Monday, 28 June 2010


'...there are ancient sources available to Grotius in the early seventeenth century which made clear the Babylonians and Assyrians had flood narratives that paralleled the Deluge in Genesis in some detail. Again, that this is proof of the truth of Moses' account, as Grotius argues it is, that it can in fact be cited in defense of Moses' account, is clearly open to question. But the notion very common in bliblical scholarship since the nineteeth century, reiterated by James Kugel, that the existence of these ancient Mesopotamina narratives was a startling modern discovery which must inevitably raise doubts about the meaningfulness of the scriptural Deluge and about the integrity of Scripture in general is clearly false. The decline of classical learning and the mischarcterization of the nature of traditional belief are both factors in context like this one. Another factor that seems to me to be equally important is the great myth and rationale of "the modern," that it places dynamite at the foot of old error and levels its shrines and monuments. Comtempt for the past surely accounts for a consistent failure to consult it.
The kind of flawed learnedness required to draw attention to the biblical adaptation of the flood narrative in the Epic of Gilgamesh is a classic instance of what William James called the power of the intellect to shallow. Again I mention Kugel because I have his book at hand. This kind of scholarship, tending always to the same conclusions, has dominated Old Testament studies from the the middle of the ninettenth century. Kugel's very flat statement that somone who takes a different view is "either being dishonest or has simply failed to recognize a fundamental fact" is the kind of claim to the intellectual high ground that is perhaps the most consistent feature of the kind of thought that calls itself modern.
The degree to which debunking is pursued as if it were an urgent crusade, at whatever cost to the wealth of insight into human nature that might come from attending to the record humankind hjs left, and without regard for the probative standards scholarship as well as science should answer to, may well be the most remarkable feature of the modern period in intellectual history.'
Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind, p.28.