Barry Newman's Blog

July 30, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part XII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 9:36 pm

The setting of Genesis 4

One can ignore the foregoing section and claim that the dates given for the beginnings of human beings and for the development of various cultural practices are in error and that the only reliable data about the beginnings of humanity and human culture is to be found in the Genesis record.  Alternatively one might decide to claim ignorance of what really happened and when and how it happened. A third possibility is to recognise that, for example, the references to many names, and the origins of various human practices as recorded in Genesis 4 are very suggestive of  the writer/editor having access to reliable historical data.  We might also conclude that these practices and even the reference to a city have their roots in what some recognise as the Neolithic era as it came to be in the Levant – that part of the world seemingly inhabited by Cain and his descendants.  This position amounts to seeing the setting for chapter 4 as that of the Neolithic world, indeed the beginnings of the Neolithic world.

However where Genesis 4 indicates that the nomadic life style, the development of certain musical instruments and the forging of metals had their beginnings at around the same time, a modern understanding is that they arose at different times though in the Neolithic era. So as a further possibility, though the setting looks a little like that of the Neolithic era, the setting is a reconstruction of beginnings by the writer/editor that simply happens to roughly correspond with the Neolithic era.  Perhaps the writer/editor seeing only the world with which he is familiar – a world located in what we would now call the Middle East, and being very aware of the existence of various cultural practices and the existence of cities, in his world, creates a scenario that accounts for their beginnings.  He also interweaves this account with some historical data to which he has had access.  His interest is to create a holistic account of beginnings but always an account that indicates the nature of Yahweh and his involvement with human beings.

 In answer to questions such as, “From where did Cain get his wife?” and “Why would Cain need to build a city?” one could simply reply that the writer/editor, by implication, acknowledges the existence of human beings over and above those whom he has named but is not concerned with the questions, such as the above, we sometimes like to ask.  He interweaves what he sees as realistic with the theological truths he is concerned to portray.

The focus of the Scriptures

If there is any truth to some of these last suggestions and if there is any reliability to the general features for the earlier eras outlined above, then we are left with pre-historic data on which the Bible is silent.  We can postulate, for example, that there were human or human like beings well before, say 10, 000 B.C. and that they may well have had certain religious beliefs and displayed attitudes and abilities that we associate with being human. Further we may conclude that God only decides to treat them as moral beings answerable to him at around the 10, 000 B.C. mark or at some other designated time.  There may be something in such a suggestion but we do not really know. What we are given in Genesis 1 – 4, under God’s good and guiding hand, is at least an account of beginnings which was particularly relevant for his people, the Israelites of the ancient world, that is still relevant for his people no matter what their ethnic background and that indeed has always been relevant for all of humanity.

We read Genesis 1 to 4 and we are able to understand the awesome power of the one and only Creator God.  We learn of his special interest in mankind and mankind’s failure to trust him.  We see how mankind is inventive and survives in a world that is however suited to him – a world of difficulty, appropriate for disobedient, self-centred, God forsaking humanity.  We read these chapters and if we are not morally blind we begin to see ourselves and the depths of degradation to which we of the human race have descended.  As we proceed to read the following chapters we see that this degradation is even worse than might first have been apparent and that God’s judgement has a terrible finality about it that can only be escaped by his marvellous grace.   We are being educated to learn of the account of his entrance into his own world in the person of his Son with the assured promise of life with him in this world and life with him in the world to come.  Whatever has occurred in ancient times on this planet will fade into insignificance compared to what God has prepared for those who are his.

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