ch. 3 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

In the 3rd chapter, "God likes stories," Enns develops his thesis, the writers of the Bible are not news reporters but writers with agendas who use history and also supplement with ahistorical details to make their points. Nowadays, such writers would accused of lying, but these writers are not hiding their agendas, nor do they seem concerned about contradictions between their stories.

As an aside, even though I am breaking this down by chapter, it will be hard to keep this from running out of control in length. This chapter has an abundance of Biblical examples and possibilities.

Here is Enns non-controversial thesis,
...like all storytellers, biblical storytellers invented and augmented dialogue, characters, and scenes to turn past moments into a flowing story - not because they were lazy or sneaky, but because that's what ll storytellers need to do to create a narrative. They shifted and arranged the past, or wove together discrete moments, all for the purpose of telling their story for their audience. p. 76
This is obvious from any extensive reading of the Bible. It is full of multiple historical perspectives: four gospels, two Israelite histories, three Pauline conversions, all for us to see and join the journey to understand God as these writers did.

Jesus' birth narratives only appear in Matthew and Luke with significant differences, but important and appropriate for the audiences they are writing for. Matthew writes for Jewish Christians and presents Jesus as Moses' successor. Like Moses he was delivered from a baby killing tyrant. Like Moses he comes out of Egypt. Later on, like Moses, Jesus announces from a mountain a new ethic, beatitudes replace ten commandments. Matthew's geneaology goes back to Abraham, the father of the Jews.

Luke writes for Gentile Christians, using language reserved for Caesar for Jesus. An angelic choir proclaims his arrival. Mary's song is based on Hannah's song to celebrate Samuel's birth who later anoints King David. Luke's geneaology goes back to Adam, the father of all humanity.

As the beginning of Jesus' story is different in the gospels so is the end. Depending on which gospel you heard this past Easter, you may not be aware of the different endings. One thing they all agree on is the body is not there! Mark's shorter ending stops there. Rather than seeing the disagreements as proof of falsehood or as a puzzle to force together, we could recognize that devoted humans wrote these and their faltering efforts have not hindered the growth of church in 20 centuries.

 In the Old Testament, the history of Israel's kings in Samuel and Kings, in which hardly any of them get a thumbs up, is markedly different from the history presented in the Chronicles. One notorious example regards who motivated King David to take a census, Satan or God. (See my review of chapter five Derek Flood's book to go further into this topic.) The examples are abundant but Enns highlights a few to look at agendas. In 2 Samuel 7 the prophet Nathan tells David God promises a never ending dynasty. In 1 Chronicles 17 God tells Nathan David will be part of God's dynasty forever. When there was still a dynasty to speak of, the earlier prophecy made sense, but after it faded, as the post-exilic Israelites remained a vassal state without a king, the Chronicler's version made more sense.

The transition from David's kingdom to Solomon's was very messy in the earlier history, but is seamless in the Chronicler's.  The earlier history tries to explain why Israel ends up in exile, bad behavior from the highest to the lowest. The Chronicler hopes to inspire the small post-exilic nation to think what they could become again. One history seeks to use the stories of the past to explain the present exile, the other history seeks to use the best of the past to provide a "blueprint for the future." p. 97

The histories do correspond to archaeological records but there are pre-histories as well. These earlier stories, myths, are shaped  by the story tellers to pre-figure the later historical stories. "As you read Israel's origins stories, especially in Genesis, you'll notice embedded into them previews of coming attractions, a deliberate setup for what is to come in Israel's life later on in the Promised Land." p. 105

Hence, the rotten Canaanite show up soon after Noah's ark makes landfall. The Babylonians cause a mess when they try to build a ziggurat that reaches heaven. Israel's enemies the Moabites and Ammonites come from Lot's drunken incestuous relations with his daughters. The enemy Edomites are descendants of foolish Esau, the brother of Jacob, later re-named Israel.

God calls Abraham from Babylon to the promised land, just as the exiles would do. Abraham would leave the promised land for Egypt due to famine and bring trouble on the Egyptians, as the Israelite nation would do.

Even further back in Israel's mythic history, Adam is placed by God in a garden on the one simple condition that he obey God, "obey and you stay; disobey and be exiled." p. 114 "The Adam story, then, is not simply about the past. It's about Israel's present brought into the past." p. 115

Unlike the later histories which name the enemy kings who fight Israel, the Egyptian pharaoh who enslaves the Israelites is unnamed. This fact may indicate myth and why there is no evidence or written record outside of the Torah of the liberation of two million people marching out of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula for forty years. No matter the nuggets of truth buried in the grand story, one purpose of the story is to show that Israel's God is greater the Egypt's gods, especially as he manifests his power in the ten plagues, specifically insulting an Egyptian god each time. When God divides the sea, the writer uses the same language of the creation week. When Moses is saved by an ark on the river, the writer uses the same word for the ark that saved Noah and his family. Over and over again, God is superior to the chaos of the water.

Enns speculates that God lets his children tell his story with stories, instead of histories, because stories work. Jesus certainly thought so. In each of the gospels he communicates theology often through stories, parables, metaphors and similes. They have lasting power because of their broad appeal. Only a few of us enjoyed history class, but all cultures seem to love their stories.

Comments

Popular Posts