Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Genesis 1-11 is Fiction?
Kenton Sparks argues in his chapter of Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? that Genesis 1-11 is “ancient historiography,” which is to say, largely mythic fiction. Why does he argue this, and what are the implications? He sums up his position nicely:
[I]t is no longer possible for informed readers to interpret the book of Genesis as straightforward history. There was no Edenic garden, nor trees of life and knowledge, nor a serpent that spoke, nor a worldwide flood in which all living things, save those on a giant boat, were killed by God. Whatever the first chapters of Genesis offer, there is one thing that they certainly do not offer, namely, a literal account of events that actually happened prior to and during the early history of humanity. If Genesis is the word of God, as I and other Christians believe, then we must try to understand how God speaks through a narrative that is no longer the literal history that our Christian forebears often assumed it to be… (111, cited below)
I’m sure some of this statement was for rhetorical flourish, but it is clear that Sparks has chosen to contrast his position with the staunchest literalist position. He references the Flood as global; despite many conservative scholars arguing that it is local; in the same essay he sets his position against 6-day creationism, but does nothing to hint at how his position might contrast with those who do not adhere to that perspective. As I said, I’m sure a lot of this is rhetorical flourish rather than ignorance, but his essay could have been stronger if he’d interacted with more nuanced positions.
That said, it is difficult to reconcile his statement that effectively nothing in Genesis 1-11 refers to a “literal account of events that actually happened…” with his statement that Genesis is the “word of God.” However, he does try to demonstrate this throughout his essay. I remain unconvinced that Genesis 1-11 is largely fiction, though I would find myself in agreement with Sparks at a few points in his exegesis.
What do you think? Would arguing that Genesis 1-11 is effectively fiction–theological fiction, but fiction nonetheless–undermine its viability as the word of God? What might this mean for interpretation of these early chapters?
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Kenton Sparks, “Genesis 1-11 as Ancient Historiography” in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Charles Halton and Stanley Gundry, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).