Thursday, April 27, 2023

New to Just Genesis?


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

If you are new to Just Genesis you may find this INDEX of Topics helpful.

The articles that appear here reflect an empirical approach to the study of biblical populations. The investigation of the cultural context of these populations is called Biblical Anthropology. This science is not to be confused with theological anthropology which is more speculative. 

Archaeology in the Bible lands is called "Biblical Archaeology" and the science of anthropology pertaining to Biblical populations is "Biblical Anthropology". This approach requires thinking empirically about the 66 canonical books from which we draw anthropologically significant data to better understand the social structure and religious beliefs and practices of biblical populations.

In this science assertions must be backed up with data from the biblical texts. Assumptions must be demonstrated to have a basis in the Scriptures. We avoid theological speculation and denominational interpretations.

The 66 canonical books of the Bible are the primary resource used by Biblical anthropologists, but we also look at other books of importance such as the Books of Enoch, Judith, and the Wisdom of Ben Sira (Sirach). These contain valuable anthropological information.

Anthropologists are interested in material culture. We want to know what people made, what materials they used, and what tools they used. We are curious about the things they used in daily life. How did they bury their dead? What did they believe about the creation of the world? What culture traits made their population distinctive? How did they organize for war? Where did the rulers derive their authority?

A central task of Biblical Anthropology is to uncover antecedents. Culture traits, ceremonies, rituals, and religious beliefs do not spring suddenly into existence. They develop organically over time from traditions received from the ancestors. Biblical anthropology provides tested methods and tools to push back the veil of time, to uncover anthropologically significant data that clarifies precedents, etiology, and context. The discoveries made in Biblical Anthropology prove helpful to students, pastors, and academics.

A central task of Biblical Anthropology is to uncover antecedents; something coming before what is described in the text. What events preceded the events recounted? From what earlier context did certain practices develop? What traces of ancient memory can be uncovered? Biblical Anthropology seeks to understand the cultural context of the Bible at the oldest foundations. It is concerned with ancestors and received traditions. Abraham's ancestors lived in the Nile Valley. Abraham was not the first Hebrew. The Hebrew ruler-priest caste from which he received his faith existed at least 2000 years before Abraham's time. That caste believed in God Father and God Son. The faith of Abraham was not Judaism. In Biblical Anthropology a distinction is made between the early Hebrew (4200-2000 B.C.), Jacob's clan of the Exodus called "Israelites" (1500 B.C.), and the Jews whose identity emerged after the Babylonian captivity (597-538 B.C.).

The biblical text always speaks of something older, some prior action that solicits a response from later generations. What Jacques Derrida called the "trace" is always there, and unless one moves toward that presence, the nature of it remains unknown. Even where later sources attempt to efface an earlier account, as happens in Genesis, the trace has a voice. Judaism does not erase the faith of Abraham into which Messiah's followers are grafted. The prior remains evident. There is a subjugated voice or a minority opinion, and those who care about the bigger picture read minority opinions.

David Noel Freedman said: “The Hebrew Bible is the one artifact from antiquity that not only maintained its integrity but continues to have a vital, powerful effect thousands of years later.” Both anthropologists and archaeologists turn to the Bible for clues and data. Very often this has led to wonderful discoveries! Let's use this forum to advance the science of Biblical Anthropology.

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