Monday, October 3, 2011

John Walton, Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology: Final Thoughts

Walton's last chapter simply summarizes what he's argued throughout the book, so I won't rehash that here. Instead, I thought I would just give a couple, brief afterthoughts.

I began reading this book with the assumption that this was the academic foundation Walton was providing for his lay work, The Lost World of Genesis 1. As I was reading through the book, I began to wonder if my assumptions were incorrect, and that this was really meant to be a separate work, arguing for less than what he proposes in The Lost World. He certainly does propose less in this work, and so he likely cannot be held to proving too little if the work is taken in isolation to the other. However, his final comments in this book, e.g., that this study has implications for the modern origins debate, seems to confirm what I originally presupposed. In this case, I think Walton did not prove as much as he needed to prove, since ignoring material origins in a creation account that emphasizes functions does not mean that material origins are not assumed as simultaneous with, or even subsequent to, assigned functions.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It has a wealth of good material for understanding the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment. It is just a great book all around. Even with my disagreements, I would, and will, give it 5 stars. It's that important of a book. It will be a book that every Genesis scholar will now have to consider in their future commentaries and monographs. So I can only thank Dr. Walton for his hard work in putting it together for us. You can purchase it from Eisenbrauns here:

P.S. As just a point of clarification to Dr. Walton. He states in the introduction that he had his epiphany about forms and functions in the Fall of 1998, but I remember him saying this in the Spring of 1997 in our Hebrew Exegesis course, so maybe this was the epiphany before the Epiphany, or maybe it was just a long time ago (can't fault him for exact dates, as I only remember this because my transcripts provide for me the time line for when I was in his class--I don't even remember clearly if he said this in Fall of 1996 when I was taking the course for credit, or in Spring of 1997 when I was just occasionally auditing). In any case, it was nice to have been there when the apple dropped from the tree.

1 comment:

  1. Bryan, Excellent summation, I agree, "Walton did not prove as much as he needed to prove, since ignoring material origins in a creation account that emphasizes functions does not mean that material origins are not assumed as simultaneous with, or even subsequent to, assigned functions."

    Walton leaves unclear how function and form were related in the ancient mind compared with the modern mind, and by what justification modern day theologians can disregard how the ancients viewed the cosmos's form and only concentrate on its function.

    Walton admits for instance that the ancients viewed the cosmos as flat with heaven directly overhead. He admist no special bibilcal revelation in that area, only ANE presumptions. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg in so far as the way ancient Near Eastern beliefs, prejudices and pious practices were shared. It was a place where temples (including Hebrew ones) were built to face the rising sun, had chambers of increasing holiness, and special rites for passing through them, where circumcision was practiced, where it was believed that high moral henotheistic deities ruled over all other gods (as men ruled over all other men), had their homes in the sky (as men built tall palaces on high places), and laid sacrificial demands on humans (as kings demanded tribute). They also shared the idea that divine being(s) favored songs and praise (like a human king), and feared that the stability of both the political and physical realms would be shaken should such being(s) get upset (a belief per "sympathetic magic" that nature mirrored human and/or divine emotions). Should the worship of the god(s)s decline, so would the king and/or his kingdom, and the very structure of the world as well, that they believed could fall back into literal chaos from a flood of primeval water held perpetually at bay by the power of god(s) windy breath, his divinely instituted firmament, and floodgates held tightly shut beneath the earth.

    Two quotations:

    "Wisdom [in Proverbs 8:22-31] recounts God at work in carving, anchoring, stabilizing, establishing, circumscribing, securing, and setting boundaries. The mountains serve as weight-bearing pillars that hold up the heavens and thereby prevent cosmic collapse. God sets the cosmic infrastructures and boundaries firmly in place, all to maintain the world’s stability. The universe is a cosmic construction zone in which God builds an inviolably secure place."*

    "Marduk [high god of Babylon] . . . founded an everlasting kingdom, whose foundations are laid as solidly as those of heaven and earth."**

    See also these papers on the THEOLOGICAL WORLD VIEW OF THE ANCIENT ISRAELITES and how much it had in common with the theological world view of the ANE in general:

    I also composed a paper that appeared in 2010 as "The Cosmology of the Bible," a chapter in this book:

    And Brian Godawa, an Evangelical, has two handy research papers that I suggest to any creationists I meet:

    "Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible"

    "Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant"

    *William P. Brown (Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia), “Proverbs 8:22-31,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, v.63 no.3, July 2009
    **Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, translated into English by L. W. King in 1910--available online.