Letter to the Editor
recent article on the "Genesis Revival" (10-28-96) reveals much about the
dilemma that educators such as myself face when we attempt to teach our
students to think critically. While novelists, screenwriters and others
who have little, if any, professional research experience in Biblical or
ancient Near Eastern history are listed in your article as participants in
Bill Moyers' "living conversation" about
not one archaeologist, anthropologist, linguist or classical historian was
included who would by training be qualified to discuss
within its specific empirical (i.e., social and historical) context.
Genesis contains the origin myths of a single ethnic group which occupied a territory the size of New Jersey along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea beginning some 3,500 years ago. Many of the stories contained within Genesis were borrowed from other peoples and modified from their original form. Genesis also contains numerous internal contradictions due to its association with a society that was politically divided and frequently at war with itself. It is arrogant ethnocentrism at the very least for Time and for the various participants in Bill Moyers' "conversation" to claim any greater significance for the stories in Genesis than for the creation myths of the Navajo, the Hopi, the Somali, the Yoruba or of any other peoples. The only reason these stories have spread throughout the world is that they were associated with expanding colonial states (Roman, European and Muslim).
It is rather interesting that many self-proclaimed social critics continue to bemoan the declining educational standards of American students while at the same time holding beliefs which themselves would not stand up to scrutiny. Is it logical, for example, to propose that the same god who was so intimately concerned for the welfare of his "chosen" people that he destroyed whole cities (Gen. 19:12-25) and slaughtered innocent children (Ex. 11:1-10) on their behalf failed to protect these people's descendants from the Nazi holocaust? Is it also reasonable to believe in the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Israelites from Egypt under a leader called Moses when no historical or archeological evidence exists which would support such a claim, when considerable evidence to the contrary exists and when such a story contradicts the fundamental fact that such a large population could not be supported in the Sinai Desert for any length of time?
Similarly, are those individuals thinking critically who claim that a Palestinian Jew named Jesus was placed on this planet by the purported creator of this immense universe for the salvation of all humankind, even though that same Jesus: (1) spent most of his life in Galilee, (2) never once left Palestine, (3) chose only Jewish disciples, and (4), according to one of Christianity's canonical gospels (Matt. 10:5-6), explicitly instructed his disciples to stay away from the Gentiles and to preach only among the Jews?
Is it any wonder that many of my students readily believe in astrology, tarot card readings, psychic predictions and other nonsensical ideas, and that many of them resist my efforts to get them to think critically? Throughout most of their lives they have, in fact, been encouraged to think uncritically and have consistently been given adult role models who themselves think uncritically.
William S. Abruzzi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Penn State University