Stephen E. Jones

Creation/Evolution Articles

Letter of 23 April 1984 from James Barr, then Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, to David C.C. Watson

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The following is my reproduction of Professors Barr's entire letter, which was sent to me by
Answers in Genesis, Australia. See my notes at the foot of the page.


 					THE ORIENTAL INSTITUTE
 	[Oxford					PUSEY LANE
	University					OXFORD
	shield]						OX1 2LE
						Telephone 59272

THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
					23 April 1984

David C.C. Watson, Esq.,
1300 N. Cross
Wheaton Illinois

Dear Mr Watson,

	Thank you for your letter. I have thought about your question,
and would say that [probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of 
Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe 
that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the 
ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the 
same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained 
in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from 
the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) 
Noah's flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and 
animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the 
apologetic arguments which suppose the `days' of creation to be long eras 
of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be 
a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such 
professors, as far as I know.] The only thing I would say to qualify this is
that most professors may avoid much involvement in that sort of argument
and so may not say much explicitly about it one way or the other. But I
think what I say would represent their position correctly. However, you
might find one or two people who would take the contrary point of view and
are competent in the languages, in Assyriology, and so on: it's really
not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence, as of appreciation of
the sort of text that Genesis is.
	Perhaps I might mention that I have another book coming out soon,
Escaping from Fundamentalism, SCM Press London, which has some discussion of
these questions. Westminster Press in Philadelphia are doing the American
edition, perhaps with a different title, I don't know. It comes out in this
country on 1st June.
	Thanks again for your letter and all good wishes,
		Yours sincerely
			James Barr [signed]

Notes:

  1. The address "1300 N. Cross" was not clear and may be wrong.
  2. The square brackets around "[probably ... know.]" enclose the part of letter usually quoted by Young-Earth Creationists, e.g. Should Genesis Be Taken Literally? By Russell Grigg, Creation Ex Nihilo 16(1):38-41, Dec. 93-Feb.1994. Ham K., et al., "The Answers Book," [1990], Answers in Genesis: Acacia Ridge Qld, Australia, 1997, reprint, p.90, omits the "probably" and finishes with "ark".
  3. Note Barr's tentative "probably, so far as I know" and "as far as I know".
  4. Also Barr concedes that "most professors ... may not say much explicitly about it one way or the other".
  5. And Barr further concedes that there may be other professors who "are competent in the languages" yet "who would take the contrary point of view".
  6. Finally, Barr concedes that "it's really not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence", but "of appreciation of the sort of text that Genesis is". This last qualification specifically defeats the Young-Earth Creationist argument that Barr was only offering a neutral, expert linguistic analysis of what the Hebrew words mean. The fact is that Barr was offering his private interpretation based on his prior assumption of what he thinks "the sort of text that Genesis is"!

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