Encounter with an Ark

nate-note-dave-arkOn New Years Eve Eve, I dragged my family to see the Ark Encounter in Grant County, Kentucky, as part of a visit to my father in Lexington. The Ark Encounter opened to great fanfare and controversy in July 2016.

The organization behind this ark, Answers in Genesis, also created the Creation Museum, and their perspective on creation was a major theme of the Ark Encounter. While I believe God created the cosmos, I don’t share the views of the makers of this ark that creation took place over six literal days of 24 hours, but more on that topic below.

But let’s start with three positives things I saw.  

  1. The Ark itself is impressive.  It’s huge, based on the dimensions from Genesis 6 (we’re not exactly sure how long a cubit is, but it was roughly 18 inches).  It’s great to walk up next to it and experience the overwhelming size.  It’s hard to imagine how practically Noah would have been able to build it, but the organizers worked hard to explain how he might have done it.
  2. The experience is well-designed.  The organizers run a tight ship, so to speak.  They aren’t fully done developing the entire grounds, but it was very attractive overall. The Christmas lights were beautiful at night (we went at night because it was 1/2-price).
  3. The exhibits are engaging.  I was surprised that our 2 hours-plus wasn’t really enough time.   They worked hard to explain how feeding, watering, and waste may have been handled on the ark.  I’ll mention two exhibits that I particularly appreciated. The first: “Was the Bible Used to Promote Racism?” They acknowledge that the answer is “sadly” yes, which was really good to admit.  They go on to point out that humans are created by God, are made in God’s image (Gen. 1-2), are all loved by God (John 3:16), and are all descended from Noah, thus all member of the same human race.  Great points overall (see also my chapter on Racism in God Behaving Badly).  The second exhibit I’ll mention was “Help Me Understand” which speculated about some of the possible questions Noah’s daughter-in-law Rayneh, wife of Japheth, may have asked concerning the ethical problems associated with judgment, suffering, and death.  I didn’t love their answers, but the fact that they were asking these questions was really good.

Because of these positives, I’m really glad we visited it.  But now, I’ll share three negative things I saw.

  1. The scientific arguments presented in the exhibits were based on essentially anecdotal evidence proving that the earth was only about 6000 years old. They created straw man arguments that they could then easily shoot down. The reality is that the vast majority of reputable scientists around the world in a variety of fields (geologists, biologists, astrophysicists, etc.) believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old. To explain the fossil record, the Ark Encounter exhibits had to theorize that all those fossil layers were laid down after the flood, a view which doesn’t take seriously the amount of time, pressure and energy it takes to create a fossil.
  2. The biblical arguments presented in the exhibits don’t take the Bible seriously, despite their claims to the contrary.  Their interpretation of a “day” (yom in Hebrew) as literal 24 hour period of time from Genesis 1 doesn’t even make sense in Genesis 1-2.  In the context of creation the word yom is used as a 24 hour period (Gen. 1:5b), a 12 hour period (Gen. 1:5a), and a week long period (Gen. 2:4b).  The genre of Genesis 1 is not narrative, but poetic, formulaic prose which does not require a literal interpretation.
  3. The view presented in the exhibits of other Christians was not respectful or gracious. Believers who didn’t share the hyper-literal views of the organizers of the exhibit were made to appear either as ridiculous or not as genuine Christians.  While I strongly disagree with their interpretations, I respect how hard they are working to honor the biblical text.

ark-does-bible-promote-racismIn spite of the criticisms I have of it, I firmly believe that the designers, builders, and organizers of the Ark Encounter are my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ and therefore are worthy of my upmost respect.

A Dream Come True

4_15_fortune-cookieDo you ignore your dreams? Christmas is a good season to pay attention to them.

Do you know where the highest concentration of dreams occurs in the Bible?  (Hint, think Christmas…)

It’s in the context of the story of Jesus’ birth, but only in one of the gospels (more on that soon).

Have you ever thought about the expression, “It’s a dream come true!” The logical connotation of that phrase would suggest that the vast majority of dreams do not in fact come true. It surprises us when it does.

Because we don’t take them seriously, most of us don’t pay attention to our dreams. We assume that our subconscious just imports events from our awake-world into our sleep-world–what we just watched, what we just read, what we just ate (particularly when we dream of a dancing burrito).

Whenever dreams are talked about in Scripture there’s no surprise, people assume the dream should be taken seriously since God speaks through dreams.

Three books of the Bible contain the vast majority of references to dreams: Genesis, Daniel, and Matthew. The dreamers of Genesis include Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, Joseph, the cupbearer, the baker and Pharaoh. In Daniel it’s Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel.

Curiously, Matthew is the only gospel writer to mention dreams.  In Matthew the people who dream dreams are Joseph the adoptive father of Jesus, the wisemen (I think there were five of them), and Pilate’s wife. Matthew’s gospel speaks of six separate dreams,
five of them in the context of Jesus’ birth in only 28 verses (Matt. 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22; 27:19). Joseph of Nazareth experienced four dreams recorded in Scripture, more than any other biblical character.

The dreams of Matthew aren’t primarily predicting the future, they are giving guidance, in each instance somehow protecting Jesus.  Joseph’s dreams tell him: 1) Marry Mary, 2) Go to Egypt, 3) Return from Egypt, 4) Go to Galilee.  The wisemen are told not to go back to Herod, and Pilate’s wife warns her husband to “have nothing to do with Jesus” (which Pilate ignores–how would things have been different if he had followed her advice?).  All the dream warnings surrounding Jesus’ birth are heeded.  Praise God that these people took dreams seriously.

Why does Matthew uniquely have so many dreams, particularly surrounding the birth of Jesus?  I don’t know. But I do know God still speaks through dreams, and as we reflect on the birth of our saviour during this season of Advent, ask God to guide you as he did Joseph and the wisemen while you sleep.

 

 

Justifiable Rape? (Part 2): Lot’s Daughters

200px-gentileschi_artemisia_-_lot_and_his_daughters_-_1635-1638In my last post I asked, “Is rape ever justifiable?” specifically in light of the story of Lot and his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-38).

On Facebook my post received even less attention than my usual posts.  Hmm.  I guess people don’t want to talk about these types of stories.  For me it’s not an option since I teach the Old Testament (and while it’s hard when it comes to stories like this one, I still believe all Scripture is profitable for teaching–you can quote me on that).

If you’re curious, I discuss this story in more depth in Prostitutes and Polygamists (150-152).

Here are three reasons to view the behavior of Lot’s daughters negatively.

First, by getting their father drunk they took away his ability to give consent, which means we could call what took place rape.  It’s never good to get someone drunk to have sex with them. This message cannot be stated loudly or often enough, particularly on college campuses.

Second, sex between a father and a daughter was particularly abhorrent and lesser forms of incest were to be punished with death (see Lev. 20:11-21).  Once again, in a world where sexual abuse within families is tragically not uncommon, this passage should never be construed as a license for incest.

Third, their father could have arranged marriages for them from the nearby town of Zoar as he apparently did in Sodom, since both of Lot’s daughters were to be married (Gen. 19:14).

Here are three reasons to NOT view their behavior negatively.

First, the first command in the Bible was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), so one could argue that they were simply being obedient to God’s initial commission.

Second, other unorthodox forms of sexual behavior seem to be permitted or even encouraged elsewhere in Scripture.  The practice of levirate marriage, a man impregnating his brother’s widow in order to perpetuate his line was codified in the law (Deut. 25:5-6).  One could argue that Lot’s daughters were acting in the spirit of this practice (before it became law).  Tamar is praised by Judah for being “more righteous” than he after she tricked him into sleeping with her to perpetuate the line of her dead husband Er, the son of Judah (Gen. 38; see also my discussion of this incident in Prostitutes and Polygamists, pages 95-101).

Third, their scheme spared their father the shame of being responsible for getting his own daughters pregnant.  I heard this argument from a female scholar who was presenting a paper at a recent Society of Biblical Literature meeting (in San Antonio). I need to think more about this point, but I initially found it a compelling argument.

I’m still troubled by this incident, but the fact that Lot’s daughters would have been experiencing shock and grief after the deaths of their mother, their fiancees, and almost everyone else they knew should cause us to view their desperate, but improper, actions with compassion.

What do you think?  Was their behavior justifiable?  Do you see other reasons to condemn or defend Lot’s daughter’s actions?

 

Justifiable Rape? The Story of Lot’s Daughters (Genesis 19:30-38)

200px-gentileschi_artemisia_-_lot_and_his_daughters_-_1635-1638

Lot and his Daughters (Artemisia Gentileschi)

Is it ever possible to justify rape? The issue arises in a bizarre story found in Genesis 19.

Immediately after the city of Sodom is sulfur-ified for wickedness and Lot’s wife is salt-ified for rubber-necking, Lot and his remaining family, his two unnamed daughters settle in the hills outside of Zoar (Gen. 19:30).

In order to give offspring to their aging father, the two daughters come up with a creative plan. Get dad drunk and then sleep with him on consecutive nights (Gen. 19:31-32).   Their plan works and each daughter conceives and eventually gives birth to sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi, the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites (Gen. 19:33-38).

When someone is deprived of their ability to give consent to sex, we would call it rape.  In this case alcohol was depriving Lot of his ability to give consent, so one could argue Lot was raped by his daughters. Also, sex between a father and a daughter is a particularly heinous form of incest.

But one can make an argument that this incestuous rape was perhaps justified.

The heading of my NRSV Bible titles this section, “The Shameful Origin of Moab and Ammon” so we know what the NRSV editors think about the morality of this story.

But what do you think?  Should we condemn or defend the actions of Lot’s daughters?  

One should only ever broach the sensitive subject of rape with the utmost caution, and personally, I’d rather avoid it because I don’t feel qualified, but I teach the Old Testament and the Bible doesn’t avoid it (Gen. 34; Lev. 19; 2 Sam. 13), so I think we need to discuss it.

I discuss this story in Prostitutes and Polygamists (pages 150-152), but I’ve had a few more thoughts since I wrote it.  I’ll share more thoughts in my next post.