Sunday, February 28, 2021

Genesis and Inerrancy

Alice C. Linsley

From the perspective of anthropology, Genesis 1-11 is rich in data that enables us to identify the cultural contexts of Abraham’s ancestors. Though the material is not to be taken as a scientific account, it nonetheless contains data about Abraham’s ancestors that anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and DNA studies can confirm.

Noah was one of Abraham’s ancestors. Noah’s great grandson was Nimrod, a Kushite kingdom builder who left Africa and established a territory for himself in Mesopotamia. This explains why we first meet Abraham in Mesopotamia. However, his cultural context appears to be Kushite. (DNA studies have confirmed the Kushite migration out of Africa.)

We overcome most of the supposed contradictions between Science and Scripture once we identify the context of Abraham’s ancestors as Proto-Saharans and Nilotes living during the African Humid Period (African Aqualithic) when the Sahara was green and wet. Saharan petroglyphs dating to 4300-2900 BC depict boats transporting cattle. It is also significant that the only place on earth which is claimed by the natives to be Noah’s homeland is Bor-no (“land of Noah”) in the region of Lake Chad.

Noah would have lived in the Lake Chad area around 6000 years ago. At that time, God Father (Re) and God Son (Horus) were worshipped at the Horite Hebrew shrine city at Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) on the Nile. This was a very prestigious city as has been shown through archaeological discoveries there. The votive offerings and mace heads were larger than have been found elsewhere. There are numerous burial sites of high-ranking persons, some of whom had long wavy red hair (Burial 79). These are the likely ancestors of the Horites of Edom (Genesis 36). An Edomite chief named Esau is described as red and hairy. 

Some of the graves at Nekhen had painted ostrich eggs, symbols of the hope of resurrection. The earliest texts that speak of bodily resurrection are found among the Horite and Sethite Hebrew.

Using kinship analysis, a tool of cultural anthropology, the king lists of Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 have been shown to be authentic. They speak of historical persons. These were Horite and Sethite Hebrew rulers. They were a moiety, that is, one people divided into two ritual groups. We have writings from these ruler-priests that date to 4400 BC, roughly Noah’s time.

The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (2400-2000 BC) tell us that the Horites and the Sethites maintained separate settlements. Utterance 308 of the Pyramid Texts addresses them as separate but related groups: "Hail to you, Horus in the Horite Mounds! Hail to you, Horus in the Sethite Mounds!"

Utterance 470 contrasts the Horite mounds with the Sethite mounds, designating the Horite Mounds "the High Mounds.”

The Horite and Sethite Hebrew shared religious practices and beliefs, and they worshiped the same God and served the same king.

Though separate ritual groups, the Horites and the Sethites served the same king. Utterance 213 says: "O King, you have not departed dead, you have departed alive...The Mounds of Horus serve you, the Mounds of Seth serve you."

In his resurrection body the king is to "traverse the Mound of Horus of the Southerners" and "traverse the Mound of Horus of the Northerners" (PT Utterances 536 and 553). The risen king restores his settlements and cities, and opens doors to the Westerners, Easterners, Northerners and Southerners (Pt Utterance 587). He is to ascend to the heavens (PT Utterance 539).

The risen king unites the peoples, restores the former state of blessedness, and unites heaven and earth. When seen from this perspective, the Horite Hebrew religion appears to be the foundation of the Messianic hope that is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. This expectation was expressed about 1000 years before Psalm 91 in Utterance 388 of the Pyramid Texts. "Horus has shattered (tbb, crushed) the mouth of the serpent with the sole of his foot" (cf. Genesis 3:15).

The Question of Inerrancy

Once we identify Noah’s cultural context, we may investigate further. The Lake Chad region was constantly threatened by floods during Noah’s time. The Lake Chad Basin is relatively flat and prone to monsoonal flooding. It is ringed by mountains from which water drains into the Basin. During the African Humid Period there was an extensive system of interconnected lakes and rivers across the Sahara. The western Nile watershed extended well into the Sudan. Hydrological studies indicate many periods of flooding from the Nile to the Atlantic coast of Nigeria.

The archaeological discovery that Proto-Saharan rulers kept menageries of exotic animals is especially pertinent to Genesis 7-9. It is likely that these rulers attempted to rescue their prized creatures when threatened by inundation.

One of the oldest known zoological collections was found during the 2009 excavations at Nekhen. The menagerie dates to about 5500 years ago and included hippos, elephants, baboons, and wildcats.

The Hebrew term for "earth" in the flood stories is eretz, which also means territory. From Noah's perspective in a flooded lake area, it would have appeared that his entire territory was under water.

Biblical scholars agree that Genesis 1-11 is a complex and layered body of material. It contains data that pertains to the earliest Hebrew ancestors and material that appears to have been redacted by at least two later sources: the Deuteronomist Historian, and Jewish Rabbis. The Deuteronomist writes from the context of the Neo-Babylonian Period (c. 700-300 BC), about 1500 years after Abraham. The Rabbinic insertions reflect an even later period. They date from the first century AD to c. 600 AD.

A contextual incongruity is evident in Genesis 6:4 which poses the Nephilim as fallen angels (a Rabbinic notion) while also presenting them as historical “heroes of days gone by, men of renown.” "Nephilim" is derived from the same root as the Aramaic npyl which means giant, as in great. This is equivalent to the Arabic nfy, meaning hunter. Noah’s great grandson Nimrod is described as a “mighty hunter” or a “mighty man” before the Lord.

The perspectives of Noah and the post-exilic Jews present contextual incongruities. It is a matter of different cultural contexts, and yet the significant data has been preserved in the Genesis Prehistory. Understanding the material requires unraveling the interwoven elements and paying attention to textual and contextual incongruities. Contextual incongruities are not errors.

It is best to read the biblical texts with some skepticism, but since God is truthful and He has superintended the Scriptures, they tell us truth. We should read them as if they were law briefs: there is a majority opinion and a minority opinion. To gain a better understanding of Genesis 1-11 we need to be aware of the different perspectives.

Related reading: The Historicity of Noah's Flood; The Genesis King Lists; Abraham's Faith Lives in Christianity; Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection; Contextual Incongruities in Genesis

1 comment:

Richard said...

This was a very refreshing article. I especially appreciated the line, "contextual incongruities are not errors". Just think, if the pavement were entirely smooth and you walked without tripping the least little bit, you may never "wake up," look around and see the greater intricacies of the archetecture around you. Some "blocks" were placed intentionally to make you turn.