Monday, January 29, 2018

The Earliest Manuscripts of the Book of Genesis

Jacob Wrestling the Angel and Rebecca and Eliezer at the Wall, from the Vienna Genesis.
Early Byzantine Europe. 6th Century C.E. Illuminated manuscript.

The earliest substantial fragments of the Old Testament we have are the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran and other sites in the Judaean Desert (ca. 2nd century BCE-1st century CE) and the Nash Papyrus (150-100 BCE), which contains the text of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 + Deuteronomy 5:6-21). The earliest artifacts we have which contain a biblical text are two small silver scrolls from the Jerusalem area dating from the 7th century BCE inscribed with portions of the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26).

The oldest known copy of Genesis (4QPaleoGen[sup]m[/sup], from Qumran) is really just a small fragment containing ten (or nine) complete words and eight (or nine) parts of words from Genesis 26:21-28. Written in paleo-Hebrew (the script used by the Israelites before they switched to the ‘square-script’ Hebrew letters used today), the fragment probably dates from the mid-2nd century BCE.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

"And God Saw That It Was Good" (St. Basil the Great)


By St. Basil the Great

Hexaemeron (Homily 3, 10)

"And God saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:13).

God does not judge of the beauty of His work by the charm of the eyes, and He does not form the same idea of beauty that we do. What He esteems beautiful is that which presents in its perfection all the fitness of art, and that which tends to the usefulness of its end. He, then, who proposed to Himself a manifest design in His works, approved each one of them, as fulfilling its end in accordance with His creative purpose. A hand, an eye, or any portion of a statue lying apart from the rest, would look beautiful to no one. But if each be restored to its own place, the beauty of proportion, until now almost unperceived, would strike even the most uncultivated. But the artist, before uniting the parts of his work, distinguishes and recognizes the beauty of each of them, thinking of the object that he has in view. It is thus that Scripture depicts to us the Supreme Artist, praising each one of His works; soon, when His work is complete, He will accord well deserved praise to the whole together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

‘Intelligent’ Design? Relax, God is Stranger Still


By Fr. John Garvey

There has been some debate, even at local school-board levels, about the theory of evolution vs. creationism and the more recently offered idea of “intelligent design.” Now Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn has weighed in with an op-ed piece in the New York Times (July 7), claiming that Christians cannot believe that life’s origins can be found in natural selection’s chancy, random stabs at development. Some kind of intelligent design must lie behind it, and reason can lead to a rational belief in an intelligent designer. This has been seized on as a retreat from John Paul II’s endorsement of the theory of evolution as real science, a sign that the new papacy will retreat from serious science into the intelligent design camp. (It may only show that Cardinal Schönborn is not as sophisticated in his understanding of contemporary philosophy and science as John Paul II was.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

God and Science (3 of 3)


...continued from part two.

Against Supernaturalism

The value of the Trinity thus described is wholly compatible with a scientific account of the world in which the lineaments and workings of natural processes in space and in time are accounted for without recourse to God as a direct causal agent. If, for example, we believed that hurricanes happened because God sneezed, then what would be the point and practical advantage of meteorology?

We must say rather that the lineaments and processes of the natural order are in and of themselves signatures of the divine. These signatures cannot be shaped by a calligraphy of intelligent design without invoking the capricious intervention of a episodically active god in an otherwise chaotic and frequently fragile and dangerous evolutionary process. Such extrinsic and invasive actions of a god from beyond the Cosmos—the classic form of supernaturalism—neuter both science and theology. The divine signatures are rather to be found in the beauty, elegance and fittingness of the natural operations themselves which are both emergent in their complexity and convergent in their function. Consciousness, for example, is a fluid and dynamic artifact of emergent complexity; physiological commonality a functional convergence of evolution. Neither is a deterministic process, but each nonetheless has its own teleology (that to which it tends), notwithstanding the chaotic and random factors involved. God, then, only acts “from beyond” when, ex nihilo, He creates space and time itself.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

God and Science (2 of 3)



Something from Nothing

The Jews did not know God because they philosophised about Him, but rather because they had entered into a relationship with the One who had made a friend with Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. His ways had been made known in salvation and judgement; and this required from them faithfulness and love, repentance and hope. The expression of this relationship was a personal and existential knowledge of the Creator, utterly transcendent to anything created—literally the Uncreated One. This transcendent Being they came to know as above and beyond infinity, space, time, created reality itself, was so sacred that even his Name could not be spoken. Later in Israel’s history, and particularly after the emergence of the Wisdom writings in the post-Exilic environment of Hellenism, the people of God began to reflect more thoroughly on the presuppositions and implications of their faith in an utterly transcendent Creator. There is then a marked progression and refinement in understanding for example between Genesis, which only considers creation from the starting point of pre-formed matter (1:2), and 2 Maccabees 7:28, which follows the received faith to its logical conclusion, namely that the Cosmos was made out of nothing (ex nihilo) or rather, more properly, out of that which had no being.