Every November professional theological societies hold their annual conferences where theologians from all over the world gather to present their research to the scrutiny of their peers. This year the conference was held in San Antonio and I was able to present two papers, one of which was a quick summary of my dissertation.
The Story of Genesis Begins in Chapter 4
If you’ve ever wondered if you could read Genesis like a story with a plot–you know with a tension that gets resolved in the end, here’s an explanation of how it might work.
This is the second paper I gave last week at one of those professional conferences. In this paper I talked about how the Cain and Abel story sets the plot of the whole book of Genesis in motion. Just like any good story, Genesis has a tension that gets resolved at the end. Since I only had 20 minutes, I had to give a very quick summary along with three ways I can support this reading from the text.
It’s a little technical, but still kind of cool. I think.
How the Bible Represents Reality
My first paper was more theoretical. It was about how the Greek “shift to reason” creates a gap between us and the ancient text. The goal was to show that Biblical narrative is both literature and gives faithful account of the past.
Ever since Aristotle, we’ve had a tendency to keep literature and history separate. In fact, in the 20th century there was a big debate among historians about whether or not it was proper to give an account of the past in story form. No one living before the seventh century BC ever thought such nonsense and so they recorded history in the form of stories like we have them today in both the Old and New Testament.
There’s only one problem with literary history, you have to read the text carefully so you can be sure to know just what the author intends to communicate. Sometimes he’s speaking about what happened in the past and sometimes he’s shaping his text so that it speaks figuratively. For the original readers that was no problem.
Actually, it’s not much of a problem for us either. It’s still pretty easy to get the main idea of what he wants to communicate. The only slight problem is that we don’t always understand when he steps away from reality in order to paint a nice picture.
Kind of like your favorite uncle. Sometimes you take him literally when he’s pulling your leg. In your uncle’s case, though, he’s trying to pull a fast one on you. In the case of the ancient text, the figurative readings go a little over our head because we’re not always privy to all the information available to the original reader.
Van Campbell says
Dear Todd, I am very interested in the ETS paper you delivered on how Genesis 4 establishes the plot of Genesis. Could you email me a copy?Van Campbell
Todd Patterson says
Dear Van, Thanks so much for showing interest. I’ve put a link to the file in the first paragraph above (but I’ve just emailed you a copy as well). Many blessings at Christmas and all through 2017.