The common saying that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” applies perhaps especially well to theology. It shouldn’t be surprising, as it is a topic that attempts to make sense of the infinite. Questions in Christianity about creation abound. Modern debates are often more heat than light, with apparently no way to come to an understanding. Michael LeFebvre’s The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context is a book that can help to break that deadlock and help readers learn about some of the context and meaning of key Old Testament passages.
The core of LeFebvre’s thesis is that the Old Testament narratives center around key aspects of everyday life in their temporal contexts. Specifically, the heavenly lights and the agricultural cycle–which crops could be grown when, harvest time, etc.–helped ground those who spoke and wrote the Old Testament in ways that they would understand. From this, LeFebvre notes that we do the Old Testament damage when we insist upon it providing a kind of modern journalistic approach to dates and dating. The way festivals and days were used in the Old Testament helped provide information to those who heard it about how life ought to be lived and how labor and worship go hand-in-hand.
LeFebvre makes this argument over the course of three major parts. Part I- Israel’s Calendars examines the way calendars were used in the Bible and what reference points they had for understanding time. Part II – Festivals and Their Stories surveys the festivals mentioned throughout the Old Testament and why they were celebrated, grounding them both in the context of the Old Testament text and the time and places in which they occurred. Part III – The Creation Week examines the creation week with the insights gained from Parts I and II in mind.
Part I is a deep exploration of how ancient Israel would have read time, showing not only the use of the stars, the moon, and the sun, but also the way seasons ran throughout the region as ways that people measured their own lives and ways of going about living. LeFebvre is fairly comprehensive in his look at all the stories in the Old Testament that have dates as well as bringing up every festival and examining its importance and usage in the Old Testament. Readers will likely find much to examine and benefit from throughout these first two parts.
It is in part III where the rubber meets the road and LeFebvre applies his insights into timing throughout the Old Testament to the specific questions about the week of creation. The days themselves are laid out in such a way as to correspond to his theses about how Israel ordered itself. LeFebvre makes a strong argument that these creation days are not intended to be read in light of modern science and forced into such a box. Instead, they are intended to give order to creation and one’s own life, providing a reason for Sabbath as well as an understanding of all creation within the context of God’s ordered running of the seasons and universe.
The Liturgy of Creation is an excellent look at what the calendars, seasons, and dates in the Old Testament mean in their own context. LeFebvre brings light to some of the more difficult questions in interpretation, while also challenging readers to examine their own assumptions about the text. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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