Monday, July 18, 2011

The Lost World of Genesis

Here's a link to the second part of an interesting interview with John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.  In the interview, Walton discusses his book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and his idea that the the creation of the universe and the Garden of Eden were closely related to Solomon's Temple, in the sense that the Temple was a model of the cosmos.  He posits that the creation account in Genesis 1 is a description of function (in terms of temple use) rather than a description of the material universe, i.e., the young earth creationist viewpoint.  He relates this idea of creation and the cosmic temple to the other ancient cultures of the Bible, in how their temples were set up and used, as well as their shared symbolism.

I wrote a series of four posts that explored both the shared and contrasting symbolism in the temples of the Ancient Near East (including ancient Israel) as examples of God's use of contextualization in the Bible.  God took the existing temple structure of Israel's pagan neighbors, incorporated that symbolism which was "true" of himself--  the real Creator of the cosmos-- and combined it with new elements that contrasted who he was with pagan gods.

In my posts, however, I did not explore the cosmic symbolism of Solomon's temple, which Walton's book seems to explore at length.  My post on the Edenic symbolism of Solomon's temple was based in large part on The Temple and the Church's Mission  by G. K. Beale.  Beale also explores this cosmic symbolism and discusses its relation to Solomon's temple and the temples of Israel's pagan neighbors (the entire book does not focus on this, however).  I did not include this cosmic angle in my series due to length and time, but it's well worth your time.

Since I haven't actually read Walton's book, I can't comment on it directly.  I have, however, read parts of a commentary that he contributed to called The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testatment, which I own and have enjoyed.  Walton states that we as present day followers of God must remember that the Bible was "written for us, but not to us," and therefore we must understand the context in which its various books were written in order to properly understand their meaning.  I would agree, but with a caveat at least when it comes to the creation account in Genesis 1:  many passages in the Bible have both a present application for the initial hearers, as well as a future (and different) application to those who will come later, such as Isaiah 7:14 (although the creation account in Genesis 1 is not a prophetic text per se).

I agree with Walton that we should understand Genesis' creation account in the light of ancient Near Eastern cultures, but I don't think that this primary understanding negates a secondary purpose that seeks to summarize the material origins of the universe.  I reject the idea that the creation account in Genesis should only be taken metaphorically and not literally.  I believe it should be taken both ways, not one over the other (click here for a review that better summarizes my point).  I understand that Genesis 1 was not meant to be a technical manual on how the universe was created, but it documents it nevertheless.  This gives scientists a starting point for further research.  Symbolically (like Revelation), it also gives the rest of us (and scientists too) a foundation for understanding who God is, and who we are meant to be in light of that wonderful understanding.  Lastly, as this blog seeks to investigate, it gives us further examples of how we might use biblical truths found in indigenous cultures to explain the Truth of who God is and what he has done for all of us through Jesus.

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