The Lost World of Genesis One – Personal Thoughts

This is my third and final post on John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One from IVP-Academic. You can read my posts on the author and contents: here and here. Thanks again to IVP-Academic for sending a review copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. First, John Walton is an expert on the conceptual world of the Ancient Near East. His expertise is apparent from the titles of many of his previous works, and it shines through in The Lost World of Genesis One. He displays the breadth of his knowledge most clearly in the chapters concerning the functional, rather than material, orientation of ancient cosmologies and in the chapters concerning divine rest taking place in temples. Readers may disagree with Walton, but I don’t think they can do so because they feel he hasn’t done his homework.

Second, Walton communicates in clear, ordinary language. If you have paid attention to recent posts on this blog, you may have seen Joel mention Walton’s forthcoming academic work on Genesis 1. Academic writers sometimes experience difficulties writing books intended for a wider audience; Walton has avoided this problem. As a result, The Lost World of Genesis One is a book on the first chapter of the Bible that I would not hesitate to recommend to an interested lay person in my parish.

Third, I appreciate the author’s forthrightness concerning Genesis 1, the theory of evolution, and public education. Walton declares:

The concern of this book is neither to tell scientists how they should or should not do science, nor to determine what scientific conclusions are right or wrong. It should be noted that this book is not promoting evolution. The issue I have attempted to approach concerns what scientific ideas or conclusions that the believer who wants to take the Genesis account seriously is obliged to reject … Biological evolution is the reigning paradigm, so we have asked whether this view requires the believer to compromise theology or biblical teaching. We have concluded that there is nothing intrinsic to the scientific details (differentiated from the metaphysical implications that some draw) that would require compromise.

Amen. Now I only hope that Walton can keep his job.

I will conclude with one critique that I did have of the book. I could mention that I would have liked to have seen more discussion of Genesis 1 as polemic, but other scholars have taken on that task elsewhere. My main concern was with the front and back covers. Although I realize words like “new” and “landmark” help sell books, I think they were overdone on this one. While many readers, especially pastors and lay people, will find this book helpful, I wasn’t blown away by the newness of it all. The cultural climate makes the work timely, and Walton certainly adds to the discussion about Genesis 1, but “landmark” (see back cover)? I don’t know. Maybe I have drunk too deeply of Qohelet’s teaching (Ecc. 1.9).

Overall, I highly recommend The Lost World of Genesis One. The combination of Walton’s expertise and his ability to communicate in ordinary language makes for a beneficial, easy read. I also look forward to reading Walton’s academic treatment of Genesis 1 forthcoming from Eisenbrauns.

*** update – I have been informed that the forthcoming title had already forthcome when I wrote this – you can also find it here

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24 Replies to “The Lost World of Genesis One – Personal Thoughts”

  1. If Walton hasn’t been canned yet, he’s probably ok. He has become one of my favorite scholars and I can’t wait to get a copy of his new title from Eisenbrauns.

    1. True. But, Wheaton did let Joshua Hochschild go for converting to Catholicism a while back. I guess that means Catholicism is worse than evolution … 🙂

      Walton’s stuff on biblical backgrounds is top notch.

    1. Do you mean internal evidence? As in, what are the linguistic parallels between Genesis 1 and the building of the tabernacle in Exodus or the temple in Kings? Or, do you mean external evidence? As in, which Ancient Near Eastern texts about building temples parallel Genesis 1?

        1. The link below gives a good start, but it’s a bit much to articulate a comment.

          Also, Walton’s book is good, but if you can get your hands on Levenson’s “Temple and World” in the Journal of Religion from 1984, it is also very helpful (and only about 20 pages). Levenson argues from the opposite direction, though – temple as microcosm. In the article, I think he says the connection between temple and creation is mentioned as far back as Josephus. This is why I said I wasn’t blown away by the newness of significant parts of Walton’s book.

          1. Thanks, but that’s Exodus and I was just looking for which verses in Genesis 1 and 2 the reader can discern Temple imagery or allusion or allegory or whatever.

          2. Since the 7 day structure has a lot to do with it (based on ANE parallels), you’d detect it in 1:1-2:4a.

            The linguistic parallels in Exodus are also taken by many as pertinent since both Genesis 1 and that portion of Exodus are generally described as priestly.

  2. “Since the 7 day structure has a lot to do with it (based on ANE parallels), you’d detect it in 1:1-2:4a.”

    Is it just the seven day structure? Because, if it is, most of us would take the seven day structure to relate to sabbath rest and see a parallel in Exodus 20:8-11 rather than the later chapters of Exodus that you directed me too.

    All I’m saying is, the actual textual evidence for Temple theology in Genesis 1 & 2 seems somewhat slight, even implicitly. Unless someone told you beforehand, one could read Genesis 1:1-2:4a a thousand times and never detect any Temple theology whatsoever. I’m just a bit wary of going by what someone tells me I *should* see there, when the simpler sabbath rest meaning is far clearer, though less theologically “sexy.” It sounds a bit too close to the Emperor’s New Clothes for my liking.

    Just sayin’ . . .

    1. No. The concept of “rest” is tied to the imagery. Again, based on ANE parallels deities “rest” in temples.

      There is also a priestly Decalogue is Exodus 34 (with a sabbath command), which is very near these other linguistic parallels.

      I don’t see the need to isolate the concepts of temple/tabernacle and sabbath from one another.

    2. Here is a short, free article by Jeff Morrow –

      It draws out more of the connections between – Sabbath, temple and creation. I’m not telling you just *should* see these things are there. Read Genesis 1 however you want to. But, reading Genesis 1 as a temple/tabernacle parallel isn’t just a fancy, new idea. It’s pretty well documented, as you can see by the footnotes in the article. As I stated in this post, this was one of my qualms with the book. At least this part of Walton’s argument isn’t terribly “new” or “landmark.”

      You might also see Weinfeld – “Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the Lord—The Problem of the Sitz im Leben of. Genesis 1:1-2:3” for more on the relationship between temple and sabbath. And again, also see the Levenson article. Leveson discusses in a bit more detail things like the “bronze sea” and the “lampstand” in the temple in regards to creation imagery (if my memory serves me correctly).

    3. The issue with ‘reading’ the Text is that in doing so, you are removing it completely out of it’s genesis, if you will. This is why study is appropriate to actual biblical criticism, commentary work, and ultimately theology.

      Scripture interpreting Scripture is a nice, cozy concept, but it is intellectual dishonest. Unless your only intend is to ‘read’ the ‘bible’, then actual contextual studies should be applied. In doing so, we discover that there is an underlying Structure to the Text which parallels other ANE literature. Some people just can’t deal with the fact that Scripture didn’t descend to a white guy

  3. I don’t have a problem with Temple theology as such, just that it flows naturally out of Genesis 1 & 2 in particular (where I see it most strongly is in the structure of the cosmos). To me, the Temple is a secondary emphasis of the seven days the primary emphasis being sabbath rest i.e. sure, God resides in his Temple so presumably rests there also, but the key point is not where he rests but *that* he rests on the seventh day, therefore humans are to have sabbath rest too (but not in the Temple, or certainly not in the Holy of Holies!).

  4. But that is just the point! Sabbath rest can only happen because YHWH is residing in his temple. That is what all the comparative data from the ANE points to and the point of Walton’s argument.


  5. I guess I’m just a bit wary that an awareness of Temple theology in Genesis 1 & 2 tends to get reduced, over time, to “it’s all about the Temple” and “sabbath rest theology”, so to speak, gets overwhelmed by all kinds of theologically “sexy” Temple allusions. Where I find Temple theology most illuminating and helpful is the creation as cosmic Temple but when it comes to the seven days of creation it doesn’t seem to me to add particularly much that God rests in his Temple, true though that is.

    1. Then the key is to make the connection, such as to say “it’s all about the temple” is to say “it’s all about sabbath rest.” I don’t think Walton, or anybody else in the comments here, is trying to overwhelm sabbath rest theology. Rather, sabbath rest must be understood in its proper context, which has a connection to the tabernacle/temple. For example, ancient Israelites couldn’t even celebrate sabbath rest properly apart from the tabernacle/temple since there was a special sabbath sacrifice (Numbers 28:9-10).

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