Wednesday 14 February 2007
I want to say straight off, Richard Wiedenheft is one of the good guys. Richard is one of the "class of 74", WCG ministers who acted on principle and left Armstrongism in a tidal wave of self-honesty and disgust, valuing integrity over paychecks. 1974 seems a long time ago, but many of these people are still around. These days Wiedenheft ministers in the Church of God (Seventh Day).
I also want to say that, as ex-ministers go, Richard appears to have a whole lot more savvy than most. He's well read, thoughtful and "pastoral" in the best sense of that word. Way back in the long-ago, he even graciously mailed me regular copies of his newsletter Focus On Truth, and played host to a friend and fellow Kiwi who was touring the US in the aftermath of Garner Ted's final ouster.
In the latest (Jan-Feb) Bible Advocate, Richard has contributed a feature article called Creation's Roots and Realities. I wouldn't normally have bothered reading it, but then noticed that Richard refers to the Enuma Elish in his endnotes.
Enuma Elish? That's an ancient epic that probably goes back to the reign of Nebuchadnezzer I. It might not be as famous as the Gilgamesh epic, but scholars of the Hebrew Bible value it highly because it predates Genesis, throwing light on the creation of the later document.
The point is, Richard is no wooden-minded fundamentalist. Over three pages he waxes eloquent about Genesis and gives comforting messages about its meaningfulness, without indicating that he sees it as literally true.
Am I complaining? Heck, no! It's a carefully crafted article that can be read as either supportive of the special nature of Genesis (and uncritical readers will assume that means a literal reading) or an encouragement to read Genesis at a deeper (i.e. non-literal) level.
But I'm not so sure that is helpful. Most BA readers will miss the point, if there is one. After all, COG7 is a Sabbatarian church, and as we all know, Sabbatarian churches are staunchly literal when it comes to Genesis. Richard has been dipping into the Enuma, and checking out what the big boys are saying in the Eerdmans Bible Commentary. That's great. But knowledge brings responsibility.
Moses did not write Genesis. (Richard hints at this when he writes "Moses may not have been the original author of all Genesis...") Genesis is derived and adapted from earlier mythologies. Here's what John Collins says on the matter.
The Bible claims that Moses received a new revelation, but even a new revelation was of necessity expressed in language that was already current... The Hebrew language uses the word El for God, and the term inevitably carried with it associations of the Canaanite high god. The biblical creation stories draw motifs from the myths of Atrahasis and Enuma Elish, and from the Epic of Gilgamesh. In short, much of the language and imagery of the Bible was culture specific, and was deeply embedded in the traditions of the Near East.
(John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.45)
That's straight talk. Any church which doesn't "fess up" to things like this is in effect misleading the people in the pews, endorsing a lie because the truth is uncomfortable. Genesis did not drop down out of the sky into Moses' waiting arms on tablets of stone. It does not convey a prehistory of the planet. It is great literature, a testament to an ancient faith, but contains nothing to confirm the pre-scientific prejudices of fundamentalists.
Richard Wiedenheft's article steps up to the line but dares not cross it. Which is a shame. As it stands the article is a mere sacherine confection.