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James Hoffmeier: Genesis 1–11 is History and Theology — An Excerpt from "Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?"

Categories Old Testament Book Excerpts

9780310514947What genre is Genesis 1–11? Is it history, fiction, or neither? A new book provides clarity by exploring the first eleven chapters of the Bible, which are often fraught with disagreement and confusion.

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? offers a vigorous discussion of primeval history from three distinct perspective. One of those voices is James Hoffmeier, who argues Genesis is history that reflects real facts and real events:

When we consider the framing of the books with the tôlĕdôt markers and the rather specific geographical settings, which I believe would lead an ancient audience to consider the Nephilim episode, the flood, and Tower of Babel narratives as historical events, then there are good reasons to read these texts this way even in the twenty-first century.

Read the excerpt below and engage this important resource yourself to gain deeper insights into the important discussion of the genre and nature of Genesis 1–11.

I have argued that the three episodes considered here [Sons of God and Daughters of Man, Flood Stories and Traditions, the Tower of Babel], like the entirety of the book of Genesis, fit into a literary genre based on the heading to the eleven sections of the book, “this is /these are the histories of X,” the tôlĕdôt formula. Within these units, different literary genres might be used.

Regardless of what those might be, the general tenor of the book, and Gen 1 – 11 in particular, is intended to be thought of as describing real events. A piece of ancient literature concerning past events does not have to be recorded with the kind of historiographical precision that would be expected of a modern academic historian or journalist. The geographical clues provided in Gen 1 – 11 suggest that these events from the ancient past occurred in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, in a real world, a world recognizable to the ancient reader or hearer of the narratives.

When we consider the framing of the books with the tôlĕdôt markers and the rather specific geographical settings, which I believe would lead an ancient audience to consider the Nephilim episode, the flood, and Tower of Babel narratives as historical events, then there are good reasons to read these texts this way even in the twenty-first century.

Based on this well-founded assumption, biblical theology begins its task. Like the Psalmists of old, Christian theology is founded on God’s “glorious deeds . . . the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4) and we set our “hope in God and not forget the works of God” (Ps 78:7). If one reduces the narratives of Gen 1 – 11 to fictitious stories and legends, the history of salvation lacks its raison d’être. Fortunately, the Christian committed to Scripture need not commit intellectual suicide by embracing the historicity of the events described in early Genesis, for the text itself is written in such a way to reinforce this view. (pg. 58)

Genesis: History, Fiction, Or Neither?

Edited by Charles Halton

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