The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Genesis One


Yesterday I read this fascinating book, The Lost World of Genesis One. One John Walton wrote it. Its thesis is that Genesis One concerns God assigning function to the base materials of creation. It does not concern, at all, God's creation of said materials.

(NB. Walton uses "Genesis One" as shorthand for Genesis 1:1-2:3.)

Walton is going back to what Genesis One meant to its audience. This audience can be narrowed down to those Near Easterners who spoke a Canaanite language and believed in gods (êlohîm).

Given that, Walton looks to the pre-Hellenistic cultures of Egypt and Iraq and finds many, many parallels... all involved in Temple consecration ritual. The Temple on Earth was supposed to mimic the Temple in Heaven. The Creator would do his/their work in Creation and then would "rest" in the Temple - and by "rest", the Semites understood something less like "took Saturday off" and more like "assumed his seat on the Throne". [UPDATE 7/16/2011: This emphasis on function over form also inspired Empedocles.]

Walton does not cite the Documentary / Four-Source Hypothesis. I haven't got far into the Hypothesis on this blog; I am chary of proposing lost texts to explain textual weirdness (as can be seen from my very guarded citations of "Q"). Relevant here: this Hypothesis asserts a "Deuteronomistic History" underlying Genesis 2:4 to 2 Kings. Absent from this DtrH are: Genesis One, half the Flood Narrative of Genesis 6, most of Leviticus and several other passages - mostly cultic. The bulk of those passages turn out to have an internal logic surrounding the Temple, in those elder days presaged by the Tabernacle of Moses. Walton doesn't need this "Priestly Source", because he is conducting a narrow explication to compare Genesis One more outside the Bible than inside.

If Walton had used "P", then he'd have noted that what he says about Genesis One agrees exactly with what other scholars have said about it. I think that Walton could have benefited by citing some of this material. I noted one claim to the effect that no-one had said what he'd said, before him; it would be truer to say that no-one had laid out the thesis as cleanly as Walton had laid it out, and that no-one had done it without a priori recourse to "P".

As you can perhaps gather from my summary / intro paragraph, Walton wasn't writing to scholars; he was writing to Conservatives. That constrained him not to derive from "P" - which turned out well, because "P" should rely upon such explications and not vice versa. But also that's what, I suspect, led him not even to mention it.

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