Currently Reading

Because I’m sure you’ll want to know, here’s what’s on my reading stack (in addition to dissertation materials):

The Aging Brain: Proven Steps to Prevent Dementia and Sharpen Your Mind by Timothy R. Jennings.
– Because neuroscience is fascinating; plus, I’m not getting younger and I’d like to preserve as much brain health as possible.

Death and the Afterlife: Biblical Perspectives on Ultimate Questions by Paul R. Williamson
– I’ve read so much about this topic in recent years, I couldn’t pass this one up.

Christology in the New Testament by David L. Bartlett
– Writing a brief summary for a journal.

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. by John H. Walton
– Because his first edition was such a helpful book for me, I had to check this one out.

Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle by Paula Fredriksen
– Because Fredriksen is a great writer and I’ve done a bit of reading on Paul and the Gentiles, so naturally, I had to secure a copy of this.

When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation by Paula Fredriksen
– This one came unsolicited from the fine folks at Yale University Press, so this is a bonus!

Biblical Studies, Books, Hebrew, Judaism, Old Testament

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.

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Biblical Studies, Old Testament

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Part 1, Proposition 4

Part 1, Proposition 4 – The Bible contains no new revelation about the workings and understanding of the material world

Here Walton essentially argues that God did not give the Israelites advanced understanding of the natural world; rather, he communicated in language/terms that they understood (49). This is fleshed out in more detail, particularly in Walton’s full-length treatment of Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology; here. Here, Walton (rightly I think) argues “the Bible offers theological perspective about the material world” rather than “naturalistic insight” (50). Because the ancients did not understand the intricacies of how the natural world worked, their descriptions of any such thing recorded in the Bible reflect their state of understanding, thus there is no new scientific understanding in the Bible (51). He further argues that when evaluating claims made in the Bible, one must first determine what kinds of claims they are—theological, cosmological, scientific, historical, etc. (56). Because the Bible is not a science book that seeks to disseminate scientific knowledge, claims made that reflect science in some manner must be understood as “Old World science,” reflective of the culture they depict and not necessarily as corresponding to what is known in the modern world.

Walton provides several sad-but-true examples of how texts from Genesis have been interpreted through history in a way that would be binding in a later culture, e.g., men having one less rib than women, that snakes used to have legs, talk, and eat dust, and the curse of Ham resulting in black people (57–58). These are just a few examples and a brief perusal of the history of interpretation of the Pentateuch would likely yield many more examples (talking donkeys, perhaps?).

This proposition is largely a rehash of his work on Genesis 1 and ancient cosmology, as mentioned previously. If you’ve read either of his works on the subject, then you’ll find little here that wasn’t discussed before. However, this is an important element in the overall scheme Walton is working toward. Despite my own familiarity with this idea, it’s good to reread it, this time in a slightly different context and toward a different end. Where Walton is ultimately going, I think, is toward a methodology that enables interpreters to better understand the culture in which the accounts of the Bible occurred, thus enabling one to better interpret the Scripture. This particular method also permits interpreters to hold to an authoritative text while not having to slavishly adhere to implausible interpretations so as to avoid upsetting some doctrine of inerrancy. I also appreciate Walton’s approach to authorship, namely identifying a person as a book’s “author” is not important—what matters is the authority attributed to any given person with whom a particular book is associated.

Memorable quotes/insights

“God chose human communicators associated with a particular time, language and culture and communicated through them into that world. The Bible was written to them, not us” (52).

“Given what we have learned about literary production in the ancient world, authorship and the process that led to the final form of the canonical book are simply not as relevant as we have thought to our understanding of biblical authority” (62).

“We cannot be dependent on the “original autographs,” not only because we do not have them, but also because the very concept is anachronistic for most of the Old Testament7 and does not reflect how the books came into existence. Inerrancy and authority are connected initially to the authority figure or the authoritative traditions.” (67).

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Propositions 12, 3

Bible, Biblical Studies, Books, Old Testament

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 3

Part 1, Proposition 3 – Effective communication must accommodate to the culture and nature of the audience

Walton here tackles the prickly issue of accommodation, an area in which he has greatly helped me in my understanding of Scripture me over the years. Essentially Walton argues that God has accommodated the medium of human communication as the avenue of interaction between Himself and His creation. In so doing, God has chosen a means that would in some respects be temporally and culturally bound. This is an unavoidable tenet of communication since people are a part of a culture in which language, customs, and other elements change over time. Walton cites Kenton Sparks here, who says “in many cases God does not correct our mistaken human viewpoints but merely assumes them in order to communicate with us” (40). This is the nature of accommodation—the communicator must speak in terms that are relevant to the recipient if they desire the communication to be important and to evoke a response.

Because some elements of the beliefs held by the ancients were bound by their time and culture, readers/hearers of the Bible’s accounts must be conscious of them and interpret them in light of the culture they depict. One of the ways Walton suggests interpreters do this is through Speech-Act theory, which basically suggests that “communication is an action with particular intentions” (41). There are three levels at which speech works in this theory: locution, illocution, and perlocution. The gist is that elements of the text, e.g. genre, words, sentences, rhetorical structures, etc., or locutions, embody illocutions, and this is where the question of inerrancy should be addressed. Walton (not surprisingly) offers the example of cosmic geography to illustrate his point: “God may well accommodate the communicator’s view that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But if God’s intention is not to communicate truth about cosmic geography, that accommodation is simply part of the shape of the locution—it is incidental, not part of God’s illocution” (42).

In general I think that Speech-Act theory is helpful as one tool in the interpreter’s bag, though various approaches and methods should be employed to get to the meaning in the text (Walton doesn’t suggest Speech-Act theory as the only method). At the same time, there is a balancing act here. This allows interpreters to hold to a high view of Scripture without attributing historicity or scientific accuracy to accounts in the Bible; yet, if taken too far one could be left with a collection of stories that have been gutted of their value as truthful historical accounts (albeit often told with a theological slant). As with most things, the devil is in the details.

Whether or not one accepts Walton’s arguments thus far, he has done a service for the larger community of interpreters, though his refrain will echo more loudly in evangelical circles. If nothing else, Walton helps readers of Scripture to understand better how communication works between differing cultures, a matter that becomes highly complicated when you toss in the idea of divine inspiration of texts that purport to record such communication. Walton doesn’t seek to end the debate over inerrancy and authority, but seeks to shine much-needed light on the discussion of these important matters, and this he does well.

“We are not free to take the communicator’s locutions (whether considered divine or human) and use them to formulate our own fresh illocutions and associated meanings—authority is compromised at best or lost entirely when we do that” (42). 3

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Proposition 1, 2

Ancient Near East, Biblical Studies, Books, Old Testament

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture: Proposition 1

The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority

By John H. Walton and Brent D. Sandy

I must say that when I received a copy of this title from the always-generous folks at IVP, I was excited. John Walton and Brent Sandy are two scholars whom I hold in high regard. Walton was helpful for me in sorting through interpretive issues in Genesis 1 related to cosmology through his treatments on the subject (here and here) and Brent Sandy’s work on apocalyptic language was likewise a helpful guide in dealing with enigmatic imagery in scriptural texts. Now Walton and Sandy turn their attention to a matter that has been the subject of renewed discussion and debate—the transmission of biblical texts and the question of inerrancy. From the outset, Walton and Sandy make it clear that they hold a very high view of Scripture—it is “God’s self-disclosure” and a “literary deposit of divine truth” (12). They also affirm the Scriptures to be inerrant (12). However, W and S are clear that any terminology used to discuss inerrancy is ultimately inadequate (13).

This book is arranged in four parts, each of which contains a series of propositions. Each proposition details an element of the process of the biblical text’s transmission and how one should approach the text in light of that. Part 1: The Old Testament World of Composition and Communication; Part 2: The New Testament World of Composition and Communication; Part 3: The Biblical World of Literary Genres; Part 4: Concluding Affirmations on the Origin and Authority of Scripture.

Part 1, Proposition 1 – Ancient Near Eastern societies were hearing dominant and had nothing comparable to authors and books as we know them.

Initially, the suggestion that ancient societies like those of the ANE had no books and authors sounds somewhat silly. In the days since Gutenberg’s printing press made mass publication even possible and especially in this age of technology, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine a time when books were a rare commodity for a select few who were privileged enough to possess copies of their own. However, books and other forms of printed media are a comparatively modern luxury.

The first proposition is largely introductory (naturally) and serves to orient the proceeding discussion in the fact that ancient cultures, particularly those in the ANE, were hearing-dominant and not text-dominant. Walton discusses a number of issues why this is so, most of which should be intuitive to anyone who stops to think about a world 2,000 years removed from our own. Walton argues that reading and writing were limited to a small number of people who practiced these for very particular reasons. For example, he argues that documents were produced for archives, libraries, for school texts, to be read aloud, and as symbolic expressions of power (23). However, we could easily take these purposes and transport them to the modern world, though of course our reasons of reading and writing surpass these. I think that writings as expressions of power is intriguing and I am hoping he discusses that more. I also wonder how much of the writings from the ANE comprise this category.

Another intriguing point, which is derivative of the discussion that preceded it, is the fact that the ancients didn’t consider books and authors the way we do. As Walton notes, concepts such as plagiarism, intellectual property, etc., were notions completely foreign to the ANE. Instead, there were only “authorities, documents, and scribes” (25).

So far, I’m intrigued as to how this will flesh out in following propositions. Due to space limitations, this introductory chapter is necessarily selective in terms of examples and references to primary sources, so the discussion feels a tad truncated. However, I imagine the whole book will be this way as it is not meant to be an exhaustive tome that analyzes the numerous data on the subject, but rather serves as a springboard into the discussion.

Memorable quotes:

“Literacy is not necessarily absent in hearing-dominant societies; it is simply nonessential” (18).

“[P]reserving an oral tradition in a document will not obscure the characteristics of orality” (24).

“Authority was not connected to a document but to the person of authority behind the document when that person was known, or to the tradition itself” (27).

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Ancient Near East, Bible, Biblical Studies, Books, Greco-Roman World, Judaism, New Testament, Old Testament

Blogging through The Lost World of Scripture

This blog (obviously!) has been rather sparse in terms of new content over the last year or more. Life is busy with family, work, and school, and any down time is usually gobbled up by some other necessary chore (ask our DVR!). However, I’ve given some thought to doing something I’ve not done before–blogging through a book. This strikes me as both a fun outlet for not only reading and discussing books but also a tremendously likely failure–time simply hasn’t permitted me much in the way of leisurely reading and blogging.

Thanks to the always-generous folks at IVP, I received a copy of John Walton and Brent Sandy’s recent venture–The Lost World of Scripture. The matter of biblical authority and its derivation from Scripture has a long history and its enjoyed a fair bit of attention in recent years. So, as I mentioned, this would be good fodder for discussion methinks, so we’ll see how long I can keep it up.

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Biblical Studies, Old Testament

Lot and His Daughters

I’ve set out to read the bible from beginning to end (though not in a year) just to re-familiarize myself with parts I’d not read in a while and to see the bigger picture of scripture’s story. I’ve also been doing my reading from the Common English Bible as the basis of my review for the CEB Blog Tour (my review I hope to have finished soon). I already inquired as to the origins of Cain’s wife and today’s post concerns Lot and his daughters. In Genesis 19 we read that two of the messengers (presumably two of the three who visited Abraham and Sarah in ch. 18) entered Sodom where Lot greeted them. They initially decline Lot’s request for them to stay at his house, but after some earnest pleading, they accept his invitation. Once they are finished eating, they prepare for bed and here’s the part of the story that’s strange to me.

The men and boys of Sodom surround the house and begin to call out to the visitors to come outside so they can “know them” in a special way (gotta love translators’ choices for such euphemisms). Lot, however, does not wish for them to be involved in such evil acts, so he offers a substitute: his virgin daughters. What is so perplexing about this is that he offers his daughters for the men and boys to do to them whatever they please in the place of total strangers! What is in the world is he thinking? He offers the explanation that these visitors are under the protection of his roof, but what about his daughters? As a dad I can hardly imagine even allowing the thought to cross my mind.

Ultimately nothing happens to them because they were not the object of the men’s desire and the visitors see to it that they are confounded in their pursuit. This also is part of the larger point of the account, namely that the visitors set out to destroy Sodom for its wickedness. Is that the primary point of this little detail, that it shows the nature of the Sodomites’ disposition? John Walton suggests a “subtle alternative” to the offering, namely that Lot was saying he would just as soon have them rape his daughters than he would have them rape his visitors, to whom he has shown hospitality. In doing so, Lot is being rather sarcastic and his offer “is intended to prick the conscience of the mob” (Genesis, NIVAC, 477).

By modern sensibilities this is a grotesquely unthinkable act, but given this is an ancient text, what are we to make of it? Is Walton’s explanation satisfactory? Did Lot have gain some understanding of who the visitors were and perhaps knew that nothing would happen to his daughters? Even so, it’s still an unsettling moment in the story.

Oh Old Testament, how you trouble me!

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Blogs, Books, Old Testament, Reviews

Blog Discussion

In my search for Walton’s forthcoming book (entitled Genesis One as Ancient Cosmology), I happened upon a discussion of Walton’s recently released The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate at beliefnet. 18 posts are anticipated, one for each chapter of the book. Looks to be a promising dialogue and I see Andrew has already weighed in.

I just finished the book today and hope to post my review tomorrow. In the meantime, check out Andrew’s review here, as well as a review at finitum non capax infiniti.

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