Book Review: A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.26.00 AMA Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew Hill and John H. Walton

Zondervan | Amazon | CBD

Thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for this review copy!

This book is now five years old, and though I’ve not had it quite that long, this review has been in the works for a while.

From the outset, Walton and Hill (hereafter W/H unless otherwise indicated) make it clear that their work reflects their convictions—they are evangelicals. For those for whom “evangelical” essentially amounts to insular theological positions and a reticence in gleaning from the fruits of higher criticism, let it be said that Walton and Hill do not quite fit that mold. They do believe that the OT is “God’s self-revelation” (21) and it is an authoritative work (26), yet those familiar with Walton’s work (I can’t speak for Hill) know that he does not toe the typical conservative line when it comes to interpreting the text. In Appendix A, W/H claim that “Evangelical is a term in vogue to describe those who acknowledge the authority of the Bible” and that it is a bit more precise, perhaps, than the label “conservative” (753). W/H also rightly notes that both “liberals” and “conservatives” employ the same critical methodologies, the primary difference between them ultimately coming down to presuppositions and how they interpret the evidence. So, as evangelicals, W/H will certainly interpret texts differently than would those who do not make “supernaturalistic claims,” yet to dismiss their work on these grounds would be most unfortunate.

As far as the content of the book, W/H cover a tremendous amount of ground, which is virtually impossible to avoid if one is going to survey the vast landscape that is the OT. Concerning their readership, those on both sides of the aisle (read conservative and liberal) will find parts with which they can wholeheartedly agree and strongly disagree. For those in the evangelical camp, a number of things will likely dishearten them. For one, W/H do not hold to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (79, 104, 165). Walton notes that there is good evidence for Moses as the editor/compiler, but it is lacking for Moses as author. Concerning the book of Deuteronomy, Walton suggests “Moses can be affirmed as the dominant, principal, and determinative voice in the book, and he is credited with at least some of the writing” (165). Authorship is a prickly issue anyway as those in the ancient world did not write books in the same way that moderns think about it, so W/H are simply following the evidence where it leads them. In sum, W/H have no issue with ascribing Mosaic authorship to sections of the Pentateuch, but not to the final form. Additionally, Walton’s take on the primeval history certainly differs from the opinion of many of his evangelical brethren. Walton has fleshed this out in much more detail in more recent works, so his treatment here is necessarily brief, though it remains informative. On the other hand, the evangelical audience will likely appreciate W/H’s take on other accounts, such as the Exodus.

Perhaps the most notable update in this volume is the amount of visuals included—they are found on nearly every other page! In addition to the numerous charts and excurses an abundance of photographs have been included. While some of them are rather run of the mill, the majority are quite stunning! As someone who benefits greatly from visual representation of data, photography is always welcome. Naturally such embellishments are not always suitable, but for a volume such as this they are and enhance the reading experience by providing visualization of the content matter. Another minor detail that I found helpful is indication of which author wrote which section, though a couple were unidentified.

My criticisms of the book are mostly due to editorial restrictions. For example, the opening section on geography is quite helpful, considering that the physical landscape is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures; yet, there is a rather brief discussion of the land as a significant element of Jewish theology. Similarly, other sections of the book suffer a bit from comparatively shorter discussions than books/sections that are themselves shorter. For example, the sections on the major prophets are hardly longer than the sections dealing with each of the 12 individually. Again, I understand that there are restrictions on space—this book clocks in just shy of 800 pages—and authors have to be selective. I do wish that some of the sections were a bit longer and that others were a bit briefer.

There really is no comparison between the second and this newer third edition—it’s practically a complete overhaul. This updated volume is reminiscent of other visually-appealing books in Zondervan’s catalog. Expanded content and stunning visuals set this volume apart not only from its predecessors, but also from many other OT introductions available. While Walton and Hill may not win over everyone (primarily outside of more conservative circles), this work is certainly worthy of consideration and could easily be one of the more sought after OT introductions, especially for students just beginning the journey of study beyond an English translation.

Αυτω η δοξα

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 2

Part 1, Proposition 2 – Expansions and revisions were possible as documents were copied generation after generation and eventually compiled into literary works

This section practically reads like a primer on textual criticism, at least a couple of its components. Essentially Walton considers the role of the scribe in the transmission of what would become the canonical text. Here he asks an important question, one whose answer still evades satisfactory explanation: “Which version of a tradition found its way into a document?” The discussion here revolves around, as mentioned above, the role of the scribe. Walton suggests that scribes had a measure of latitude when it came to copying texts, though this varied depending on historical factors in the culture and the scribe’s level of accomplishment. Many of the changes made in the text over the centuries were what Walton describes as updates—language and place names, explanatory glosses, added sections, updated formulations, and integrated revisions to address new audiences (33–34). These are indicative of the changes that occur in language and the community in which the oral tradition is circulating. Beyond this, there were more significant changes that were introduced to the text, a phenomenon Walton describes as “innertexuatlity”—actual changes within the tradition itself. This might include new laws, wisdom sayings, narratives, etc. Here I wish that Walton would have provided concrete examples of such additions.

Walton makes an important point in this section. He suggests that changes that were introduced by the scribes would not have been seen as “destructive, deceptive, or subversive” (34), but rather advantageous. This is so because they (the scribes and the community they served) did not see their work as tampering with authority. Since authority resided in the authority figure who inaugurated the tradition, updating the text to be relevant to an ever-changing culture was necessary and would preserve the core of the tradition, though it would be couched in different language than that of its original form.

Walton continues (with many before him) to dispel the notion that the canonical text is indicative of word-for-word preservation of what Abraham, Moses, or others actually said. The distance between the origin of the oral tradition and its transcription into a document is simply too great. For Walton, this does not diminish the authority or importance of the text we have, but serves as a reminder that the text is the product of a culture that was only much later oriented around a written text. As such, the original form of the tradition recorded would have been quite different, though this is not seen as a detriment to the current text.

Αυτω η δοξα

Proposition 1

Book Review: Jesus the Messiah

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King by Herbert W. Bateman, IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston

Kregel ǀ Amazon ǀ WTS

Thanks to the folks at Kregel for this review copy!

I have had the privilege of studying under both Gordon Johnston and Darrell Bock and both are truly gentleman and scholars. Naturally, when given the opportunity to review a book on which they (and Bateman) had collaborated, I jumped at it. I must say that this book met my expectations and will serve as the go-to guide for many when it comes to messianic expectation in Jewish and Christian literature.

Essentially this book covers three major literary corpora and how each demonstrates, in varying degrees, messianic expectation, promise, and fulfillment. Gordon Johnston tackles various texts from the Hebrew Bible, Herbert Bateman discusses the various messianic expectations recorded in intertestamental Jewish literature, and Darrell Bock tackles the NT teachings on Jesus as Messiah.

Though plenty of readers will find fault with interpretations presented throughout (a given for any book of this sort), I found the hermeneutical approach quite satisfying. There is a stereotype/stigma that attends books of this sort, i.e. that books about messianic issues written by evangelicals are predictable. Many may assume that the sections dealing with the Hebrew Bible and intertestamental literature will default to seeing Christ in every possible text so as to demonstrate the obvious presence of messianic expectation. I must say that such hyper-messianic readings of Jewish literature are off the mark, but you won’t find such a view here. While the authors obviously see messianic expectation in a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible and intertestamental literature, they don’t see it everywhere. They lay out their hermeneutical approach on pages 20-36, which I will not rehash here. The gist of the approach is that God revealed the Messiah via progressive revelation, even from the first of canonical literature. This is not to say that everything about the Messiah, particularly his identity, was revealed, but that there were glimpses that continually built over generations until the Jesus the Christ could be made known.

Permit me a lengthy quote by Bateman that describes the difference in their approach (pgs. 24-25).

Granted, our starting point is not unlike other approaches that acknowledge the value of Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) when discussing Messiah. Yet there is a difference. Many people today unfortunately fail to grapple with the human journey of discovery about “Messiah.” Many preachers who preach sermons about Jesus as the Messiah often over emphasize their theological system with limited or even no consideration of any progress of revelation in human history. Others may read the text historically, often looking exclusively to the long-term reality. But in their quest for a singular historical-contextual meaning throughout all of Scripture, they argue that what a First Testament human author said about Messiah equals that which is stated about Jesus the Messiah in the Second Testament. They tend to suggest that Jesus and the apostles assert that the Hebrew Scriptures testify directly and (or more importantly) exclusively about him. In their mind, the evangelists and epistolarists believe Moses foretold only the death of Jesus the Messiah; David foresaw only the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah; Isaiah predicted only Jesus’ ascension into glory; and that Abraham heard only the Gospel to the Gentiles preached to him. Thus, they stress the work of the divine author and thereby over emphasize an unambiguous continuity between the Testaments. The idea is that most or all of these texts need to be direct prophecies to work for Jesus being the messianic fulfillment in the way the Second Testament describes…We, however, will offer a slightly different approach. Granted, there is most certainly a link, but we will argue, just not a completely exclusive one. One of our goals is to argue that these texts do not need to be only direct prophecies for them to reveal a messianic connections and fulfillment in Jesus. Such an explicit-exclusive reading of the First Testament tends to ignore the complexities of Jewish history as well as God’s revelation and its progress. Such an explicit reading deprives us of historical information that ultimately helps us grasp what was going on in the lives of the Jewish people and what God’s revelation told them about their present and future. While a traditional approach argues for explicit predictions about Jesus, we suggest that while the wording is ultimately messianic, it is often more implicitly stated and becomes clearer only as the entirety of God’s portrait of messiah is eventually and fully disclosed, both by how the First Testament concludes and by what Jesus himself does to pull all the messianic pieces together.

I hate to quote things at such length, but this is the grid through which the texts in the book are read and it leads to a much more suitable interpretation than does a hyper-messianic reading mentioned earlier.

All in all, this is a superb book with little to fault. Again, as with any book (particularly those of an exegetical nature), there will be disagreements on this detail or that and I’ve chosen to leave that for others to discuss. Whatever disagreements you may find, I think most who read this, even those outside evangelical camps, will find a trove of exegetical treasure and plenty of food for thought.

Αυτω η δοξα

Read a sample here.

Where did she come from?

Cain’s wife, that is. In Gen 4:17 Cain and his wife “know” each other, conceive and give birth to Enoch. But his wife just appears in the story, seemingly out of nowhere. Obviously the biblical writers/editors/redactors don’t always give us the information we would like, but it seems odd not to mention where she came from. I suppose it just wasn’t that important.

What also piques my curiosity is how this issue is handled in light of a literal interpretation of the creation accounts. If Adam and Ever were the only humans created and they only had two sons, then where does Cain’s wife come from? I’m willing to admit my ignorance on this question–I’ve not studied this particular issue.

So, what say ye?

Αυτω η δοξα

Summer and Fall

I registered for the summer and fall semesters this past week, but I’ve reconsidered my fall schedule and I think I am going to change courses. I am presently registered for the Gospel of Luke and the Epistle to the Hebrews, but I am thinking of changing to the NT in Contemporary Culture and the Use of the OT in the NT. There are two reasons for this change: 1 – The NT in CC is not primarily focused on exegesis, but gives a lot more attention to NT backgrounds. Though later I will have to take a seminar that is fully dedicated to this subject, I’d like to get into some of these issues now. Here’s part of the catalog description:

This course will engage in discussion of contemporary issues about the origins of the Jesus tradition, the apostolic teaching, the New Testament as a canon, and the origins of Christian orthodoxy as seen in the New Testamentand important collateral writings of the period. Attention will be given to major first-century cultural features, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, that serve as a backdrop for the original Christian message leading to a greater appreciation of the New Testament message.

The second change is from Hebrews to the Use of the OT in the NT. This is a subject that has piqued my interest and I’ve not been able to do much here at present, so this would be a great opportunity.

2 – This class schedule will not be as spread out over the week as the other, so that’s always a plus.

This summer I will be leaping into Theological German, which I am eager to get into! Obviously for reasearch this is essential, but just think–I’ll be able to read all those other posts that Jim foists upon the bibliblogging world! :-)

Anyway, should be a great remainder of the year, but I’ve got plenty to finish this semester!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Call for Resources

Ok John, Jeremy, Jim, and other OTers (NT folks, too, if you’ve worked through Jeremiah)–what are the best commentaries/exegetical works on Jeremiah? I need to pick up a few for my papers this summer session (I have until the end of the first week of August to have them turned in), so I am hoping you can point me in the right direction.

Thanks in advance!

Αυτω η δοξα,

Jason

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John H. Walton

IVP ǀ Amazon ǀ CBD

Many thanks to Adrianna Wright at IVP for this review copy!

I was very excited to see Walton’s book would be available this year, and even more so when I received a copy for review. There are two reasons I was anxious to read this book. One, I have become disenchanted with my original understanding of the creation account of Genesis 1 (namely, the literal six-day creation view) and, two, I have become weary of the incessant debate between evolutionists and ID advocates. These two issues meet head-on in Walton’s book as he makes a case for understanding the creation account of Genesis one in terms of function, not material creation, and how this plays out in the ongoing evolution/ID debates, particularly with reference to public education.

Walton arranges the book into eighteen propositions, successively building his case for function-oriented creation in Genesis 1. Each chapter (proposition) is relatively short, which makes for easy reading, but is substantial enough that Walton’s thesis is adequately argued. In propositions 1 and 2, Walton orients the reader to a proper setting in which to read and interpret Genesis 1 and discusses the way Genesis’ creation account would have been understood in its original time and culture. Propositions 3-7 deal primarily with textual matters concerning the various acts of God’s creative work in Genesis 1. Propositions 8 and 9 focus on the concept of the cosmos as Temple, seeking to provide a synthesis of the argument thus far. Proposition 10 argues specifically against Genesis 1 as an account of material creation. Propositions 11 and 12 are essentially a discussion of the positives of the view articulated in the book, as well as a brief address of competing views of Genesis 1. In propositions 13-18, Walton discusses his view of Genesis 1 in relation to science, with the final proposition focusing on public education and the ongoing evolution/intelligent design debate.

Overall, Walton does a fine job of articulating an interpretation that could easily consume twice or three times as many pages.[i] Walton’s knowledge of the Ancient Near East is obvious, though certainly condensed for this work, and his exegetical ability is clearly seen. However, given the scope of the book, I was a little disappointed that there was not ample space for more thorough discussions of various aspects of this interpretation of Genesis 1, particularly the exegetical discussions (see below).

There were a couple of negatives concerning this book. First, I find that Walton is somewhat repetitive concerning the thesis of the book; if you got to the end of this book and couldn’t remember what it’s primary argument was, it wasn’t for lack of stating it! Second, as with any book of this length (considering the weight of such a topic), there are some sections that I would have liked to have had more interaction with sources and more detailed analysis of varying viewpoints. Though I believe Walton is very skilled in his exegesis, I also wanted more detailed discussion of the various scriptures he cited in defense of his argument.

These two points aside, my opinion of the book is decidedly positive. One of the more appreciable aspects of the book is Walton’s dealing with sensitive nature of the issue of origins, an issue that is often guarded by dogmatic antagonists from both biological evolution and ID camps. Though not all advocates for either position could or should be categorized in this way, they are the ones who usually get the most attention. Essentially, Walton believes both sides to be in error (generally speaking) regarding their posturing for a place in the classroom. He rightly argues that both theories (as well as others) should be taught in the classrooms, so long as each theory’s metaphysical assumptions are held in check.

He rightly acknowledges that proponents of biological evolution enjoy the dominant position at present, but that this should not be a threat to Bible-believing Christians. Given his interpretation of Genesis 1, he concedes there is at least open the possibility of biological evolution as a means of God’s creative work (though he is not convinced of this and does not advocate the theory). Rather than being a threat to faith, Walton views this as an opportunity to find common ground on the discussion of origins, because Genesis 1 is essentially irrelevant to this matter. This approach to Genesis frees the Christian from using Genesis to defend something it does not address.

In summary, I think Walton’s book is a much-needed contribution to a discussion that is polarizing for the many involved. It hearkens the reader of Genesis 1 to shed his/her contemporary spectacles and view the text through the lens of those to whom it was written, to read Genesis 1 as a ancient cosmology, not a paradigm of modern science. Walton says,

“Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in  which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity” (p. 19).

To understand what the text means to us, we must first understand what it meant to them, and if you are seeking to understand better Genesis 1, I highly recommend this book!

Memorable quotes:

“One of the sad statistics of the last 150 years is that increasing numbers of young people who were raised in the environment of a biblical faith began to pursue education and careers in the sciences and found themselves conflicted as they tried to sort out the claims of science and the claims of the faith they had been taught. it seems to many that they have to make a choice: either believe the Bible and hold to a young earth, or abandon the Bible because of the persuasiveness of the case for an old earth. The good news is that we do not have to make such a choice. The Bible does not call for a young earth. Biblical faith need not be abandoned if one concludes from the scientific evidence that the earth is old” (p. 96)

“Divine intention must not be held hostage to the ebb and flow of scientific theory. Scientific theory cannot serve as the basis for determining divine intention” (p. 105)

“The most respectful reading we can give to the text, the reading most faithful to the face value of the text—and the most ‘literal’ understanding, if you will—is the one that comes from their world not ours” (p. 106).

“In the functional view that has been presented in this book, the text can be taken at face value without all of the scientific gymnastics of YEC” (that is, Young Earth Creationism; p. 109)

“That is precisely what we are proposing as the premise of Genesis 1: that it should be understood as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as a temple” (p. 84).


[i] As noted here, Walton does have more detailed treatment of the thesis of this book slated for publication sometime in the near future, entitled Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology, from Eisenbrauns.