The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One navigates the first chapter of Genesis against the background of many different attempted readings. Gregg Davidson and Kenneth J. Turner argue that the best way to look at Genesis One is a “Multi-Layered approach” that acknowledges that there is more than meets the eye in the text.
The advantage of Davidson and Turner’s approach is that they take the text seriously enough to not try to reduce it to a simplistic reading. Rather than offering multiple views that contradict each other, the authors offer what they see as different yet complementary ways of reading the text that help show the depth of its meaning for both ancient readers/listeners and those to this day.
There are 7 layers that Davidson and Turner argue may be found in the text: song, analogy, polemic, covenant, temple, calendar, and land. Each of these is the subject of its own chapter in which the authors note how this layer may be found in Genesis. For example, the chapter on Genesis 1 as song notes the many ways the chapter has parallels and other forms that could suggest it as a song, while also showing that these features forestall a simplistic reading of shoehorning it into a specific genre from the outset. Each chapter answers objections, and in the chapter on song, they answer objections that the parallels fall apart (they don’t), and that such a reading is driven by an attempt to harmonize with science (it’s not).
I especially enjoyed the chapter on Genesis 1 as polemic. I have long seen the polemical strands in Genesis, and having recently read an argument that the polemic isn’t actually there, found their answers to objections helpful. They note that while polemic is not the primary function of the text, it would be remiss to not see polemic as part of the background of what’s happening in the text. This, of course, adds to the argument for seeing Genesis as multi-layered. The polemic is not the central message of Genesis 1, but it is a message.
While a lot of the authors’ central point (reading Genesis means we should see more than one layer happening) seems pretty basic and maybe even obvious on retrospect, there aren’t enough scholars out there saying this, and many double down on a specific chosen reading. Davidson and Turner’s approach allows readers to fully explore the depth and breadth of Genesis one without feeling shoehorned into any one way of reading the text.
The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One is a fantastic read, even for those who have long been invested in reading about the earliest chapters of Genesis. It would also make a great first read for those looking to get more from the text or explore the doctrine of creation more fully. I recommend it highly.
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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