-11. Of particular significance is the evidence that these ANE myths have their origins in stories dating far earlier than Genesis in the form we have it in our bibles.
The study of the ANE texts is taken by some, both within the church and outside the church as a challenge to the inspiration of Genesis in particular, and more generally to the validity of scripture as a divine book of any sort. The implications of the discoveries in ANE archaeology are either “worldly wisdom” to be resisted or one more nail in the coffin of an outdated religious superstition. Both these extremes are misguided and damaging. Enns takes us in a different direction:
Perhaps a better way of thinking about the issue is to introduce the phrase “genre calibration.” Placing Genesis side by side with the primordial tales of other ancient cultures helps us gain a clearer understanding of the nature of Genesis and thus what we as contemporary readers have a right to expect from Genesis. Such comparisons have made it quite clear that Israel’s creation stories are not prepared to answer the kinds of questions that occupy modern scientific or even historical studies. Genesis is an ancient text designed to address ancient issues within the scope of ancient ways of understanding origins. (pp. 35-36)
McKnight/Enns PART II