Should the primaeval narratives of Genesis 1–11 be understood, then, as a compilation of Israelite myths? In raising this question, we are using the definition of “myth” employed by folklorists and classicists: A myth is a traditional, sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form. A myth seeks to explain present realities by anchoring them in the prehistoric past and so to validate a culture’s contemporary institutions and values. In contrast to other forms of folklore, such as folktales and legends, myths are authoritative for the culture that embraces them. They are sacred narratives, and as such their main characters are not usually human beings alone but deities or quasi-divine heroes, whose activities are set in an earlier age or another realm. Stories of the origin of the world and of mankind are just two of the most prominent examples of myth.William Lane Craig, “The Historical Adam” at First Things (October 2021)
William Lane Craig (“The Historical Adam,” October 2021) believes that a being corresponding to the biblical Adam actually existed. Paul’s typology of Adam and Christ, he argues, requires an historical, as opposed to a merely literary, Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). But this isn’t your Fundamentalist grandma’s Adam. According to Craig, Adam didn’t exist at the beginning of time, but was preceded by billions of years and many varieties of semi-humans. Adam wasn’t formed from the dust of the ground nor was Eve built from Adam’s rib; our first parents were selected from the ancestors of Homo sapiens known as Homo heidelbergensis. They didn’t live in an idyllic paradise called Eden, nor were they tempted by a talking snake, though they did disobey God, were alienated from him, and unleashed sin and death into the world…
How does Craig know all this? Why preserve the historical reality of Methuselah and Noah while dispensing with their ages? Real persons and events are, he says, “clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth.” But clothes make the man: By what criterion does Craig distinguish one from the other? He offers no argument, relying on readers to share his prejudices concerning plausibility.Peter J. Leithart, “Doubts about William Lane Craig’s creation account” at First Things (October 1, 2021)
Leithart is president of the Theopolis Institute.
Here’s part of Craig’s response, also at First Things:
2. Mythological narratives need not be read literalistically. In chapter 6 of the book I examine in some detail Ancient Near Eastern myths and show that they are frequently figurative in their representations. I am confident that when ancient Babylonians and Egyptians looked to the sky, they saw neither the desiccated corpse of the dragon goddess Tiamat nor the naked body of the goddess Nut overhead because no such things are there to be seen. Look for yourself! If this point is correct, then why are we bound to read the narratives of Genesis 1-11 with a wooden literalness? And why must we be able to distinguish confidently which aspects are figurative and which literal? So long as my genre analysis is correct—which Leithart does not refute—then a literal interpretation, such as Leithart seems to assume, is not compulsory.
In many cases, however, I think there are good reasons for seeing certain aspects of the primaeval narratives as figurativeWilliam Lane Craig, “Mytho-History in Genesis” at First Things (October 5, 2021)
It’s good that First Things is sponsoring an honest and civil debate.