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Scripture scholar John Oswalt weighs in critically on William Lane Craig’s Historical Adam


In an interview at J. R. Miller’s More Than Cake site:

Q2: Craig argues that, “On the basis of comparative studies of Sumerian literature, the eminent Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen proposed that we recognize a unique genre of literature that he dubbed “mytho-history (152).” In your view, should readers be concerned with Craig’s use of Jacobsen to ground his own definition of mytho-history?

I think Craig wants to say that Genesis 1-11 is history with myth-like characteristics. That was not at all Jacobsen’s interest. He believed that Genesis was a “false tale of the gods” just like the Sumerian writings are. But Genesis displays some odd (very odd, I might say) characteristics. There is only one God; he does not bring the world into existence through sexual behavior; he is not a natural force with a human-like persona; his realm of action is not in the constantly recurring invisible realm but in identifiable, non-repetitive events in time and space. Hmm! What shall we call that kind of myth (having pre-judged that since it is about a god it must be a myth)? Well, let’s call it “mytho-history” by which Jacobsen meant “a false tale of the gods with history-like characteristics.” Again, I say “mytho-history” is an oxymoron.

J.R. Miller, “Craig’s Quest for the Historical Adam: A Response from John Oswalt (Part 2)” at More Than Cake(Oct 11, 2021)


Q6: Craig argues that given his 10 criteria of mytho-history, there is a clear and unequivocal break between the protohistory of Genesis 1–11 and the history of Genesis 12 and following. Yet in chapter 12 and beyond we read a wild story about a talking donkey, a fantastical story of God appearing in a pillar of smoke and fire, multiple claims of divine appearances in human form, a story of a woman turned to a pillar of salt, plagues, and cities destroyed by “magic” fire from heaven. Given Craig’s criteria for “mytho-history” do you think his genre analysis holds up?

In short, his genre analysis does not hold up. In the interview with McDowell, Craig spoke amusedly of the anthropomorphic God walking in the Garden and talking to Adam and Eve and saying that marks the material as mythic (because it is false?). But he insists that after Genesis 12 we have no more of this kind of mythic material. In Genesis 18 the Bible says very explicitly that Yahweh visited Abraham in human form and talked with him. Myth? The other examples you cite are equally well-taken. If Craig had defined myth according to its essential characteristics and not its superficial ones, this confusion would not exist.

J.R. Miller, “Craig’s Quest for the Historical Adam: A Response from John Oswalt (Part 2)” at More Than Cake (Oct 11, 2021)

We are closing in on an important fact here: Craig’s Historical Adam is the true ancestor of the Historical Jesus.

For context, see: Doubts about William Lane Craig’s creation account — at First Things. It’s good that First Things is sponsoring an honest and civil debate.

I think WLC should mainly stick to resurrection of Jesus and Kalaam... he is solid in those respects, but this last work has me scratching my head. Hope he doesn't lead anyone astray. zweston

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