Monday, June 10, 2013

Review of a Review of Revisiting the Days of Genesis in JESOT

The New JESOT is out and my book, Revisiting the Days of Genesis is reviewed in it by Sung J. Park, who I believe is an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I appreciate Park taking the time to review the book. However, there are some important clarifications needed in certain areas of my argument that I think he misunderstands (and, of course, it's always frustrating to be criticized for something that you're not even doing).

First, I just want to say that I did not follow Dr. Walton in his view of Genesis 1 as temple. A lot of people think this because my book came out after his first one. But I actually came to this conclusion independently of Walton. In fact, when I had read his commentary for NIVAC, where he merely mentioned the idea from Levenson and was clearly not developed, I approached him at a conference in (I believe it was) 2000 and said to him, "The key to Genesis 1 is the temple." And I encouraged him to pursue that. I'm sure he was doing that anyway, but my point is that I had already come to that conclusion from my thesis that was working in ancient Near Eastern creation texts and comparing them to Genesis 1. In fact, you can see that observation in my thesis. I was actually in the middle of writing my own book arguing for that very thing when Dr. Walton's book came out. That's why my chapter on Genesis 1 is so long, because it is simply that book edited down to a chapter, since I could no longer come out with a book arguing the same thing (of course, because I did develop it independently, I have some arguments for it that Dr. Walton did not use). Hence, the evidence that Genesis 1 is presented as a cosmic temple seems clear, as many scholars are coming to that conclusion, not because it is trendy, but because it's really there.

Second, the suggestion that I'm arguing that bdl refers to purification in Genesis 1, and therefore is applied to the same things, is not even close to what I am arguing. My only point, which is a minor argument in the host of other arguments made, is that priestly language is being used. I'm not saying it is applied the same way. Obviously ritual separation of something is different than separating the sea. How else would one incorporate priestly language in a temple context without applying it to the actual things created? So I think there is a confusion on Park's part concerning language and referent. I'm arguing the former not the latter with that specific word.
Furthermore, that the language of Genesis 1 is priestly is not really a disputed idea. If Park wants to dispute that, that's fine, but the point, once again, is not that the objects separated are the same, but the language used to speak about them is. By itself, this may mean little, but together with the cumulative case that I'm making (and that's how I'm arguing here), it becomes more solidified in my mind.

The biggest problem I have with the review, however, is that it says something about my methodology that is just plain false. He argues that I attempt to make a "one-to-one correspondence" between the OT texts and the ancient Near Eastern texts. I've done no such thing, nor have I ever thought that way.

He implies that I am arguing that the Bible corresponds, point for point, with ancient Near Eastern ideas, but that is not my argument at all. My argument is that all of the ancient Near Eastern presentations (including those found within the Hebrew Bible) stem from a generalized way of thinking about these issues. I don't believe the specifics are always the same. They sometimes are and sometimes are not. For instance, it is silly to suggest that the number seven means something different to the Israelites than it does to other ANE cultures. I go to great lengths to show that it is the same concept, but obviously, the temple in Genesis 1 is cosmic, not local, communicates the sovereignty and existence of one deity, not many, and defines chaos as having to do with mankind, rather than the gods. As Walton has convincingly argued, the cognitive environment, including the conceptualization of its language, is the same. Its theology and ethics are very different.

I further found the argument he gives that you usually have fire involved for purification to be odd. This simply ignores all of the biblical evidence I gave using the number and the purification of the altar that does not involve fire at all. Fire is used in certain texts, such as the Baal Cycle, as a representation of purification, not the standard context of purification. Ironically, that would be to make a one-to-one correspondence between the OT and ANE literature. For instance, blood sacrifice, not fire, over seven days, purifies the altar in Exodus 29. Solomon's temple, likewise, is purified twice, paired in two periods of seven days, by sacrifice, not fire.

Park, again, misconstrues my argument when he discusses my presenting the times as literarily symbolic. The numbers 7 and 40 seem clear enough, but I make it very clear that the 150 days of the deluge may be literal, or they may simply be numbers plugged into the text to keep the narrative moving. I don't say they are symbolic in the sense of referencing some specific concept, other than being representative of a time that the author does not know. My point is that the numbers thus far in the Primeval History have been symbolic, rather than literal, and hence, maybe these numbers are just plugged into the narrative as well to represent a time period of which the author is not aware, even though they are not referencing any conceptually symbolic idea. I argue that, as details of a speech is often plugged into a text when an author doesn't really know what was said in detail, so time periods may be plugged in for narrative purposes more than for the purpose of recording the literal time with mathematical certainty.

I try to make all of this clear (perhaps I failed to do so), and I realize that when one reads a book for review, he may not catch everything that is said, but these are huge chunks of my arguments that have been missed. A lot of material that supports all of my conclusions above are simply not mentioned at all. And that is probably my biggest issue with this review. It seems to nit-pick small issues that are clarified by a host of other supporting evidence that is never mentioned. My argument from bdl is misconstrued, but it is only one of a host of other points made to support the claim. The same goes for everything else I argued in the book. I realize in a review one wants to be critical, but it needs to be focused on whether the main point of the book is supported, even if you disagree with a few of the details.

I do thank Park for pointing out that there is still a typological error of the Hebrew on pg. 80, which I caught right after it was published and thought it was fixed. I'll have to email the publisher on that. It could be that he got an earlier copy that was not corrected as well. My typesetter worked hard to understand what the Hebrew looks like, but to anyone who is just learning Hebrew, the kaph and the beth look almost identical, so I don't fault her for that. The spacing was something we worked hard to rectify as well, but it was a difficult task and we did the best we could on that. As for the transliterations, I could have used some examples. The only inconsistencies I'm aware of is when I would quote other scholars who had other schemes of transliteration. But by the standards of quotations, one does not change the spelling of what is quoted. If there are any inconsistencies in my own scheme, it would be helpful to know it.

I'm not saying I don't appreciate the review, but I would have just appreciated it more if it was more careful with what I was actually arguing.

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