Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Why Genesis Matters to Me

36 Comments

Some have rightly suggested that I not build an entire theology based on Genesis.  How well I know that.  I’m a former YEC (young earth creationist).  If you’ve been following since the beginning of this blog you know that.  But if you’re a recent reader you might not have read Evolution of Adam.  My previous belief about Genesis was that it was intended to be a literal reading.  There are a handful of verses in the New Testament that lend to that thinking.  But I do know all too well how detrimental building an entire theology based on that presupposition can be. 

As I began to question certain things about my faith I looked into evolution vs. creationism.  What I discovered astounded me.  I’m not certain if it was the beginning of the demise of my faith or the final straw.  What did happen is that I pretty much turned on a dime from a YEC to an evolutionist.  And having built my entire theology on creationism and the fall of man that created humongous problems for my faith.  Things which I am now trying to answer. 

I’m trying to determine if there is anything to Christianity or if it is just one religion among many – one no more true or valid than another.  I’m trying to see where Genesis now fits with any theology I might have.  There are so many opinions out there just as there are about the historicity of Christ and the resurrection.  Genesis can be viewed as allegory, literally, liturgy, partially mythological, purely mythological.  Each interpretation has it’s own set of problems. 

What I’d like to know, and there is absolutely no way to find out, is what did it’s writer intend?  Moses isn’t around to ask. So the best we can to is guess at what his intent was.  Is the allegorical view just a way to manipulate what the text says since science doesn’t fit that?  How did the Jewish people view Genesis from it’s first telling until science proved it wasn’t literally true?  I’m looking at it’s background and, yes, fixating on and picking it apart.  I appreciate the suggestions and ideas that have been presented through the comments.  They’ve been very helpful and given me a lot to think about. 

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36 thoughts on “Why Genesis Matters to Me

  1. Check out the Enuma Elish, and the story of Adapa and the South Wind. Nothing like going to the source if you want to understand things.

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  2. D'Ma,I have no real answers, but I did want to pass on a resource. We're studying Genesis at church based on the book found at this link: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item2327365/?site_locale=en_GB I think its the Theology of Genesis by RWL Moberly. He tries to look at Genesis based on how ancient Jews would have read it and what the intent of the author may have been (not Moses, btw). I've found it to be helpful. He's got other books and papers in this area of study that I may look into in the future. You can google him to find more of his work. He's from the U of Durham in England. Everything from evolution to the Garden of Eden to Jesus to Paul is all interconnected in Christian theology so a change in one belief does make one question another belief. It's like the whack a mole game. There's just no end to the fun!

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  3. uzza,Thanks for the resource. I'll have to check that out.=====================================================DoOrDoNot,Love the whack a mole reference, made me chuckle. And yeah, unfortunately Genesis does play largely into Christian theology. It's not like we can just ignore it. And yet again, with the Moses as author thing, a different opinion. Some scholars hold to Moses as author of the first five books of the Bible, with the exception of the last few chapters. Some, the first three. Others varying unknown authors. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle and somebody stole the corner pieces. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. D'Ma,There are some very good resources out there regarding this topic. I don't know if this will help you at all, but in the vein of DoOrDoNot; I recommend "Etz Hayim" which is a Conservative Jewish Torah with commentary and it has some fascinating articles in the back.Good luck in your mission. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. As a Jew who spent many of his early years studying the Torah (Five books of Moses) and the Talmud (commentaries on same), who has now (over 70 years) evolved into an atheist, I certainly am not qualified to tell you how the early Hebrews would have regarded Genesis. I can tell you, however, that believing Jews generally see the Torah as a set of guidelines on how to live a "righteous" life (according to God's Law), some of them historically accurate, many allegorical, and some parables. As such, the "literal truth" of Genesis is largely beside the point. The traditional teaching is that we are to spend this lifetime in as loving and caring a manner regarding our fellow man/woman and to otherwise abide by God's Commandments with regard to our relationship to Him. The reward for a righteous life is tobe "inthe presence of the Lord" for eternity; failure leads to "separation from the Lord", which is about as close as traditional Judaism gets to defining Hell.In my opinion, it is largely the insistance of many Christians/Muslims that Scripture is the literal and unchangeable "Word of God" and that it must be taken as literal truth that often leads to believers beginning to question and eventually to cease believing. If one realizes that part of what one has been taught does not make sense, it may be a small further step to losing all of it.

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  6. Welcome to the blog, Harvey. And thank you for those insights. I would certainly be interested in hearing more about your story. What unfolded that caused you to become an atheist? If one realizes that part of what one has been taught does not make sense, it may be a small further step to losing all of it.Absolutely! I'm realizing that no small portion of what I've been taught doesn't make any sense. When I start questioning some of it, it just leads to more questions and more doubts.

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  7. In my case, I never stopped to consider if I actually believed any of what I was studying. When I was eighteen years old, I graduated from Gratz College in Philadelphia, a conservative school for Hebrew school teachers. In that same year, I went to college and realized that I founnd most of it either unbelievable or irrelevant. I then studied most of the other established religions and found that none of them seemed to have any better or more believable "answers". From that time to the present, I have remained a Jew (philosopically and ethically) but have not been at all observant. I have simply discovered that I do not seem to have a "God shaped" hole in my psyche and, since I see no evidence for a soul or any afterlife, I am content that I have lived this life rationally and as kindly to my fellow man as possible. Returning to that state of being (or lack thereof)I may have had before I was conceived holds no fear and I am content.

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  8. DMA, Genesis is one of my favorite Biblical books! I have always loved it. It makes the imagination run amok!You asked:"What I'd like to know, and there is absolutely no way to find out, is what did it's writer intend?"I guess this begs the question, is the original intent of the book of most importance to you? Or is it Genesis interpreted through some Christian theology? Or is it Genesis de-mythologized and historicized? Or is it Genesis as you interpret it mystically in your modern religious life?I am certain that each of these interpretations of Genesis carries a different answer. In what sense is original intent of Genesis important to you, DMA? I guess I can give away my answer to that question by asking you again in this way: In what sense is any ancient near-eastern mythology important to you?Fun fact: In all my years as a Fundamentalist Christian, I always, sometimes secretly, sometimes more openly, but always have accepted the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection as scientific fact. I think I spent too much time as a kid reading science books in the library and hiking in the fossil strewn desert near our house to think otherwise, because it has always made sense to me. I interpreted Genesis in a very mystical, non-literal sense that made a lot of sense to me at the time I needed it to.

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  9. I am inclined to believe that the author (not Moses) intended for Genesis to be literal. When you read it, it all seems to flow seamlessly. Yes, there are breaks from one "story" to the next, but there is no demarcation where one could easily say "aha, this is where an allegory/parable begins/ends." This is especially true when often later references in the Bible recall it like literal truth in some cases.From there, my guess is that, as people studied the text and came up with conceptual difficulties, like a 89 year old Sarah catching Abimelech's eye. I think the understanding as parts of the text as allegory or parable grew from there.

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  10. @WF – Ahhh, but how old was Abimelech? You whippersnappers have no real appreciation for the female form.But I digress. Pretty sure authorship is still an open question scientifically. My understanding is the original "higher criticism" theory was disproved archeologically around the 1900's. The original author could easily have been Moses, and subsequent editorializing would not change that. Infallibility requires "some adjustment" ๐Ÿ™‚ or not depending on how you approach it.@D'Ma – We are getting to the point where massive computational power is remarkably affordable. I sincerely doubt you will see a reliable simulation that validates the theory of evolution via natural selection. On the contrary I think it will require additional patching (some adjustment?) as we attempt to "prove" the possibility (the current model as I understand it requires cross species dna exchange to account for the time restrictions of the geological age of the earth???). It is also interesting to study how the science of science evolves.

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  11. @David:That's a good question. We don't know for sure. But we can tell from Genesis 20:17-18 that not only was Abimelech young enough to still have "functioning equipment," but he was also young enough to attempt procreation with his wife and his collection of slave women. Plus, Abimelech's wife and slave harem were obviously young enough to be of child-bearing age.With those factors considered, I think Abimelech selecting an 89 year old woman to become a part of his harem about as likely as (you seem to think) evolution. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  12. I don't really struggle with evolution as much as i do the ANE stories. I'm not hardcore about evolution…while i do favor it (and i am not a YEC and really dislike the philosophy behind ID), but I hold the attitude in science that there are still things to figure out or tweak. The ane stories and myths i think are more theologically and spiritually challenging, yet make it much easier to embrace evolution. You might check out pete enns I&I or articles on biologos for the questions you ask regarding the author's intent in Genesis. Good questions.

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  13. HeIsSailing said:"I am certain that each of these interpretations of Genesis carries a different answer. In what sense is original intent of Genesis important to you, DMA?"I would be interested in what the writer's original intent is because I think it matters in the big picture of Christianity. I'm wondering if the allegorical interpretation is just a scramble to force it to fit into Christianity. Because if it's accepted as literal it blows a big hole in the whole of Christianity. If it's intent was allegorical, I've based a lot of my beliefs on a wrong interpretation and maybe I need to rethink things. Beyond that I'm interested in other ANE mythologies and how they influenced the mythology involved in Genesis. I love the book of Genesis regardless of it's intent. Mythology is very interesting in general to me. And why people (including myself) accept the mythology as truth.In my changing views I'm looking at the stories contained in Genesis in a whole new light.

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  14. David,Do you accept the creation account as literal or are you suggesting Intelligent Design?Certainly the sciences evolve. Because no one is making hard and fast rules. As new discoveries are made the science shifts with it. The sciences can admit they were wrong about an idea or hypothesis. Whereas the Bible is, for the most part in Christianity, viewed as absolute and unchanging.

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  15. TWF,Interesting observations. There are definitely elements of Genesis that lend to the idea of it's intent being literal. I've never really viewed it any other way. It has been difficult to "lose" that ideology and view it any other way. Hence me picking it apart.

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  16. LAC,I agree, because until I started researching I never realized how many other creation stories were out there. It's one of those things where you're exposed to only one "religion" so in my small world I thought everybody else used either evolution or the Bible to explain things.

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  17. David says:"Pretty sure authorship is still an open question scientifically. My understanding is the original "higher criticism" theory was disproved archeologically around the 1900's." David, care to elaborate? If by "around the 1900's", you mean the decade before 1910, a source or book or article with this information will surely be posted on archive.org – can you provide any details?

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  18. DMA says:"I would be interested in what the writer's original intent is because I think it matters in the big picture of Christianity. I'm wondering if the allegorical interpretation is just a scramble to force it to fit into Christianity. "Personally, I am convinced that Genesis is a collection of seperate writings from multiple sources that has been gathered, stitched and edited together. But beyond that, it might help if you remember that when Genesis was written, Christianity did not exist. Even if Moses wrote the whole thing, it would be a mistake to think that he wrote it with any elements of the Christian religion in mind.Good luck with your search – please let us know what you come up with!!

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  19. HeIsSailing says:"it might help if you remember that when Genesis was written, Christianity did not exist. Even if Moses wrote the whole thing, it would be a mistake to think that he wrote it with any elements of the Christian religion in mind."Honestly for me that would be it's significance. Christianity in the Southern Baptist tradition is largely built on how all these different books fit so nicely together and tell a story that fits into and is a foundation for Christianity. The Old Testament, and largely Genesis, tells the story of why we need a Savior and foretells of him, unbeknownst to the authors themselves. Does that make sense or am I rambling?

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  20. DMA asks:"Does that make sense or am I rambling?"Nope. Makes perfect sense – I have been there and done that. I have memorized the quip that Chuck Missler manages to put into every one of his sermons:"It is not just that the books of the Bible carries the same message. No no, far beyond that. These 66 books written by over 40 authors over thousands of years is an integrated message system. Every name, every number, every place name, every detail is there by the design of the Holy Spirit."Wow, I rattled that off from memory with no effort at all. And I really held to that belief as well. I believed that Jesus ran through every page of the Old Testament like the scarlet cord of Rahab. By the way, you can hold that belief regardless of who you think authored what, or how these books can together. The authors, editors or compilers had nothing to do with it – because the intent of the Holy Spirit was the guiding hand behind it all.Oh yeah, I understand exactly what you mean.It came apart for me when I discovered how the seamless character of the Bible was an illusion. I think the Bible, old and new testaments, are a disjointed collection with all sorts of divers views on various topics.

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  21. "It came apart for me when I discovered how the seamless character of the Bible was an illusion. I think the Bible, old and new testaments, are a disjointed collection with all sorts of divers views on various topics."I think that's pretty much where I am. All that seeming harmony has actually been painfully twisted into the text. And when something doesn't quite fit, it's painfully twisted again to mean something else. I've always thought the Jewish people didn't accept Jesus as Messiah based on what the NT has to say about it. However in speaking with and researching online about it, that's not the truth of the matter at all. For them Jesus is nowhere to be found in the pages of the Old Testament.

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  22. "in speaking with and researching online about it, that's not the truth of the matter at all."in speaking with a Rabbi, a Rabbi. Dadgum keyboard did it again! LOL

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  23. @TWF – Apparently she was attractive enough 15 years earlier (Gen 12). The sister ruse was used then too. She must have been a knockout :-)@D'Ma – I believe God created us, I do not know the mechanism, but I do know (or think I do) that the process required to support natural selection needs some fantasy to fit into the geological time frame. If the mechanism even approximated natural selection it had to run at an outlandishly accelerated rate to start and then taper off to the steady state we see today. That behavior (if you plot it on a graph) looks like creation not randomness. The law of big numbers (many many evolutionary steps) would force the graph in the opposite direction.As for the sciences, I used to think it was all idealism and searching for truth too. The fact is it is run by the same humans that run everything else. I suggested a book on my blog, Chaos: Making a New Science. The resistance of the establishment to "new" knowledge is as interesting as the science. When your reputation is on the line and you control the access…, well it turns out scientists are the same flawed creatures we are. They can admit they are wrong, but they would rather not ;-)@HeIsSailing – You can try wiki, but I read about Higher Criticism in 197x and was dismayed. It was presented as if the different documents had actually been found and it was based on the presumption that writing did not exist in that era or area when it was supposedly written. I subsequently learned that around the turn of the century archeological evidence to support writing in that area at least 300 years prior to when it (Genesis+) was supposed to have been written. So the basis of the theory was debunked. By that time there was enough "scholarship" in existence that the "science" continued (see previous comment). If you go to http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_tora1.htm and read the bit just near the end you will see how this fact is treated by those not exactly advocating the biblical interpretation."As it happens, their belief about Moses being illiterate is probably wrong. Archaeological evidence has since been found which shows that all of the major civilizations surrounding the Hebrews were literate at the apparent time of the Exodus. So one can assume that Moses knew how to read and write."As for the correlations between the OT and Christianity many of these were identified by Christ (not the SBC ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It still holds together for me (but I enjoy the Kool-aid).

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  24. "As for the correlations between the OT and Christianity many of these were identified by Christ (not the SBC ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It still holds together for me (but I enjoy the Kool-aid)."Certainly that's where the SBC got the idea from. I worded it that way because it's come to my attention that not all Christians interprets Jesus words that way. Though I'm a bit weary of always feeling the need to read something extra into the text. My thoughts are that the words attributed to Jesus are plain enough.

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  25. "As for the correlations between the OT and Christianity many of these were identified by Christ (not the SBC ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It still holds together for me (but I enjoy the Kool-aid)."Very simply:1) Christ did not relay anything to us. What it is alleged that Christ said is told to us by unknown writers writing from unknown places at unknown times.The Bible descriptors 'according to Matthew', etc, and church proclamation of eyewitness testimony is falsehood. What true doctrine needs falsehood to support it?2) These writers had the OT at their disposal. The alleged fulfillment of prophesy would appear more impressive if they did not.3) These writers are admittedly writing to promulgate Christianity (are admittedly biased). We have no contemporary unbiased account of anything at all pertaining to a Jesus whose teachings and deeds were supposedly renowned throughout Judea.4) Alleged harmony: OT says when messiah comes, law will be obeyed perfectly because it will be written on peoples hearts – NT says the old law killeth and is cast aside; OT says consumption of blood is an abomination forever – NT says 'do this in remebrance of me'; OT says messiah will offer sacrifice for his own sins, NT doctrine says Jesus is sinless; OT says no descendant of a bastard or person with foreign blood may enter temple – recorded lineage of Jesus includes both disqualifiers. There is more…

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  26. Sorry, forgot to identify myself. This comment and immediate preceding comment by Exrelayman.

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  27. Clearly doesn't drink the Kool-aid ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  28. "As for the correlations between the OT and Christianity many of these were identified by Christ (not the SBC ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It still holds together for me (but I enjoy the Kool-aid)."Very simply:1) Christ did not relay anything to us. What it is alleged that Christ said is told to us by unknown writers writing from unknown places at unknown times.The Bible descriptors 'according to Matthew', etc, and church proclamation of eyewitness testimony is falsehood. What true doctrine needs falsehood to support it?2) These writers had the OT at their disposal. The alleged fulfillment of prophesy would appear more impressive if they did not.3) These writers are admittedly writing to promulgate Christianity (are admittedly biased). We have no contemporary unbiased account of anything at all pertaining to a Jesus whose teachings and deeds were supposedly renowned throughout Judea.4) Alleged harmony: OT says when messiah comes, law will be obeyed perfectly because it will be written on peoples hearts – NT says the old law killeth and is cast aside; OT says consumption of blood is an abomination forever – NT says 'do this in remebrance of me'; OT says messiah will offer sacrifice for his own sins, NT doctrine says Jesus is sinless; OT says no descendant of a bastard or person with foreign blood may enter temple – recorded lineage of Jesus includes both disqualifiers. There is more…

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  29. @TWF – Apparently she was attractive enough 15 years earlier (Gen 12). The sister ruse was used then too. She must have been a knockout :-)@D'Ma – I believe God created us, I do not know the mechanism, but I do know (or think I do) that the process required to support natural selection needs some fantasy to fit into the geological time frame. If the mechanism even approximated natural selection it had to run at an outlandishly accelerated rate to start and then taper off to the steady state we see today. That behavior (if you plot it on a graph) looks like creation not randomness. The law of big numbers (many many evolutionary steps) would force the graph in the opposite direction.As for the sciences, I used to think it was all idealism and searching for truth too. The fact is it is run by the same humans that run everything else. I suggested a book on my blog, Chaos: Making a New Science. The resistance of the establishment to "new" knowledge is as interesting as the science. When your reputation is on the line and you control the access…, well it turns out scientists are the same flawed creatures we are. They can admit they are wrong, but they would rather not ;-)@HeIsSailing – You can try wiki, but I read about Higher Criticism in 197x and was dismayed. It was presented as if the different documents had actually been found and it was based on the presumption that writing did not exist in that era or area when it was supposedly written. I subsequently learned that around the turn of the century archeological evidence to support writing in that area at least 300 years prior to when it (Genesis+) was supposed to have been written. So the basis of the theory was debunked. By that time there was enough "scholarship" in existence that the "science" continued (see previous comment). If you go to http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_tora1.htm and read the bit just near the end you will see how this fact is treated by those not exactly advocating the biblical interpretation."As it happens, their belief about Moses being illiterate is probably wrong. Archaeological evidence has since been found which shows that all of the major civilizations surrounding the Hebrews were literate at the apparent time of the Exodus. So one can assume that Moses knew how to read and write."As for the correlations between the OT and Christianity many of these were identified by Christ (not the SBC ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It still holds together for me (but I enjoy the Kool-aid).

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  30. DMA, Genesis is one of my favorite Biblical books! I have always loved it. It makes the imagination run amok!You asked:"What I'd like to know, and there is absolutely no way to find out, is what did it's writer intend?"I guess this begs the question, is the original intent of the book of most importance to you? Or is it Genesis interpreted through some Christian theology? Or is it Genesis de-mythologized and historicized? Or is it Genesis as you interpret it mystically in your modern religious life?I am certain that each of these interpretations of Genesis carries a different answer. In what sense is original intent of Genesis important to you, DMA? I guess I can give away my answer to that question by asking you again in this way: In what sense is any ancient near-eastern mythology important to you?Fun fact: In all my years as a Fundamentalist Christian, I always, sometimes secretly, sometimes more openly, but always have accepted the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection as scientific fact. I think I spent too much time as a kid reading science books in the library and hiking in the fossil strewn desert near our house to think otherwise, because it has always made sense to me. I interpreted Genesis in a very mystical, non-literal sense that made a lot of sense to me at the time I needed it to.

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  31. As a Jew who spent many of his early years studying the Torah (Five books of Moses) and the Talmud (commentaries on same), who has now (over 70 years) evolved into an atheist, I certainly am not qualified to tell you how the early Hebrews would have regarded Genesis. I can tell you, however, that believing Jews generally see the Torah as a set of guidelines on how to live a "righteous" life (according to God's Law), some of them historically accurate, many allegorical, and some parables. As such, the "literal truth" of Genesis is largely beside the point. The traditional teaching is that we are to spend this lifetime in as loving and caring a manner regarding our fellow man/woman and to otherwise abide by God's Commandments with regard to our relationship to Him. The reward for a righteous life is tobe "inthe presence of the Lord" for eternity; failure leads to "separation from the Lord", which is about as close as traditional Judaism gets to defining Hell.In my opinion, it is largely the insistance of many Christians/Muslims that Scripture is the literal and unchangeable "Word of God" and that it must be taken as literal truth that often leads to believers beginning to question and eventually to cease believing. If one realizes that part of what one has been taught does not make sense, it may be a small further step to losing all of it.

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  32. D'Ma,There are some very good resources out there regarding this topic. I don't know if this will help you at all, but in the vein of DoOrDoNot; I recommend "Etz Hayim" which is a Conservative Jewish Torah with commentary and it has some fascinating articles in the back.Good luck in your mission. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  33. D'Ma,I have no real answers, but I did want to pass on a resource. We're studying Genesis at church based on the book found at this link: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item2327365/?site_locale=en_GB I think its the Theology of Genesis by RWL Moberly. He tries to look at Genesis based on how ancient Jews would have read it and what the intent of the author may have been (not Moses, btw). I've found it to be helpful. He's got other books and papers in this area of study that I may look into in the future. You can google him to find more of his work. He's from the U of Durham in England. Everything from evolution to the Garden of Eden to Jesus to Paul is all interconnected in Christian theology so a change in one belief does make one question another belief. It's like the whack a mole game. There's just no end to the fun!

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  34. As D'Ma knows I have only just found this blog.I've been questioning the teachings of the Christian RELIGION for some 40 years. On my blog I ask the question, "What does the story of Genesis mean to you?"http://theroomofgrace.blogspot.com/2010/08/story-of-life-possible-scenarios.html

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  35. Welcome to the blog old.pete. Thanks for commenting. I've only begun recently(as you can tell) questioning this religion. The story of Genesis doesn't mean the same thing to me that it has in the past, that's certain. I'm not sure what I make of it at this point.

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  36. I would love to believe the first few chapters of Genesis were meant to be allegorical. It would make things so much easier. But the whole rest of the bible treats the as literal, factual, historical stories. It is very difficult to not have the whole house of cards topple.I am particularly impressed by the number of summerian tales that seem to be so similar, and apparently preceded the genesis writings. One christian friend told me she finds it reassuring that other faiths have the same myths. I find it very unassuring, as in, Genesis borrowed from what was already extant.

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