Updated: Feb 22
Periodically a shockwave generated by academically influential men sweeps across the evangelical world. Such has been the case with William Lane Craig and his classification of Genesis 1-11 as “mytho-history.” According to him, the first eleven chapters of Genesis is a mixture of Ancient Near Eastern myth and history so intertwined that determining just where myth ends and history begins is an exercise in futility. In fact, Craig himself compares the “mixture” of the two to a cup of coffee with cream which stands beyond our “ability to tease apart which aspects of the stories are mythical and which historical” (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/10/mytho-history-in-genesis). My purpose here, however, is NOT to distinguish between “myth” and history, something that Craig has already deemed impossible, but to classify his classification of Genesis 1-11 as “mytho-history” as myth in the popular and knowingly untrue sense. Hence, I will address the following myths concerning Craig’s supposed hybrid genre of Genesis. 1. The myth that Ancient Near Eastern Literature is somehow different than
literature from other time periods.
2. The myth that Genesis 1-11 is like other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) accounts. 3. The myth that Genesis 1-11 qualifies as “myth.” The first myth regarding Craig’s assignment of Genesis 1-11 to a “mytho-historical” genre is the myth that Ancient Near Eastern literature is somehow different than literature from other time periods. While it sounds intellectual to speak of “Ancient Near Eastern” literature, don’t let the sophisticated lingo deter you. While all eras have their distinctive historical contexts, they also consist of a number of different genres within. Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Tawny Holm, gives an abbreviated list of the various genres within the ANE context, and that list includes, Epics, tales, and legends; 3. Laments and prayers; 4. Wisdom or didactic
literature…, 5. Autobiographies; and 6. Love poetry…. legal, judicial, or
administrative texts, omen, incantations or rituals, word-lists, or finally, scientific
texts of varying kinds (medical astronomical, mathematical, magical, divinatory,
etc.) …Also not included are texts that are to be discussed in other chapters of this
volume, such as historiographical, or historical texts…” ((PDF) "Ancient Near Eastern
Literature: Genres and Forms . In A Companion to the Ancient Near East (2nd ed.,
2007), pp. 269-288. | Tawny Holm - Academia.edu). In other words, Ancient Near Eastern literature is no different than modern literature in this sense, because it includes various genres and sub-genres just like our age or any other. Genesis could just as well have been part of the historiographical and hence, factual, genre of the same period. Marking the text Ancient Near Eastern, then, does not confine it to the one genre to which it has been consigned. The second myth is Craig’s idea that Genesis 1-11 is like other ANE accounts, and I’ll begin by admitting that Genesis is indeed like other ANE creation and flood accounts in the broadest sense. It baffles me, however, that someone of Craig’s academic status would choose to ignore the many specific and significant differences between them and still classify Genesis as such. They are similar, for example, in the fact that they all deal with creation, the flood, and other themes consistent with oral and/or written tradition, but the similarities stop there. Even Bill Arnold, the one to whom Craig credits his discovery of this view, holds a “mytho-historical” view of Genesis 1-11, but significantly, and more transparently than Craig, differentiates the biblical text from other ANE accounts. “But literarily,” he says, “the arrangement of these themes in Genesis 1-4(11) has placed them along a time continuum using cause and effect in a way that also cannot be categorized simply as ‘mythology’ in the same way as the ancient parallels.” (Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology. 2020, Vol. 29 (4) 387-406), p. 400). Herein, Arnold admits that unlike other ANE accounts, the Jewish text is significantly “placed…along a time continuum using cause and effect in a way” that separates it from its “ancient parallels.” In other words, the biblical account, unlike other ANE texts, is intricately connected to a historical theme – consistent I might add with the rest of Scripture. The not so conservative “Jewish Virtual Library” notes other substantial differences. The overriding conception of a single, omnipotent, creation predominates.
Cosmogony (origin of the universe, mine) is not linked to theogony (origin of the
gods, mine). The preexistence of God is assumed – it is not linked to the genesis of
the universe. There is no suggestion of any primordial battle…The one God is above
the whole of nature, which He Himself created by His own absolute will. The
primeval water, earth, sky, and luminaries are not pictures as deities or as parts of
disembodied deities, but are all parts of the manifold works of the Creator. Man, in
turn, is not conceived of as an afterthought…but rather as the pinnacle of creation
(https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/creation-and-cosmogony-in-the-bible). Hence, Genesis stands alone in its presentation of God as wholly other than his creation, without equal, without rival, and sovereign. The biblical account avoids every semblance of those origins of the gods present in the other accounts by presenting God as the only preexistent one. Further, the biblical account alone lifts man to the pinnacle of divine creation rather than some afterthought. Genesis 1-11 is like the other creation accounts, then, only in the sense that it is about creation and the flood and nothing more. Missionary to Slovakia, Todd Patterson, said it succinctly. “Rather than borrowing,” from other ANE accounts, “it seems Moses was deliberately juxtaposing his account of creation with the surrounding myths in order to make the point, ‘not the Babylonian or Canaanite view of creation, but this view of creation’” (https://www.toddjana.com/genesis-1-in-its-ane-context/).
The third myth that Genesis 1-11 qualifies as “myth” has both the weight of the above evidence and Craig's own admission as its basis. The fact that we've already determined that just because a document may be tagged as Ancient Near Eastern, for example, does not automatically translate into some hybrid mix of myth and history as if no factual genre existed at the time.
Then the fact that Genesis is substantively different than its supposed counterparts being both tied to a consistent historiography and possessing elements in total contradistinction to those same supposed equivalents, also points to the factual rather than the "mytho-historical" nature of the text. It simply seems more contrastive than agreeable in a qualitative sense.
Additionally, the fact that Craig's "mytho-historical'' classification is a modern construct coined by Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen (1904-1993) ( coupled with his admission that both the ancient author and his audience seemed to believe Genesis 1-11 "to be straightforward history" are telling (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-creation-and-evolution/creation-and-evolution-part-4). These two realities combined make Craig's classification seem much more indicative of a cleverly contrived modern genre intended to override the emergence of the intended, actual, and factual genre from the text itself. Hence, the MYTH of Craig's "mytho-historical" classification of Genesis 1-11.
In conclusion, then, Craig's "mytho-historical" reading of Genesis 1-11 is comparable to equating apes and men just because both have certain similarities like two legs, two, arms, two eyes, two ears, etc. As such, it borders on absurdity because such a comparison ignores the many substantive differences between the two groups. That is what Craig does in propagating the baseless “mytho-historical” reading of that which God intended otherwise.