OR WOW, I AM GETTING OLD!
The following is an e-mail forwarded by my brother Ryan to me late last night; he was unable to answer it because he is on a church retreat right now, so I decided to take the time to answer this morning.
Subject: European History and Faith
1. First, I would like to address the book of Genesis. Genesis, chapters 1-11 are not histories of how the world was created. I repeat: they are NOT histories. In fact, Job is the oldest book in the Bible, and even in Job, funny thing is, God asks Job at one point, were you there when the earth was created? Of course, the answer is no. So, Genesis is a story, more likely an allegory, much like other creation stories which existed with the peoples surrounding the Israelites. Genesis 1-11 cannot be proven or disproven to be “true” to the modern scientific mind. Genesis 1-11 is about THEOLOGY and not historical events. It is to tell us what our purpose is, why God created us, not how. Creation is a mystery, and if we want to know creation the way God wants us to, then we must first love the One true God. That is what separates Genesis from other creation stories in every other religion. It is not about what humanity discovers or what is revealed to them but who God reveals God to be. Now, while evolution can be reconciled with the Bible’s story and not contradict it, evolutionary scientists are unable to tell all of God’s story. Evolution can only go so far to tell nature and humanity, but it cannot tell the whole story and nor can it complete the story: only Jesus can. For the record, I lean on the side of affirming Adam and Eve as historical persons, but at the same time, I believe that other people were on earth (but not the garden) with them. Its complicated, but you know how the priests work in the sanctuary of the temple in the Old Testament? Well, that is how Genesis 1-3 works. There are people outside the Garden (the temple) and then there are 2 priests, Adam and Eve who work for God, and once the two priests fall, well, all of the rest of humanity falls with them. From my readings, the language of Genesis 1-3 and texts about priests point in this direction. Again, Genesis is about theology, not history (well not in the way we understand history). I think this is the importance of why ALL Christians should learn the original languages of the bible, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Also,Christian leaders should take the time to teach laypersons important elements of Ancient Near Eastern history. The ANE is the context that the Hebrew Bible refers to, and without it, one cannot begin to comprehend the Jewish Scriptures.
2. Second, Let me address the book of Exodus question. I do not know what it is meant by “political control of Egypt” but that assumption or idea I have never come across. Maybe they had political agency in some form or another, but archaeological evidence does point toward an Israelite flight from Egypt. There are written accounts from the reign of Ramses II, and also, like a few other stories in the ANE context, like King Sargon of Akkad, (2300 BC), there are elements that the ancient Near Eastern mind would know better than the 21st century Western on. I would hesitate to say that the Egyptian enslavement of the Israelites was the same as the white enslavement of African Americans. I believe that the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians, but perhaps on a smaller scale. But like Genesis, Exodus is much more about theology than history (history, the way we see it, that is). It is an interpretation of the central event in the Israelites’ history and how God intervened. Some people say it was written and recorded by Moses, others do not, but the authorship is NOT important. The important thing is the message: God saved God’s people from Egypt, and God’s people should always remember that, and when God’s people forget that fact, they will pay a price. It’s a theme throughout the writings of the Prophets, especially Jeremiah.
3. Thirdly, on the king David issue, first let me say, it is a mistake to say that Jesus’s messianship is grounded in his relationship to the Israelite monarchy. With a close reading of Judges and 1st Samuel, one realizes that the monarchy was NOT God’s perfect will. YHWH God alone desired to be Israel’s king. To make the Israelite monarchy the foundation of Christ Jesus as Messiah I think is erroneous. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah because God chose him (Christ means annointed one in Greek). Historical evidence does not disprove the existence of King David. What scholarship says is that the Israelite kingdom was not as powerful as Christians imagine it to be. That, much like the Exodus, it was happened on a much smaller scale. The Dead Sea scrolls have the first 2 books of Samuel but other than that, there is not enough suffice archaeology to deny David’s reign. In the Christian imagination, we like to think of the time of the Israelite kings as this big great classic empire, and when text and the facts tell us differently, we may have trouble with that. As believers, I think we should be relieved that Israel was NOT like Babylon or Egypt or Rome or Greece.
Thank you for your questions. I know that there are many other young Christians such as yourself that go through similar situations and do not know if they should ask these questions, but it is okay to ask. I hope this helps.
Rodney A. Thomas Jr.