Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Evolution, Historicity, and Ghost Writing the Bible

From Orrologion. I have left his post intact.

- V.


The Editor's Prophecy

I've got no problem accepting that all of the events in the Old and New Testaments literally, historically happened, 'really'. If one is going to believe that the ever-existing Creator of the Universe decided to not only take on human form, but become a human being consubstantial to us, well then, it isn't hard to believe in all sorts of other things. Same with belief in miracles.

That being said, I think the consensus of the Church over the past 150 years has been that there is no necessity to believe in young earth evolution. This is likely due to the fact that the Genesis and other 'violent' accounts in the OT have been viewed primarily as types and allegories in the East for centuries and centuries prior to Darwin, even if a literal, historical reality to the events was assumed, as well - the 'higher' and 'more spiritual' meaning of these texts was always beyond that of the literal and historical.

The Church has also seemed to accept in a pretty nonplussed way modern critical methodologies and at least some of the results arrived at along this spectrum.

How does one 'square the circle', so to speak, given the fact that so many of our liturgical and patristic texts explicitly or implicitly accept the historicity of the events and persons mentioned and the traditional, single authors (e.g., Moses wrote the Pentateuch, only one Isaiah, Paul wrote Hebrews, etc.)?

I think there is a difference between the historicity of the events described and the reality of the person of the prophet/author describing.

There is also in Orthodoxy - and therefore also in the Church's precursor, Israel - a long history of 'secrecy'. Humility is honored. Saints will feign madness, they will not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Joseph will seem not to know his brothers. There are many examples.

It is my contention that many of the authors of the biblical texts may in fact be compilers and editors. They may also feign their identity leaving themselves either anonymous or pointing to a greater light than themselves, out of humility. St. Xenia of Petersburg wore her husband's clothes and would only respond to her husband's name - she was taking on the ascetic endeavor (podvig) of foolishness-for-Christ's-sake quite literally in her husband's name and on his behalf.

Similarly, sometimes humble, anonymous prophets may have pulled together writings and tales written or told by others (explaining the different 'tones' or 'vocabulary' within a work) to their own prophetic end. What is historical is the editor's prophecy, though the building blocks of that editorial creation may or may not be historically 'true'. What is most important, and this is agreed on by the Fathers, is that the typological and allegorical meanings of the Scriptures are the most important.

Our only question is whether the historical is also 'true' - and, it should be noted, historical is different than literal.

Christ literally spoke of birds of the air and flowers of the field, as to whether he was referring of specific, historical birds and flowers is a different question; Christ literally spoke of a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man, whether these were real historical men that experienced the things Christ mentioned is a different question.

(Many of the arguments against 'fundamentalist' and 'literal' readings of Scripture are in fact arguments for the use of typology and allegory and against assuming the literal reading is historical. Much of the confusion is (purposefully?) due to a conflation of these distinct arguments.)

It seems to me that historicity can be left to science, archaeology, etc. and a case can be made either way. It doesn't really matter in the same way it doesn't matter whether Shakespeare's Macbeth acted, thought and spoke like the historical Macbeth. An editor/prophet is making a different point - just like many of the posts here do not reflect my own thoughts and words though my editorial intent would push one toward a certain way of viewing the world - by using the building blocks available to him. When Macbeth speaks, we do not say Macbeth-S when referring to the character in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Macbeth-H when referring to surviving documents written by the historical man. We simply say 'Macbeth'.

It's not good to constantly be winking at the audience and reminding them that you're really just an actor and not 'really' _______. Neither does a metaphor remain a metaphor if it is explained - that's called a simile.

- Christopher Orr

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