by Donnie Bryson
There is a wide range of opinions regarding premosaic faith. However, opinions seem to fall within three major categories: the Biblical view, the hybrid-Biblical view, and the contrabiblical view. The Biblical view posits that the history of premosaic faith, contained primarily in the books of Genesis and Job, is completely accurate on all matters discussed. It does not, however, hold that the record is complete. Thus, much may be learned from archeology. However, the key mark of any Biblical view is that it is built on the assumption that the original autograph is inspired by God therefore without error. Also, it does not require eye witness accounts because god-breathed flows from the all-seeing Eye Witness.
The hybrid-biblical view holds that the Scripture contains some degree of accuracy regarding the ancients. It assumes the Biblical record is a redaction of ancient legends orally passed down. These legends were based on eye witness accounts of actual historical events. The key mark of the hybrid-Biblical view is that it assumes the Bible is neither inerrant or inspired while admitting that it has something of value to say.
The contrabiblical view posits that the Bible has nothing of value to say about the premosaic period. If the Bible has anything to say at all, then it only conveys the beliefs of authors living at a later time. The key mark of the contrabiblical view is the underlying assumption that the Bible is only fable and that it has no more value than any of the other ancient myths.
The meager facts that we know about the premosaic period does not allow us to say, beyond any reasonable doubt, which view is correct. Each view has archaeological facts and logical deductions to build a case. Thus, it is a matter of our presuppositions which view we hold. The Biblical view must admit its presuppositions. Often, the hybrid-Biblical view tries to give the allusion of facticity. Unfortunately, the contrabiblical view almost always attempts to give the impression of pure archaeological fact. However, it is deductions and theory; it is not fact. Much of what is proposed from all three views, if not most, leans heavily toward its presuppositions. None of the three views have eyewitness accounts nor evidence beyond reproach to gird their edifice. Thus, the Biblical account of premosaic faith is just as logically and factually credible as either of the other two opposing views.
II. Biblical View
A. General Comments
While this paper takes a dispensational approach to the Biblical account, not all Biblical views are also dispensational. Dispensationalism, in and of itself, does not classify an approach as Biblical. It is the proper respect for the Bible that makes that distinction. However, all Biblical views do contain a few common themes: special creation, original paradise, the fall of Adam, the general deluge, and the call of Abraham from idolatry to God.
Before reviewing the Biblical history of premosaic faith, it will be beneficial, for reasons that will become obvious later, to momentarily consider the origins of our antagonist — the former archangel, Lucifer. God created the earth in Genesis 1:1; however, there is an indeterminate period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. According to Talbot, the original creation in the first verse was from nothingness, but the second verse refers to the remaking of the earth out of the preexistent material originally created in the first verse (12). Moreover, the Gap Theory posits that Lucifer was the chief administrator of the earth during this gap.
Unfortunately, the splendor of the land where the mighty angels walked among the dinosaurs is left only to our imagination. Other than the two allusions in the books of Ezekiel and Isiah, the Bible is silent.
We do not know how long Lucifer administered God’s will on earth. However, we do know that one fateful day he became prideful and envious of God. Lucifer, who at that very moment transformed into Satan, reckoned himself equal to God. He foolishly tried to seize heaven by force (Ezekiel 28:12-19, Isiah 14:12-17). Satan convinced a third of the angels to follow him, but the Almighty and His loyal host prevailed. Unfortunately, the glory of that preadamic earth was collateral damage in the conflict. The Bible describes the devastation of the battleground as “without form and void”.
God did not destroy Satan. Satan did, however, became the most miserable creature in the universe. The fall left him embittered, revengeful, and literally hell-bent to destroy the new heirs of his former domain. When he saw his possession taken from him and, to his horror, given to the humans, the rage of the quintessential megalomaniac drove him even madder. He continued his struggle against the Almighty in proxy. He tempted Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), contaminated the bloodline of the human race with fallen angels (Genesis 6), tried to cutoff the line of Judah (Genesis 38), and cast other dirty tricks only loosely indicated by the teethmarks in our collective soul and the gore laden hoofprints in the sand.
This satanic subterfuge explains the contrabiblical view in a different light. The ancient world worshipped a wide range of gods. There are many similarities between the gods of one culture and the gods of another. The contrabiblical view interprets this as the result of unconnected religious beliefs springing up around the world as mankind rose from an instinctual animal to a cognizant being. Later, they hold, religious cross-pollination occurred as mankind began to migrate taking his local gods with him (Columbia, 98). However, this can also be easily explained in Biblical terms. The plethora of gods are only the fruit of the delusions sold to the descendants of Noah. As we will note later, the similarities between these idolatrous beliefs only existed to help sell the lie.
B. Innocence and Conscience — The First Two Dispensations
The Age of Innocence covers the time period between the creation of Adam to his subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:27-3:24). The Age of Innocence is unique. Strictly speaking, there was no faith, as defined in Hebrews, during this age. The writer of Hebrews defined faith as, “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence (Greek:elegchos — proof, or more correctly here, the conviction that something is true) of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Moreover, sin, repentance, and forgiveness were absent during this age. It truly is unique as it is the only dispensation without sin, faith, repentance, and forgiveness.
The Age of Conscience started with the Fall and ended with the Great Deluge. It is longer than most realize. According to Talbot, the Age of Conscience covers a period of 1,656 years (34). The key feature of this dispensation is the absence of temporal governments leaving man to the dictates of his conscience. Talbot also holds that the age lacked laws from God (34). Yet, God told Cain that, “if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Genesis 4:7). The possibility of transgression logically implies the presence of a law to transgress. However, the Bible does not explicitly state the scope of the antediluvian laws nor the occasion of their transmission from God to man. Thus, Talbot may possibly be right, yet it seems more satisfying to assume that the individual’s conscience only reigned supreme in the temporal sphere. Regardless, the Age of Conscience ended in catastrophe. The rampant corruption of our race forced God to destroy civilization with a Great Flood.
C. The Age of Government
The next dispensation, the Age of Government, started after the Great Flood. After Noah left the ark, God told him that, “whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6). God sanctioned human government with that one simple phrase. It was during this age that a few Gentiles, like the righteous Job, worshipped God. The rest of the Gentiles were led into idolatry. Later in the age, Abraham was called in preparation for the next dispensation — the Age of the Law.
The Bible speaks more about this age than the first two dispensations combined. The period of time, some 430 years according to Talbot (chart), was certainly shorter than the preceding dispensation and possibly shorter than the Age of Innocence. While we do not know every detail of the theology and practices during the Age of Government, we do know more things concerning it than we do the first two dispensations.
There was a believing Gentile community during the age. Melchizedek, king of Salem, was a priest of God (Genesis 14:18). The righteous Job (Job 1:1), the prophet Balaam (Numbers 22), and Jethro the Midianite were Gentiles. We know, at least in the cases of Job and Balaam, that they had a personal encounter with God. We can assume that these servants of God worshipped much like Melchizedek and offered sin offerings much like Job (Job 1:5). These practices were passed down from their common ancestor, Noah (Genesis 8:20).
While we certainly do not have a complete record of their beliefs, even a casual reading of the book of Job demonstrates the highly developed moral reasoning among the believers of the premosaic Gentile community. It is most likely that Job was the exception rather than the rule, but it is probably safe to assume that their beliefs were at least comparable to Abraham and his descendants.
However, the Bible speaks more concerning Abraham and his clan than any of the other descendants of Noah. That is only natural as the whole world would be blessed by the Lamb through this genetic line. They offered animal sacrifices, but not human sacrifices (Genesis 22). They also had a deep personal living relationships with God (Genesis 12-50).
It is, however, a mistake to equate the premosaic descendants of Abraham with their progeny living under Mosaic Law. Abraham, and his immediate descendants, were just coming out of the darkness of idolatry. Many passages demonstrate just how deep the darkness remained among them. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister (Genesis 20:12) which was, along with being repulsive, later prohibited under the Law (Leviticus 20:19). Some might assume that Abraham was lying to the rulers about his relationship with his half-sister for protection, yet his brother Nahor married their own niece, Milcah (Genesis 11:29). There is no reason to assume Abraham would not make a similar marriage. Jacob traveled with strange gods in his camp (Genesis 35:4). Joseph used a diviner’s cup for telling the future (Genesis 44:5). They were moving toward the Yahwehism of the later Israelites, but they were not there yet. Also, they did not even know the name of their God. God was worshipped under a multitude of generic names during this period. Bright notes that God was referred to as El Shaddai, El ‘Elyon, El ‘Oram, El Ro’i, and others (while never being referred to as Baal), but He was not called Yahweh at this time (101). Moses was told the name of Yahweh, God Almighty, at the burning bush and Yahwehism was born on that day that the Dispensation of Law began.
III. The hybrid-biblical View
The hybrid-biblical view has features of both the Biblical and contrabiblical views. It lacks the belief in the historical inerrancy of the Bible while holding some degree of respect for it. There is a wide range of approaches that can be simply gauged by the level of respect for the historicity of the Bible. Views can range from an atheistic archaeologists who assumes the records were redacted from oral traditions originally based on actual events to a Christian who assumes the book of beginnings significantly corrupted during transmission.
Some, such as Albright, at least have respect for the Christian tradition while not accepting its autobiographical origin. Albright viewed the development of monotheism similar to the proponents of the contrabiblical view. Albright held that primitive man moved from a proto-logical stage to an empirico-logical stage. This movement aided the development of monotheism. Proto-logical thinking is based purely on emotions. It is characterized by the lack of identity, the lack of causation, and unconcern for internal contradiction (27). He cites the Canaanite god Anath as a good example of proto-logical thinking. Anath was both a nurturing mother and vengeful destroyer, thus an avatar of contradiction (28). However, empirico-logic is based on facts and experiences, making it closer to post-Aristolian logical thinking. Albright held that, while all ages have examples of both modes of thinking, it is the general use of a particular mode that defines that state of development for a civilization. Albright further states, “in the domain of secular literature, of science, and in part of religion, the shift from proto-logical to the empirico-logical stage may be said to have substantially been completed in the third millennium” (30). Further, he sees the development of monotheism starting from the many private local gods of the primitives. As the groups intermingled, they begin to equate different gods as being one and the same, resulting into a generic pantheon (55). Moreover, the empirico-logical stage, with its condition of non-contridiction and identity, brought with it monotheism as a natural development due to the illogic of the ancient pantheon (30).
Albrecht Alt uses the mechanics of natural development, much like Albright, to explain his theory of the development of Yahwehism from local clan gods to Yahwehism. Alt held the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, and the Mighty One of Jacob, along with their respective cults, were originally completely separate though similar religions. They coexisted in different regions of Palestine. Alt also held that these cults were merged into what later became the religion of the Israelites. The original oral legends were later redacted into our Biblical stories (70).
His proof is weak at best. As proof he cites the many different names of God used during the patriarchal age (27), the swearing by, at least in his estimation, two different gods when Jabob and Laban swore by the “God of Isaac” and the “God of Nahor” in Genesis 31 (22), and a much later practice of some Bedouins of worshipping personal clan gods (48-52). He goes to great lengths to discard ninety-five percent of the Biblical text to agree with his private interpretations of a few scattered conjunctions and his inferences regarding the poetical language of “the God of …”.
The use of the different names for God seems perfectly logical. This paper has used several names for God, but is only discussing one God. The language of the oath between Jacob and Laban only underscores their personal responsibility to fulfill the oath, because the God they swore by was their personal God. The language of the oath merely reminded them that they held personal obligations to the One being sworn by. The proof of the Bedouins is, by far, the most incredulous proof of the lot. The earliest examples cited by Alt are at least a 1,000 yeas removed from Abraham. The last example is as late as 324 AD (55). Moreover, Abraham was not a Bedouin, but a metropolitan living in Ur probably during the Ur III period (Genesis 11:28). The Bible clearly states that Abraham was a pagan before God called him (Joshua 24:2,14). Bright pondered that Abraham might have been a worshipper of the moon god, Sin, based on the area of his origin (101). So, his later worship of God was not just a natural development.
IV. The Contrabiblical View
A good brief description of the contrabiblical view of the development of religion is contained in The Columbia History of the World. Their thoughts are paraphrased below.
Ancient life was extremely short and cruel. Man primarily used religion for comfort and to explain events he could not understand. All the ancient religions had common themes: the gods were anthropomorphic beings, gods punish men for sin like fathers punish their children, and prayer and sacrifice could appease the gods. Mankind began to equate one god with another as he shared his theologies. For example, theologians in Memphis equated Atum with Ptah, and Hatti priests began to equate their Arrina with Hebat. Moreover, local gods became family members of some national chief god. For example, 2300 local gods became members of Ningersu’s pantheon in Sumer. These huge pantheons began to entice individuals to select a personal god to act as their mentor/sponsor. This made their religious life simpler. For example, many Babylonians carried images showing themselves introduced to a higher god by their sponsor, a personal lower god. This tendency of selecting a personal god gave rise to the monotheism in Egypt, Israel, and Persia (96-98).
The main difference between this view and Albright’s view is the equality of the ancient religions held by the contrabiblical view. Albright considered the monotheism of the Jews superior to the monotheism of Egypt or Persia. Also, many of the contrabiblicists are even openly hostile to the Bible. For example, Joseph Campbell said, “The entire history on which our Leading Occidental religions have been founded is an anthology of fictions” and proceeded to place it is an inferior religion to other religions such as Buddhism (780).
V. Closing Thoughts
No one can dispute the words of the ancients, at least that these words represent their beliefs, after writing developed in Egypt and Sumer. There were many gods and there were unifying forces at work. It is only a question of how we interpret the words. As noted in the introduction, all the records can explained as either being the truth of God (the Bible) or another missile of the deception waged against mankind. It should also be noted that man was a willing participant in the deception. The Apostle Paul said that mankind’s “foolish heart was darkened” because he knowingly turned his back on God (Romans 1:20-32).
The unifying themes in the ancient religions is an interesting subject. The unifying themes can be explained several different ways. If Noah talked personally with the Almighty, then his descendants would have some truths passed to them. However, these traditions would have grown highly corrupt over time. For example, the Enuma Elish, from ancient Sumer, speaks of the god Marduk sacrificially giving his life to create man (Sixth Tablet). The righteous ancients knew of the coming Lamb. God told Adam that the serpent would bruise the heel of the Savior (Genesis 3:15). Is it possible that the Enuma Elish contains a corruption of that mystery? Maybe, though none can say with certainty. The Egyptian creation myth states Atum was created by the word of Ptah (Enclyclopedia Mythica). Here we have two parallels with the Bible — Atum/Adam and creation by speech. Other examples, such as the pervasive flood myths, could be discussed, but it would only belabor our point. Unifying themes can indicate a corruption of some original truth.
Unifying themes may also indicate our longing to fill the god-hole. The god-hole was left inside of man when Adam and Eve were cast out from the Garden of Eden. It is the place where God dwelt inside of man. The psychologist Carl Jung, in his essay “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious”, goes to great lengths to prove the existence of a mislabeled collective unconsciousness. Jung defines the collective unconsciousness as “a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconsciousness by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience” (313).
Jung describes his belief that the procreative pneuma (the wind that gives life) and the dual descent (being twice born — once of earth and once of heaven) are ingrained in the collective unconsciousness of man. He cites several examples from ancient pagan mythology. We would certainly disagree with Jung’s terminology, but we cannot disagree with the universality of an unconscious internal longing within the hearts of men for the second birth and the flow of the Wind of Life.
Thus, the unifying themes in ancient religions is most likely due to the counterfeit nature of idolatry. Idolatry serves as a counterfeit for a living relationship with the one true God. Anything that is a good counterfeit, regardless what is being counterfeited, holds similarities with the original. That is the nature of counterfeiting. It is only natural that counterfeit religions have things in common. They each only seek to serve as a replacement for the same original.
Albright, William Foxwell. Archaeology and the Religions of Israel. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1968.
Alt, Albrecht. Translated by R. A. Wilson. Essays on Old Testament History and Religion. Garden City: Double Day & Company, 1967.
“Atum.” Encyclopedia Mythica. 6/21/2001. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/atum.html>
Bright, John. A History of Israel. 3rd Edition. Philadelphia:Westminister Press, 1981.
Campbell, Joseph. “Mythic Images.” The Borzoi College Reader. Ed. Charles Muscatine and Marlene Griffith. 5th Edition. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1984.
Enuma Elish. 6/21/2001. Translated by L.W. King. <Http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/enuma.htm>.
Garraty, John A. & Gay, Peter. Ed. The Columbia History of the World. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
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Talbot, Louis T. God’s Plan for the Ages. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1936.