The Elephant in the Room of Old Testament Biblical Theology

Human beings can get used to nearly anything. People can learn to live under oppressive regimes, grow accustomed to wearing jeans that an earlier generation would have immediately thrown out, and adopt tap-and-go technology without a second thought. Familiarity breeds invisibility.

By such a means an Old Testament elephant has achieved a striking invisibility. My students in Old Testament Foundations, a first-year subject that covers Genesis–Kings, have the task of creating a thematic portfolio as their assessment piece, and may choose one of four themes, each with an associated student text in OT biblical theology:

  1. The story of Israel, utilizing the text by the same title by Pate, Duvall, Hays, et al.
  2. The presence of God, using T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem
  3. Covenant, using Sandra Richter’s Epic of Eden
  4. Kingdom, with Bartholomew & Goheen, The Drama of Scripture

I must confess to not having read each of these student texts from end to end; I have only browsed portions in connection with student work or class preparation. But wait, I’m working my way towards the elephant: that utter surprise lurking within the pages of our Old Testament that should leave our jaws hanging, but which through familiarity and a dull reading fog, we fail to notice.

800px-Paraceratherium_transouralicum

Not elephants, but the more interesting and even bigger Paraceratherium, member of the Pleistocene megafauna (
ABelov2014 (https://abelov2014.deviantart.com/) via Wikimedia Commons)

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Farewell, For a While, to Chronicles

I’ve had the personal goal for a while, a pretty nerdy and distinctly Old Testament one, of reading through the entire Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) in its original languages. I began in 1998, at bible college in Queensland, Australia, when I took my first Hebrew subject. I expect to finish this year. I have about eight chapters to go – the final chapters of Ezekiel. I’m no high church guy, and I’m not deliriously excited to be about to read eight or nine chapters of temple dimensions, but amidst the detail I almost always find a gem or two, and I suppose this will be no different.

This morning, I finished 2 Chronicles.

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Ten Books on the Boil: The Other Five

Well, the truth is you can’t really keep ten books properly on the boil. And a word from experience: this isn’t the kind of snappy title that attract readers to a blog post. Learning as we go. But, in the interests of finishing something that you start, here are some comments on the following five books whose reviews were flagged in a post probably two months ago:

  • Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (1996), by Marvin Sweeney
  • Interpreting Isaiah: issues and approaches (2009), edited by David Firth and H. G. M. Williamson
  • The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (1994), also by H. G. M. Williamson
  • Prolegomena to the History of Israel, originally 1878, by Julius Wellhausen (that ought to get a reaction), and
  • Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction – and Get It Published (2002) by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato.

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Ten Books on the Boil? The First Five

Are you one of those people who have 6 or 8 books on the go at once? A couple at the office, three or four on the bedside table, another one on top of the fridge? It isn’t the most efficient system, is it? Short attention span? Too many interests? When you know how you operate, you don’t keep fighting it, do you. So it’s going to be 6 or 8 books on the go for life.

In the absence of a more coherent & thoughtful piece, here are my ten or so books with a comment on what each is about and how good it is. There is, naturally, an Old Testament theme, and more specifically, most have to do with either Old Testament history and historiography (history-writing) or with Isaiah, my new teaching subject for this semester. Continue reading

Five Responses to Reading Genesis 1–2 (ed. J. Daryl Charles) #5

Amazing. I think we’ve reached instalment five, dear reader, of my review series dealing with Charles, J. Daryl, ed. Reading Genesis 1–2 : An Evangelical Conversation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2013). And not just within the same decade, I’m gonna get this done within the same calendar year, at the astonishing rate of a post on the subject about every six weeks. Ah well, it’s easy to impress when you set expectations very low.
Charles, ed., Reading Genesis 1-2

My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Four: “What Genesis 1–2 Teaches (And What It Doesn’t), by Tremper Longman III,” by C. John Collins. Now, finally, are my thoughts on:

Chapter Five: Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, by John H. Walton. Walton spent twenty years (1981–2001) teaching at Moody Bible Institute and has been OT prof. at Wheaton College since then. He’s quite prolific writing on Genesis and ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to Genesis and to the OT generally. He’s the only one of these guys I’ve heard speak in person, being lucky to catch him here in Australia within the last couple of years. The present essay is a nice nutshell version of his thinking on Genesis 1. I found myself agreeing with much that he said, but in the end he presents a solution to tensions over Genesis 1 that I suspect represents a bit of a fast move.

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Five Responses to Reading Genesis 1–2 (ed. J. Daryl Charles) #3

Charles, J. Daryl, ed. Reading Genesis 1–2 : An Evangelical Conversation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2013).
Charles, ed., Reading Genesis 1-2

My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Two: Reading Genesis 1–2: A Literal Approach, by Todd S. Beall.

Now I offer a few thoughts on the next chapter:

Chapter Three: Reading Genesis 1–2 with the Grain: Analogical Days, by C. John Collins (+ the four responses of the other writers)

At the time of publication, Collins was/is “Professor of Old Testament in the Dept. of Scripture and Interpretation at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He has a long list of achievements and publications in the interpretation of Genesis and understanding of creation, and brings scientific as well as theological training to the task. I was quite impressed years ago with his article, “How Old Is the Earth? Anthropomorphic Days in Genesis 1:1-2:3,” Presbyterion 20 (1994), 109-130, and he has more recently published:

C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsberg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).

Collins, C. John. “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matter,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2009), 147–165.

Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).

Collins’ position has remained consistent over the two decades or so since the first-mentioned article was published, and is reflected in the present chapter. The 2nd and 3rd titles actually reflect where the heat is in Genesis debates at the moment – not the age of the earth, the Genesis 1 days or evolution per se, but whether we should insist that Adam and Eve were literal people. Earlier in the present volume Collins cites N.T. Wright in a kind of cautious support for a historical Adam and Even (see p. 64 and footnotes), but that is not really discussed in the chapter under review.

So what is?

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Five Responses to Reading Genesis 1-2 (ed. J. Daryl Charles) #2

Charles, J. Daryl, ed. Reading Genesis 1–2 : An Evangelical Conversation (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2013).
Charles, ed., Reading Genesis 1-2
Further to my recent post responding to Chapter One: A Literary-Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1–2, by Richard E. Averbeck, here are my responses to the next chapter:
Chapter Two: Reading Genesis 1–2: A Literal Approach, by Todd S. Beall.

Beall is the head OT prof at Capital Bible Seminary, which appears to fall under the aegis of Lancaster Bible College headquartered at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA. He is the lone young-earth creationist voice in this book and seems to represent what I would call a ‘standard’ version of that position.

My response to Beall’s essay is generally that I sympathize with some of his fears about the risks of a less literal view of Genesis 1 for our view of the Bible, but that I don’t think his arguments are very strong at times, and find his thinking at times too simplistic. He lives in a more black-and-white world than I do, though I think it’s vital to believe in ‘true truth’ and not drift into relativism. Let’s pick out a few specifics:

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