(i) family trees
Kinship and family clearly had a different meaning in the days of these purported events; hundreds of years later (at the time these stories were written down), morality still hadn't significantly changed. Polygamy, concubines, incest, rape, slavery, genocide - if not actively encouraged by god himself, at least they were considered a pretty normal thing to do; the only onerous and damnable human behaviour to god being curiosity and homosexuality (arguably because of the need to secure male offspring to continue the - male - bloodline. It didn't matter who the mother was, as long as the father had his heir). We know now that morality is to a large extent a product of culture (the jury still being out on Kant's categorical imperative); if you grow up with ideas of corporal & capital punishment, torture, female genital mutilation (or male circumcision, for that matter, although arguably a lot less traumatizing, as all the important bits still function afterward, something that cannot be said of FGM), or if all around you people marry their sisters or cousins, then that constitutes normative behavior. In our age of (aspired) gender equality, consentual sex and (non-)religious plurality, most of these stories strike us as shocking, primitive and perverse. Which brings us to an important question that might be at the heart of religious conflict: how are we to see this book, or indeed any other writing of allegedly divine origin? There seem to be only two stances one could take:
- literal: everything is true, because written/directly inspired by [fill in god-of-choice here]. This is a very problematic position, as it forces its adherents to ignore the wealth of contradictory evidence and erect solid walls of doublethink to prevent reality seeping through.
- symbolic: all stories are just man-made (possibly divinely inspired) parables, myths and metaphysical (often hermetic) musings on life, origins, meaning and morality. This stance is just as problematic, as it offers up every morsel of "wisdom" for scrutiny and interpretation (the only problem you'll never have if you insist everything is true), with sadly predictable results. How to decide which bits are to be taken literal? (It would certainly have helped if the catholic church had known, say, not to take the "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" bit at face value; it would have saved a LOT of misery) But who would deduce the correct interpretation - the wisest men, the strongest warriors, the largest group, the loudest bigots or the cruelest monsters? Or could anyone find his/her own interpretation? A dangerously heretic (because freethinking) thought that already cost countless lives.
(ii) historical veracity
Arguably speaking heavily in favor of the literal stance is the fact that most of the bible is presented as a historical account (although possibly one written during a bad mushroom trip) of "real" persons and events. The blatant nonsense of "There were giants in those days" need not concern us, but the proverbial biblical life spans of the early generations at least should raise our suspicions: all those people living well past their 900th year (proverbial Methuselah clocking in - or rather out - at an astonishing 969 years). My guess: as there wasn't an awful lot of known history to cover, the authors cranked up the ages of their heroes to stretch the narrative. Otherwise, events would still be too "recent"; they had to be placed in a more distant past to acquire the (unverifiable) solemnity of antiquity. A propos time: creating the universe in six days - are we talking about our 24 hour earth days? As a planetary day equals one axial rotation (e.g., on Mercury one day lasts approximately 59 earth days), what is our basic unit here? (especially on days 1-3, as we only had the earth, no other planets. Was it already rotating, enabling the measurement of time? With no solar gravitational field, that seems a bit strange). Adding up the numbers, Young Earth creationists (another subgroup of the mentally challenged) arrive at their 6.000-10.000 year creation limit. As mentioned before, it works fine if you just ignore, like, everything (based on current knowledge, the age of the earth is estimated at 4,54 billion years; the best counterargument they came up with so far was asking "were you there"... need I say more). Corollary: if you assume the earth to be 6000 years old you get a nice ternary structure so far, its boundaries marked by creation - deluge - Jesus. One could see this as a "wheel of time", with significant events playing out every 2000 years, or it might herald imminent apocalypse, the bloody end of the last era - the pitiful state of the world plus the recent revival of eschatological madness suggesting the latter. But let's leave that to Hollywood.
Another technique of providing "evidence" is genealogy: at times, we get lost in a forest of family trees - mindnumbingly boring lists of who-begat-who or "these are the generations of". Apart from longevity and genealogy accounts, there are more clues in the bible (in the vein of "and he put up a pillar, which can be seen to this very day") emphasising the historical veracity of the account by providing "tangible" evidence of events & places (I really would love to see the original ark, but I'm pretty sure people have been all the way up Mt Ararat without spotting a 138 meter long boat...)
One curious detail about family trees: a common theme seems to be older vs. younger brother, with the older usually being the nasty/slow/stupid/evil one, and the younger the hero, preferred by both god and his parents, usually to the detriment of the older sibling (the first brothers ever, Cain & Abel, already prove fratricidal; good thing Adam & Eve later produce Seth, as it would have been embarrassing to have a murderer for a common ancestor). I don't have any bright ideas as to why this should be so; throwing a dart into the dark, I'd guess our author was a second child, perpetually in the shadow of his brilliant older brother, processing his childhood traumas in fantasy. Wouldn't be the first.