From Universal to Particular

“The Hebrew Bible is a book whose strangeness is little understood. It tells the story of God who makes a covenant with an individual, Abraham, whose children become a family, then a tribe, then a collection of tribes, then a nation. It is the narrative of a particular people. Yet the Bible does not begin with this people. Instead it starts by telling a story about humanity as a whole. Its first eleven chapters are about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, Babel and its tower – archetypes of humanity as a whole. This is not simply an etiological myth, a tale of origins. It is quite clearly intended to be more than that. The Bible is doing here what it does elsewhere, namely conveying a set of truths through narrative. But by any conventional standard, the order of these stories is precisely wrong. They begin with universal humanity and only then proceed to the particular: one man, Abraham, one woman, Sarah, and one people, their descendants. By reversing the normal order, and charting, instead, a journey from the universal to the particular, the Bible represents the great anti-Platonic narrative in Western civilisation.”

The Dignity of Difference, p. 42