This is a long adventure onto what may be a short limb; let’s begin with a leading remark.
Every pre-industrial ethnic group, society, culture, nation, race, etc. swears by its own origin story. Virtually all of them are populated by supernatural, powerful beings plus a cast of human characters.
Native American tribes have origin stories that often involve birth, or emergence from birth waters, or emergence into the world we see from a working analog of a human womb. How do I know this? Primarily from osmosing a bit here and a bit there, and connecting a wisp of dots into a cobweb of conclusion. I think so because the limited sources I’ve encountered appear to have that much in common.
South American, African, Asian, Celtic, Druid, what-have-you remain closed to me but the suspicion that they do have origin stories which are somewhat as described above remains powerful. In one of the Asian stories the world rests on the back of a turtle; when asked what the turtle rests on, you can get “Turtles all the way down.”
The long walk out onto a short limb is to ask why conservative readers / believers in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures accept their specific ancient origin story as persuasive to them, as fact. For instance, Genesis bears a remarkable resemblance to a much earlier origin story, the Gilgamesh epic, which predates it by ten-ish centuries. Why do we insist that the rest of Scripture would be unsupportable, absent the divine origin of the Pentateuch? – Much less the history in Kings, Chronicles, etc. Why does a skeptical look at the historicity of the Jewish origin story invalidate the idea that GOD shaped it, and went on to speak through prophets’ ecstatic utterances – (how else might one read much of Isaiah?)
Would that invalidate the idea that GOD breathed HIMself into Semitic culture, first via Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel? Or that prophecies have lain latent in Scripture all along, foretelling not just Jesus himself, His sacrifice on the cross, but also exact dates for the annunciation to Mary, Jesus’ birth, and by inference the date the magi appeared in Bethlehem?
An all-or-nothing approach appears rooted in our own tribal beginnings, first as Jews and subsequently as “adopted Jews”, i.e. Christians. We absolutely do resemble every pagan society there ever has been in standing on a theological rock of creation story. Does GOD intend to validate the idea of those thousand other creation stories? Or is it at least, to a limited human mind, likelier that HE used materials on hand, i.e. the same kind of story which Christendom declares to be a fairy-tale when it arises from other roots than our own?
Wouldn’t it be at least conceptually feasible that GOD sees this world, its history, and HIS intentions in a way that surpasses our understanding the way chemistry surpasses a honey bee’s understanding of nectar? What possible underpinning do we present to the non-Christian when we say that “our GOD is different” specifically because we have an origin story that differs in a few critical details from every other origin story that has ever existed?
Rather, isn’t it more likely that GOD corrected the emotional substance of Gilgamesh, as is appears in Genesis, to show HIMself as merciful and patient, giving second third fourth – – hundredth chances to those who turn away from HIM? That’s something I doubt exists in any other origin story whatsoever, and founds my belief in a GOD who said, “Let there be light.”
So what might be the GOD-breathed substance in the Judaeo-Christian bible? For me the “minimum required amount” or MRA consists in the deed of title, stated twice in Genesis 1 and 2, HIS message of love and patience, of injury, of anger, but always, always of HIS promise of a savior. Add to that the clues that drove the magi – the annunciation, the birth, and the path to Bethlehem – which hindsight can now show anyone with a modern astronomy app. Same clues, same texts. They had the stars, we now can see exactly what they saw and understand how they understood, and why they believed those signs in the heavens.
Galileo said “But it does move,” when forced to publicly recant the notion that the earth stood still while the Universe revolved around it. Yet he was right; and so are today’s astronomers.
Signs in the stars – GOD tells us to look into the heaven to see HIS signs and wonders; HE never said “Don’t look too close.” Early in the 20th Century we realized that our star is part of one cluster, which drew the technical name “galaxy,” and that there are vast numbers of other galaxies in GOD’s lavish Creation. Today we have a computer program which can connect that Creation to its 13.78 billion year distance from today. It can show us the precision that placed those prophecies into the Jewish Testament, plus a few more in the Christian Testament, that underline some key points, such that we can connect all the dots today to understand just how busy the WORD was, and how long ago HE started.
Precision? To start billions of years ago, and place humans on a planet such that on a given date the stars would shout “Jesus is coming” then “Jesus is Born” and finally “Jesus is in Bethlehem.” How many 24 hour days in 13.78 billion years? How precise do the orbits of the planets and earth’s place in our galaxy, such that we would give the stars and planets names that would point with neon brightness at a specific day, three times in succession? (The third date, the arrival of the magi, was 25 December of 2 BCE – GOD’s gentle and loving chuckle are as awe-inducing as anything else about HIM.)
The only way to reconcile, on the one hand, what GOD has showed us in HIS heavens, with on the other hand what HE put into our founding Scripture, is to realize that when HE revealed HIMself to ancient Semitic nomads, it wasn’t a science or history lesson. Rather HE declared HIS Creation, mastery, ownership love and provision to them.
These have always been true.
NOTE: DVD Star of Bethlehem supplies the specific times at which the magi saw the prophecy begin, saw its confirmation, and found Jesus. I heartily recommend it, and suggest viewing it more than once because the content is too dense to absorb in one sitting.