Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology I

In chapter 1, "Scripture in Context," Kyle Greenwood attempts to frame the discussion of biblical cosmology as one that can only be treated properly when placed in context.  In fact, this whole chapter is an argument designed to point out what is so blatantly obvious to biblical scholars and literature scholars alike: context matters.  Greenwood points out that while context is important to understanding any communication, it is all the more so for literature that is over 2000 years old, the context of which is so distant from the present.

Greenwood lists four areas of context that are necessary for understanding a text: 1) Cultural Context, 2) Historical Context, 3) Geographical Context, and 4) Literary Context (under which he discusses the topic of genre).  Together, these contexts contribute to what Greenwood calls a "worldview" coming from Immanuel Kant's Weltanshauung. Greenwood notes, "In the classical sense, worldview entails the implicit and explicit presuppositions with which one processes information." Worldview is the basic assumptions we make about the world and how me make sense of the world in which we live.

Greenwood concludes the chapter by giving a brief overview of the ancient Israelites' worldview of the universe, or cosmological worldview.  In that worldview, the cosmos has three levels or tiers, the top tier, heavens (above the earth), the middle tier, the flat earth, and the bottom tier, the seas.

In each section, Greenwood gives numerous examples from the biblical text that illustrate his point. the main goal of the chapter is to argue that the worldview, the context, of the ancient biblical writings with regard to the cosmos are spectacularly distant from our own worldview of the cosmos. The quote he uses from John Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One, nicely illustrates this point and is the main takeaway from the chapter:

The Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their "scientific" understanding of the cosmos.  They did not know that stars were suns; they did not know that the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not know that the sun was much further away than the moon, or even further than the birds flying in the air. They believed the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of the deity as well as to hold back waters.

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