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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Since the Beginning" (edited by Kyle R. Greenwood)

TITLE: Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages
AUTHOR: Kyle R. Greenwood (editor)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (336 pages).

The word "Genesis" means origin or beginning. It addresses questions about the origin of all things and the way the world was made. It is where history all begun. With the texts clearly written in Genesis 1 and 2, one might think the matter is resolved. Not really. There are different interpretations that demand attention. Even the word "literal" could have different meanings. In this book, we learn about attentive listening to these different perspectives. The purpose is to broaden our space for conversation so that we can better understand the texts and the nuances that come with them. The different views are provided by ten different scholars, each of them experts in the field they teach. There are both Jewish and Christian scholars and theologians. There are historians and Early Church teachers. The authors are also drawn from different denominations and faith backgrounds to give the book an ecumenical look and feel. A key observation is that many modern readers interpret Gen 1 and 2 from a modernistic perspective, and pay scant attention to how the early readers and listeners' understanding. In other words, our modern interpretations are biased toward our understanding instead of the original meaning. In order to establish a common framework for discussion, the four "explicit issues" are:
  • How 'days' are treated
  • Cosmology
  • Creation and nature of humanity
  • Garden of Eden

Kyle Greenwood looks at the chronological movements of interpretation beginning with the Old Testament itself. On the Old Testament, he notes that the biblical authors do not follow a consistent style, using both literal and rhetorical methods where appropriate. The cosmology used are familiar to ancient near east contexts. Michael Matlock offers a second temple Jewish perspective, using the Septuagint (LXX); the Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha; Qumran; and Hellenistic texts as sources. Here, Hellenistic ideas greatly influenced the interpretations at that time. There are highly developed understanding of angelology; allegory; and even the notion that Adam and Eve only had sex outside of the Garden of Eden because Eden was holy. Ira Brent Driggers uses New Testament eyes to see from both Jewish and Gentile eyes. The main focus is on the Person of Jesus and how the Genesis texts reveal Christ. Joel Allen of Hebrew Union College gives an early rabbinic perspective based on sources from Jewish commentary, the Midrash Rabbah. This approach takes the best of eisegesis, exegesis, and "performative." Stephen O Presley looks at the Genesis texts from the Ante-Nicene Fathers' point of view. He notes that the early theologians claim to have new revelation for understanding stories of creation.  Most notable of all was their "hermeneutical humility" to be open and not to be dogmatic about their own interpretations. Yet, this opens them up to a world of imagery that allows the to move freely through both literal as well as spiritual interpretations. According to C Rebecca Rine, the later patristic fathers (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers) take the intrepretation further toward "transformation" and expect Scriptures to touch and form readers. One thing we appreciate is that these patristic theologians do not simply see the biblical texts allegorically. They are serious exegetes too. They also taught us how to ask question of the texts, that we may conduct ourselves well. Jason Kalman helps us see the texts from the viewpoints of medieval Jewish commentators while Timothy Bellamah assists us with the medieval Christian interpretations. Jennifer Powell McNutt provides a Protestant Reformers' perspective that stresses  the need for literal interpretation. David Tsumura adopts an interpretive window from the ancient near east primary sources to do a "contextual, comparative, and contrastive" angle. Finally, Aaron T. Smith gives us a "Post-Darwinian interpretation" that brings in evolutionary biology perspective.

This book is an arsenal of perspectives that blows away any one-sided view of Genesis 1-2. It brings together a chronological and historical flow of interpretations to show us the rich dimensions each era has. Sometimes, modern readers tend to be stuck on just a modernist point of view and ignore the valuable insights available from their predecessors. Christians sometimes are stuck between two broad views: Literal and the non-literal. With this anthology of viewpoints, it would be wise to be "hermeneutically humble" and learn. After all, despite the wealth of knowledge and information, modern interpreters are furthest in terms of time and context from the actual creation accounts. By understanding the different views, we also get to piece together the various accounts so as to gather a bigger picture of the mysteries and questions surrounding the Genesis accounts. There is no one size fits all interpretation. Thus, the next best thing is to learn and to let each era inform our understanding. We may not necessarily agree but there is no harm in recognizing the alternative views that help us appreciate the diligence and hard work others had put in to clarify the texts. At the end of the day, we need to remember to let Scripture be authoritative and be less dogmatic about our own positions. When that happens, we can have better conversations and dialogues to keep us open to newer perspectives that may come not only from the past but also in the future.

Kyle Greenwood is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Language at Colorado Christian University.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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