Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

March 6, 2006

In God’s providence, I had a brief discussion wit…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 5:33 am

In God’s providence,
I had a brief discussion with a friend on the day before the Pentateuch class began. In this conversation, he told me that his belief was that the Old Testament was fiction. While I stated that I didn’t hold that view, I was not really equipped with an apologetic that could effectively counter his position.

Kenneth Kitchen’s approach (in his book, The Bible In Its World) is largely to rebut the detractor’s insistence that the patriarchal documents are anachronistic and therefore fiction. In order to advance the belief that the patriarchal material is of late origin, historians posit that an author or authors fabricated narratives projecting fiction into the past while relying on cultural material that was extant at the time of the composition by these authors. However, historians relying on positive parallels between patriarchal elements with late Nuzi material in support of this view wind up ‘hoist with their own petard’ in effect. This is true even without questioning the veracity of the supposed positive parallels, which, as Kitchen points out, have problems. Demonstrating the existence of positive parallels with much earlier material forces critics, using their previously avowed hermeneutic, to side with the Kitchen’s many observations, thus crippling their original position.

By identifying personal name similarities used in the patriarch narratives which are also seen in other culture’s documents (Mari, Ebla, Egypt, Babylon and others) the claim of anachronisms is weakened. Abraham’s conduct within his family unit is consistent with early 2nd millennium BC social and legal customs among family members. Abraham’s involvement in the battle of the kings related to us in Genesis 14 is corroborated by the existence of numerous city-state coalitions for which Kitchen suggests a date between 2000 and 1750 BC. This also, then, helps to undermine the anachronism argument.

To make an á priori assumption that the narratives are fiction without admitting to a presuppositional bias can only be done by ignoring the evidence that is available. The existence of at least three genres of written material in Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and the Hittite empire provides multiple samplings of work against which the patriarchal narratives may be contrasted. These genres are the autobiographical, the quasi-historical legend (characterized according to Kitchen by a poetic epic style) and what is easily identified as fictional tales marked by a lack of detail and character placement and possessing an obvious entertainment value. The patriarchal narratives in their inherent composition do not resemble those legends which have been uncovered from the Ancient Near East. To such an extent do these narrative possess the aura of real history, that to suggest the existence at any date from1000 BC and earlier of a never before seen genre consisting of “realistic-fiction” merely exposes the depth of one’s bias.

The conclusion remains with the orthodox viewpoint which is that the patriarchal narratives were written as historical documents, recording events that actually happened.



  1. I bigger and fancier words, I think he is discussing what in the past was known as “common grace”, for one, and also, “we must be in the world, but not of the world”.

    Comment by Anonymous — March 6, 2006 @ 6:17 pm

  2. I think your above comment was meant to be made for the March 3 post, no?

    Comment by Bruce S — March 6, 2006 @ 6:58 pm

  3. It surprises me that someone at W. Seminary might speak so decidedly against the historicity of the O.T. And speaking of the Pentateuch, I have been nurturing an acquaintanceship into a friendship of Wooster’s Hillel rabbi (a woman). I just got fed up with the InterFaith Council’s continuous talk about interfaith dialogue that goes nowhere, so I said in a meeting, “I just ought to ask Joan to lunch some day” and she said, “Yes!” After two such get acquainted lunches, we are going to sit down with a translation of Genesis she likes and go at it, with our own commentaries in hand. (I hope she might also be willing to tackle the text directly via inductive Bible study methods, but we’ll see.

    Comment by Sister — March 7, 2006 @ 1:36 pm

  4. The friend is not in the church at all. I am not entirely sure how the idea that he is a sem. student got conveyed.

    On your rabbi friend, did you just knock on her door or was she a participant in the ‘going nowhere’ group also?

    What translation of Genesis are you going to use? What is your commentary? Are you going to be forced to abandon the ‘let scripture interpret scripture’ by avoiding Jesus’ and Paul’ with respect to their handling of father Abraham. It should be easy to establish a friendship if you just leave Christ out of the equation.

    Comment by Bruce S — March 7, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

  5. She was part of the “going nowhere group” for sure. I’m not sure which translation but it is supposed to capture the everyday-ness of the literal words. My plan was that she chose the first passage and I the second, but how could we talk about Abraham (esp. using commentaries, or at least our own understanding) without going to Paul and Jesus? No, I don’t want a friendship per se, though that’s great; I am hoping for a redemptive friendship in which I have earned the right to share the gospel. My commentary? By J. Gerald Janzen. Just ordered it. Disscovered it in the process of putting the Q/B study together.

    Comment by Sister — March 7, 2006 @ 10:58 pm

  6. You said you were talking to a friend just before the Pentateuch class, so I imagined a casual stroll across campus together…

    Comment by B — March 9, 2006 @ 1:25 am

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