Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Parting of the Sea

I ran across a link to this story about the possible scientific plausibility of the incident of the parting of the sea in the Exodus narrative and passed it on to some colleagues.  One wrote back asking how I felt about the "literal level" of the Scriptures.

Here's what I answered:
I think the wonder of these writings is that they contain lots of truth that does not depend on the literal meaning—so, “holistic truth.” That part is basically what Tradition teaches, going back to the Fathers. However, the older I get and the more I read, I am more convinced that there is in many stories that don’t pass the historical-critical standard, something like a vestigial and sometimes collective memory at work. There is a “fact-level” that may be open to us if we truly are open to the Scriptures, but it’s buried very, very deeply in the most ancient connections we have to our human past. The stories are “true” in that they are rooted in the theological truth of our nature as God’s children, but they are also likely to be true in having connections to unique experiences at some really old level.

I think, for example, not only of the Moses cycle of stories, but also of the flood narrative—some ancestral part of the faith community underwent a rescue, not just metaphorically, which is nice, but from a vast inundation, and they just knew it was Yahweh who did it. I think parts of the Abraham cycle have this character, also. I see it in the sacrifice of Isaac story. There’s an oddness here that it would be difficult to “make up.” So, while I don’t NEED to tie scriptural stories to science, I think it’s nice when these pregnant connections cause us to wonder.

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