Part One: Taking the Stories of Genesis SeriouslyThe book of Genesis has always been a favorite of mine. Since I was a small child, I have read it over and over, relishing its spiritual truths, its literary beauty, and its frank and vivid descriptions of the lives of the patriarchs — intimately entwined as in no other book of scripture with the lives of their immediate and extended families.
While fellow Latter-day Saints will have little problem comprehending my still-growing attachment to the early narratives of Genesis, some of my non-LDS scientific colleagues find it mystifying that I have devoted so much time and attention to a study of what may understandably seem to be no more than a fanciful collection of worn-out fables — one more shard among the dusty discards of the almost bygone religious passage of Western culture. In that regard, it must also be admitted that the central historical claims of Mormonism — and Christianity itself, for that matter — hardly appear any less fantastic to the modern mind than the stories of Adam and Eve. Even in the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens approved as Hannay charged the Mormons with “the absurdity of seeing visions in the age of railways” — simultaneously commending our “immense practical industry” while decrying our “pitiable superstitious delusion.” His conclusion at that time is one that would be met with understanding nods by many perplexed observers of Mormonism in our day: “What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense.”
Given their status as targets of humor and caricature, the well-worn stories of Adam, Eve, and Noah are sometimes difficult to take seriously, even for some Latter-day Saints. However, a thoughtful examination of the scriptural record of these characters will reveal not simply tales of “piety or … inspiring adventures” but rather carefully crafted narratives from a highly sophisticated culture that preserve “deep memories” of revealed understanding. We do an injustice both to these marvelous records and to ourselves when we fail to pursue an appreciation of scripture beyond the initial level of cartoon cut-outs inculcated upon the minds of young children. Hugh Nibley characterized the problem this way: