Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Genesis: Myth or History?

Thomas Cole (1801–1848): The Garden of Eden. Image: public domain.

Joel Kontinen

Many biblical scholars take a very different approach to Genesis and creation than what Jesus or the New Testament authors did. They regarded it as true, authoritative and inspired.

Unfortunately, some modern day scholars disagree with them. Writing in the January/February 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Shawna Dolansky, who is Adjunct Research Professor at Charleton University in Ottawa, Canada, suggests that the creation accounts in Genesis were not meant to be taken literally.

She points out that we live in a world that differs a lot from the times of the biblical authors. She thinks that the Genesis creation accounts were written to explain reality:

Like other ancient peoples, the Israelites told multiple creation stories. The Bible gives us three (and who knows how many others were recounted but not preserved?). Genesis 1 differs from Genesis 2–3, and both diverge from a third version alluded to elsewhere in the Bible, a myth of the primordial battle between God and the forces of chaos known as Leviathan (e.g., Psalm 74), Rahab (Psalm 89) or the dragon (Isaiah 27; 51).”

This statement is problematic, as the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 approach creation from two different viewpoints: Genesis one describes the creation of the universe from the earth’s perspective. Chapter two relates the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Even more problematic is equating them with the poetic passages in Psalms and Isaiah.

Hebrew experts would say that Genesis is history.

However, failing to see this, she goes on to say:

“This battle that preceded creation has the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish as its closest analogue. In Enuma Elish, the god Marduk defeats the chaotic waters in the form of the dragon Tiamat and recycles her corpse to create the earth.”

Professor Dolansky suggests that the creation stories in Genesis were myths like the ones that other ancient cultures had. She says that this does not mean they are not true but they “are stories that convey and reinforce aspects of a culture’s worldview.”

However, many details suggest that Genesis is the original document and the other Near Eastern creation texts were corruptions of it.

In a culture permeated with Darwinian thinking, many writers try to explain away Genesis by postulating it is something other than what it says and what Jesus believed. (You can read some of their views here, here, here and here.)

Genesis is important. It is the foundation of the Christian worldview and should not be dismissed as myth.

Like all other books of the Bible, Genesis describes real people who lived in a real geographical setting at a real historical time.


Dolansky, Shawna. 2016. The Multiple Truths of Myths. Biblical Archaeology Review 42 (1): 18, 60 (January-February 2016).