martinjbaker wrote:I can't buy this convenient concept that Genesis 1 should not be taken literally. It was a weak argument to give the examples of "This cup is my blood" and "I am the door" when these lines are so obviously allegorical. It's some stretch to say that Genesis 1 is purely allegorical when it reads from start to finish as a factual account of events.
See, I just don't get this. Genesis 1 looks like a poem to me. It has six stanzas with a refrain at the end of each, it has parallelism (days 1-3 parallel days 4-6)... pretty much everything that you'd expect from an Ancient Hebrew poem.
But then, I guess that you could argue that Dante's Divine Comedy
and Orwell's Animal Farm
read like factual accounts of events if you don't understand the genre of satire.
martinjbaker wrote:When the human race didn't even know about evolution, does Norton think any Christians interpreted Genesis as poetical myth and not a truthful historical account? I somehow doubt it.
Did you check? A couple of years ago, I did a random sample of every pre-Darwin Christian theologian who wrote a commentary of or homilies on Genesis, and every single one of them read the narrative of Genesis figuratively or in a way that was consistent with a figurative interpretation. All of them found it "truthful" (big surprise), but nobody in my sample treated it as a literal scientific account in the sense that we would think of it today (also big surprise; they weren't writing about science, after all).
Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean:
Paul of Tarsus wrote:For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. The child of the slave was born according to the flesh; the child of the free woman was born through the promise. Now this is being allegorized: for these women are two covenants. One, indeed, is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. This is Hagar, for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is a slave with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.
-- Galatians 4:22-26
This isn't Genesis 1, of course, but you get the idea.
Origen of Alexandria wrote:For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
-- De Principiis IV, 16
Augustine of Hippo wrote:With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.
-- De Genesi ad literam 2:9
John Calvin wrote:For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.
-- Commentary on Genesis
Now, to be fair, my sample didn't include early Eastern Orthodox theologians such as Basil of Caesarea and Ephrem the Syrian, mostly because I'm not very familiar with their lives and work. I've been (IMO reliably) informed that literal interpretations of Genesis 1 were quite popular in the Byzantine world.
Reality has always more complex than one might hope, and has this nasty property that it always gets in the way of a nice clean thesis. But I digress. I can happily concede for the purpose of this discussion that non-literal interpretations of Genesis 1 were only the majority
position, as opposed to the overwhelming majority
position. Either way, your doubt is misplaced.
martinjbaker wrote:BTW How can a day in Genesis possibly be any longer than a day? It's defined repeatedly right in the text:
"God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day."
"And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day."
I see that you spotted the refrain at the end of every stanza.