Posts tagged “Skepticism

Genesis 3:9-11, Is God Truly Omniscient?

And YHVH Elohim called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

Skeptics cite this verse to levy charges against YHVH, with the accusation that God is not as omniscient as He claims. For example, the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible says, “There are some things that God doesn’t know and can’t see. God couldn’t see Adam and Eve when they hid in the Garden of Eden.”

This is a completely ignorant accusation, because it presumes that there is no logical reason for ever asking a question in which one already knows the answer. However, investigators, lawyers, and other leaders ask these ‘known answer questions’ every day, usually in the context of an investigation, cross-examination, or hiring process. When asked in the right way, these questions help establish truth and/or justice, for through one’s words is he vindicated or condemned (or hired or fired, or rewarded or punished, etc.). This is the same as Yeshua taught: “by your words shall you be justified, and by them shall you be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).

Known answer questions are asked against a backdrop of pre-existing laws, rules, or other expectations, such as in the following examples:

Peter answered [Shappirah], “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” She said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter asked her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? …She fell down immediately at his feet and died… Great fear came on the whole assembly, and on all who heard these things. (Acts 5:8-11)

“Yeshua …seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” He said this to try him, for he himself knew what he would do.” (John 6:5-6)

And within our featured context:

God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat?(Gen. 3:11)

In these examples, the trying questions established truths included for others’ benefit, based on some preexistent standard. In the case of Shappirah, the standard was “you shall not tempt the LORD your God.” (Deut. 6:16) Peter confirmed her lie through her own words, but the result was a warning for anyone in a new covenant who maybe wanted to tempt God. In the case of Philip, Yeshua was testing him on his faith, based on Yeshua’s recent testimony that all would see “greater works” (cf. John 5:20). Yeshua was looking for someone else knowing “what God was going to do.” Lastly, in our featured context, the standard was YHVH’s previous commandment to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The cross examination that followed was a type of trial, to show Adam had transgressed the law by his own words.

If we think bigger, we can see that YHVH and His emissaries asked these questions for our benefit, because they were recorded in the Good Book – that we who follow in Adam and Eve’s footsteps may learn from mistakes of the past.

God knows, and will always know, everything. He will however afford each and every person a trial, in order for him to account of everything he or she has done in this life – even if God already knows. The results of this judgment-to-come prove that YHVH is just, but it also reproves the righteous – that God is serious about His law, which shows who He is and who He’s not.

I wish that skeptics could see that the prototype of the judgment-to-come, when God cross examines Adam in a human-esque form – which I believe is a prophecy of Messiah Yeshua judging humanity in His resurrected body – is not an indication of his lack of omniscience, but rather proof of a trial prosecution – that He will administer to vindicate or condemn every soul according to their works.

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Genesis 2:18 – When Did Good and Evil Enter the World?

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The preceding line was a commandment given to Adam – one that forbade eating from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. The same word in verse 17 for ‘good’ (Heb. tov) reappears in verse 18, as God says “it is not good for man to be alone”.

When God said this, Adam hadn’t yet eaten from the forbidden tree, so may conclude that he didn’t realize that companionship was “good”. However, God knew, and so declared Adam’s solitude as “not good” (in other words, evil).  Then, He immediately begins to counter  evil with a good work. Admittedly, God doesn’t need to say aloud what he finds obvious, but His words were recorded for our benefit – to show how God was always interested in countering evil with good, even before mankind knew the two existed.

Therefore, the above Scripture exemplifies that in the absence of mankind’s evil, God is and always has been determined to bringing about good for all mankind. “The God of the Old Testament” is often accused of being a bloodthirsty tyrant, but from the Beginning it was not so! According to this, it’s the nature of Yahweh Elohim to better mankind according to what He considers good.

Today, it seems every argument concerning morality focuses on what mankind considers good and evil. We hear it on our street corners and at our dinner tables: “‘I think this is right!’ …‘Well, I think you’re wrong, this is why!’” But in the end – or should I say, in the beginning – the only relevant dilemma is what GOD considers good and evil.

What actually occurred when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge was the opening of our eyes to the existence of good and evil. Afterward, we would forever gravitate toward one or the other, depending on the inclinations of our hearts and minds. However, was good and evil created that day? Of course not! It was hanging on that tree the entire time! (In case you were wondering, here’s why). It was also on the earth already, even in Eden. For when Adam was alone, God declared it to be “not good.” Good and evil did not enter the world like pagan myths suggest (i.e. Pandora’s Box); that is an extra-biblical concept. What really happened at Eden, was mankind gaining sight (“their eyes were opened” -Gen 3:7) to right and wrong – thus creating the human dilemma.

There are plenty of arbitrary arguments about what constitutes good or evil in the world, but I suggest they’re smoke screens to the real question. The real question is, “What is right and wrong… according to God?” This is the oldest dilemma in the history of the world – even older than the one facing mankind, as demonstrated by Genesis 2:18.

Therefore, all statements starting with “I think…” or “I feel…” or “Why should I…” are irrelevant. Conundrums which do not reach beyond this world are called “vanity”. However, if you ask “What does God think about such and such” then I would commend you for entertaining a conundrum that exceeds this world.

There is a lot of talk in our society today, but most of it a vanity-on-vanity debate. Many offer opinions about the news of the day, but it’s all about definitions. We try to define marriage, racism, sexism, gender, traditions and everything else under a fading sun. Many surrender to such vanity, but that’s because they fail to remember God’s original dilemma:

First, God saw the evil (The man is isolated). Then, God planned for good to overcome it (“I will make him a helper”). Then, God brought about His intent. For believers, this is the recipe for success. We must determine evil solely by God’s truth. Of course, truth lies at the source of knowing what God labels good and evil – which is found in the Word of God. His truth was recorded first in the Torah of Moshe and completely revealed through Messiah Yeshua. Everything else is simply man’s opinion – a byproduct of the Tree of Knowledge, and therefore worthless vanity.

In this world we are caught in a sea of vanity, but like our God, we must rectify it and bring about justice, mercy, and truth – whatever counters the evil we face on a daily basis. This may seem elementary, but it is really anything different than this:

Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

Just as God beheld Adam in an evil situation (no companionship), He countered it with a good work (making a helper). In the example from Matthew, Yeshua teaches us to think the same way – when we see evil (hunger, thirst, nakedness) we should counter it with a good work (meeting the need). We would only be doing exactly what God has shown us by His example.

Human beings must stop being the arbiter of good and evil and make our decisions according to God’s standards, found in His Word. Otherwise, we will have 7 billion different versions of right and wrong, which we inherited from the Tree of Knowledge. This is the same reason we have so many different religions and political positions in the world today. I say there is only one truth, which is what God alone considers good and evil.♦

Genesis 2:17, ‘You will die before the day is over!’ — Say what?

“And from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will not eat – for when you eat from it, by dying you will die.” (Genesis 2:17, my translation)

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB) criticizes this verse: “God says that if Adam eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then the day that he does so, he will die. But later Adam eats the forbidden fruit (3:6) and yet lives for another 930 years (5:5).”

The SAB commentary isn’t surprising, given that several Biblical translations of Genesis 2:17b seem to concur:

  • because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” (Common English Bible)
  • If you eat any fruit from that tree, you will die before the day is over!” (Contemporary English Version)
  • If you eat fruit from that tree, on that day you will certainly die!” (Easy-to-Read Version)
  • You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die the same day.” (Good News Translation)
  • because you will certainly die during the day that you eat from it.” (International Standard Version)
  • Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.” (The Message)
  • Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die. (The VOICE)

I’ve posted before on what I think the Hebrew says literally (‘in the day you eat from it, dying you die’), but I hope that novices can see that several tidbits of the above translations are far from warranted! The phrases ‘before the day is over!’, ‘certainly/surely die’, ‘the same day’, even ‘moment’, are imaginations, and nowhere near inspired from the text. I will address these poor translations in a moment, but I will first focus on the translation of “in the day.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the Hebrew idiom b’yom. In that previous post I noted how a pseudo-theologian with a Ph.D. used this idiom to prove his Old Earth  agenda. In Genesis 2:17, there just seems to be a hesitance to interpret (as opposed to translate) this idiom. It’s unfortunate that nearly all the popular translations leave the idiom as “in the day”. A few of them, such as the ESV and RSV, provide a footnote explaining it metaphorically means “when”, but none of them interpret the idiom for their cross-culture, Western audience within the text itself. Some, like the samples listed above, take the idiom way too literally as a 24-hour period (i.e. before the day is over!)

I understand some readers may want idioms translated literally, but when it’s coupled with other poor translations like the latter clause of this verse (such as “you’re dead” or “you will certainly die!”) it breeds confusion and contempt. It leads to accusations of Biblical contradictions.

The latter clause means that if Adam ate from the forbidden tree, he would experience “death by dying”, which happened exactly how God warned – Adam began to die when He disobeyed the commandment. I realize there’s a campaign to portray the God of the Old Testament as a stone cold killer, but the language was not a stay of execution like some would spin it!

The ironic thing is that our English-speaking ancestors were closer to the original Hebrew than what we have today:

  • “for in whatever day thou shalt eat thereof, thou shalt die by death.” (Wycliffe, 1395)
  • “for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death.” (Geneva Bible, 1599)
  • for in the day of thine eating of it — dying thou dost die.” (Young’s Literal Translation, 1862)
  • For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.” (Douay-Rheims American, 1899)

It seems the closer we get to “modern” or “contemporary” English, the further we get from the intent of the original Scriptures!

Believers everywhere intend to rightly divide the Word of Truth (see 2 Tim. 2:15). If we are seriously invested in scriptural accuracy, we should probably demand better biblical translations – lest before the day is over they mislead us in a moment with the Message of God’s Word in Common, Modern, and Contemporary English! ♦

Genesis 2:16-17, Who Can Eat from the Tree of Knowledge?

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

This verse provokes a reasonable question from both skeptics and believers: ‘If God didn’t want Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, why put it within his reach?’

Skeptics usually ask this question from a sarcastic point of view – often accusing God of entrapment. Believers on the other hand ask this question to better understand God’s will. However, both sides seem to think it would make better sense for God to put the Tree of Knowledge as far from Adam as possible so he would not sin.

I believe the answer to the question is more simple than complex. First, let’s look at what YHVH actually says to the man:

In the day YOU eat from it, dying YOU shall die.” (vs. 17). The Hebrew records the –echa suffix making it quite clear God is speaking directly to Adam. However, the Bible never claims the tree’s fruit wouldn’t be eaten… it only says mankind is forbidden to eat it. This of course provokes another question: ‘who CAN eat the fruit?’

The Tree of Knowledge was in a garden planted by God. He is the owner; its trees and fruit belonged to Him. Adam worked and preserved the garden but was allowed to reap its bounty – including the fruitful delicacies that were seemingly always in season. However, the placement of the Tree of Knowledge at the center of the Garden shouldn’t be viewed solely as the entrapment or temptation of Adam. Perhaps there is another explanation.

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Spirit is the form by which God is historically known – omnipresent and always near. Of course, God never changes – He was Spirit when Adam kept the Garden of Eden. However, the Bible records God in another form back then:

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day… the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9, ESV)

Sometimes, God manifests Himself in our dimension, though He is always Spirit. In such manifestations, He walks, He talks, and looks like a man. In fact, His whole purpose of creating Mankind was to eventually become a Man, as He did through His promised visitation to Israel as Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). In those days, He was accustomed to eat and drink with those who desired His company. After ultimately demonstrating God’s plan of atonement through His death, He even ate in His resurrected body:

“Yeshua himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were terrified and filled with fear, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. He said to them, “Why are you troubled? …Touch me and see, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have.” …While they still didn’t believe for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. He took them, and ate in front of them. He said to them, “This is what I told you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written in the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, concerning me must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:36-44)

God is Spirit indeed, but in times past and future, He desires to eat and drink with men. At His last Passover, Yeshua gave us a glimpse of this fellowship in the olam haba (age to come):

He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in God’s Kingdom.” He received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, “Take this, and share it among yourselves, for I tell you, I will not drink at all again from the fruit of the vine, until God’s Kingdom comes.” (Luke 22:16-18)

There is a day known to God when we will once again eat with Messiah Yeshua in His Kingdom. Until that day, we find joy that God has always desired fellowship with men by eating and drinking in flesh and bone:

The LORD appeared to (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and saw that three men stood near him. When he saw them, he ran to meet them… and said, “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please don’t go away from your servant. Now let a little water be fetched, wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. I will get a piece of bread so you can refresh your heart… He took butter, milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them. He stood by them under the tree, and they ate. (Gen. 18:1-8)

Just as He did through the life of Yeshua, YHVH ate with His servants. He dined with Avraham, and He walked and talked in the Garden of Eden to have fellowship with Adam. Unfortunately, Adam failed where Avraham later succeeded.

The Tree of Knowledge’s fruit was tasty, being “good for food” (Gen. 3:6). However, no one may eat from the Tree of Knowledge unless first possessing “knowledge of good and evil”. Based on the Scriptures, YHVH was the only one who was able to eat from both the Tree of Knowledge AND the Tree of Life concurrently. When broadcasting how mankind became like God -“knowing good and evil” – God knew Adam might also become like Him by eating from the Tree of Life, and thus regain immortality (see Gen 3:22). However, as Genesis 2:16-17 clearly shows, Man was never forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life! Adam had possessed eternal life before he lost it; it was a gift of God (isn’t it interesting that eternal life has always been a gift of God?)! However, as YHVH possesses both eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil, He alone could eat from both trees at the same time.

Conclusion

The Tree of Knowledge’s sweet fruit wasn’t meant to entrap Adam – it was for YHVH to eat while He fellowshipped with Adam Man-to-man. I believe YHVH expected Adam to offer Him the sweet fruit in the same way Avraham offered YHVH a fatted calf. This is evidenced by YHVH’s question after Adam fell, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) It’s as if God was saying, ‘you used to run to greet me, where are you today?’ However, Adam didn’t run to YHVH that day – His eyes were opened to evil, and mankind would forever run the opposite direction, with the evil inclination of his heart.♦

The Hebrew Genesis and Ancient Near East Creation Accounts

Before delving deeper on the two complementary creation narratives of Genesis, I wanted to address a fairly common argument I’ve encountered on and off the past couple years, both in personal conversations and in the media. By “media” I mean blogs, forums, and scholarly journals, to include theses from theologians and Christian apologists! Every so often I encounter claims like the following:

  1. “Most Egyptian Creation stories predate [the earliest Genesis texts] by many centuries.” http://www.free-online-bible-study.org/egyptian-mythology.html
  2. Since the Nile river, with its annual floods played a critical role in this cosmic order, water was the first element in the cosmos that existed before anything else, and this was passed to the Hebrews in a slightly different form…in fact we have to wonder how much the ancient Hebrews borrowed from Egyptian mythology to explain the creation of the universehttp://www.aldokkan.com/religion/creation.htm
  3. “Evidence for this lies in the many allusions to Egyptian creation motifs throughout the Genesis creation accounts. But, rather than being a case of direct borrowing, they demythologize the Egyptian concepts and form a polemic against the Egyptian gods.” (From Dallas Theological Seminary, via https://bible.org/article/genesis-1-2-light-ancient-egyptian-creation-myths)

Besides Egyptian sources, other Ancient Near East (ANE) mythologies are claimed to have influenced Genesis:

  1. “findings at Ugarit… predate the Hebrew settlement at Canaan… some of the same gods that appear in the (Old Testament), produced after the Hebrew contact with the Ugarit region.” http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2007/08/27/ugarit-and-the-bible/
  2. “My research indicates that, at times, “reversals” are occurring in the Hebrew transformation and re-interpretation of the Mesopotamian myths.” http://www.religioustolerance.org/com_geba.htm

There are dozens of more resources available on these topics; these are merely a sampling.

Such comparisons highlight the similarities between ANE (hereafter defined as Ancient Egypt and its surrounding area) and Genesis, such as linguistics, literary structure (the order of the stories), and topics. Truth be told, the arguments are intriguing. There are in fact many similarities between Genesis and ANE pagan myths: all feature an earth created out of a primitive “water world”, the sky is separated from the earth, land emergences after a recession of water, the seat of a chief god from which flows waters, as well as several others.

Some names of deities are also shared. Especially in the case of Ugarit, there is reportedly a “court of elohim” (the gods) with various names, such as Baal, Asherah, and Yhw (yahweh). They all sit under the throne of Ilu, the chief god (comparable to the Hebrew ‘El’).

Not surprisingly, these interpretations are spun in a way to show how the Hebrews reinterpreted monotheism from polytheistic sources, and adopted ‘Yahweh’ as the chief God of Israel. [Note: Most theologians and apologists cite the many differences; most atheist and skeptical sources do not].

The fact is, creation accounts of the ANE and Genesis do share too many similarities to be coincidence, except of course for the differences in monotheistic and polytheistic nuances. For example, in Genesis God creates the sky, but in Egypt the chief god Ra creates the sky god, Nut. In other words, the objects of God’s creation in Genesis seem to equate to a corresponding ANE deity and/or power.

All these critiques are based off of one key assumption: ‘the ANE myths preceded the Biblical narrative’. Even an apologetic article from Answers in Genesis (AiG) speculates that “Moses challenged all the false ideologies around him.” Such comparisons leave many in an defensive position apologizing for Genesis as type of an anti-myth. However, this is an untenable position; the Bible teaches in several places that the six-day creation was real history, confirmed by the Torah (i.e. Exodus 20:11), Prophets, Psalms, and the words of Messiah Yeshua (i.e. Matt. 19:5-6).

While it is a possible that Moshe “myth busted” local creation myths with the original story, I think there is a better explanation, as all writers are missing the point on this topic – especially theologians and apologists (exemplified in the sources above) – for reasons I address below.

Does “Older” Mean “Original”?

The first assumption to address is that ‘because ANE sources are older than any Hebrew source, the Hebrew source borrowed the material’. I believe it is intellectually dishonest to even attempt this comparison.

First of all, the Egyptian sources are hieroglyphics, which are useful waypoints in history but hardly proof of originality. The answer to ‘what inspired the hieroglyphics?’ lies beyond our current knowledge.

Secondly, Hebrew sources are missing because of the nature of Israelite civilization. The Hebrews did not build pyramids made of mortar and brick; their “original sources” would have been written on scrolls of skins or papyri – biological materials that could never designed to withstand the test of time, nor could they – as Jerusalem was destroyed over two dozen times and its only prized hardened structure – Solomon’s Temple – was demolished long ago.

Thirdly, the Hebrew Bible (aka tanakh) is assumed to be a recording of oral histories finally appearing in written form between Moshe and the the Babylonian captivity. For this reason, we will see statements like “the Egyptian sources predate the Hebrews’ by many centuries” because no one really knows the dates of either! [White Rabbit: Yet whenever written artifacts are found Biblical dates magically bump up overnight…]

Because of the lack of evidence, dating the Bible depends – ironically –on textual criticism (aka biblical testimony). As an example, Judges 17:6 reads “there was no king in those days…” Therefore, textual criticism demands a date when there was a king in Israel, with a minimal time of the reign of Saul. [White Rabbit: the reason I say “ironically” is because while a statement like “I know the Flood happened because the Bible records it” is begging the question, yet “the Bible is X years old because its own textual criticism demands it” is considered scholarship].

We should keep in mind, though, that textual criticism, like the documentary hypothesis, is only evidence of compilation, not originality, no more than Egyptian hieroglyphics are a date of inscription, not originality. The term “original” is one of speculation, not fact.

However, other textual criticisms are largely ignored, such as indicators that the Bible was compiled from pre-existing written sources, and evidence of a common oral history.

Evidences of oral tradition appear very earlier in the biblical text. For example Lamech, the father of Noach (Noah), said “This one will comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, caused by the ground which the LORD has cursed (Gen 5:29).” According to “textual criticism”, Lamech (and Noach) knew the history of Adam and his curse which happened centuries earlier. At the burning bush, Moshe – and later the elders – was not surprised he had ancestors named “Avraham v’Yitzhak v’Yaakov”. Israel knew enough oral history to carry Yosef’s bones from Egypt. All of these – plus many more – are evidences of oral history.

In Genesis, “These are the histories of the heavens and the earth” (2:1) dictates that Genesis was compiled from pre-existing historical scrolls, as does “the book of the history of Adam” (Gen 5:1). Therefore, Genesis itself testifies that it cannot be an original source – just an original compilation. Other verses indicate the Tanakh had much older written ancestors (Exodus 24:7, Num 21:24, etc.), leaving us evidence that the Tanakh is a compilation of much older “originals”.

All attempts to judge “historicity” of original ANE sources is flimsy scholarship. In the case of Egypt and Israel, comparisons are made between assumed originals versus known compilations, respectively. This is merely “apples-to-oranges”, a faulty comparison fallacy.

I believe the theologians and apologists should dismiss claims that Egyptian “originals” predate Biblical “originals”. There is simply no reason to accept the presumptions and associated faulty logic, nor can originality be proven in antiquity.

A Note on Egyptian Chronolog(ies) (?)

The chronology of Ancient Egypt is still a contested subject. Egypt’s chronology has been bumped forward several times by secular Egyptologists, popularly in 1906 by J.H. Breasted, and in the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (2000). In fact, in last thirty years there has been a flurry of activity in revising Egypt’s chronology, as every few years “New Dates for Egypt’s Pharaohs” are announced. Critical reviews always reveal various inconsistencies and problems in the dating record, such as corresponding Egyptian dates with historically knowns and contemporary empires.

You don’t have to be an Egyptologist to understand the shaky nature of its chronological record. For example, it is well established that the oldest written synchronism linking Egypt’s timeline to another empire – Babylon – is a stele of Neferhotep I of the 13th Dynasty. On his Wikipedia page, seven alternative dates are given for his reign! Wikipedia cites links to regal predecessors, and Neferhotep I’s predecessor, Sobekhotep III, has a timeline of “1740 BC or 1700 BC” (give or take 40 years). His predecessor Seth Meribe, ruled “less than 10 years, probably less than 5 years, ending 1749 BC” (Assuming Sobekhotep III began his reign in 174o BCE, there are still nine unaccounted years between him and Seth Meribre!). We might surmise that these unaccounted years begin to accumulate, especially when clicking through the predecessors makes you surf in circles! However, anyone can see that successions of pharaohs are contested, and contain a lot of “circa” and (?) symbols. In my opinion, nobody really knows what happened before the 13th Dynasty – if then!

The concerning fact is that Egyptian chronology helps determine all the other chronologies of the ANE – including Ugarit and Canaan – the sources of other creation myths which “inspired” Genesis. But if Egypt’s timeline is shaky, then the others are shaky as well.

With such inconsistencies, the historical “evidence” of creation myths inspiring Genesis based on assumed ANE chronologies is a flawed premise. However, Dallas Theological Seminary and the aforementioned article from AiG have argued under this assumption. However, AiG does offer another article written by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell. She cites work by David Down, who postulated an alternate chronology of Egypt based on overlapping (non-successive) dynasties and known historical events. In such models (there are others), Dynasties V-VI appear well after the time of Bavel (Babel) and Avraham’s sojourn in Egypt (Abraham). This is significant because of my next points.

Who Influenced Whom?

The oldest written ANE creation myth comes from Egyptian hieroglyphics called the “Coffin Texts” dated to Dynasties V-VI (?). In traditional scholarship, these appear 200 years before Bavel and 400 years before Avraham. In revised chronologies, these dynasties appear after Avraham visited Egypt (ref. Gen 12:10-20).

In the biblical text, Avraham left in the original exodus. Though Pharaoh had clear indications that Elohim was with Avraham, he expelled Avraham rather than make him an ally, showing that Egypt’s hard-heartedness began long before Moshe. Nevertheless, Gen 12:16 says that Pharaoh treated Avram well for Sarai’s sake, sustaining Avram, his servants, and livestock in the famine. Since the Bible holds that Pharaoh’s house related to Avram’s, exchanges of oral traditions are not out of the question. If the power of God was clearly demonstrated to Pharaoh and his advisors, who is to say Avraham’s traditions did not influence Egypt?

Everything that deals with Egypt’s chronology is pure conjecture anyway, why not use the Bible as a historical source to make a hypothesis of “textual criticism”?

One Language, One Speech, One Common History

I understand the above scenario is imagination, but the real key to understanding history lies with Bavel, where “the whole earth was one language, and one race” (Gen 11:1). Research also attests to people groups sporadically appearing all over the world, inexplicably linked to linguistic histories.

Besides one language, the world shared one common history, and one oral tradition. After the dispersal, these families developed their own versions from the earth’s common history, which may be why every culture has similar creation, giant, flood, and tower legends. In fact, the various creation stories should bear some resemblance to each other – an indicator of a common oral history up to the dispersal of Bavel. However, because the nations distanced themselves from a Holy and All-Powerful God (the essential teaching of Genesis 11), we should also expect variations reflecting the lusts of the nations, which are present in ANE creation myths. Pagan mythologies are highly sensual and portray entities grappling for power by violence… which generally reflects Mankind before and immediately after the Flood!

One of those who left Bavel was named “Mizraim” (Gen 10:6). Mizraim was the uncle of Nimrod, who “began to be a god in the earth… a mighty warrior against YHVH (vv. 8-10)” Mizraim and its Semitic cognates comprise the universal term in ANE sources for that civilization in the Nile River Valley, known today as “Egypt”. According to the Bible, Nimrod did not make war with his fellow descendants of Ham. Nimrod conquered Eastward, where Asshur, the descendant of Shem had settled (cff. Gen. 10:8-10, 22). A few generations later, the Mitzrim flourished in a fertile Nile valley, capitalizing from Nile inundations, arable lands and abundant crop harvests, all the while separated from Nimrod’s wars. The rest is history, or shall we say – a perverted history (?) of sensuality, Nile gods, and sun worship.

Conclusion

From times following Nimrod’s Bavel, each dispersed world culture developed its own history, but kept variations of the common world history within their creation, giant, flood, and linguistic myths. This indicates why ANE mythologies lose similarity to biblical narratives beginning with Avraham in Genesis 12, but leads to speculative academic opinions based on nothing but conjecture, summed up as ‘ancient polytheistic sources influenced monotheistic Genesis!’

However, this is based on several assumptions and flawed logic, based on 1) commonly held assumptions about ancient chronologies built on shaky dating methodology, 2) oral histories of civilizations are not considered, especially with regards to the ancient Hebrews, 3) alternative ANE chronologies are not considered, and 4) the Bible indicates that all myths were influenced by a common world history.

While secular academia are making claims about religious inspirations based on assumptions and conjecture, theologians and apologists should weigh all the indicators, before making unnecessary claims about Moshe, Genesis, and therefore God that would portray them as “mythbusters” or adoptees of pre-existing literature.

Either the Bible is a record of infallible truth, or its integrity is questionable. I suppose it’s a matter of whose report you believe, but as for me, I will continue to believe the report of YHVH Elohim. All arguments made against His report fall short of the indicators that He was there before the world began, and with mankind… well, at least until they chose to run from Him!

Genesis: “But It’s Not Chronological!”

A footnote to Genesis 1:1 in the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible reads: “The first of two contradictory creation accounts. Compare with Genesis 2:4-25 in which the order of events is entirely different.”

As we can plainly see from the Skeptic’s footnote, the basis for the “contradictory” label stems from the complaint that the two Creation accounts do not harmonize chronologically.

[~Insert imaginary “NEWSFLASH” beacon~] The Bible is not a chronological history book! All the Bible’s accounts are collections of histories, but its compilers were more interested in their topics, not their timing!

There are some great sources dedicated to the differences between Events vs. Continuous Time, and the Hebrew mind and the Western mind. In a nutshell, the concept of time to Hebrew writers is vastly different to Greek readers – chronology takes a backseat to content.

However, Skeptic’s does not just unfairly judge by a faulty pretense (chronology), the author is also wrong about the content. The Skeptic’s misunderstanding comes from the English translation of key Hebrew verbs and vocabulary, which doesn’t always adequately translate Hebrew grammar in its rightful context. For example, Genesis 2:19 appears to say that animals appeared after man, after clearly being made before mankind in Genesis 1. However, since verbs in ancient Hebrew lack the many forms extant in Western languages (such as pluperfect, etc.), the translation “He had formed” which is plausible by context, becomes lost. However, the Hebrew verb forms do allow such a translation.

It may be reasonable for skeptics to question topical occurrences in Scripture, but not at all reasonable to object to Western standards of accuracy that didn’t exist at the time of ancient Near East sources. The Bible simply isn’t a chronological book. The Torah skips in its accounts – especially in the lives of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s) twelve sons, the burdens of the Prophets aren’t even close to being arranged in chronological order. The separate books of the Bible are no where near compiled in order! Even the Gospels, who record Yeshua from birth-to-resurrection, are not chronological. Gospel writers focused on meshing topics of His teachings together; the sequence of His life was secondary.

Therefore, when challenged with “The Bible isn’t chronological!” the immediate response should be “Is it obligated to be chronological?” It may actually be a chance to explain the details and topics of the Scriptures (i.e. What Yeshua said), while getting Western slaves of time out from their chronological blinders.

Genesis 1:1, God Created the Heavens… Which One?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

In this verse, “heavens” is the translation from the Hebrew shamayim. Judging from what we see in both religious and skeptic sources, it would seem shamayim means the following:

  • Skeptic’s Annotated Bible: “the earth and “heaven” are created together “in the beginning,” whereas according to current estimates, the earth and universe are about 4.6 and 13.7 billion years old, respectively.”
  • The Good Atheist: “Even at the very beginning, it doesn’t sound like anything a scientist would say when describing the birth of the universe.”
  • Apologetics Press: “The most fundamental question that a person can (and should) ask is: “Where did the Universe and everything in it (including myself) come from?” … It is fitting that the only God-inspired book in the world—the Bible—answers this very question in its opening statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.””
  • Institute for Creation Research: “the absolute origin of the universe.”
  • Answers in Genesis: “God created the space-mass-time universe
  • The International Standard Version: Translates Genesis 1:1 as “In the beginning God created the Universe.”

These definitions attempt to extrapolate shamayim (as recorded in Genesis 1:1) to represent the entire Universe, with its 170 billion+ galaxies, septillion stars, and countless more planets, asteroids, and other phenomena. That seems like a pretty big place, but is this what the Scriptures describe? What if we read the Bible without any outside noise to see how the Bible alone defines “shamayim”?

First of all, shamayim does appear in its plural form [the –im suffix denotes plurality of Hebrew nouns] hence shamayim is correctly translated as ‘heavens’ in half of English bibles translations (NIV, ESV, NASB et al). However, like some other Hebrew words, shamayim does not appear in the singular, thus it also can be correctly rendered ‘heaven’, which is the preference in the other half of English translations (KJV, ERV, WBT, JPS et al). Ambiguous translations like these arise; when they do we should rely on context for  proper interpretation. Fortunately for some words like shamayim, they reappear multiple times throughout a particular context- in this case, throughout the Creation week.

In terms of composition, Genesis 1:1 is a topic sentence, establishing the main point (“God created the heavens and the earth”) before the following material elaborates (how it was created). It is also an introductory sentence and has a conclusion statement counterpart in Genesis 2:1- “The heavens, the earth, and all their vast array were finished.” These two sentences act as ‘bookends’ for the creation week; they describe the events written following and preceding Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:1, respectively. Therefore, the shamayim in Genesis 1:1 is the same shamayim in Genesis 2:1, as is every shamayim in between. Therefore, I suggest translations of shamayim should be consistent to avoid confusion. They are the same after all. For example, this is how the NIV translates Genesis 1:1 and 1:7-8:

“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

“7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.””

Both of the bolded words above are shamayim. However, the NIV translates it into two separate words, and the first is plural and the second is singular! However, they both describe the same event! This allows too much flexibility, which leads to applying Genesis 1:1 to the Universe (as exemplified above), and then extrapolating the same shamayim in Genesis 1:8 to just the Earth’s sky and/or atmosphere.  For the average reader, it’s nearly impossible to ascertain truth with multiple translations for the same word within a passage designed to be one complete thought.

Now here are some places shamayim is used from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:1:

In the beginning, God created the shamayim and the earth. (1:1)

God said, “Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse “shamayim”. (1:6-8)

God said, “Let the waters under the shamayim be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear” (1:9)

4 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the shamayim to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs to mark seasons, days, and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the shamayim to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the shamayim to give light to the earth. (1:14-17)

God said, “Let the waters abound with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the shamayim.” (1:20)

The shamayim, the earth, and all their vast array were finished. (2:1)

From these occurrences, this is what we do know about shamayim:
1. shamayim divides the surface of the earth from everything above.
2. Bodies of water (clouds perhaps) different from bodies of water on the earth were originally in the shamayim.
3. The sun, the moon, and the stars- two great luminaries with their vast array give light on the earth and are for signs and seasons-were placed in the shamayim.
4. Birds can also fly in the shamayim.

So this is what we know about shamayim: it hosts the sun, moon, stars and… birds? So we see, shamayim does not match what we currently know about atmospheres, the solar system, light years, etc. In fact, it seems that Genesis 1 only records things which we can see… from the perspective of the earth!

Is there further evidence of this? Yes, of course! First of all, we must see where God was when “He created the shamayim and the earth.” Genesis 1:2 says this:

“The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

So, we see God came down in the beginning, and created the shamayim while hovering above the surface of earth. Secondly, we have already seen how God hung the sun, moon, and stars “to give light on the earth”; they were also “for signs and seasons”. This is to say, unless we can see its light from the earth, it does not apply to Genesis 1. This is further evidenced by the decree for them “to be signs and for seasons”. It is self-evident, that if these created lights cannot be seen from the earth, they are not a sign, and likewise do not apply to the Genesis account. However, God’s design of the constellations, the cycles of the moon, eclipses, and the planets- indeed, we see their beauty as gifts.

Many skeptics, apologists, and translators alike want the shamayim of Genesis 1 to represent the entire Universe, as noted above. While doing so fits their purposes, I suggest that it is a mistake and adds to the Bible as its written. The heaven above us- shamayim– is like a living painting which constantly changes. It glimmers like diamonds, it weeps with rain, it winks at us like a crescent of the moon. God has brought it a long way from the darkness that encompassed this small corner of space like in the beginning; it is now teeming with light and wonders. However, shamayim is only what we can see with our collective naked eye- nothing more, and nothing less. It does not apply to the rest of the Universe.

Now, should we be ignorant of the greater Universe beyond our beautifully designed shamayim? Of course not! The Bible gives us a glimpse of that beauty beyond as well:

“But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens [shamayim v’shamye hashamayim] can’t contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

We have always known of a vast Universe of possibility beyond that which we can see with our eyes (and also what we can conceive by our puny minds). Whatever the Universe is, it’s not big enough to limit our God. However, He does want us to know the beauty of our own shamayim, which is why we must stop extrapolating Genesis to represent beyond what we can see. For example, Genesis 2:1 says “the shamayim, and the earth, and all their vast array were finished”. If we assume here that shamayim means “the Universe”, we limit God from further creating anything else throughout time and space. But if we limit ourselves to read what’s simply written in Genesis, ascribing to it only what we can see, then God’s creative power remains limitless.

I’m not suggesting that arguments for the “Age of the Universe” or scientific observations are false; I’m just saying that Genesis 1 should not be evidence for such arguments. It might be true for our own galaxy, but even that is pushing the limitations of Genesis. Genesis 1 simply does not discuss the creation of time, matter, or even other galaxies besides the Milky Way. That information- at least from a biblical perspective- is pure conjecture. Information about “the heaven of heavens” may be hidden from us, but in the end, does it really matter?

What is obvious is that God chose this corner of space for us, as the Scriptures point to one certain truth: God created a shamayim for us somewhere, and that place is wonderfully here. Since the beginning of our time until now, we live under these “shamayim” discovering the One who made them- with us on His mind.♦

Genesis 1:1, “In the Beginning” and My Two Big Questions

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” [Genesis 1:1]

There are many interpretations of this initial scripture because it’s by far the most popular Bible verse in I don’t know… the heavens and the earth?

It’s Target One for skeptics and a manifesto vigorously defended by creationists – the subject of a long debate concerning human origins.

But it’s special because it introduces curious types to the Set-Apart Scriptures.  After the most casual reader opens a Bible, the first thing he reads is “In the beginning God...”

This was the certainly the case for me; when I first read the Picture Bible the same words appeared to me… “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I didn’t understand at age 8 what I now know at 35: the choice of words is perfect.

When someone reads a religious book, what is he really trying to answer? I believe it’s the answer to THE two questions everyone has to ask himself sooner or later: ‘Where have I come from?’ and ‘Where am I going?’

These two questions appear throughout the Scriptures in various forms, but only in two places do they appear together as one thought. The first is a question that God poses to a runaway slave girl who is in distress [Gen. 19:8]; the second is a greeting extended to a happy and wealthy Israelite traveling with his reunited wife [Judges 19:17]. The fact that these same two questions are asked to two extraordinarily different people- polar opposites in fact- is no coincidence.  It may be God asking you these two questions, it may be another human being asking you, but these two questions apply to everyone- slave or free, rich or poor, man or woman. Therefore, my two big questions are everyone else’s two big questions: “Where have I come from, and where am I going?”

These two big questions are the reason for the debate and controversy surrounding the Genesis creation story and its implications. “Where have we come from?” is the greater of the two for the obvious reason that origins define possession. If we came from a higher Power, it means we belong to Something or Someone; if we came from primordial ooze, we belong only to ourselves.

It’s for this reason the Bible starts off “In the beginning God…” Immediately, without pretext, God answers the first and greatest of the two big questions: “I did it; it was Me; you came from Me.” In that short phrase God declares Himself the Owner of all things.

God also grabs our attention here because He begins to answer the second big question at the same time, for as much as He calls his work a “beginning” it implies that there will someday be an ending.  So, this is God’s clever way of inviting us on a journey.  We start at the beginning, and maybe, by the time we reach the ending, we will have confidence to say “I know where I come from, and I know where I’m going!”♦