Monday, July 28, 2014

Do the Jews believe a literal 6-24 creation?

Although some ultra-orthodox Jewish sects have denied the reality of dinosaurs and torn the pages dealing with evolution out of their textbooks, Ira Robinson notes, in general "fundamentalism and creationism have been decried by Orthodox Jews as 'nonsense' and 'a grave error'"; even if Genesis is read in a highly literal manner, the biblical texts in broad Jewish perspective literally do not mean what Christian creationists say they mean. [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 107]

Osborn so claims that this belief in a literal creation is particularly and peculiarly a "Fundamentalist" belief, and not a historic belief held to by Jews and Christians. We have seen how Osborn misrepresents John Calvin's position, and now he claims that the Jews also do not hold to this "fundamentalist" 6-24 position. If one thinks that this new claim is also a misrepresentation of the Jews, one is not too far off the mark.

Who speaks for the Jews? If we are to evaluate what the Jews believe, do we inquire into what ancient Jews believed, or what modern Jews believe? Most certainly, what modern Jews believe concerning the creation account is not unimportant, but is it that important for discovering the "Jewish" view, as if there was only one Jewish view concerning creation? If we are to look into what the Jews believe, certainly we should look at what the ancient Jews believed also, for one should not assume some form of historical continuity between ancient Judaism and modern Judaism.

For historical reasons, written works from the ancient world are generally few and not well preserved and transmitted. That said, we have a rather decent look into how the ancient Jews view the history of the world through the pen of the 1st century writer Flavius Josephus. As an educated Pharisee, surely Josephus would be knowledgeable about what the Jews of his time actually believed and well qualified to write on that topic.

In his book The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus began with the creation of the world, and he treated the Genesis account as actual history (not "Upper Register" history or anything of that nature). Here is an excerpt of what Josephus wrote:

1. (27)In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth; but when the earth did not come into sight, but was covered with thick darkness, and a wind moved upon its surface, God commanded that there should be light; (28) and when that was made, he considered the whole mass, and separated the light and the darkness; and the name he gave to one was Night, and the other he called Day; and he named the beginning of light and the time of rest, the Evening and the Morning; (29) and this was indeed the first day: but Moses said it was one day,—the cause of which I am able to give even now; but because I have promised to give such reasons for all things in a treatise by itself, I shall put off its exposition till that time. (30) After this, on the second day, he placed the heaven over the whole world, and separated it from the other parts; and he determined it should stand by itself. He also placed a crystalline [firmament] round it, and put it together in a manner agreeable to the earth, and fitted it for giving moisture and rain, and for affording the advantage of dews. (31) On the third day he appointed the dry land to appear, with the sea itself round about it; and on the very same day he made the plants and the seeds to spring out of the earth. On the fourth day he adorned the heaven with the sun, the moon, and the other stars; and appointed them their motions and courses, that the vicissitudes of the seasons might be clearly signified. (32) And on the fifth day he produced the living creatures, both those that swim and those that fly; the former in the sea, the latter in the air: he also sorted them as to society and mixture, for procreation, and that their kinds might increase and multiply. On the sixth day he created the four-footed beasts, and made them male and female: on the same day he also formed man. (33) Accordingly Moses says, That in just six days the world and all that is therein was made; and that the seventh day was a rest, and a release from the labor of such operations;—whence it is that we celebrate a rest from our labors on that day, and call it the Sabbath; which word denotes rest in the Hebrew tongue.

2. (34) Moreover, Moses, after the seventh day was over, begins to talk philosophically; and concerning the formation of man, says thus: That God took dust from the ground, and formed man, and inserted in him a spirit and a soul.b This man was called Adam, which in the Hebrew tongue signifies one that is red, because he was formed out of red earth, compounded together; for of that kind is virgin and true earth. (35) God also presented the living creatures, when he had made them, according to their kinds, both male and female, to Adam, who gave them those names by which they are still called. But when he saw that Adam had no female companion, no society, for there was no such created, and that he wondered at the other animals which were male and female, he laid him asleep, and took away one of his ribs, and out of it formed the woman; (36) whereupon Adam knew her when she was brought to him, and acknowledged that she was made out of himself. Now a woman is called in the Hebrew tongue Issa; but the name of this woman was Eve, which signifies the mother of all living. [Flavius Josephus & W. Whiston, The works of Josephus: Complete and unabridged. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), 1.1.1, 1.1.2. Accessed on Logos.]

I think it should be plain without a shadow of a doubt that Josephus believed in a literal 6-24 creation. As a educated Jew of the elite class writing to the Greeks and Romans a history of his people, his views can be taken to be largely representative of what the Jews in the 1st century actually believed.

The Jews in the first century AD therefore believed the same view of creation as the Young-Earth Creationists. According to Osborn, who cites Ira Robinson, the modern Jews disavow Josephus' view of creation. This indicates a shift of views on creation during the last two millennia. Ancient Jews believed a 6-24 creation, while modern Jew mostly rejected it as "nonsense" and "a grave error." The question is which group of Jews Christians should perceive as being of greater consequence for their faith, and the answer should be rather obvious. Ad fontes! Modern Jews have largely fallen away from even the faith of the first century, and thus their rejection of 6-24 creation is irrelevant for Christians today.

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