The Lost World of the Flood (Walton)

As in all of his Lost World books, we see all of the strengths and weaknesses of John Walton.  We might not like many of his conclusions.  Some of his argumentation is rather specious, but he has a knack for getting to the heart of the matter.  The way he presents his argument–by means of a series of propositions–is about as good as one could possibly find.  

I’ll go ahead and answer the main question.  Walton and Longman believe a) the text implies a universal flood.  However, b) they reject that a universal flood actually happened.  They do not seem themselves in rebellion to Scripture, as they understand–and argue that the audience would have understood–Scripture to use hyperbole to teach theological truths.  I’ll come back to this in the conclusion.

Part I: Method: Perspectives on Interpretation

Proposition 1: Genesis Is an Ancient Document

Proposition 2: Genesis 1–11 Makes Claims About Real Events

Proposition 3: Genesis Uses Rhetorical Devices

Proposition 4: The Bible Uses Hyperbole to Describe Historical Events

Proposition 5: Genesis Appropriately Presents a Hyperbolic Account of the Flood

Proposition 6: Genesis Depicts the Flood as a Global Event

The first series of propositions remind us that the Bible is written for us, but not to us.  Did God intend to teach the science that there is a cosmic ocean above the sky?  Our standard response is that such language is poetic.  That’s true to an extent.  Here is the problem: do we have any reason to believe a pre-Copernican reader would have thought such language was poetic?

Or take another example:  do you really think with your intestines?  Again, literary metaphors could save us, but I think the language is a bit stronger than mere poetry.  We still get “gut feelings” today and we don’t dismiss it as literary theory.

Walton deals with this problem by means of speech-act theory. There is a difference between “locution” and “illocution.”  Locution is the meaning.  Illocution is the saying of the meaning.  God’s truth, the interpretation of the facts given in Genesis 1-11, is the locution.  The three-tiered universe is the illocutionary manner.

On one level this is fine.  The danger is that we can then apply Occam’s razor to any supernatural stuff we don’t like.  Walton’s later language on “mythology” doesn’t help, either. He says ancient man didn’t make a hard and fast distinction between myth and history.  I’m not so sure.  The NT warns us against following clever fables. And protestations notwithstanding, you cannot rescue “myth” from the connotations of Greekk mythology today.  He is on better ground when he refers to such language as “supernatural” or “the invisible realm.”

I give this section a B-.  He makes numerous good points about ancient literature, but he hamstrings his project with sloppy epistemology.

Part II: Background: Ancient Near Eastern Texts

Proposition 7: Ancient Mesopotamia Also Has Stories of a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 8: The Biblical Flood Story Shares Similarities and Differences with Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts

These two propositions shouldn’t be that controversial.  No, Walton does not say that Genesis borrowed from Babylon.  Genesis is not indebted to Babylon.  Rather, both Genesis and Baylon are embedded in the same cultural river.  In any case, to prove x borrowed from y, we should have one dominant ur-text to show the borrowing.  We do not have that.  Walton and Longman score huge points in this section.

Part III: Text: Understanding the Biblical Text Literarily and Theologically

Proposition 9: A Local Cataclysmic Flood Is Intentionally Described as a Global Flood for Rhetorical Purposes

Proposition 10: The Flood Account Is Part of a Sequence of Sin and Judgment Serving as Backstory for the Covenant

Proposition 11: The Theological History Is Focused on the Issue of Divine Presence, the Establishment of Order, and How Order Is Undermined

Walton and Longman argue that the goal is order against nonorder/disorder.  I suppose those elements are there, and it certainly echoes the Gen. 1 account, but I don’t think that is actually the main idea here.

Proposition 12: The “Sons of God” Episode Is Not Only a Prelude to the Flood; It Is the Narrative Sequel to Cain and Abel

He goes through the option of who the Sons of God are.  He dismisses the Sethite thesis since there is no evidence for it.  Another option identifies them as super-kings who took many women in marriage.  While that was true of Gilgamesh, the Bible doesn’t say that, either.

Proposition 13: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) Is an Appropriate Conclusion to the Primeval Narrative

Part IV: The World: Thinking About Evidence for the Flood

Proposition 14: The Flood Story Has a Real Event Behind It

Proposition 15: Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood (Steve Moshier)

Proposition 16: Flood Stories from Around the World Do Not Prove a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 17: “Science Can Purify Our Religion; Religion Can Purify Science from Idolatry and False Absolutes”

These are the most controversial propositions.  I’ll be honest, the geological section was a bit too sciency for me.  I was familiar with Walton’s claim that if a universal flood happened, where would the water drain off to?  He writes,

If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth.  This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons.  Here is the problem:  the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal.  Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

If you hold a worldwide flood, there is a way to salvage it.  The main problem is where did the water go in so short a time?  The solution is cosmic geography.  The ancient world understood (as in Genesis 1) that were the Great Deeps (tahom).  It’s real but you can’t dig there to find it.  God probably opened the Great Deep at the end of the flood.  Granted, that’s speculation but it makes the best sense of the problem. If you don’t hold to this kind of cosmic geography where the tahom supervenes on our material world, then you have a real problem with the flood waters.

Conclusion

I think they make numerous good points on the difficulties in a universal flood.  These cannot simply be dismissed. Ultimately, I do not find their arguments conclusive.  I think their epistemology is fatally flawed. Let’s grant both (a) and (b) mentioned in the introduction to this review.  If we reject a global flood and the audience understood that to be the case, then it’s hard to see how they can maintain that the Bible is teaching a global flood.  God (and/or the human prophets) spoke in a way to be understood.  If the audience would have understood, for all practical purposes, that the flood was local, then Walton and Longman cannot seriously claim the text teaches it was global.

Job NIVAC (Walton)

Walton, John H. Job The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Walton does theology by avoiding easy, cliched answers. It pays off in his commentary on Job. Although he is criticized for reading Ancient Near Eastern culture into the biblical text, Walton doesn’t actually do that. He goes to great pains to show how Job is different from ANE (Walton pp.33-37).

Ancient Near Eastern thought believed in “The Great Symbiosis.” We provide sacrifices for the gods and in return they protect us. If bad things happen to us, it’s probably because either a) that’s just how the cosmos is, or b) we made a ritual faux pas. Walton points out that the justice of a particular god is irrelevant. A god might be interested in promoting justice in a city, but ancient man had no reason to believe that the god himself is just.

This places “Satan’s” challenge in a new context. If the Great Symbiosis is true, and there is a strict “Retributive Principle” at work, then Satan is right. If Job even concedes that the evil has come as a result of Job’s sin, and in doing so expects God to restore the balance, the Challenger wins. By the end of the book we are affirmed in believing that God is just. The point of the book, however, is that wisdom, not justice, should be the epistemological foundation. We see God’s wisdom in the cosmos.

This book is unique among the NIVAC set in that Walton allows one of his former students to tell her story concerning a crippling nerve injury she had. It reads like a novel. Walton ends with some moving meditations about God’s will and suffering.

The ancient world believed the cosmos was ordered. However, within this ordered cosmos are spheres of disorder. Eden was an ordered cosmos, but not so the area outside Eden.

We do not always see God’s justice. The book of Job, however, promises us God’s wisdom. As Walton notes, “God has ordered the cosmos by his wisdom; justice is one of his attributes, but the cosmos do not always mirror his justice. Wisdom is at the heart of order” (Walton 411).

Chapter 1

Who are the “sons of God?” Walton correctly identifies the bene elohim as divine council members (64). They are not angels. Angels have a messenger function, whereas these have an administrative function.

Who is Satan? This is tricky. While Walton offers a lucid commentary on the morphology of the term, he muddies the waters by bringing in passages from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Let’s say for the sake of argument this is the “devil.” You could never make that case from Job 1. This “challenger” isn’t cast out from heaven. Nothing he says is evil (in fact, he makes a good case against the pagan ANE mindset of the time). All of that is true.

Walton, however, goes out of his way to prove that the “devil-figure” can’t be placed in the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages. This is irrelevant. I think he is wrong, but he does make a good case that since Ezekiel calls him “a cherub,” he can’t be the Serpent of Eden. That’s true. If anything, the Nachash would have been a seraph.

Some notes

4:15 is a reference to Zaqiq, the dream god (157). This would explain why when talking of the wind, Eliphaz mentions “a form before him.”

9:5-9 gives a beautiful description of cosmic geography. We have reference to the ‘pillars of the earth,’ implying a flat disc. The stars are “sealed” away (v. 7).

19. When Job asks for a mediator, does he mean Christ? Probably not. Job wanted a mediator to prove his innocence. Christ mediates for us precisely because we aren’t innocent!

25:5-6: The Realm of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are either the royal dead or quasi-demonic beings (or both). While they live in the underworld, Job identifies one of the access points as “beneath the waters.” Walton suggests that the language is the “cosmic waters,” rather than regular ocean water (250). This makes sense, otherwise we could access Sheol via submarine.

Walton correctly notes that eres can mean underworld in several locations (1 Sam. 28:13Job 10:21-22Eccl. 3.21Isaiah 26:19Jonah 2.6). Netherworld works instead of “earth” because it would be the opposite of the “heights of Zaphon.”

28:11: Sources of the Rivers. In Ugaritic literature the high god El dwells “at the source of the rivers” (Walton 286). Genesis 2 speaks of the origin of the four rivers coming from a sacred space (Eden). The origin of wisdom, then, is a cosmic mystery. There are several personifications in this passage:

  • Deep (tehom)
  • Sea (Yamm)
  • Abbadon (Destruction; Gk. Apollyon, personified as an evil Angel in Revelation 9). While Abbadon could be an evil entity, we need to be careful about reading later demonology into this passage.
  • Death

Nota Bene: Elihu mentions the spirit of God. We should be careful not to read a full Nicene theology into that phrase. For Elihu (and much of the Old Testament) the spirit of God is seen more as an extension of God’s presence than a separate person (though, of course, it is not contradictory to the later idea of the Spirit’s being a distinct person). Further, the spirit of man is “on loan” from God (Walton 376).

The Lost World of Torah (John Walton)

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This book isn’t as “revolutionary” as perhaps Walton’s critics and fans think it is. There are a number of things he isn’t saying:

a) He isn’t saying the Torah doesn’t apply today.
b) He isn’t promoting sexual freedom.
c) He isn’t saying Israel copied from ANE cultures.  In fact, he specifically rejects that idea.

In short, Torah revealed Yahweh’s order in society.  It addressed threats to order, and in that revelation it teaches wisdom, not a format for OSHA codes.

Thesis: Order is achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society.  Our primary task in studying Torah is not to make it an updated version of the Congressional Register, but to see how it embodies (or is embodied) order in society.

Proposition 1: The Old Testament is an Ancient Document

Walton faces a stiff challenge:  he correctly notes the embeddedness of much of Torah, yet he wants to affirm its relevance for us today.  Can he do that? He suggests the use of a “cultural broker,” a person an analogue who can help us make sense of commands like “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.”

Proposition 2: The Way we think about Torah today is conditioned by how we think law and legislation work.

Walton notes, correctly I think, that Hebrew “legal sayings” include legislation and instruction.  These are two distinct speech-acts with different expected responses.

Proposition 3: Legal Collections in the Ancient World are not Legislation

Key idea: What did legal sayings in the ANE look like?  Does the “Law,” whether Hammurabi’s or Moses’s, cover every legal aspect of society? Walton argues that judges in the ancient world, more often than not, used their intuition.

Proposition 4: ANE Legal Collections teach wisdom

These lists are aspective.  They contain a wide variety “of aspects pertaining to a topic.” A collection of legal lists would teach the king or judge how to be wise in a ruling.  Walton suggests it is like the “practice problem” in a math textbook. It teaches you how to do something, but the individual problem isn’t the standard for all further deductions.

Proposition 5: Torah is similar to these legislations and therefore teaches wisdom

An example that Torah functioned also as wisdom is David’s (unwitting) response to Nathan’s parable.  He says the man must die but he also must pay fourfold.

Terminology

None of these terms refer to codified legislation.  But does not the command to “obey” imply that Torah = legislation?  Not necessarily. The command to “obey” almost always has “voice” as its object, not Torah itself. I think there are some exceptions, though.

We are told to keep (smr) his commands (mitzwot). These commands occur often in Wisdom literature, which is concerned with order.

Proposition 6: The Israelite Covenant functions as an ANE Suzerainty Treaty.

Thesis:  these treaties sought to teach wisdom and explain what the regent may or may not do; it wasn’t a comprehensive legislation.  The suzerein’s stipulations were more of “extending his identity” than imposing a piece of legislation (Ezek. 36:22-24).

Proposition 7: Holiness is a status, not an objective

In Lev. 19:2 God’s people are called to be holy (indicative, not imperative).  It is more along the lines of “You Will Be Holy.” The Hebrew qds can mean:

* a constellation of all that is associated with Yahweh (the ark, temple, Mt Sinai, etc).

* God’s patronage (Ex. 6:7).

Proposition 8: ANE rituals served to meet the needs of the gods

Thesis: rituals provide the means by which order is maintained.  I agree with what he is saying but he didn’t offer any argumentation or have any textual support.

Proposition 9: Israelite ritual maintains to preserve covenant order because Yahweh has no needs

At this point there is a clear break between ANE societies and Israel.  Yahweh doesn’t need to be pampered. Therefore, the ritual exercises maintain a different status quo.  These rituals serve the role of a tribute. It served the purpose of revelation: it revealed (among other things) Yahweh’s order to the world.

Walton points out, but does not develop, that kipper rarely has “person” or “sin” as its object.  It is rather to restore the cultic equilibrium.  It’s not so much that it forgives sin but it allows a person to be forgiven.

Proposition 10: Torah is similar to other ANE codes because it embodies the same cultural context.

This is tricky.  On one hand, it is true by definition.  We don’t live outside space and time. It also makes sense that legal wisdom (or wisdom in general) would bleed through national boundaries.  On the other hand, as Walton admits, establishing that x borrowed from y is very difficult.

Proposition 11: The differences between Torah and ANE codes are found not in legislation, but in establishing order

Unlike other law codes, Torah is concerned with holiness and covenant.  Yahweh, who is holy, has taken to himself a people who are now holy. How should they live?  He gives them Torah to define the nature of the order which reveals himself.

Proposition 12: Torah is situated in the context of the ancient world.

Proposition 13: Torah is situated in the context of covenant.

For many laws in Torah, even if they are functioning as law, they are apodictic, not casuistic. 

Proposition 14: Torah is situated in the context of Israelite theology regarding God’s presence residing among them

Propoition 15: Discussions of the law in New Testament context do not tell us anything about Old Testament Torah in context.

Proposition 16: Torah should not be divided into categories to separate what is relevant.

Speaking of the debt-slavery in the Old Testament, Walton notes,

Taxation in Torah times was based on goods-and-barter system, as coins weren’t minted until the Persian period. Therefore, Torah isn’t talking about monetary taxation, giving principles for or against, but warning rulers not to trust in their own strength (as measured by goods).

Proposition 17: Torah was never intended to provide salvation.

Proposition 18: Divine Instruction can function as a metaphor for health rather than law

Proposition 19: We cannot gain ethical knowledge by reading Torah apart from its culture.

His basic claim is the difficulty in finding out which passages contain moral (and only moral) principles and which are ceremonial.  The immediate counter is that “Thou shalt not kill” seems fairly moral.

Proposition 20: Torah cannot provide prooftexts for solving problems today.

He isn’t saying we shouldn’t go to Torah for ethical wisdom.  He means only that many of the passages don’t neatly fit today.  He has an excellent discussion on Deut. 24:1-4. 

Some Thoughts on the “Ten Commandments.”  

Torah actually doesn’t call them that. They are the “Ten Words” (Ex. 20:1’ 34:28).

 

Genesis: NIVAC (John Walton)

Image result for john walton genesis

Walton, John.  Genesis NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

John Walton begins the introduction not with dull academese about Genesis, but with creation and covenant.  The Babylonian and Egyptian gods (and its Freemason god today) could not be covenantal.

His intro is good and sane, but there are still some iffy parts. Against the fundamentalist he says there is an undeniable mythical element.  Against the liberal he rejects the attempt to reduce all of it to myth. I actually think the mythical content is…well….true. That stuff is real.  More on that later.

Genesis is structured around the toledoths (2:1; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2). And Genesis is Covenant History, with the covenant aimed for an election to revelation (Walton 37ff). Abram was elect partly because the knowledge of God had been lost (52). So, God reveals himself.  And he reveals himself through Covenant.

A question about methodology.  Walton has been accused of simply reading ANE back into the Bible.  This isn’t entirely accurate. There is no “Bible-equivalent” of ANE texts, nor is the ANE uniform.  Take creation: in Babylonian legends creation births the gods (or the gods birth creation). In some Egyptian accounts the “god” speaks creation into existence.  

Genesis 1:1-5

Resit refers to a duration of time, not a specific point (Walton 68).  Evidence for this is in Job 8:7, “which speaks of the early part of Job’s life.”

Regarding bara Walton argues that it refers, not to material creation, but to assigning functions and tasks (71).

Day 1

Walton argues that it is not the phycists’ light being created, but that ‘or refers to a period of time.  This makes sense since God separates the light from darkness (and you can’t draw a physical boundary and keep light on one side, darkness on the other).

Rather, God is creating time, which is the first of the functions he creates (79). Genesis 1 is operating on functional, rather than structural terms (83).  There is something to this, since it avoids some of the problems of “how is there light before the sun?” and the neutered “it’s all myth” approaches.

What did God do on Day 4?

We’ll spend some time here since this is largely why Walton is so controversial.  His larger argument is fairly sound: there is evidence that when “creation language” is used, it is not always in a structural sense.  For example:

  1. Job 9:9 shows that constellations are arrangements of objects and not structures.  ‘Sa can refer to acts like arranging (124).
  2. Isaiah 41:17-20. “Both verbs bara and asah are used to describe the establishment of functions.”
  3. Isaiah 45.  Both verbs are referring to nonmaterial objects.

So did God “make” the sun on the 4th day?  On Walton’s reading, no. God gave the lights a functional task

Image of God

Walton lists the three interpretative options: theological, grammatical, and conciliar.  The theological says the “us/our” language refers to the Trinity. The grammatical says it is a plural of majesty.  The conciliar says it refers to the divine council. The grammatical option is the easiest to eliminate, since there aren’t many (or any?) examples of the plural of majesty in Hebrew. The theological one won’t work, either.  It wouldn’t have made any sense to an OT Jew for the Father to be speaking to the Son and Spirit. Further, it has God the Father telling God the Son and God the Spirit what they are going to do, but how would this work, given that they all share the same mind?  Wouldn’t they already know?

The conciliar option has God telling the divine council what they are going to do, yet in the end God is the one doing it.  This fits the grammar and is attested elsewhere in the Hebrew bible. Someone might object that “We aren’t created in the image of angels?”  That misses the point on what the image of God really means? If it means a set of metaphysical properties like will, rationality, etc., then maybe we don’t share those with angels (then again, maybe we do).  But that’s not what the image is about.

Definition of the image of God: it is the capacity to be God’s vice-regents (131). “The image is a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes of the one represented.”

Genesis 2

“Divine rest is the principal function of a temple, and a temple is always where a deity finds rest, so the cosmos is God’s temple” (147).  On another note, in this earlier volume Walton is quite hostile to theistic evolution (156).

How should we honor the Sabbath?  This is the big-time money question for Reformed folks.  And if you are a Covenanter, all of theology reduces to this moment.  Walton makes a number of wise comments: if you have to reduce Sabbath-keeping to a bunch of rules, you’ve missed the point.  Sabbath is the way we acknowledge God on his throne and as priest-kings, it is how we reflect the stability and equilibrium of rest (158).

Genesis 6

Walton rightly skewers the “Sethite” thesis about the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.  There is zero syntactical evidence for such a claim. Walton rejects the angelic thesis, but not for the usual reasons.  While he correctly notes that whenever the “sons of God” appear in Scripture (e.g., in Job), it means angelic beings. But he says the Bible doesn’t give us a large enough sample size, so we can’t use that evidence. Further, contra Enoch and Jude’s use of Enoch (sorry fundies), the angelic beings would have taken wives in marriage, which goes against Enoch’s usage of porneia.

Walton claims the “sons of god” are sort of like Gilgamesh, tyrant kings of old who took extra wives.  To be fair, Walton admits there is zero evidence in Scripture for his position but he notes, accurately, that it matches the Gilgamesh account.

There are several problems here.  (1) Gilgamesh was an apkallu, or maybe a son of an apkallu.  That supports the angelic thesis. So if Walton is correct, then he is thrust back upon the angelic thesis. (2) Precisely about what event in the OT does Jude allude to?  Genesis 6. Jude connects this account with the sexual sins of Sodom. Again, we are thrust back upon the angelic thesis.

The Flood

True to Walton’s methodology, he doesn’t argue for any specific extent of the flood.  He notes some problems in each view, lists the grammatical and syntactical options, and lets the reader decide. And the options aren’t simply universal vs. local.  Rather, they are a) global, b) known world, c) regional, d) local (322). There are some problems with the Universal Flood view:

  1. If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth.  This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Here is the problem: the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal.  Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

There are other logistical problems but they aren’t ultimately decisive.  What matters is the text. Didn’t the flood cover “all” the earth? As good Calvinists we know that all doesn’t always mean all (Dt 2.25).  True, but didn’t it cover the mountains? The text uses the Pual form of ksh, which suggests a variety of possibilities (325). Water can “cover” not simply by submerging but also by drenching.  If we tell someone “you are covered with water” during a storm, we just mean they are drenched.

Conclusion

The commentary is weighted towards the earlier chapters of Genesis.  That’s probably inevitable as that is where all the questions are. I don’t always agree with Walton’s conclusions, but his handling of the text and syntax is masterful.

 

John Walton: Lost World of Genesis

Transferring from my old blog. I plan to finish Walton’s commentary on Genesis today, and I want this review on this blog for when I write the other review.

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Like the other “Lost World” books, this is written in proposition format, which makes the arguments easy to follow.  Walton is very clear, even on points where I disagree. There are some flaws in this work, but it is a valuable text.

Proposition 1: Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

This shouldn’t be a controversial claim.  The earth might be 6,000 years old, but there isn’t any underlying science that matches with Genesis 1.  Ancient man wouldn’t have been as interested in Answers in Genesis as he would have in the following questions (19):

* How does God interact with the world?
* Is there such a thing as a natural world?

* Is the cosmos best seen as a machine, a set of material objects, a kingdom, a company?

Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented

What does it mean to exist?  A company’s existence is different from a chair’s (23). Walton contrasts a “material ontology” (e.g.,what constitutes a physical chair) with a “functional ontology” (e.g., what makes a business a business)?  There is something to this, to be sure.

Walton says we have focused too much on the material ontology of creation and not its functional ontology (25).  For the ancient man something exists “by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system” (26). Of course, Walton is quick to point out that ancient man would have seen the material constituents of an object (or a universe).

Proposition 3: Create concerns functions

He argues that bara means to assign functions, rather than material constituents.  He then lists about forty usages in the OT where most of the time it is giving a function to something (41).

Proposition 4: The beginning state in Genesis 1 is Nonfunctional

There is some payoff to his claim: if we read Gen. 1:1ff, we aren’t exactly dealing with a mathematical nothingness prior to the Big Bang singularity.  The tohu is simply an unproductive void, rather than a zero-state void (48).  Walton then lists 20 occurences where Tohu means unproductive, rather than non-existent.

Propositions 5: Days 1 to 3 in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

God calls the light “day” instead of just “light.”  Why? Because he is giving a function to it. Further, reading the text functionally allows us to solve a potential problem in Day 2: the sky isn’t really solid (56).  Rather, God is showing us that by a “firmament” in the sky, he is able to order the cosmic geography and keep the “cosmic waters,” always connoting danger, at bay. The firmament establishes cosmic order (57).

Isn’t it strange that God doesn’t actually make anything on Day 3? He does assign functions, however.  Walton: “On Day 1 God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; and day three the basis for food” (59).

Days 4 to 6 in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Reading the text this way solves the problem of why God created light before he created the sun.  Here is where Walton’s “functional” argument is the strongest: the very point for why God created the sun/stars was to serve as signs for humans.

Proposition 7: Divine Rest is in a Temple

Walton’s functionalism fits very well with the Sabbath.  He notes, “In the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis has been resolved or when stablitiy has been achieved” (73).  This makes sense. When the Bible says “King so-and-so had rest,” it didn’t mean no one in the kingdom did anything; only that he had peace and normal operations were able to function.

God’s resting place is his temple (Ps. 132:7-8; 13-14).

Proposition 8: The Cosmos is a Temple

Standard GK Beale stuff.

Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

Proposition 10: The Seven Days do not concern material origins

This propositions summarizes the first half of the book.  The argument follows:

  1. a) Bara is functional.
  2. b) the context is functional (Gen. 1:2 starts with a nonfunctional world)
  3. c) the cultural context is functional.
  4. d) the theology is functional (cosmic Temple)
  5. e) of the seven days, three have no statement of creation of any material component (1, 3, and 7).
  6. f) Day 2 could be material, but then we are left believing in a material firmament in the sky.
  7. g) Days 4 and 6 have material components, but they are dealt with only on the functional level.

Criticisms

  1. He overloads the evidence favoring theistic evolution.  He never engages in analysis with the strongest analysis from Intelligent Design theorists.
  1. He never notes the contrast that when ancient paganism saw creation as giving a function to an already existing object, and not creating ex nihilo, it is because in paganism (like today’s Neo-Atheism), matter is eternal and only needs some Demiurge (like the god of Freemasonry) to form it.
  1. He criticizes Intelligent Design for being “God of the gaps.”  Precisely what, then, is theistic evolution? Find a gap in the fossil record?  No problem. God providentially furthered evolution along. Anyway, guys like Stephen Meyer aren’t saying, “Must be a God after all.”  What they are saying is that information, especially complex information, points to an Intelligence.
  1. He rebuts Behe’s argument of “irreducible complexity” by noting the eye’s structural blind spot.  Stephen C. Meyer, however, blows that out of the water: ““There’s an important physiological reason as to why the retina has to be inverted in the eye,” he said. “Within the overall design of the system, it’s a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates. Yes, this creates a slight blind spot, but that’s not a problem because people have two eyes and the two blind spots don’t overlap. Actually,the eye is an incredible design” (quoted in Strobel, Case for a Creator, 87).
  1. His stuff on naturalism isn’t wrong per se, and there is a difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism, but he often ends up just using the term naturalism.  He is also rather naive on the courts’ past rulings. Yes, it is true that science pretends not to make any judgment on God, but that is precisely what science then makes statements on what God does and doesn’t do in the physical realm.

5a. Further, Walton isn’t clear on what recent rulings constitute valid science: anything falsifiable, empirical, and validated by the scientific method.  Yet Walton never mentions this nor mentions the huge defeaters to this line of thinking: e.g., evolution isn’t testable by the scientific method, sometimes models for science determine the evidence, sometimes the evidence the models.

  1. Walton is to be commended for rejecting Neo-Darwinism, but guess which model controls the system right now?  That’s right, N-D. N-D posits, to use Dawkins’ euphonic phrase, a “Blind Watchmaker.” If Walton’s interesting reading is to gain any credence, he must break the back of N-D.

Review: Lost World Canaanite Conquest

The book was a sheer joy to read. It was accessible yet maintained the highest rigors of scholarship.  John and John Walton affirm the historicity of the conquest narrative, yet they avoid “easy” answers often given by evangelical apologists.  They invite us to enter the thought-world of an ancient Hebrew. They do so by outlining 21 propositions (see below)See the source image

Walton’s propositions:

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.

Examination of his Propositions

P(1) – (2) should be noncontroversial.  The Bible is an ancient semitic document and it should read like one.  It has different assumptions on “what is the worst that could happen?” For us, the worst that could happen in life is genocide or famine.  For a Hebrew it was an improper burial and being forgotten (Ecclesiastes).

P(3) is problematic in how it is stated, though I know what they are getting at. The Bible isn’t a manual for ethics or law, but I do think it gives more detail about “goodness” than they allow.  But they do raise a good point about justice and goodness: justice in the ancient world is tied to order, not so much about “getting what is owed me.”

P(4)-(8)  In many cases, this is John 9.  Walton’s argument is that the Canaanites aren’t simply being driven out of the land “because they are bad.”  I think they are much worse than Walton makes out, but his point holds. The Canaanites are losing their land because God promised the land to Israel.

But what about God’s saying that he will expel/vomit Israel out like he did the Canaanites?  True, Walton downplays that objection. ~8. “No nation other than Israel is ever reprimanded for serving other gods” (79). That kind of makes sense, since Yahweh had disinherited the nations in Genesis 10 and given them over to the beney elohim.

P(10) Good reflection against Pelagianism.  Holiness (qds) Doesn’t mean my good behavior that I have accumulated.  Objects and land in the OT are holy, yet they aren’t moral agents.

P(12) That might be true, but if the Canaanites were guilty of these actions, and if there were demonic Nephilim and Rephaim in the land, then full-scale slaughter was warranted.

P(13) His argument is that the Hebrew ra is relative to the covenant, and not an absolute standard. Nevertheless, one hopes that bestiality and child sacrifice is universally evil.

Demons and idolatry: demons were extraneous to the ANE ritual system.

Repahim:

“The etymology of the words enforcest he unworldly aspects of the enemy, similar to the monstrous bird-men of the Cuthean legend” (148).

“The Rephaim are most commonly associated with the spirits of dead kings, specifically” (149).

Emim: comes from the root word “ema” which would therefore mean “terrible ones” (cited in Eugene Carpenter, “Deuteronomy,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, I:432.

P(14) This was a beautiful chapter.  The conquest narrative is much more than a typological recapitulation of creation.  In being such it shows Yahweh’s victory of chaotic cthonic forces.

P(15)-(16) Herem does involve a lot more killing than modern readers are comfortable with, but that isn’t the point of herem.  It was killing an identity. And it can’t mean total destruction. While gold and metals are herem, Bronze Age technology simply couldn’t destroy and un-atomize these metals.

However, Walton failed to note that most of the cities targeted were those with a heavy presence of Anakim and Rephaim.

Walton’s theses on Canaanite Genocide

This should suffice for a teaser of what the book is about before I do a full-scale review.  I don’t agree with every one of them, but as a whole he made a strong case.

Walton’s theses:

 

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.