cook•ie n. 1. A small, usually flat and crisp cake made from sweetened dough (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1996).
When someone mentions cookies, I get hungry. Even if I’ve just finished up at a Chinese buffet, I ask if I can have one. I prefer chocolate chip, if you’ve got ’em, and freshly baked. If not…I’ll take one anyway. And I must say, raisins in a cookie is always a disappointment! I’ve been eating cookies for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I experienced all sorts of phenomenon around cookies, and I loved all of it. I, too, freaked out like Cookie Monster in front of a bunch of chocolate chip cookies! When I saw a massive oak tree in the woods, I sometimes thought that elves might baking some snacks inside (probably not the best place to cook things). And don’t get me started about Oreos! There was whole culture around cookies that is still going strong. During the 1980s, there were only two recognized definitions for the word. One had to do with this wonderful snack that made me add notches to my belt, the other was a slang use of the term (“She’s one smart cookie!”).
cookie ■ noun
I’m older now, and there is a new kind of cookie on the block. It’s the kind that works on my computer and the internet–the thing that collects basic information about you and the websites you visit. I’m not as familiar with these cookies because I have only recently cared to understand them; and let’s face it, they haven’t a single chocolate chip. I’m learning about these internet cookies because they have implication regarding my time on the internet. To me, both the soft, delicious chocolate chip cookie and the ice-cold string of internet-based text have relevance to my daily life. They are a part of two cultures: culinary and technological. I can work with both and understand what they represent, but I have a deeper connection with the one I stuff in my face than the one that is hidden in my hard drive. I think that’s because I grew up with one and not the other. I naturally absorbed the concept of edible cookies while I grew up. The other one took time and work.
My father, on the other hand, has gotten on the internet maybe twice in his life. As you can imagine, he has no idea what an internet cookie is because it has never been a part of his daily conversation or routine. Since the internet has never been a part of his life, he may never know what an internet cookie is. If I tried to have a conversation with him about them, he would have little interest because it has no direct bearing on his life. I would mention a cookie and he would hand me an Oreo (I need to try that). The internet has little to do with his culture, and so internet language has little meaning to him.
But I know what internet cookies are! …sorta. If you compare what I know to most teenagers, I’d be in the dark. Many teens these days have grown up around and (in a way) in the internet. The internet and computers are simply part of their daily lives. So, I may be learning about it, but in many ways they have a better handle on it than I do. To them, the internet may be the next thing to home.
culture ■ noun 2 the customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a particular people or group (Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 11th ed. 2004).
Let’s take these concepts to Genesis 1-3. Since it was written to an ancient people, the words and concepts were befitting to them. It’s no coincidence that the Hebrews’ creation account parallels others from the ancient Near East. They were quite familiar with the creation stories of their neighbors, so we should expect that they would use words and concepts found in those stories. It was how they understood creation stories overall.
There are a few implications here. First, a modern reader of the biblical creation account must read it in light of other ancient Near Eastern ideas in order to read it accurately. People often force their own ideas on Genesis 1-3 without even knowing it, and one of the biggest problems is the imposition of modern scientific concepts onto the text. As moderners, that is the way we think, but it is certainly not the way they thought. If we expect God to speak with any relevancy or meaning to his ancient audience, then the text must be replete with ancient concepts. To put it another way, in order for the text to be relevent it must not be scientific. When we assume that it is, we rob it of it’s original intended meaning. It is like my father talking to me about cookies, and I assume that he means internet cookies. He has no idea what internet cookies are and really doesn’t care, but I keep insisting that he does. You can imagine how frustrating that conversation would be to both of us!
The second point addresses a certain accusation that folks have brought against the Genesis creation account. I have heard the flippant comment more than once: “The writers of the Bible just stole concepts from other ancient people to make their own creation story.” But let’s not forget that all ancient Near Eastern creation stories have striking parallels! They didn’t steal from each other. Rather, the concepts were common to Mesopotamian culture. Just as the youth these days are automatically familiar with computer terms without even trying, so was any ancient Near Easterner automatically familiar with creation myth concepts from his neighbors.
I really appreciate John Walton’s works which have helped me recognize a similar idea. The video below makes one of his points, that the Hebrews weren’t as concerned with how they were created from a scientific/material point of view. Instead, they were interested about which god created them and for what purpose. They wanted to know why things in their world were so messed up and why YHWH was so good to them. When we read the text trying to find a scientific point, we are looking for internet cookies while the text only mentions chocolate chips.