Christians give off the impression of being embarrassed about Genesis, especially the first 11 chapters (Abraham shows up in Chapter 12). It is certainly the section of the Bible which draws the most fire from nonbelievers; more, even than the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus. Fundamentalists get positively defensive, insisting on an all-or-nothing view of the Scriptures; their opposite number are those who would toss anything offensive in order to get folks to consider Jesus’ Incarnation & Resurrection. (Those whose goal is to get nonbelievers to consider only the moral teachings of Jesus I am eliminating from the discussion of Christianity altogether. They may be nice people who act more like Christ than I do, but their religion is not Christianity. Jesusism would be a better term for what they believe.)
I would place myself at both extremes, insisting that a) everything in Scripture must ultimately be accounted for in our teaching, but also b) willing to grant enormous tracts of territory to skeptics, ridiculous and inconsistent concessions, in order to get the core teachings of the faith onto the table. But between those two extremes of scripture insistence is where most Christians would place themselves, instead of at the extremes, which is where truth more often resides. Christian truth contains more paradox than milk-and-water compromise. At its best, the compromise approach is a cautionary statement about complexity, of refusing to apply third-grade Sunday School answers to adult questions. Well and good as far as it goes. At its worst, it is a dishonest evasion, a “Heh heh heh, we don’t really think those things happened in ah, er, a literal sense, but are meant for our edification and as examples blahdee blah blah…” This latter comes from lack of courage in our thought – which is ultimately a lack of faith.
The mental image of a God always hurriedly patching up mistakes, barely rescuing the scripture narrative from the degradation of passing through human minds, is a little revolting. Who would worship such a god? A cobbled-together scripture, which a helpless god hopes will do if folks don’t look too closely, is not very inspiring now, is it? The idea of a series of vague folk tales strung together, approximating some idea of a monotheistic deity gradually coming into focus is a look through the wrong end of a telescope: accurate but completely misguided.
God did not scramble to find something useful that might apply to our modern situation in the oral narratives of the Israelites, preserving the few threads of gold amidst the dross of a primitive tradition. The folk tale style, similar in so many ways to the parables He told when He came in the flesh, was intended since before the beginning. God’s work was not to preserve the occasional tidbit, to hide a few threads of gold in the straw, but to condense the many tidbits into a pure picture of Himself, to spin straw into gold.
There were many Noahs, not one, and few if any named Noah. They preserved the belief in the One God, they preserved many good things out of the destroyed land into the rescued land. Very likely, they knew how to build boats and had already divided the animals into the clean and the unclean and labored to preserve them. They lived in lands of wickedness but were saved from a Flood with varying degrees of miraculousness, from providential to impossible, because of their faith. God compressed their various stories like a diamond into the story of Noah, so that future generations would remember.
The condensing, the synthesis, was not a grudging allowance by a YHWH who could do no better, but His original plan, so that His story would endure in the minds of men when all others from that time had passed away.
More to follow: More Adams, more Abrahams, more Josephs. Bring your objections and your arguments, but I think I can show that this approach illuminates parts of scripture that fundamentalism has to gloss over.