Thursday, May 10, 2018

Intervention Started Early on Road to Humanity

There is a lot which early Genesis chapter one does not say about creation. The language on days five and six in particular lend one to believe God intervened personally and repeatedly in fashioning the creatures of the land and seas. Most particularly, they point towards His intervention in the formation of the human race.

Well genetic biology is not my field, but I have an acquaintance who is an expert in that and he is both a Christian and an evolutionist. He believes that God guided the process in some way undetectable by science but that evolution was the process that He used. I myself have pointed to some gray areas between theistic evolution, intelligent design and special creation but I see the text as much further on the creationist side of things with humanity in particular.

At any rate we were having a dialogue about the Cambrian Explosion. He was insisting that it was not a problem for evolution. I said the molecular clocks showed more time was needed than the fossils showed they had in order to develop 70 new phyla of life. He chalked it up to inadequacies in the fossil record from the period when soft-bodies were the thing, along with a clock that only worked on closely relate groups. I countered that perhaps it only works for closely related groups because that was as far as nature could go with evolution. The distinct groups themselves then would have come about by some sort of special creation and diversified from there.

He countered that the link between chimps and humans was very strong, which should not be so if they were not related. Previously we had had a discussion where I had thought that there was more difference than time allowed between the two genomes but I was going off of old research. The latest research "looks like" it should look if they had a common ancestor six million years ago. Did they just re-measure until they got a value that fit their biases? I am not versed enough to say so, but he is and he doesn't think so. Of course that is a measure of mostly "noise" in the genome rather than functional change, but it shows what it shows.

So I was looking for "the fingerprints of God" in the genome. Places where change happened at a rate too fast for normal evolutionary mechanisms, indicating that something else was happening. I wasn't finding it anywhere between Chimps and humans. Of course He could, and I am sure does, operate in ways both subtle and sublime. We may not be able to detect His action, even if it permeated reality under certain models. Particularly with our current level of science (or as my associate points out maybe never and if we could science still could not demonstrate it was God's doing, just an anomaly).

At any rate, I think I found it. The anomaly, the fingerprints, whatever you want to call them. Again this can't be shown scientifically to be God's action, but it can be shown to be something out of the norm. It is up to humans to ascribe meaning. In this case the big fast change did not occur between chimps and humans, but according to this study it happened between chimps and humans together vs. everything else.

Here is a sample of what they found..

Eichler's research team found an especially high rate of duplications in the ancestral species leading to chimps and humans, even though other mutational processes, such as changes in single DNA letters, were slowing down during this period. "There's a big burst of activity that happens where genomes are suddenly rearranged and changed," he says. Surprisingly, the rate of duplications slowed down again after the lineages leading to humans and to chimpanzees diverged.

Well, that sounds a lot what special creation would look like. Maybe the special creation was not a human but it was more like a "test model". One branch of the test went one way and another branch went another via the significant but not unlimited amount of evolution which can and does occur. In other words chimpanzees are not the original form but a derived form of something which was originally less adapted for living in trees. The other branch led to the hominids. Perhaps there were no more "major reorganizations" between human genomes and that of chimps because the rest of the job could be done with relatively minor tweaks in the genetic code that did not stick out from genetic background noise. Not many changes to that hominid template need be made when forming humanity, because they were already made on the changes which got us to that template.

In other words, using the chimp-human genomes to say there are nothing like Divine fingerprints to be found is just cherry-picking the data. The fingerprints are found just before that point. Does that mean this was the only place God intervened and humans just evolved from a common chimp ancestor from that point? Not at all. It could just mean that the other interventions were too "light touch" to be detected as anomalies by our present level of understanding. But we don't need to locate every fingerprint to make the case for some form of special creation. Finding a few of the big ones makes the point.

I would also say that the Christ-centered framework for early Genesis make more sense out of this possibility than traditional models. Why get some forms all the way up to "near human" before finally creating Man? In the Christ-centered model the second Person of the Trinity fused with humanity in Genesis 1:27. Whatever traits are temporarily set aside when a member of the Godhead takes bodily form would be in play, whatever limitations which may come from that would be in play. So the Logos got things prepared so that when He assumed the more anthropogenic form of God often referred to as "Yahweh" there was only so much left to do - just create and form man. He did not have to do the body part of humanity, or the DNA part, from "scratch". He just took the DNA code from the hominid line and made some tweaks. The changes in the soul and spirit part were greater, though hard to measure through science.

Understand that there is no necessity to detect God's fingerprints on creation. He could have done it all "light touch" if He wanted to. And even if we find them, we can't scientifically prove that this is what they are. Evidence is a mirror which says as much about the person viewing it as it does the natural universe. But I am in favor of looking none the less.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Why Didn't the Ark Riders See any Mountains?

My model of early Genesis has a regional flood in the highlands North and East of Mesopotamia as the epicenter of the flood. Mesopotamia got a "glancing blow". The target was not all of humanity, nor all animals, but rather the Adamic line which was given to produce Messiah and had gone badly astray. This was around 6,500 years ago.

One of the challenges in this model is the charge that it should not have taken so long for the tops of mountains to be seen if indeed it was a regional flood in the highlands. I did speculate as to why this may have been so, but I wasn't using the text. In retrospect, I should have gone to the text.

First let's look at a couple of basic facts about spotting things on the horizon.....

The ark was 30 cubits tall, which we think is about 45 feet. The text hints that the draft of the vessel was 15 cubits because it says that the mountains were covered to at least that depth (Gen.7:20). So the top deck was about 22.5 feet off of the water. If their view was otherwise unobstructed this would be consistent with a visual horizon over the water of 5.8 miles.

Even if they were in some depression, say near Lake Urmia, until the east wind blew them unto the "mountains of Ararat" there were still some mountains which loom many thousands of feet higher than the surrounding terrain. It strains credulity to claim that those highest peaks were underwater for any length of time, especially for months. For example, a peak 5,000 feet higher than the surrounding terrain- be it earth or water, should be visible from sea level 86 miles away. A peak which soared 10,000 feet high, and there are several like that in this area even if the water was still 1,000 feet deep, should be visible a whopping 122 miles away with clear viewing. There is really not sufficient room for a vessel to drift for months without coming near to at least some of them.

Never the less, they (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) reported early on that "all of the mountains were covered". This report could be based on the fact that they drifted for months without ever running aground. It was not until the seventh month, the sixth month of their ordeal, that the ship ran aground. And it was not until two and a half months later, in the tenth month, that they reported "the tops of the mountains appeared".

I think some of the confusion can be cleared up if we put out of our mind the picture we have of the ark and instead go back to the text and see what it says things were like. I mean, if they drifted around for months with a crow's nest like modern vessels without seeing any land of course that strongly mitigates against a regional highland flood. But the ark was not built like that. The pictures and recreations we see of the ark with a row of windows on the upper deck are not what the text says that it looked like.

Instead, ark was built with the top cubit unfinished except for the spines to support a covering. This is the "window" mentioned when God is giving instructions for the ark. It's not really a window, and another word is used for the window which Noah opened to release the birds later in the account. Instead, that last 1.5 feet was left unfinished except for the framing for lighting and ventilation. A "cover" or "roof" was stretched out over the top of this, and based on the word used it was likely made of animal skins. Lamb skin perhaps? This was very much like what we would think of as an "awning" to keep the rain out.

So far as we can tell, that is all they had for visibility. The "door" of the ark was shut with pitch and could not be open and shut easily. There is no indication that Noah ever opened the "window" which he used to let the birds out until he in fact used it for that purpose after the ship ran aground. It is likely that opening the window broke the pitch seal, which would have been problematic if it rained again.

In the same way 8:13 is written like Noah and his family don't get a really good look at the surrounding landscape until they cast aside the cover of the ark. Again, he seemed very reluctant to take that cover off. I would imagine if they took it off too early and found the ground a swamp, replacing the cover from inside the ark would have been a difficult to impossible task. If they had taken off the cover and found a swamp they were in trouble if it rained again.

This is a strong hint that the eaves of the awning extended far over the sides and limited their view from these openings until it was removed. That would also explain Noah sending out the birds in hopes they would find dry ground. They couldn't see very far until they removed the cover or roof. They didn't have a row of unobstructed windows in the top of their vessel from which they could view the horizon and beyond. They could have drifted within a few miles of mountain tops and never seen them.

In verse 8:5 it says that "the tops of the mountains were seen". I had always assumed that meant distant mountains, but now I realize that the text does not support the idea that they had such visibility. Instead it was referring to the mountains on which they had run aground a month or two before. Earlier in the text there is a mention of "high" or "exalted" mountains. These are just mountains. They can start to see the tops of the mountains rising up out of the water in their immediate area. This leads them to wonder if there is not higher and drier ground just a couple of miles away. So they release the dove to go check. Because they can't see that far due to the awnings.

So once again, the solution to the paradox is to be found in the text. The text describes a situation where the ark-riders had limited visibility until the cover was removed from the ark. Thus, the regional highland flood model remains plausible.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Gray Areas in Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Special Creation

Getting our definitions straight is essential to sorting this out and preventing us from talking past one another. We can’t tell to what extent we agree or disagree without it.

For example “Descent with modification” is one definition of evolution, I guess a preferred one. To me it could also be a form of creationism or at least intelligent design, depending on how the "modifications" occur. For example, farmers breed animals for certain traits and get them through descent with modification. They select far more powerfully for desired traits than nature does. So that fits this definition of evolution, but surely it is intelligent design as well.

Let’s have a thought experiment: Now suppose instead of farmers who went around selecting for traits, God Himself did so. If a certain group got a rare mutation that would produce a benefit if paired with another rare mutation which existed only in a second isolated group He would know it and be able to put those two populations together so that they would have the suite of mutations that, when combined with yet another rare mutation four generations from now, would result in a new function. So He is using Divine knowledge to leverage natural processes to produce something new. I would say that is evolution (descent through modification), intelligent design (intent drives the changes not natural selection) and “soft-touch” creationism (He intervened in the natural world to produce outcomes even if He never touched the genomes directly, He merely guided natural events in a way that nature would not in herself at anything like the same rate).

Now suppose that instead of taking the role of a selective breeder (with perfect knowledge) only, He also assumed the role of Genetic Engineer. That is, instead of strictly waiting for Nature to come up with mutations which could be combined to create new function, He did just what our engineers do. He made cuts and inserts in genetic code. Maybe nature would never get a particular protein to fold just right waiting for chance or mutation so He inserted a gene which would. So when our scientists make mice which glow because jellyfish genes have been inserted in them, and this population breeds, is this “descent with modification”? Well maybe, but the modification did not come wholly by "natural" descent. It is doubtless intelligent design and special creation, and questionably evolution as well.

That said, such a situation could still involve natural descent, but that would not be where the key modification would come from. Take the gap between a fish and an amphibian. What if over the course of thirty or forty generations God acted to put just enough changes in each generation that they would still be able to be birthed and bred by natural means but each generation would also be further toward the amphibian end of things? This so that even though no amphibian was created out of thin air, or clay, one still had a very different creature though only forty generations removed from the fish. That result would be due to genetic engineering moving things a bit further along each generation. That is “descent with modification” but the modification that matters is via genetic engineering. So is that evolution, special creation and intelligent design all rolled up into one?

Is there really any scientific evidence that known evolutionary processes can operate at the rate and scale necessary to explain all of the "modification" of life on earth through its history? Another way to ask it would be like this, suppose there were a billion earth-like planets and a single celled organism was placed on each. How many of them, using only known biological processes without any intelligent intervention, would have a biotic phase which looks anything like the history of life on earth?  I think the number would be "zero". Someone else might think the answer would be in the thousands or even millions, but none of us have done the experiment or anything like it to say for sure. Therefore neither side has a scientific basis for saying either way, though one might have naturalistic assumptions on the question. It is a pity so few can even recognize that there is a difference between the two.

Like Jon Garvey, I don’t think “natural selection” or any of the natural means we have discovered could have, on its own, produced the vast diversity we see today or in the fossil record. I think nature had help. And I think some of this arguing we are doing over it is because we are talking past one another on terms.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Hell Yes, or at Least Hades Yes for a Time

Some comments recently attributed to the Pope about the eternal fate of unbelievers has gotten people on the topic of "does hell exist?" Some critics have pointed out that the historical beliefs of the Jewish people had a different and and less differentiated view of the afterlife than was the case by the first century A.D. Actually, there is no conflict between the early ideas of the after life and what we know later from the New Testament. Let's sort this out.

First of all, because too many pastors have utterly shrieked their duty to educate the flock about the gospel much less derived subjects like this one, most Christians do not understand that the word translated "hell" is not the eternal destination of those who die in their sins. Revelation twenty verse fourteen tells us that hell and death will both be cast into the "lake" (more like an abyss) which burns with fire and brimstone. I could easily get side-tracked here, but without taking time to prove it from the bible, the torments of hell are not from God pouring additional wrath on them, but rather from whatever lies people loved more than God and truth eating away at their souls, combined with being in a condition of restraint so that they cannot act out on the evil desires which are consuming them.

The word translated "hell" is from the Greek word "Hades",which was originally the same concept of the ancient Jewish and near east conception of "Sheol". They were both the abode of the dead whether good or evil. They were not necessarily places of torment, just gloomy realms where all that was left of humans was "shades", sort of phantoms of the original person.

This does not mean that the ancient world was without the concept of an eternal punishment for the wicked. The Egyptians (and thus all the Ancient Near East including the Jews) had a concept very much like the Lake of Fire which the bible teaches is the eternal destination of the souls of the damned. If anything, the Egyptian version was even more brutal. Thus, hell, or Hades/Sheol, is a temporary holding area until the end of the age and the books are balanced. The Lake of Fire is the eternal destination of the dammed.

Not that Hades/Sheol would be a neutral place for the especially wicked. Even Hades had a section, Tartarus, which was more like the traditional hell - a prison and a place of torment and restraint. In the parable of the rich man Christ described the callous wealthy man's condition in Hades as one of fiery torment.

Of course God's revelation to man is progressive so it should not be surprising that details are added to this model, which was already floating around in the ancient world 1,000 years before Christ. In addition the condition of man is progressive as a result of this knowledge. For example, before the law of Moses was explicitly laid out, men did live in more of a "gray area" as to what sort of people they were. Romans says that the law was given to show people how sinful they were. It multiplied transgression, not righteousness. Since the early views of Sheol and Hades were developed when all of our relationship with God was more of a gray area it is not surprising that the afterlife would be a continuation of that ambiguity. The concept of the afterlife changed in sync with the spiritual condition of man. In other words, the original concept of Sheol was very suitable for the state of man before the Law of Moses, and the concept of Sheol with a section of torment much like the Tartaros of Hades was suitable for where man was in the first century A.D.

Unlike the Greeks, the Jews had a more developed idea of what happened to the righteous after death. The conception was called "Paradise" in scripture, with connotations of a garden such as the garden of Eden. This was where Abraham and Moses and the Prophets went, after a long rest, while waiting for the final judgement. Jesus told the thief on the cross "this day you shall be with Me in paradise." This is not the same thing as the modern conception of "heaven" where we sit on clouds and play harps. Rather it was a logical continuation of the cosmology laid out from the beginning. Man was in a morally ambiguous position prior to the garden. His awareness of sinfulness began after that and was made more clear by the law of Moses.

The changing understanding of the afterlife reflected man's condition. It is not necessarily a reflection of "changing the story". Rather it is filling out the story as man's condition itself changed. Before the law, it made sense for the afterlife to be an ambiguous place because that was the typical situation humans were in. Once the sinfulness of man was more complete, they also had more understanding of what that meant for the afterlife. Those who died without faith took their sins with them, and though Hades may have been only a holding place for the final day of judgement, just waiting around for that day would be torment in itself if your soul was not at peace with God.

 The Garden of Eden was an attempt to bring heaven and earth together, a place of divine fellowship with the LORD God. I think moderns have the idea of heaven wrong too, at least as the ultimate destination of the righteous. Instead, heaven and earth are to merge after all the wicked in the world have been confined to the Lake of Fire. God then makes His home among men in the new heaven and new earth. We do not spend eternity playing harps on a cloud somewhere. The garden is developed into an immense city, the city of God.

In conclusion, the modern conceptions of heaven and hell are very different than what scripture teaches. When someone hears what the church thinks of the afterlife and then reads what the ancient Hebrews thought about it, a shallow response would be to think that they are changing their story so there must be nothing to it. A more thoughtful reflection shows that it is the modern view which is out of line with the scriptures, and the view promulgated by scripture is a natural outgrowth of ideas about the afterlife held thousands of years beforehand combined in a logical way with changes in the human condition.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Call for a Return to Theology as a Science

Theologian Richard Hooker was one of the most influential English Clergymen of the 16th Century. King James I was quoted by Hooker's biographer as saying, "I observe there is in Mr. Hooker no affected language; but a grave, comprehensive, clear manifestation of reason, and that backed with the authority of the Scriptures, the fathers and schoolmen, and with all law both sacred and civil." John Locke quoted Hooker repeatedly in his Second Treatise on Civil Government and was greatly influenced by Hooker's staunch defense of reason.

It is Richard Hooker who defined Theology as “the science of things divine.” And indeed the very word “Theology” contains the same suffix used in many branches of science, such as biology and geology. The suffix “logy” is in fact a latinized form of the same root as the Greek “Logos”. Logos is translated “Word” in the first chapter of the gospel of John when it says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” but I need hardly tell this distinguished group that it means so much more than “word”. It refers to the very essence of rational discourse which is a hallmark of science.

Even though we speak of what we do as “Science” historically the study of the universe and the biota and material things in it have been considered to be the “Natural Sciences”. This is in contrast to the “Social Sciences” which include such things as Sociology. I might as well throw in the “Applied Sciences” such as Engineering.

My point is that “Natural Science” was not originally and should not be now the only kind of science which exists. Disciplines of study which use the Scientific Method to ascertain truth can and once were considered to be forms of science. The Scientific Method consists of noticing some puzzle or problem, or paradox, and proposing a hypothesis which is offered to solve or explain it. This hypothesis is then tested in some way which either confirms or rejects the hypothesis. The conclusion is based on the results so obtained. Often the conclusion calls for more testing to further refine our understanding. Reason is the primary tool used at each step of this process.

Back in Richard Hooker’s day, Theology was considered another branch of science. This was because the approach to truth discovery was in essence the same, in particular before experiments in Natural Science became more systematized. Many institutions of higher learning, even to this day, offer degrees in the “Science of Theology”.

The natural sciences studied the physical universe. Theological Science studied God and His Word. Both areas of science had their premises- starting points which were not challenged but rather assumed to be true as a necessary pre-condition to their work. For example, in natural sciences we assume events in the natural universe happen in accordance with laws which are discoverable and unchanging. If we didn’t believe that, none of our tests would be worth doing- they would not bring us any useful information. We assume some things about the universe are true. We assume the universe reflects the true state of reality and is not lying to us, though we can misunderstand it for a very long time. This is a part, the less objectionable part, of what is called “Methodological Naturalism”.

The Science of Theology also has its premises. That God exists, that the Bible is divinely inspired, that the three great Creeds of the Church are true. Like nature to the natural scientist, scripture also reflects the truth of reality, a higher reality, and it is not lying to us, though we can misunderstand it for a very long time. These are the premises of Theology, at least they were in Hooker’s day.

Now the natural sciences have made a great deal of progress in explaining and understanding our natural world since the 16th century. Though they kept the same premises in those four or five centuries, their particulars were constantly being challenged and refined. Sometimes they wound up changing course abruptly if new insight or new evidence demanded it. But because the practitioners did this, as time went on they got closer and closer to the “actual” truth. Their course corrections are legion but they get smaller and smaller as time goes on.

What I fear has happened to Theology is that many corners of the church have quit it altogether. Oh they may still use the word, but the “logy” has left it. The process by which the truth is honed and refined is long absent because the particulars are too seldom challenged from the inside even as the premises are being increasingly and unfairly savaged from the outside. In the natural sciences challenging and improving on existing particulars is strongly encouraged. In the clerical institutions conformity to what has been handed down is the singular pathway to advancement.  

One of my great fears for natural science, as science becomes more systematized and standardized, is that too many particulars will be shoe-horned into posing as premises. Then less and less will be on the table for improvement and natural science will risk becoming stagnated, however long its good run. We must have our premises, but to declare everything we think that we know a premise is to risk an end to further rational inquiry in that area even if it turns out not to best way to describe reality. Most ideas ought to remain particulars.

I do not suggest that the Church re-think its premises any more than I would suggest those of us in the Natural Sciences waste time continually re-examining our premises. But I would urge the church to re-think some of its particulars, just as practitioners of the natural sciences have done to great effect for the last few centuries. At least some in the church should have the calling, and the duty, to see if they might bring the particulars of their fellowship into greater and greater conformity with the reality of the subject matter- in this case the Word of God.

I am calling on some of you to become the Richard Hookers of our generation. I am calling for a return to the Science of Theology in order to improve humanity's understanding of God’s Word in light of the new things we have learned, both about scripture and about the natural world in the last four centuries. There is a great need of you. As Natural Science has raced ahead over the last four centuries theology has become stagnant. I believe its premises are still true, but its particulars have not improved through the rigors of the proto-scientific method which was so characteristic of the men who founded the great strains of Christian thought.

There are presently some findings from natural science which have troubling implications to some particulars of most of the church regarding Adam. I do not view these challenges to the particulars as upending the premises of the Christian Faith. When scientists get an unexpected result in one of their experiments in the natural sciences, they remain confident in their premises even while they re-consider a given particular. So should the church.

Of course Early Genesis, the Revealed Cosmology already has scripture-grounded solutions to the problems I refer to. What we need from you is to do theological science. To examine these and other proposed solutions, and compare them to your own observations from the text. Then reject, accept, or refine them according to a reasonable accounting of scripture.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Babel: All Families of Noah, or Just Some Hamites?

What to make of Genesis chapters ten and eleven? I have suggested that the chapters are not chronological. That is to say, chapter ten describes where the Families of Noah wound up after the scattering at Babel and chapter eleven records the event which scattered them. Others, including Middleton, have suggested that they are in chronological order and chapter eleven refers to just some of the Hamite clans associated with Nimrod. Some evidence has prompted me to reconsider this question.

I understand the need for more time in some views of early Genesis. If they place the events of the tower of Babel in the early second millennium B.C., or even more recently, then that is too late to make a case that all of those other nations listed in the table scattered to their respective locations subsequent to that event. For example a model with a flood date of even 2,900 B.C. and a tower of Babel around 1,000 years later does not line up with the historical record for the founding of some of these nations. The Christ-centered model doesn't have those limitations. I calculate the flood date to be around 4,500 B.C. and the scattering at Babel with the sudden end of the "Uruk Expansion" at around 3200-3100 B.C. The extra time is not strictly necessary in my model, but it wouldn't hurt either.

I would say the three strongest points for Middleton's view are that 1) the chapters would be in chronological order, 2) Nimrod is associated directly with Babel, and 3) the same word for "scattered" is used in 10:18 ("afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad") and in the Babel account.

Number three is the strongest point in my view, so I want to look at it in detail. Let me point out though that the evidence which makes point #3 strong also undermines point #1 insofar as it must be viewed at least in part as referring to things which happened after the events of chapter eleven. On further consideration, a synthesis of these ideas is that chapter ten is a record of events over a long period of time, perhaps starting before the tower account but also describing things which occurred after it.

Let's look at point #3 supporting the idea that the "they" in Chapter eleven is restricted to some members of the Cushites from whom Nimrod came, and the Canaanites.....

Verse 18 of chapter ten says that "afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad". The word used for "scattered" is just that Hebrew word used in chapter eleven verses four, eight and nine- connecting the two accounts. In other words, what the men were afraid would happen (11:4) is that they would be "scattered", and what the Lord did was just what they were afraid of- He scattered them (11:8-9). And the table of nations reports that the descendants of Canaan were "afterward scattered abroad." After what? If the event the "afterward" is referencing  in 10:18 is the tower of Babel, then it supports the idea that chapter eleven is talking about just the clans of Cush and Canaan.

In this view the other clans split off from them earlier. Canaan was under a curse from Noah. Maybe the clan was held in low esteem by the others. So they went their own way with those who would band with them- the clan of Cush which assumed a leadership role. Nimrod tried to hold these clans together but in the end the Canaanites left his empire and many of the clans of Cush did as well.

That all makes sense, and it may have been what happened. I am still mulling it over. Especially a modified view of the theory that has the Japathites alone going their own way with "gentiles"- other peoples in the northern and western hills- while the sons of Shem and Ham stuck together longer. The text of chapter ten does seem to treat the Japethites as being especially associated with the far-flung "iles of the Gentiles" and it mentions them doing so early in the chapter. But that is just Japheth, here are some things from the text against the idea that it was only the Cushites and the Canaanites in Babel....

1. Asshur is a son of Shem yet in 10:10-11 it says he went "out of Shinar" where Nimrod's kingdom was, to build Calah.  So this Shemite clan appears to have been working with Nimrod from the start.

2. The lands of the other sons of Shem except for Lud (the Lydians) are all close to Shinar. Asshur secured the ground to his north. Aram took the land to his west (Arameans or Syrians), Arphaxad (Chaldeans) to his south, and Elam (Elamites) to his west. It looks like Nimrod had the center and his Shemite kin took the lands around him, almost like satellite states.

3. Genesis chapter eleven says that they journeyed from the east and found a plain in Shinar. It doesn't say there who the "we" is but notice that none of the clans wind up far to the east of Shinar. They are either at the eastern edge of it, or further west. So this indicates all clans could have been a part of the group that found Shinar, even if only two of the three families of Noah then settled it.

4. There were no chapter divisions in the originals. Chapter eleven should be read as a continuation or a connected account of ten, and the last verse of chapter ten references all of the families of the sons of Noah. I concede that it could have been part of another tablet (I hold to a modified tablet theory), but even that does not imply that the "they" in chapter eleven is anyone different than whoever it was talking about in 10:32. Only that it could be. That it is not specified to start the account lends weight to the idea that it was the families of Noah discussed earlier (though perhaps not many from Japheth).

5. Verse 11:5 identifies the "they" as "the children of Adam". It seems to me that if this were just the descendants of Ham here then it could have said that. Especially if it were just the Canaanites who were under Noah's curse and some Cushites. Instead, they are identified with a moniker which applies to all of Noah's offspring (but not the gentiles according to the Christ-centered model).

6. By tradition, the families of Noah stayed in a region near the ark landing until Noah died. But that was only 100 years after the flood. Then they "journeyed from the east." How many of them were there after only 100 years? Surely less than three hundred. Why split up in a dangerous world?


In conclusion, I can't go as far as the Middleton Hypothesis but just considering it has opened my thinking to a modification of the view which I previously held.  Perhaps the clans of Japheth mostly stayed to the north from the beginning as they journeyed "from the east" and wound up entangling themselves with the foreign peoples in that region (gentiles originally meant "foreigners"). So they split early from the others and mostly did not settle Shinar. The clans of Shem (save for Lud who went with the Japhethites) and Ham settled in the plain of Shinar.

When Nimrod did his empire building he divided up the land among his kin. The other four sons of Shem took up positions on his flanks and he ruled from the center with the Canaanites who likely had a subsidiary role. When things went bad, the Canaanites scattered.The Shemites were already somewhat physically removed so they actually did not run as far from Nimrod as the clans of Canaan (and the other clans of Ham) which were closer to him and thus more under his thumb.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Question on Date of Woolley's Flood at Ur

I think the flood of Noah was local, and north and also a bit east, of its traditional center in southern Mesopotamia. I also place it earlier than most, at around 4,500 B.C. Of course, I would expect a flood like that to have produced a lot of sediments and have substantial repercussions down river, even if that was not the main area hit.

Sir Leonard Woolley made great excavations in the ancient city of Ur back in the early nineteen thirties. What he found was a layer from the early dynastic period- around 2,700 B.C., and a few lesser things below that. Then he found a 3.75 meter layer of what looked to be flood deposits. Beneath that layer he found artifacts belonging to the Late Ubaid period.

I have seen a number of sources go to great contortions to try and push the date for the flood which laid these sediments up to around 3,000 B.C.. This one even mis-labels the Uruk period as the Ubaid. This source is better and says that the flood deposits at Ur go back to "at least 3,500 B.C." This one is closer still, dating them between 3,600-4,000 B.C.  If this deposit was laid by the waters of the flood receding from the mountains then I would say they are not far off, but should look further back still.

The Ubaid period endured for a long time in this region, which was close to its point of origin at Eridu. It lasted from 6,000 B.C. to 3,800 B.C.  Even the Wiki article gives a time frame of "4,500-4,000 B.C." as the window for the last phase of this culture. Thus a date of 4,500 B.C. is very consistent with artifacts from the "Late Ubaid Period", which were found directly beneath these deposits. I call for more study on this question from a qualified archaeologist who is not determined to move the date up as so many seem intent on doing.