Ancient Near East

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Book Review: “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context” by Michael LeFebvre

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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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Scripture and Cosmology” by Kyle Greenwood

sc-greenwoodKyle Greenwood’s Scripture and Cosmology might initially seem to be just another introduction to the study of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cosmology related to the Bible, but it is not. It is much more than that. Greenwood, in his excellent book, relates not just ANE cosmology to the Bible, but also reflects on how theologians dealt with changes in the prevailing views of cosmology throughout Christian history. That is, Scripture and Cosmology provides a means for readers to explore in brief the history of Christian thought on Scripture and, well, cosmology of different times.

The book is organized around three parts: Scripture and Cosmos in Cultural Context (which explores the ANE background of the Bible and finding that cosmology in Scripture), Cosmology and Scripture in Historical Context (which examines the cosmology of Scripture alongside Aristotelian and Copernican Cosmology, along with how Christians read the Bible in these periods), and Scripture and Science (which ties together the previous two sections along with discussing how we should consider the findings therein).

Greenwood frankly notes that the Bible’s view of cosmology is situated directly within the ANE background of the text and the understanding of people groups surrounding Israel. He challenges some of the modern revisionist attempts to take texts about, for example, the land floating as an example of Earth in space (Job 26:7). His counter is to show that such a writing would fit nicely within the ANE understanding of a cosmic ocean rather than favoring a modern attempt to fit it into Big Bang cosmology.

The chapters on Copernicanism and Aristotelianism show that Christians have historically adjusted their readings of Scripture in light of modern cosmology. He cites several interpreters, including Aquinas, Augustine, Calvin, and Luther to show how some of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity have been shaped by their own contemporary views of cosmology and Scripture.

The book ends with a pair of chapters on interpretation of the Bible and the authority of Scripture in light of Greenwood’s findings. These are invaluable tools for those wishing to take the Bible’s text as it stands. Greenwood argues that divine accommodation is one of the acceptable ways to reconcile scriptural authority and the ancient cosmology found therein. The last chapter addresses various avenues for research and science and how a proper understanding of cosmology in Scripture will help to reconcile these issues.

I was particularly interested in the findings which compared Aristotelian cosmology to biblical cosmology. It is important to see that Christians have constantly been part of their own cultural understandings of the Bible and the cosmos, and that we are no less victim to the short-sightedness that can come from equating our understanding with ultimate truth. We must be aware that our own understanding is incomplete and that we should not try to make the Bible read how we think it should.

Scripture and Cosmology is a superb book that is enlightening and challenging on many different topics. As someone who has read extensively on science-faith issues, I still found many new avenues to explore in this book and much valuable insight. It was exciting to see a work that addressed not only the ANE context of the Bible but also how Christians have interacted with more modern views of cosmology throughout time. I very highly recommend this book.

The Good

+Demonstrates the relationship between the Bible and ANE Cosmology
+Shows history of Christian interaction with their own understandings of cosmology and the Bible
+Provides means for readers to explore questions of relating Cosmology and Scripture
+Several solid insights into exploring related issues
+Opens avenues for further research

The Bad

-Feels a bit rushed towards the end

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Was the Three-Tiered Universe Merely Phenomenological?

sc-greenwoodWas the Three-Tiered Universe Merely Phenomenological? 

There are many passages throughout the Bible which appear to show that the authors believed in a three-tiered universe in which there were the heavens, the earth, and the underworld/waters. Some Christians argue that these descriptions were merely phenomenological: that is, the authors were writing as observers rather than attempting to report anything about the actual world. It is like when we say the sun rises, we aren’t actually intending to say the sun is orbiting the Earth, but rather just reporting something we experience: our perspective shows the sun rising.

Kyle Greenwood, in Scripture and Cosmology, argues that the biblical authors did, in fact hold to a three-tiered cosmology, and so the language should not be reduced to being merely phenomenological. He cites four strands of evidence for this conclusion:

First, whenever we find physical descriptions of the cosmos, it is described as three-tiered. Second, whenever we find… images or drawings of the cosmos, they are three-tiered. Third, nowhere… do we find the authors explaining their cosmology in any other terms besides the three-tiered system. Finally, we know that ancients thought of the cosmos in terms of the heavens, earth, and seas because eventually these ideas were challenged by Aristotle and Ptolemy, whose ideas were later challenged by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. (69, cited below)

Greenwood’s argument seems to me to be quite convincing. If we want to hold that the Bible’s cosmology is phenomenological, we should have some textual evidence that demonstrates a different perspective was in mind. We don’t. Thus, when an author in the Bible speaks of the skies being “hard” (Job 37:18, for example), this reflects an ancient cosmology.

None of this does anything to undermine the authority or inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy, I believe, should properly be understood as meaning “The Bible is true in whatever it teaches.” (See my article on the term “inerrancy” and its usage.) The authors aren’t trying to teach us about cosmology, that’s just a background belief. They must describe the heavens somehow, and they used the understanding they had of the cosmos.

What do you think? Can we reduce the language of the Bible to being phenomenological? What reasons might we have for doing so? How might we best understand the Bible’s cosmology in light of other Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, and how could that help us understand what the Bible teaches?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

Book Review: “The Lost World of Adam and Eve” by John Walton

lwae-waltonJohn Walton’s latest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve is primarily an exegetical attempt to get at what the Bible teaches about Adam and Eve. Walton applies his insights from the Ancient Near East (ANE) to the study of the Bible. Perhaps the central focus of the text, then, is the notion that unlike us, those who wrote the Bible and were its first audience would look not for material origins but rather functional origins and purpose. When applied to the topic of Adam and Eve, this yields a number of surprising conclusions about what the text is intended to mean.

Walton argues that the Genesis creation account does not specifically tell us how Adam and Eve materially came to be but rather is an account of God giving them their functions as the image of God, ushering in order against the chaos. His view is one which sees Adam as archetypical head of humanity rather than necessarily being the first ever human. Adam and Eve were chosen by God to become God’s representatives in the world.

Many intriguing arguments are put forward by Walton once he has established what is the central thesis–that the text is concerned with functional, not material origins. These include reading Genesis 2 as a sequel to rather than recapitulation of Genesis 1, the use of the term “very good” and “good” in the text, the meaning of “formed from dust” and from the rib, the archetypal meaning of Adam and Eve, the real existence of this couple, the priesthood of the couple in sacred space, our role as bringing order from disorder, the “serpent” in the Garden, and more. Each chapter is filled with compelling arguments and sometimes surprising conclusions.

Because the worldview of the ANE was not concerned with material origins, the questions we often ask of the text like “Were Adam and Eve the first humans?”; “Are we all descended from Adam?” and the like are questions which the text is not intended to answer. These are questions from our background, not from the background of the text. Thus, Walton argues that there can be much openness to the answers to these questions. When we come to the New Testament discussions of Adam and Eve, Walton (and the contribution from NT Wright) argue that this is why the notion of federal headship (though not necessarily material/genetic headship) is probably in mind.

Readers who are unconvinced by the notion that we should apply ANE insights to our reading of the text will be challenged to support that claim. Walton cogently argues that although there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between the worldview of the ANE and the Bible, it is highly questionable to assume that the writers and audience of the Bible would not have been influenced by their background and cultural understanding.

Regarding the science, Walton readily points out that he is not an expert in the area but defers largely to the experts. He applies the exegetical arguments to questions of original sin, federal headship, and the like in the context of  modern scientific findings, though he does so in such a way that he retains his commitment to teach what the text does rather than trying to force it to speak of our concerns.

Many (most?) readers will find this book challenging on a number of levels because Walton so readily exposes our presuppositions about what the text should say. Very often Walton simply points readers back to the text to reveal how often we have our expectations bring meaning to the text rather than allowing it to speak for itself.

The Good

+Excellent insight into the ANE background of the Old Testament
+Strong exegetical argument with a commitment to understanding the text
+Coherent with the rest of Walton’s thought
+Challenges our presuppositions about the text

The Bad

-A bit difficult to pin down exactly what his view is of original sin

Conclusion

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a fantastic work and one which needs to be on the shelf of anyone interested in the topic. It is surprising, challenging, and frequently enlightening. Whether one agrees with Walton or not, this book is a must-read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book courtesy of InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated to write any sort of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the copy.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

Source

John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Bible and Ancient Cosmology

ane-waltonEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Bible and Ancient Cosmology

Often, people who are discussing the various positions in the Christian origins debate and lining up as young earth, old earth, theistic evolutionist, and the like on a continuum (see my post on different positions on Creation) do not take into account the way that God worked in the Ancient Near East to bring forth God’s revelation. John Walton has some perceptive words on this issue:

Yahweh did not reveal an alternative cosmic geography to Israel in the Old Testament. But there can be no discussion of creation or many other important issues without presupposing some sort of cosmic geography. With no alternative presented and no refutation of the traditional ancient Near Eastern elements, it is no surprise that much of Israel’s cosmic geography is at home in the ancient world rather than in the modern world. (175, cited below)

Of course, Walton does not suggest that this means we reduce all discussion of the OT into discussions of the ANE. There were important distinctions: “The difference was that the natural phenomena were emptied of deity… they were instruments for [God’s] purposes…” (175).

Nevertheless, we should be aware of the ANE cosmology and see how that impacts our reading of the text. Rather than settling for ignoring the context of the text and what it meant to those to whom it was revealed, we should take into account this background. Walton’s book is simply superb for this.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Microview: “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” by John Walton– I wrote a brief review of this book, which I consider one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Books; Editiones Scholasticae, 2014).

SDG.

Microview: “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” by John Walton

ane-waltonJohn Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament is an introductory look comparing the thought and worldview of ancient near eastern societies (Egyptians, Mesopotamian, etc.) to the worldview of the Bible. Walton does an incredible job relating the two together in such a way as to neither trivialize nor lionize ANE thought and its use in interpreting the Bible.

The book is chock full of quotations from various documents from the ANE set alongside each other with comparative insight from Walton. It is organized in such a way that ANE thought is analyzed in regards to religion, cosmos, and people, with subdivisions of each. Throughout the text there are sidebars comparing what is being studied to the Old Testament, thus revealing many insights into the meaning of key OT texts. Walton’s approach is even-handed and fair.

I’d honestly say this might be the most interesting scholarly book I’ve read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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