Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Review of My Book

This review appears in the Midwestern Journal of Theology.

 I would like to thank Professor Bechtold for his fine review. First, I would like to thank  Professor Bechtold for pointing out the fact that I should have included some commentary on the New Testament use of the Genesis days. He's right to point out that this was an oversight on my part. Although I do comment upon the Patristic use of 2 Peter 3:8, I could have discussed the NT writers' use of time in the OT more specifically, and especially could have discussed the Auctor's use of the seventh day of Genesis 1 as something that was yet to come in Hebrews 4. If I get a chance to revise the book at some point, I would like to implement Professor. Bechtold's suggestion.

In regard to transliterating the original languages, I simply did that as a personal preference. Often when I am reading a translated ancient text, my immediate thought is, I wonder what that says in the original? Hence, I included a transliteration for scholars who might be equally curious. If I get enough of them who find them unhelpful, however, I have no problem removing those to accommodate the reader.

There are a couple issues I hope to clarify. If I understand Professor Bechtold's criticisms correctly, I believe he thinks that I take the literal line of Cain and Seth as the two seeds of Gen 3:15. Actually, I take them to be used by the author of Genesis to represent two types of humanity, not the literal description of two families. Hence, the line of Seth is taken as the line that represents those who accept the creation mandate as their primary task in life, whereas the line of Cain represents those who follow the serpent's deception in seeking to be like God. Israel is connected to the line of Seth, precisely, because it is viewed as true humanity (at least in its faithful form), so it continues on, but the ending of the line of Cain does not threaten the interpretation, precisely, because the line represents a type of people that is picked up after the flood and largely characterizes much of the world outside of Israel, even after the line of Cain is wiped away.

Another concern that was voiced was that I took death to be merely expulsion, but that is not quite my argument. My argument is that the ancient Near Eastern mind views death in spheres, and so the further one gets from the garden sanctuary, the closer one gets to death/the land of disorder/the netherworld. Hence, to expel the human couple from the sanctuary is to send them into the land of death, where they will no longer have access to immortality, and eventually end up in the netherworld, i.e., physically die. My only point here is that death is a process that proceeds from a sphere of absolute life to lower spheres that eventually bring one to absolute death/the netherworld. This is why Cain is terrified of being sent out even further from the garden than his parents, and fears that he will have no protection out there, likely ending up completely dead. The terminology that presents the picture of being "cut off" from the people (i.e., God's presence and civilization) also holds this idea in later judgment texts. I'll attempt to develop this idea a bit more in my larger book on Genesis.

Another issue I should clarify is that I don't believe the numbers 40 or 7 are always figurative, but that the number 40 is often used figuratively and the number 7, whether figurative or literal, usually represents some sort of cleansing, and often ritual/cultic cleansing. The ancients likely did things literally in sevens because of the symbolism of the number. So I don't necessarily divorce literal and symbolic meaning there, only that it is possible to use the number in particular contexts in terms of what it symbolizes only. As for the number 40, although it can be used literally, I do believe that, in a context of anticipation/testing, it is meant to symbolically represent, rather than describe, the actual time frame in an effort to contribute to the drama of the picture be painted by the narrative. However, having said that, Professor Bechtold is right in saying that my comment concerning Jonah's having waited 40 days should not have implied that this was impossible, only that in view of the way the number is used, it is more likely that the actual time has been traded for this symbolic one to, again, contribute to the overall message being conveyed.

The last issue raised concerns the struggle of YHWH with chaos. Professor Bechtold comments that "Of further note is his reading of Genesis 2-3 in view of God’s struggle over chaos. While there is some evidence for this, Hodge tends to read too much implication into the evidence." I'm not quite sure what statements I've made that would lead to this conclusion, but again, this is actually the larger argument I'm making in my book concerning the theology of Genesis, so I can only assume that I haven't laid out as much as I needed to in order to convince Professor Bechtold of its overwhelming presence within the text. I hope to do a better job of it in the new book.

Again, I very much appreciate Professor Bechtold's review. I think he understands my main argument very well, and am, frankly, just ecstatic that someone actually read the book. I thank him for his kind words and recommendation.

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