Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review of Walton's "Lost World"

Alice C. Linsley

John H. Walton has written an interesting book titled The Lost World of Genesis One. His intention is to enable the reader to place the first creation account in its proper historical-cultural context which Walton believes is the context of ancient Mesopotamia.

Though the book in not about science, it addresses some scientific concerns. Dr. Walton believes that Genesis 1 refers to 24 hour days and that the earth could be billions of years old. He believes that Adam and Eve were historic individuals and that aspects of evolution could account of their origin.

Walton presents Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology and thereby sheds light on the origins debate. He argues that Genesis 1 is about function as understood by the ancient Semites, not about origins. He states, "The truest meaning of a text is found in what the author and hearers would have thought." (p. 43)

He later states, "Believing in the Bible does not require us to reject the findings of biological evolution, though neither does it give us reason to promote biological evolution. Biological evolution is not the enemy of the Bible and theology; it is superfluous to the Bible and theology." (p. 166)

Amen to that! From beginning to end, the Bible is about God with us, a reality which took human flesh in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the new temple, as John explains: "He was speaking of the temple that was His body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that He had said this and they believed..." (John 2:21)

Drawing on his knowledge of Hebrew and the ancient Near East, Walton interprets the creation of the cosmos as the inauguration of God's Temple with 7 tiers. Genesis 1:1 tells us: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 'Heavens' is the accurate rendering of the Hebrew 'shamayim' which is a plural form, suggesting a multi-layered or tiered cosmos. When the Apostle Paul speaks of being mystically transported to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), he is interpreting his experience in the context of this ancient worldview. Temples in the ancient Near East were constructed with 7 tiers and where we find the number 7 in Genesis we encounter the thumbprint of temple priests.

Walton insists that there is danger in forcing Genesis 1 into the concordist view of writers such as Hugh Ross. Concordists insist on reconciling Genesis 1 with modern cosmology. Walton makes it clear that this is both unnecessary and dangerous. He writes, "If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is a dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say." (Read more here.)

I find Walton's research compelling and believe he is correct. He received his doctoral degree from Hebrew Union College and is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. His background orients him toward the ancient Near East and he does an admirable job of highlighting the parallels between Genesis 1 and the creation narratives of ancient Mesopotamia. In pointing out the parallels with ancient Egyptian cosmology Dr. Walton demonstrates the uniformity of cosmological thought from Africa to Babylon, further evidence for the Afro-Asiatic Dominion.

As an educator, I appreciate the final chapter of Walton's book which calls for neutrality in public education on the subject of origins. Bible-believers should not insist that young-earth creationism or Intelligent Design be taught, but we should insist on what Walton calls "metaphysical naturalism" (p. 165). Restoring metaphysics to education would reintroduce the catalyst for the integration of learning, as Dorothy Sayers astutely recognized in her Lost Tools of Learning.

Finally, a word that spoke to my heart in a personal way. Walton wrote, "...we are presumptuous if we consider our interpretations of Scripture to have the same authority as Scripture itself." Lord, never allow me to forget this!

Related reading:  Genesis: On Gaps and OverlapsYEC Dogma is NOT Biblical; A Scientific Timeline of Genesis; Adam and Eve: the Blood and the Birther


Rob said...

An amazing post, Ms. Linsley. Indeed, we need to bring metaphysics back into education. Today's students rarely explore the great ideas. They should be exposed early and often.

And thank you for exposing me to Dorothy Sayers. Yet another author I need to read. The list gets longer as I get older!

Alice C. Linsley said...

You are welcome, Rob. Thank you for being a faithful reader of Just Genesis!

Timothy Hicks said...

I watched a seminar of Walton's where he talks about "Reading Genesis Through Ancient Eyes". He's a really good thinker, and I'd really like to read his book.

I used to promote Hugh Ross for a spell, but I eventually realized I was still in the mindset of making the Bible conform to MY way of thinking.

It's unfortunately hard to convince those who are still stuck in the concordist way of thinking, to try and be more open minded, and realize their are much bigger issues than discrepancies about the age of the earth.


Alice Linsley said...

I take a different view from Walton. There is much in Genesis 1 that reflects a Nilotic viewpoint. That does not detract from Walton's thesis, however, since the Nilotic cosmology and creation stories spread into ancient Babylon. The ancient Egyptians envisioned the first place in the world as a mound emerging from the waters of a universal ocean. The mound was named Tatjenen, meaning "the emerging land." This parallels the Genesis 1 narrative of the watery deep that covered the earth. Then the Creator's spirit went forth over the waters and established order from chaos, separating the dry land from the sea.