In part 8 we read Enns’ argument that modern critical scholars were not the first people to rethink how we read the Book of Genesis. Ancient Jewish and Christian readers struggled with the text as well. Today I will outline Enns’ understanding of how modern scholarship contributes to our hermeneutics.
Enns introduces the modernist horizon by reviewing the impact of the natural sciences, especially on areas like the fossil record and human origins. He says that this is one of “three” factors. The second would be biblical criticism: “…the academic study of the Bible that is marked mainly by a historical investigation into the date and authorship of biblical books (Kindle Locations 384-385).”
Those who are familiar with debates over the evolution of the Pentateuch know that most modern scholars have departed from the idea that Moses sat down and wrote Genesis-Deuteronomy. The third influence would be so-called “biblical archaeology,” that introduced “external data” like Babylonian creation and flood narratives.
Scholars began to see the Book of Genesis as a produce of the ancient world more than the mouth of God.
As I have stated Enns does retain a high view of Scripture. The Pentateuch remains the Word of God, but the “ontology” of Scripture must be rethought in his estimation. He affirms critical scholarships understanding of how the Pentateuch evolved, and the influence of other cultures on Israel’s story, and the findings of modern science.
In Chapter Two, “When was Genesis Written” Enns traces the development of thought that began with people asking questions about what seemed to be contradictions or alternative accounts within the Pentateuch. He begins with the observation that although Deuteronomy was considered to be a work of Moses it: (1) Ends after the death of Moses and (2) begins as a third person, past tense account about Moses written by someone who had made it into Canaan.
As early as Jerome there seems to be some hint that some thought the author might be the scribe Ezra. Several hundred years later the Jewish Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra began to notice several problems with Mosaic authorship. He dates some of the Pentateuch to the time of David. Enns traces this development of thought forward from Spinoza to Astruc (who developed theories around the “two names of God [Elohim and Yahweh]” in the Pentateuch) to Eichorn to Wellhausen (J, E, D, P theory) and on.
Enns notes some problems with the theories proposed by scholars, but overall he does affirm that the Pentateuch developed over time. He notes some observations such as the third person accounts about Moses, the fact that no where in the Pentateuch does Moses identify himself as author, the commentary that seems to explain things to people of a later era, the double accounts of the same story, and so forth.
Enns acknowledges that some traditional scholars have contention with the conclusions of modern scholarship, but he is committed to the overall proposal that the Pentateuch was finalized after the exile, and it is the work of more hands that those of Moses.
So what does this have to do with the historicity of Adam and Eve? Enns writes the following:
“In a book on evolution, why is it so important for us to see the Pentateuch as a post-exilic work? Because it helps us understand the broad purpose for which it was compiled. That purpose can be put into sharper relief by taking a step back from the Pentateuch and looking at the Old Testament as a whole. The date of the Pentateuch is part of a large cluster of issues: What is the Old Testament? When was it written? Why was it written? As with the Pentateuch, the strong scholarly consensus is that the Old Testament as a whole owes its existence to the postexilic period. Although our focus is on Genesis, looking at the Old Testament as a whole, even briefly, will flesh out what we have seen about the date of Genesis and Israel’s self-definition.”
That last part–”Israel’s self-definition”–will be an important part of Enns’ understanding of Genesis and Adam specifically.
In the meantime, share your thoughts. What do you think about the history of critical scholarship on the Pentateuch? Does it impact how you understand the Book of Genesis? Should it be rejected as liberal propaganda by Christians or accepted as helping Christians better understand the Bible?