So just how vile are creationist?

Another article from William Saletan at Slate explaining that creationist are ignorant, but not as ignorant as some think.

A post on Dr. James McGrath’s blog, Exploring our Matrix, has had me thinking about the Genesis myths and its relation to reality. The post is a quote from Rev. Joseph Phelps that reads as follows, “What kind of childish literalism reads the anthropomorphic language of Genesis and concludes that the Bible can only be read as a historical rendering of the origins of the universe?” The people who wrote Genesis must have been aware that they taking the accounts of other mythologies and modifying them for their own religious ideology, so that raises question of how literally they took what they wrote. Never the less it does express concepts about the origin of the world they probably thought were valid. Some of its features may well have been understood literally by them, for instance that the top of the sky was a solid dome and above it was a sea of water. While dismissed even by young earth creationist, at that time, that was a reasonable guess about how the world was constructed. Regarding its anthropomorphism, this is mostly a product of the J account of creation in chapter two, but even P account in chapter one presents a god with a human perspective, most evident when he makes humans in the likeness of himself and his council of spirits. This reflects the time and place of Genesis’ composition, where myths of cosmic origins were reimagined using language established by the first humans, who describe the time before their ancestors as a mythic Dreamtime where the laws of the current world did not apply and who could not imagine agencies at work other than the ones they knew, animals and humans. Compare this with later philosophical cosmologies such as in Daoism, where the creation comes about by the action of abstract ideas and forces or our own modern cosmogonies that are populated by mathematically defined fundamental forces and particles. But is there any truth in this theory of the beginning in Genesis? I think the writers for the most part were wrong, but at its beginning, they assert that in the beginning, their was a god, and their was a shapeless dark void. There is something to this conception of the beginning that is intriguing.  It imagines that before creation, there existed in a timeless prior state a shapeless form that would be the source of all shaped forms. It was essentially a ball of potential things that had no property until acted on by the god, who in this account is the source of all possible forms, yet is independent of the material they find expression in. Our own cosmos might be described this way in its state before the big bang, existing within a state beyond the ability of science to describe was the “material” from which all things are composed and the laws of physics that establish what forms can be.


An inscription in Canaanite has recently been found in Jerusalem. The inscription consist of a number of Canaanite letters that don’t appear to spell any known words in the Canaanite lexicon on a clay pot. The find dates slightly before the time when Jerusalem was supposed to have been captured by king David.  On occasion I have seen scholars that are surprised or dubious that the ancient Israelites produced text. Finds like these tend to undermine such doubts, though it shouldn’t be surprising since it was the biblical world that invented the alphabet so why shouldn’t the people of Syria/Palestine be writing before the Greeks? Contra the notions of some historians, I don’t think it would be unlikely that Israel produced text, even at early stages of its development.

Paintings have been recovered on the walls of what are described as shrines from Neolithic sites in Turkey. These images, shown below, depict animals being set upon by what appear to be hunters.

Catal Huyuk c.6000 BC (source: Charles Burney, “The Ancient Near East” Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1977 )

Reconstructed Catal Huyuk shrine based on archeological remains (compare the fragment above with the reproduced image on the wall) (source: Seton Lloyd, “The Archaeology of Mesopotamia” London, Thames and Hudson, 1978)

But are these simply depictions of hunts?  Images from South Africa created by a paleolithic people, the San, have a similar composition, and it is known what they depict (see below). The hunts depicted in San rock art do not take place in the earthly realm, but in the spiritual world. The San create these pictures to manifest the power of shamanistic vision quests created in altered states of mind achieved by way of rhythmic dancing (other methods are used by different societies to achieve similar mind states, including drugs, meditation, and physical stress). In these mystic states souls can interact with the spirit creatures that the San beleive exist in the rock and control nature. The animals are called rain animals because they are said to bring rain. The capture of the rain animal by the shamans allows them to bring its rain into the material world. Clouds are themselves described as a beast, with the columns of rain its feet. The spirit animals, like earthly animals, give nourishment. Just as this nourishment is not obtained in the normal way humans obtain nourishment from animals, their existence is not apparent like earthly animals. Instead they provide nourishment in a magical way and can only be directly observed by shifting one’s consciousness into the magical world of spirit beings.

Recent San rock paintings from South Africa. ( http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/rari/page6.php )

This concept has also been applied to similar images found in the caves of Ice Age Europe (see below). The Cro-Magnon peoples did not use human forms nearly as much as the San, but the images of Shamans stalking bison, and the depictions of such animals being assaulted by spears may carry the same function, to show the shaman leading animals out of the spirit world through the womb of the earth goddess and into the material world.  That paleolithic Europeans believed a spirit woman birthed animals is an interpretation supported by the commonness of this theme around the world and the frequent occurrence of female figurines among the Cro-Magnon.

Cave art from Ice Age France see ( http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281/Philosophy%20of%20Magic/My%20Documents/Therianthropes.htm )

In fact their closest relatives today, the Basque, have retained myths of the mother goddess living in caves and birthing the gods from there. Note in the lower left corner of the image from Turkey the figure of the mother goddess, very similar to the styles used for thousands of years in Europe. The paintings in Turkey may be evidence of the retention of the ice age religious practices by the first towns, with the walls of the shrines becoming an artificial cave or rock wall.

Left, from Catal Huyuk, right, an Ice Age Venus

The walls at Catal Huyuk could be concretized shamanistic journeys where the spirit animals birthed by the goddess could be captured by shamans. The rituals may have included part of the general community to help enact the spirit hunt or perhaps only select elite interacted with the images. Either way the animals may not be representing simply animals but spirits that control the beast, or, given the agricultural focus of these sites, weather. It should be kept in mind the association of sky gods with bulls throughout the ancient near east and Greece.  The close resemblence between the pictures at Catal Huyuk seem to indicate that not only did the priest there owe their traditions to people who sought shamanistic visions though altered mindstates, but likely that they still did.

Lewis-Williams, J. David. The Mind in the Cave. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Michael Everson, “Tenacity in religion, myth, and folklore: the neolithic Goddess of Old Europe preserved in a non-Indo-European setting” Journal of Indo-European Studies 17 Numbers 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 1989, pp. 277-95. http://www.evertype.com/misc/basque-jies/basque-jies.html#ft5

Basque Mythology http://www.buber.net/Basque/Folklore/aunamendi.mythology.php

Recently I read a blog advocating Numbers 24 may contain material dating to the Greek or Roman periods of Judean history[1].  Does it?

The argument that it does is based primarily on interpreting Kittim to mean Greece or Italy as it does in 1 Maccabees or the Septuagint Daniel.  If this is so, then what is the significance of “Kittim” to identify them? The word comes from Kition,[2]a town in Cyprus well known in antiquity[3]. It is used in this sense in Isaiah 23:1. While the name of a town, it was sometimes used as a generic term for sea faring nations of the west.  The view that it is late interprets the Oracle of Balaam in Numbers 24:15-24 to be a prophecy of the Greek colonization of the Levant after Alexander the Great’s time. The Greeks afflict Asshur and Eber, that is Assyria and Israel, and in turn are destroyed ( by the Maccabees?). 

The person this prophecy is attributed, Balaam son of Beor, is however independently attested to in the region of modern Jordan with material dated to the 8th century BCE. Other than the accounts in the Bible, this character is unheard of in the record.  Since he is unattested to in later culture, it suggest an earlier period for the Balaam material in the Bible, including this poem.  It is not impossible that Biblical texts were altered during the time of the Maccabees, and it is in fact likely they have been. Is Numbers 24:15-24 among them, created as evidence that the victory over the Greeks was prophesied, like Daniel? It seems more likely that instead, the poem is a prophecy relating to the early history of Israel, before Solomon, composed at an early stage of the Israelite history tradition; that is earlier than the account in Samuel and Kings. This is supported by the language of the text, which doesn’t betray the influence of Greek or Persian styles and terms.

  If Kittim means Cyprus and people from the western seas generally, were there any peoples fitting this description earlier than Alexander’s Greeks? Yes there is, the Philistines were part of lager migration of people some coming from the western Mediterranean, Greece and the Aegean islands.  They were active in the region from the 12th century on.

Eber, seems to clearly refer to the Eber who is the ancestor of the Hebrews, and thus the Hebrews themselves and is sometimes a synonym for the more popular term Israelite, though properly, Hebrew would include a number of southern Semitic groups.  Asshur could either refer to Asshur the mythic ancestor of the Assyrians as in Genesis 10:8-12[4] or the Asshurim from Genesis 25:1-3 who’s is among the Arabian sons of Abraham.  The Kenites and Amelkites mentioned in verses 21 and 20 are two groups associated with each other in 1 Samuel 15:6 where Saul eradicates the Amelkites and drivers the Kenites from their homes.  Edom and Moab are both well-known biblical nations. The prophecy of the subjugation of these groups reflects well the emergence of the Davidic state as described in the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings).

 Rather than being a cryptic metaphorical description of the state of affairs under the Greek kings, it is more naturally a description of the events described in the Primary History, but from an earlier age, when groups like Amalek, Kain, and Asshur (the Arabian Asshur) where more prominent. This scenario does not require the metaphorical meaning of the names as required by the theory placing it later under Greek influence. It also places it closer in composition to the other known example of a prophecy related to Balaam son of Beor. Finally, the Oracles of Balaam contain no other indicators such as Persian or Greek Language or clear references to historical facts of the Greek or Persian period that would lead one to suspect it was composed during the time of those empires control of the land of Israel.


[1] “It is significant that the first biblical definite evidence of the existence of the biblical texts is in the Hellenistic period — after the conquests of Alexander the Great and the spread of Hellenization (Greek culture and language) throughout the Middle East.

Lemche stresses that a justifiable dating of a text must come from the latest material found within it even if it does contain some earlier material. So if the Pentateuch contains passages that can only be explained as of Hellenistic provenance then the Pentateuch as we have it surely must date from the Hellenistic times even if it contains some Mesopotamian material (e.g. the flood story) that is earlier. Lemche points out, for example, that Karl Ilgen first told us 200 years ago that Numbers 24:24 can only possibly be a reference to the Macedonians and that Martin Luther had likewise made this clear in notes to his translation — hence the poem must be dated to the late fourth or third centuries bce. Yet despite this clear pointer to a late date scholars have generally dated this chapter as some of the most archaic of poetic literature, certainly pre-monarchic. The chapter was later moved to the monarchic period when the name Balaam turned up in an eighth or seventh century Aramaic inscription. Meanwhile, the poem itself keeps murmuring, “Hellenistic”. (p. 160, Israelites in History and Tradition).” From, http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/who-wrote-the-bible-2-challenging-the-documentary-hypothesis/

In responce to an article here


//I think this question is important, as the author(s) of Job seem to have a multifaceted approach to theology–one of necessity but also of indifference towards it. Is it just so easy to lump the author(s) of Job in with the authors of Genesis? Can we say, wholly, that the authors of the books which make up the Bible had the same strong belief in God? I don’t think it’s that easy. So this is my question to my fellow Bibliobloggers: Did the author(s) of Job believe in a God? If you believe so, in what way do you think they viewed God? What sort of believer would we say the author(s) of Job is (are)? If not, what drove them to write the narrative?//

I think there is rather a gulf between the authors of Job and the authors of Genesis. I have described Genesis as being relatively un-theological. Job by contrast asks more sophisticated questions of the gods[1]. You know, Abraham may bargain with gods for the lives of Sodom, but there is no real questioning of the god’s character. I think even today, its concepts are a more sober reflection on the human condition than offered by the evangelical church. This is especially true if you omit the intro and conclusion chapters, which may be a later addition.

While I don’t think any of the contributors is atheist, [2] I do think that Job could be rendered in largely atheist terms. In Job, god is an unpredictable and mysterious being. I think this it shares with the older concepts of god too. But the difference is Job’s god isn’t interacting with Job. In Genesis gods are constantly interacting with the characters, giving them advice, commands and making deals. They are is a very personal deities. You could replace god with fate, existence, or some other impersonal term for the stream of causality and much of Job’s message would still be intelligible: Life is unfair; there is no guarantee to prosperity except the prosperity that comes with living in the self-confidence of being wise; the universe is governed by a mysterious and powerful force whose objectives cannot be comprehended. Is not all of this true?

The tale is marred in my opinion, by the added end and introduction. By giving the audience the means to know what Job does not, God’s motive in this caper and subsequent repayment for the damage done, the message in Job I think is under cut. It now says, “You can know gods motives, we’ll tell you, he is playing a weird game with his tribe in heaven.” And you may have heard devout people use this to console the grieving, “god is testing you”. And of course all suffering gets repaid, so I suppose had Job died penniless, we would know he really had angered God.

I think Job intended to say that if we shout into expanse of the sky to ask “why?” we should not expect an answer. I find that very non-theist.

[1] Genesis doesn’t have the cast of divinities many other similar collections of tales do, but there are multiple heavenly beings referenced and they are sometimes called the sons of God, so while one of them is the unquestioned boss, there does seem to be a little tribe of these beings in existence. I don’t think the relationship of the beings to God is clearly explained in the bible, so I wonder if the other beings could or should be considered God’s peers.
[2]Gods not just being a theological concept but a concept for understanding the fundamental forces of the cosmos, I would imagine the explanation for physical phenomenon were gods


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