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Genesis: truth and metaphor


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#21 Guest_Janine

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Posted 22 January 2005 - 05:35 AM

Actually, I couldn't care less about what the scientific community says in terms of what's in the bible, OT or gospels. (Since you're a scientist, you know full well how many assumptions -- that is, that require faith of a sorts -- scientific "proof" is based on, especially when it comes to theoretical science, like theoretical physics for example.) However, I have a big problem with fundamentalist literalism. Those who fail to understand icon fail to understand what religion is all about, if you ask me. Particularly for Orthodoxy, literalism of the type we're talking about seems to me to be incompatible with, & contradictory to the apophatic approach to God.

And by the way, thank you Father Raphael for your beautifully stated expression of "icon" and eucharistic perspective.


#22 Guest_Matt Keyes

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Posted 22 January 2005 - 08:48 PM

Mark and Janine,

Great points! It is easy for one to be as harsh on the literalists as the non-literalists on this issue. As Janine and Mark have both hinted at, the technical details are not the focus of the issue. It's not simply about creation - it's primarily about the Creator.

Great discussion BTW!

Thanks,
Matt


#23 Daniel Jeandet

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Posted 23 January 2005 - 04:08 PM

It spins me out how some people say that myths were created in order to explain the unknown origins of things, but in saying that, they are creating an explaination for the unknown origins of the myths.


#24 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 06:41 AM

Thanks to everyone for their interesting posts.

Daniel, thanks for the critical comment on those who advocate the primacy of myth above everything else. Of course, one may agree that explanation by invoking the power of myth may itself be a myth, and nevertheless remain a mythologist in one's approach to the gospel, if that makes any sense. Your statement of the obvious, however
is a powerful reminder of the mystery that cannot be named at the heart of our existence. It reminds me also of a short, sharp refutation of relativism I once read: to those who claim that truth is relative, one need only ask, "is that true"?

Concerning truth and the Bible, however, I have a further question: by what criterion can we take some biblical narratives to be metaphorical (symbolic, allegorical, mythical etc.), and others literal? Why is it, for example, permissible for a Christian to accept that the Genesis account is not literal fact, but not that f.e. the Virgin Birth is not literal?

I ask the above in a hopefully healthy spirit of inquiry, for my own and others┬┤growth, not to undermine the eternal verity of our faith. The way I tend to deal with dogmatic truths I cannot rationally understand, is to remind myself that (a) reason is not the summit of human being, and (b) I do not yet possess (and most likely never will) the spiritual discernment.

ICXC
Byron


#25 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 05:21 PM

Previously I had referred to the preface of J. Farrell's translation of The Disputation with Pyrrus of our Father among the Saints Maximus the Confessor. Here are some few passages from the preface about allegory.

"Christ's Incarnate Economy affects all invisible & visible things both in the sense of accomplishing and even causing them to be, as well as in the sense of influencing them. The Recapitulation consequently effects the very design of time & history itself, since it pertains to 'the mystery which hath been hid from generation' of the 'Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.'...

This constitutes the allegorical or typological basis on which Irenaeus & other Fathers read the Old Testament...

in order for there to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament, there must be a repetition & recontextualisation of its themes in the Life of Christ, and where necessary, a reversal of them...Types are like leitmotifs in music; they are repeated, and with each repetition, recontextualised, reaching their fulfillment in Christ."

As already noted there is much else in the preface that is worth reading & considering on this topic of allegory and its deeper basis. Certainly the Holy Fathers did accept in simplicity that what they read in the Old Testament really did occur. But on a deeper level the main preoccupation of the Fathers was not that 'something occured'. For the Holy Fathers the literal truth & allegory were not opposed. Rather the significance of what really occured was only found in how it referred to Christ or the life in Christ. So in this sense all of Christian life & history is allegorical or iconic.

In our day & age we are often historical materialists who believe that the value of some event or person is found only in itself. So themeaning of history is simply that one thing leads to another ie there is cause & effect. For the Fathers however all that is finds its significance only insofar as it refers to Christ. And on the contrary whatever tries to stand outside of Christ has only the meaning of nihilism. So in this sense whatever or whoever is not being 'allegorical' is dying the deepest death possible- seperation from Christ.

This is like the modern person who looks at an icon and complains that it is not realistic whereas from within the Church we see precisely that the icon does represent what is most real & fulfilled. So the Church sees in terms of what is being fulfilled in Christ while for the world 'reality' is what stands on its own on its own terms- which the Church recognises is pure fantasy.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#26 Guest_Janine

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 08:52 PM

Father Raphael - that is so profound. I'm going to keep thinking about it. Thank you.

Odd that the "realist" who complains about the lack of realism in an icon is really seeking a strange sort of idolatry, it seems. The post-modern type of iconoclast who only in the end is seeking nihilism, nothingness as a required goal or end in itself also misses the mark, and this sort of nihilism becomes just an idol too.


#27 Guest_Janine

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 09:03 PM

PS I'll say again that I think it's important to recognize the early Fathers -- especially the Three Hierarchs, Chrysostom, Basil, & Gregory, who were so schooled in education, did not reject any truth at all. They worshipped the Person who was Truth itself - so therefore where truth was found it had to be honored as part of that worship. This occurs on many levels in many ways, from recognizing the icon of Christ in all people whether or not they have heard of Christ, to debates like this one. They thought education of any kind would only contribute to Christian Theology. I think it's very important as Orthodox that we recognize that. They did not reject any of the Hellenic education but embraced it all. Just as an aside, I'd like to note that a fairly recent archeaological discovery indicates that the ancient Greek world had knowledge of, for example, the way the planets rotated -- there was a device discovered on a shipwreck several years ago that predicted eclipses. You can't do that without understanding the revolution of the planets. So much for the rejection of Galileo centuries later in the West. I think that that's something important to understand; that the Fathers did not reject knowledge but embraced it and said it must be embraced. And it does not diminish the truth in Genesis. This is an important subject to discuss.

As for Christ, his life occurred in a time and place where history was already an important subject in the Greek world -- not in a pre-literate, pre-human, pre-historical period of time where no one was around to witness! Obviously there is going to be a difference, even in ontological terms, if you will, in literature from witnesses and literature about God's work before humans existed, don't you think?


#28 Daniel Jeandet

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Posted 24 January 2005 - 10:04 PM

Anyone who is interested in science, genesis, ancient myths etc. really must learn about the Electric Universe theory as soon as possible.

www.thunderbolts.info

I urge you all to go to this site and download the first two chapters of the book, "thunderbolts of the gods" from this website. This theory will completely change the way we look at myth, science, the cosmos and pretty much everything. It really is a blessing.

Im sorry I didnt format the link. I dont really understand how to do it.


#29 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 25 January 2005 - 09:44 AM

Dear all,

For those interested in tracing out some of the history of the 'literal' 'versus' 'allegorical' debate over reading scripture (I have put all three terms -- literal, versus, and allegorical -- in inverted commas intentionally), it is worth recognising that discussions on the theme go back very early. Origen, whose name I bring up not to re-spark the debate over his person that has proved interesting discussion here before, made heavy use of an 'allegorical' reading, as indeed did many of his venue: Athanasius, Alexander, Cyril, etc., as well as Arius, Apollinarius, etc. Others adopted a much more 'literal' reading -- one thinks of Theodore of Mopsuestia or Nestorius, but also of John of Antioch, much of John Chrysostom, and much of Basil of Caesarea, among many others. And one cannot leave off Augustine of Hippo, who went through several editions of his 'Literal Commentary on Genesis' over the course of his life (but who defines 'literal' very carefully, and not the way most today would define it!). Indeed, in the fourth and fifth century, the question over how to read scripture was part of the dispute between various 'camps' in the great theological arguments of the day - an aspect of that debate summarised in the 'Two Schools' reading of the period.

'Literal' and 'allegorical' are in some sense modern terms, at least in the manner that most today understand them. With regard to approaches to the bible, the former tends to be inspired by an overly-zealous and usually misguided vision of 'scientific fact' and history, and the latter by a desire to locate moral messages, inner meaning, and so on. But the fathers read scripture to find Christ -- a manner of exegesis that fits neither in the category of literalism nor allegory.

INXC, Matthew


#30 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 25 January 2005 - 04:25 PM

Dear Janine

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the importance place of truth enquiry in the natural sciences and all spheres of human knowledge. Such was not only the teaching and pedagogic practice of such Fathers as St. Basil the Great but also such early witnesses as St. Justin Martyr. All truth is from God and no aspect of truth can fight against any other in his Wisdom.

Isaac has begun another thread on causality which has some relevance here. My favourite quote on these matters is from St. Augustine, who, on one of his better days said:-

"Even non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."
- Saint Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Chapter 19



#31 Guest_Janine

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Posted 25 January 2005 - 04:34 PM

Thank you Father Gregory. I saw the thread, but since I'm unfamiliar with the subject matter, have been following with interest. I will continue to do so!


#32 Guest_Norman

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 01:32 PM

If I attempted to articulate my own dim and unformed views, I'm afraid it would be a combination of science fiction (assorted Star Trek episodes) and cribbings from a recent NOVA episode [http://www.pbs.org/w...dimensions.html].
However, Sebastian Brock in his introduction to <u>St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise</u> articulates a vision of Paradise that I can happily claim to kinda, sorta grasp with a measure of faith.

A literal reading of the Biblical text would leave one with the impression that Paradise is a concept which belongs only to the beginnings of creation. In the religious climate of the centuries at the turn of the Christian era, however, a much richer understanding of Paradise had grown up within Judaism, finding expression in apocalyptic works such as the First Book of Enoch (perhaps of the second century BC); in these writings Paradise is understood as representing both the primordial and the eschatological state at the end of time, for it has now also become the abode of the righteous...

By locating Paradise outside of time and space as we know them, Ephrem was deliberately going against the more literalist views of Paradise that were current in the early Christian period...St. Ephrem's understanding (which he shares above all with St. Gregory of Nyssa) would seem to be far more profound and much richer in meaning; furthermore precisely because he locates Paradise outside of geographical space, his views are left unaffected by modern advances in scientific knowledge.

Since primordial Paradise belongs outside of time and space it also serves as the eschatological Paradise, the home of the righteous and glorious after the final Resurrection.



#33 Guest_Janine

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 03:37 PM

Thank you Norman -- that's very interesting, and I think, important.


#34 Guest_matt

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 04:55 PM

Maybe others can comment, but I seem to recall that J. Farrell himself rejected evolution on Christological grounds, in that it somehow screwed up the recapitulation. I may be off here, and if so just ignore it, but I recall one of his students telling me this a while back.


#35 Guest_Janine

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:01 PM

There are reasons to reject aspects of Darwin's theories of evolution even on scientific grounds. But that doesn't really say anything about whether or not we need to read the bible as science, or in a literalistic fashion. Especially this particular part of the bible.


#36 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:39 PM

The theodicy articulated by the Greek fathers more nearly configures with evolution in my opinion in the sense that they see the primal sin of Eden as arrested development rather than as a catastrophic irreversible loss in an essentially static view of human nature. This is a postscript on Evolution that I added to an article on Ancestral Sin.

************************************************

It is so commonplace now in the west to think of death as "natural" ... an integral part of a "good" creation that the Orthodox understanding of death as a necessary but temporary adjustment in God's plan ... his real goal for his creatures being immortality by grace seems completely irreconcilable with insights from the natural sciences. According to these insights death has ALWAYS existed from the dawn of life. Notice, however, how immortality in Orthodox Christianity is something to be acquired by grace, humans being created neither mortal nor immortal. The Paradise account of Genesis reveals a certain latency toward immortality in humankind which has been spoiled by disobedience to God. Genesis is silent on death as a more widespread phenomenon amongst all life forms but Romans is not so reticent. With the coming of Christ we have new revelation from the mouth of St. Paul. Corruption and death have indeed spread from humans to all life forms yet such bondage to decay is being reversed by the new birth of the resurrection.

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." (Romans 8:20-22).

We should not, therefore, become too pre-occupied with the chronology of Genesis. It is a perfectly Orthodox position to take divine teaching from Genesis without expecting it to deliver a scientific account of the creation of life and its problematic development. This, incidentally is why many Orthodox do indeed accept evolution as a credible scientific theory accounting for the development of life without feeling that somehow they have thereby sacrificed Christian insights into humankind's spiritual and moral development. Indeed evolution itself might provide some clues as to the possibilities of an emergent human species redeemed by grace. So, in the natural way of understanding things life is inconceivable without death. In the perspective of God's saving providence, however, there will be in the Last Day life without end and a renewed creation. Evolution might just be the natural process God's uses, hitching a ride as it were from the resurrection potential of repentance and union with God.


#37 Guest_Janine

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:48 PM

Hi again, Father Gregory, and thanks again for your thoughts.

Following on what you've said, you remind me that often I've thought to myself that I see in evolution a great intelligence: as if the fashioners and upholders of life on earth in their ministry have made such great and beautiful variety! I actually think it fits, philosophically anyway, completely with the understanding of the intelligence behind all life on our planet and its constant care and ministry. I just look around and am constantly struck by the beauty, variety and creativity in all of life all the time and see it as a reflection of the intelligence and creativity that is there ministering and building - and its hand evolving - it all. Does that make sense to others out there? Also, I think Darwin's theories don't really explain well all of evolution and various 'appearances' in history of different species, adaptations, etc. on completely pragmatic scientific grounds. And there too is room, at least for me, for the hand, intelligence, and fashioning of God and His ministers.


#38 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 06:43 PM

Concerning Joseph Farrell: Although I was a student of his I cannot remember if he spoke about evolution at the time or not. I can ask one of his former students about this that I have contact with.

A lot of his presentation at the time was presented within the framework of what he referred to as, "the fall of man into dialectic." A lot of this had come from a synthesis of St Maximos the Confessor & other Fathers. He would present not only the theological vision of the Fathers but also provide an indication of the cultural implications of this vision (or the results of losing this Patristic vision). I was struck by how brilliant & insightful much of this presentation was & at times prophetic in spirit- both personal & rigorously at one with the spirit of the Fathers at the same time.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#39 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 30 January 2005 - 04:44 PM

Dear Fr Gregory and others,

As a follow-up to your post above, it is worth remembering that to most of the early Greek Fathers especially, it was understood that the human creature is, and always was, naturally mortal. All material things are corruptible, finite and mortal. There is nothing 'naturally eternal' about the corporeal human creature. What is eternal and immortal is the divine transfiguring of this mortal and temporal life by God -- a gift given to the creature at its first formation, hers always by receipt and never by natural possession. Thus it is possible to 'lose' something which was never 'possessed' as a natural property, but which was gifted into receipt 'from the beginning'.

An interesting and involved (100+ posts) discussion was had on this and related themes not long ago, in the Souls, Immortality and Eternity thread. If you're interested to read some of the posts most directly related to this theme, there are a few by me (1, 2, 3, 4); an important one by Owen (with my response here); and another from Fr Raphael.

INXC, Matthew


#40 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 30 January 2005 - 05:30 PM

Is that really the case Matthew? I took Sts. Theophilus of Antioch, Ephraim the Syrian, Hilary of Poitiers and Maximus the Confessor to mean that our first parents were created neither mortal nor immortal. Until the point of his disobedience Adam was sinless but not perfect and, therefore able to sin. He was not immortal but capable of achieving immortality through obedience.





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