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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis One: Making things or ordering things?

I recently posted on John H. Walton's book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. I wrote "He claims that the creation account in Genesis 1 was not understood, by contemporary listeners or readers, as being about making things, but that it was about arranging things so that various entities had a function within a created world." Let's  consider some of Walton's evidence for that claim.

Walton appears to be an expert in documents from the ancient Middle East, based not on this book, but on his other scholarly publication. I have seen him referred to in that way, even in the writing of an organization that does not accept most of the claims in this book. He uses that expertise to analyze a number of creation myths, more or less contemporary with Genesis, and from the same general area. He does not accept these as divinely inspired, nor does he claim that the early part of Genesis is similarly in accuracy to these accounts. Walton simply wants to show the way that the people of this part of the ancient world, including the Hebrews, thought about things. He presents his analysis, bolstered by quotations from several ancient texts, and, as he says, ". . . analysts of the ancient Near Eastern creation literature often observe that nothing material is actually made in these accounts." (35) and "They thought of existence as defined by having a function in an ordered system." (p. 36) The activity of the supernatural beings, in these accounts, is to take unorganized material, already present, and to organize it. As I indicated in the previous post, Walton is not saying that God didn't make things, nor that the Hebrews didn't believe that He did, just that Genesis 1 is not about that. We, he says, read Genesis 1 through our own cultural biases. It was written from the viewpoint, and to be understood, by the people of the time when it was written.

He goes on to say that bārā, the Hebrew word translated as "create," in Genesis 1, is used in a number of places in the Old Testament. Walton presents a table of these uses, on page 42, giving the object of the verb  bārā in each case, and, he claims, ". . . no clear example occurs that demands a material perspective for the verb, although many are ambiguous." (43) I am not competent to evaluate that claim, but, based on the rest of the book, it makes sense. Creation, in Genesis 1, is about organizing things, giving them a function.

I hope to post more on this book later. Thanks for reading.

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