Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dinosaurs in the Bible

Is this your Bible?
Something I've been increasingly addicted to lately is answering questions on Quora. Quora is like or Yahoo Answers (which I also was addicted to in its original manifestation in the early 2000s before Yahoo closed it down), but done much better.

I've been answering questions mainly about God, Christianity, general religious things, and a smattering of history and other topics for several months now, and I've decided to post some of the "better" ones (more coherent ones?) here.

This first answer I originally didn't put a lot into, but then I got a response today that let me write a bit on one of my favorite subjects: that God is a good writer.

I like to talk about that because many people have absorbed the idea that you should approach the Bible the way you'd approach an instruction manual. There are some instructions in there of course, but there is also poetry, adventure, gripping history, proverbs, philosophy, great speeches, personal letters, psychedelic visions, biography... in short, almost any type of literature you could name. It's not all one thing.

Reading any other book we automatically recognize these different types of literature and read them the way they are meant to be understood. We instinctively read poetry as poetry, for instance. But the Bible? No! -- it's all to be read as an operators manual! And that kind of blinds us to a lot of the meaning God is trying to get across.

This question, and particularly a comment someone made on my answer, touches on epic poetry, one of the greatest ever written. But it is possible, with enough determination and wearing the proper blinders, to read even that as a boring prose instruction manual.

Here's the question: Why doesn't the Bible talk about dinosaurs and their extinction?

A: The Bible doesn’t mention dinosaurs, since it focuses on humans and dinosaurs died out long before. 
This is only a problem if you think God made the universe in 6 24-hour days. I have heard people holding that view say that creatures like Behemoth and Leviathan (only mentioned in the poetic books) were dinosaurs. Most scholars though think they are only poetic descriptions of hippos and crocodiles.

Then Claudia Baduy had this comment about my answer: The Word Behemoth and Leviathan both are in The book of Job and Job is considered a Wisdom book by all means. And with all respect hippopotamus or crocodiles don't have tails like a cedar.

Job 40:15-19 “Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword." 
And here's my reply:  Claudia, you are certainly right: Job is classified as one of the wisdom books. I was referring to the fact Job is widely considered to be one of the greatest epic poems ever written. Other than the prose prologue and epilogue it is magnificent poetry through and through. 
That is what I was getting at when I said that most scholars consider Behemoth and Leviathan to be *poetic* descriptions of actual animals. After all, no dinosaur or any other animal has “bones [that] are tubes of bronze” either (Job 40.18). And only in fairy tales do you find animals whose “breath sets coals ablaze/and a flame shoots from its mouth” (Job 41.21). These are all poetic images in a great poem. 
As far as how a hippopotamus’ tail could poetically be like a cedar, there are several possibilities, believe it or not. I like the simplest one: that it’s like a cedar in that it sways like cedars do in the wind, as the verse itself says.

If there are any other comments, I will update this post with them.

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