John Walton’s “Greatest Hits” — Part 1

Many apologies for the lengthy delay between blog posts! On way too many occasions, when I had intended to summarize John Walton’s “Greatest Hits,” I found myself surfing the internet, aghast at how much science I’ve ignored over the decades. That, and reading Daniel J. Fairbank’s Relics of Eden! God, forgive me for: (1) ignoring your general revelation for so long, and (2) leaving my readers on the hook for what came next in my journey toward becoming an Evolutionary Creationist. Now that I’ve assuaged my guilt, on to what Paul Harvey calls “the rest of the story” …

Scientific Worldview vs. Integrity of the Text

In his wonderful online presentation, Walton offers up several options people consider when it comes to resolving the apparent contradictions between science and the biblical text:

(1) Construct an alternative science (e.g., Young-Earth Creationsim, Intelligent Design, etc.)
(2) Consider the text to only teach theological truths, not science
(3) Consider the text to be a vehicle for metaphor through use of poetry

Fortunately, these three options aren’t the only ones available to us. The first option, constructing an alternative science, is typically used when one cannot deal with the face value of the text. The YEC might say, “But I am taking the text at face value! The Bible clearly says that God created the universe in six days!” Walton, however, would respond that the Hebrews would have read the very same literature very differently. What a modern, 21st-century reader would consider a “face value,” or “literal,” interpretation of the text does not necessarily equate with what an inhabitant of the ancient Near East (ANE) would consider a “face value” interpretation.

In regard to the second option, considering the text purely theological, Walton asks whether Israel (or any other ANE culture for that matter) distinguished between “science” and “theology.” It is only because our understanding of the material world has progressed far beyond that of ANE cultures are we able to contemplate the difference between the physical and the metaphysical. Four millennia ago, that difference did not exist.

As tempting as it is to go for the third option, Walton urges us not to read the opening chapters of Genesis as mere literary expression, but rather as a literal (not literary) expression of Hebrew cosmology. Ironically, the YEC and ANE interpretations of Genesis 1 use the same methodology while producing two completely different conclusions as a result of their differing worldviews.

Does Genesis Concern Making Things?

99.9% of armchair theologians would say, “Duh!” to this question. ANE scholars, on the other hand, would likely smile and invite you to sit down with them for lunch and discuss some of the following points:

  • The overarching theme of Genesis 1 is that of God creating order out of disorder.
  • “Order” is thought of in terms of “functionality,” not structure. In other words, Genesis 1 is not speaking of God creating the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), but rather of God assigning function to the cosmos and its component parts.
  • The “existence” of an object is dependent upon whether function (or a name) has been assigned to it, not the fact that it takes up space. In ancient Egyptian thought, for example, things were considered “non-existent” if it wasn’t assigned a function.
If these points are true, then the entire YEC/OEC debate vanishes in a cloud of clarity! If indeed Genesis 1 is more concerned with function than structure, there is no need to argue over the length of the span of time during which material things were created, nor is there a need to argue which material objects were created on which day of the creation week.

Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology

Walton asserts that, “If the Israelites did not have a view of the cosmos like the one that was current in the rest of the ancient Near East, it would only be because God had revealed a different reality that transcended their old-world science. If God did not reveal realities such as a spherical earth or the rotation [on its axis] and revolution of the earth [around the sun], the Israelites would have had no way to arrive at these conclusions.” Walton is absolutely correct. In fact, if a careful study of the Old Testament is conducted, one will find unassailable evidence that the Hebrew understanding of the physical cosmos mirrored other surrounding cultures’ concept of their shared world. Sure, one might find a verse or two that appears to support a spherical earth, but when a list is compared side-by-side with scriptural evidence that the ancients believed the earth to be flat, well … flat-earthers will likely be overjoyed.

God “created”

The Hebrew word for “created” (בָּרָא, bara’) is used about 50 times in the Old Testament and has, as its objects, people groups (Ps 102:19; Ezek 21:35), Jerusalem (Isa 65:18), physical phenomena, abstractions, people (Gen 5:2)—all things which existed (or experienced, in the case of physical pehonomena) previously to their material “creation.” Contrary to popular belief, the word is “never used in context[s] where materials are mentioned”! Walton argues that, in these instances, God is establishing function and purpose. Thus, in Genesis 1, God is establishing order in the universe. Genesis 1:2 states the cosmos was “formless and empty,” that is, not lacking material structure, but rather order and purpose.

Walton’s conclusion is that “the text asserts that in the seven-day initial period, God brought the cosmos into operation by assigning roles and functions.” And, coincidentally enough, this is what you see occuring when you read Genesis 1. When read in this light, Genesis 1 may very well take on a completely new level of meaning from which you may be accustomed …
Com’on! I dare ya!

21 Comments

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21 Responses to John Walton’s “Greatest Hits” — Part 1

  1. Mike,
    EXCELLENT job describing the ANE background and context. You presented clear evidence for not interpretting Gen. 1-11 through a scientific, modern framework. Function, not form, was at the heart of what people back then were concerned about with their pre-modern science. And as you point out, they did not separate science and theology as we do today. From a certain point of view Ge. 1-11 is more true, more solid, more trustworthy than any modern science can provide. God is concerned with defeating chaos by making giving each created thing its proper function.

    As an slight aside–and I got this from reading Scot McKnight’s *Embracing Grace* this morning–God desires to use his people to undo the tohu and bohu (primordal chaos) that was reintroduced at the fall. In this fashion we get to participate with God in his new creation.
    Dan

  2. This makes my heart glad 🙂

    It all goes back to the nature of the Bible and hermeneutics. Did God create the Bible out of some divine whole cloth, or did He, as I rather think, sew squares contributed by His own creatures together into a quilt?

    I think He actually chose each square based on its distinctiveness, creativity, and excellence as literature that was relevant to the people it was written to. As it is sometimes — but not often enough — said, “The Bible was written for us, not to us.”

  3. Middleknowledge

    Mike,

    I have some things in common with Dr. Walton, and I believe his strength is the original cultural context of Genesis.

    My problem with Walton, at this point in time, is that he seems imbalanced to me.

    I would like to see as much work (or even more) done internally within Scripture as externally beside Scripture. As you know, Genesis is intimitely related to the rest of the biblical story, and especially to NT prophecy (in places like Revelation).

    Could you give me an idea about what Walton has written regarding these other parts of Scripture that clearly mesh with Genesis? Has he written anything on Revelation (particularly 21-22)?

    What I suspect is that the ANE view could focus even more clearly if it were to incorporate a proper eschatological approach (including all the implications that entails) by fully understanding the biblical connections (not just original cultural context) between Genesis and Revelation.

    The problem with Walton’s imbalance that I sense is that we could be making the same mistake (though admittedly much less severe) as traditioan YEC and OEC by using exterior sources (ancient cultures) to determine our interpretation.

    I will be the first to admit that external sources are essential to any proper interpretation of the Bible at any point. But I believe that at least equal weight must be placed on the internal, “Scripture interpreting Scripture,” principle so that the external context and the internal context provide “two witnesses” to a proper method of interpretation. Do you see how these two distinct but related arenas could actually work well together by providing confirmation to one another?

    When you get the new edition of Beyond Creation Science, you’ll notice the two new chapters on “Covenant Creation.” I truly believe this is another genuine alternative that far exceeds the YEC, OEC model and even provides serious balancing for the ANE model, though I will say that most of the best insights of the ANE model fit perfectly with “Covenant Creation.”

    In the end it would not surprise me if a lot of the insights of the ANE approach will come alive when viewed through the paradigm of “Covenant Creation.” I am not well-grounded in the ANE view, but I already see things that pop out at me. But if “Covenant Creation” is legitimate, then some of the assumptions which undergird the ANE approach may turn out to be flawed.

    Blessings

    Tim Martin
    http://www.beyondcreationscience.com

  4. Tim,

    Did you happen to watch the presentation? In the Q&A; at the end, Walton is excited to acknowledge that he and his colleague (name eludes me) who was writing a commentary on Revelation found some very intriguing common ground, but he didn’t delve into any specifics. I would guess, though, that he (like I) would tend towards the view that acknowledges the indebtedness of Revelation to Genesis in its inventory of imagery and mythological allusions, but rejects that they share a literary genre.

    I understand why your book leans towards internal sources, but I can’t help but wish you had put a little more emphasis on external sources. Trying to look at ANE literature without doing some serious comparison to other ANE literature is bound to lack some necessary perspective, I fear. Original audience relevance is paramount in my view hermeneutics; God did, after all, set Genesis and Revelation in two completely different contexts (time, culture, audience), and so why He would have ordained them to share the same genre escapes me.

    Looking forward to getting your book in the mail, though! I’m looking forward to finding common ground.

  5. Tim,

    Sorry for taking so long getting back to you on this.

    My problem with Walton, at this point in time, is that he seems imbalanced to me. I would like to see as much work (or even more) done internally within Scripture as externally beside Scripture.

    Can’t say that I agree with you on this, Tim. I believe that, first and foremost, we need to understand Genesis in its original context, without benefit of later revelation. I want to know FIRST what Genesis meant to those who read it FIRST. After that is accomplished, I can “connect the covenant dots.”

    Without a solid basis in Genesis’ original meaning, one can end up reading all sorts of things into scripture that really isn’t there, e.g., that the animals aboard Noah’s ark were actually people in addition to Noah’s family.

    As you know, Genesis is intimitely related to the rest of the biblical story, and especially to NT prophecy (in places like Revelation).

    Yes, it’s intimately related, but at what point in time did it become intimately related with Revelation? Only at the point Revelation was written. Not before. Later revelation can add many additional layers of meaning to an already existing text, but it cannot change the original meaning.

    Could you give me an idea about what Walton has written regarding these other parts of Scripture that clearly mesh with Genesis? Has he written anything on Revelation (particularly 21-22)?

    I’m not aware that Walton has, aside from Genesis, written anything substantial on any other book of the Bible. As for mentions of Revelation in his Genesis commentary, I don’t recall (and I’m on leave at the moment, so I don’t have access to my copy). Does anyone else have a copy of his commentary, and does it possess a scripture reference index?

    What I suspect is that the ANE view could focus even more clearly if it were to incorporate a proper eschatological approach … by fully understanding the biblical connections … between Genesis and Revelation.

    Do you not see that you’re putting the cart before the horse here?

    The problem with Walton’s imbalance that I sense is that we could be … using exterior sources (ancient cultures) to determine our interpretation.

    Is this not how we interpret scripture, by understanding each book’s literary genre (and, in some books, multiple genres)? And how are we to do that using just scripture? Neither our understanding of how poetry communicates ideas nor our understanding of the message of apocalyptic literature is derived solely from the pages of God’s Word. Our knowledge of these things extends beyond the boundaries of our Bible’s cover. A hermeneutical method that intends to interpret the Bible—a book written by people from different cultures, languages, and walks of life—by only reading the Bible is insufficient.

    Do you see how these two distinct but related arenas [ANE and Scripture-interprets-Scripture] could actually work well together by providing confirmation to one another?

    Of course. But from what I read of your original BCS manuscript, not once is the ANE approach ever mentioned or utilized.

    I am not well-grounded in the ANE view

    And that is something that needs correcting. 😉

  6. dnkwerner, you wrote, “As an slight aside–and I got this from reading Scot McKnight’s *Embracing Grace* this morning–God desires to use his people to undo the tohu and bohu (primordal chaos) that was reintroduced at the fall. In this fashion we get to participate with God in his new creation.”

    Since I haven’t read Embracing Grace, could you tell me from where McKnight gets the idea that “the tohu and bohu (primord[i]al chaos) … was reintroduced at the fall”? I ask this because that claim doesn’t resemble anything that the text of Genesis 3 actually contains.

    The exact phrase “tohu and bohu” appears only in Gen 1:2 and Jer 4:23. In the latter, the phrase is used in a vision of Judah’s future, so it clearly has nothing to do with “the fall.” Similarly, in Isaiah 34:11, the phrase “the line of tohu and the plummet of bohu” appear in the context of a vision of future destruction, again unrelated to “the fall.”

    Bohu never appears without an accompanying tohu. Tohu stands alone, without bohu, in a handful of verses. In Deut 32:10, tohu refers to the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered. In Sam 12:21, the word tohu appears twice but has no connection with creation or “the fall.” The word appears nine other times in Isaiah (in addition to 34:11, where it is paired with bohu). In most of these cases, it means something like “worthless” or “without cause” or “nothing” as in Isaiah 29:21, “they stretch out the innocent one in tohu,” or as the NRSV has it, “and without grounds [they] deny justice to the one in the right.” I’ll come back to Isaiah in a moment. Tohu appears in Psalm 107:40; Job 6:18; 12:24—in each of these cases it refers to a bleak wilderness in which a caravan might get lost.

    Coming back to the only two appearances of tohu (without bohu) left in the whole Bible, we have Isaiah 45:18, “he did not create it a tohu, but formed it to be inhabited,” and Job 26:7, “He stretches Zaphon [the north] out over tohu.” Both of these are clearly creation-themed texts, but neither relates to “the fall.”

    So on what basis does McKnight claim that “tohu and bohu … was reintroduced at the fall”? My concerns are firstly exegetical, in that such a claim makes no sense in light of the way that the biblical writers actually used the terms tohu and bohu, noting especially that in Isaiah 45:18 the opposite of tohu is “habitable” and secondly historical, in the sense of history-of-ideas, as my current scholarly project is a history of the use, influence, impact, and interpretation of the book of Genesis and I’d like to know from that perspective the origins of McKnight’s thinking.

    Thanks for any light you can shed on this question.

  7. Dan

    Christopher,
    Since I’m on vacation I don’t have access to Scot’s book so I’ll have to give my own ideas.

    The exact words “tohu and bohu” don’t have to exist for the concept, uncreation, to be present. Subsequent to the fall the goodness of woman and man in creation, that which God accomplished in the 6th day was in great part undone. Would you not agree that there is mass chaos after the fall, at least in man’s relationship with God and with others. Would you not agree that in worshiping the creation, creation’s intended purpose has been disrupted? This was so much so that God performs an uncreation act in Ge. 11 through the flood, almost reverting back to the original primordial chaos. Had there not been a righteous man, such as Noah, God may have had to start afresh.

    The context of Jer. 4 is one of exile. Many scholars believe that Ge. 3 has parallels to the exile itself (being completed/edited during or after the exile). Earlier in Is 45, another chapter you quoted, there is reference to the return from exile. Here God is promising to take the Israelites out of the wilderness culminating in the nations bowing to them. This can be seen as a parallel to restoration to Eden, a new creation. Israel was God’s instrument in restoring creation, and then when Israel failed in that task he sent his son. Being united in his son, we as his people have the task of joining in the work of God (we see this work in God’s election of Noah, Abraham, etc.) in undoing the chaos around us, both in our relationship to God and others and in our relationship to God’s creation, i.e. caring for the environment.

    For more on all this I also suggest reading *Simply Christian* by Tom Wright.

    peace,
    Dan

  8. Dan

    In my comment I said Ge. 11 referring to the flood. What I meant was Ge. 6-8.

  9. RE: “ANE scholars, on the other hand, would likely smile and invite you to sit down with them for lunch and discuss some of the following points:”

    The following points are then Walton’s idiosyncratic ideas about Genesis 1 and the Hebrew verb ברא. You apparently don’t know Bible and ANE scholars. Few if any biblical scholars share Walton’s opinion (and I don’t know any ANE scholars that do) nor has Walton published his ideas in a peer-reviewed scholarly forum for scholars to evaluate. In other words, as exciting as his ideas are to you, they are not substantiated.

    The most obvious way to read Genesis 1 is to read it as an ancient Israelite myth about how their god formed their present environment–structure, function, form, all of it.

  10. You sound impassioned about this. How familiar are you with Walton’s views? I told someone about Walton’s interpretation a few years ago, and he, too, seemed unimpressed – but for the reason that he thought it was nothing new in the scholarly sphere.

    What exactly about Walton’s approach do you take issue with? If you know as much about the ANE as I should think you would (given your education), you would understand the centrality of the concepts of ME/parsu to ANE creation myths. How is it an “idiosyncratic” leap to say that this particular ANE text has something to do with that common motif?

    Now, I’m in no way settled on the view that physical substance (structure) had nothing at all to do with Genesis 1 (and neither is Walton, for that matter). But if you know much about Walton’s position, you’ll see that he doesn’t argue that nothing physical was involved, but that because ex nihilo has very little to do with ANE cosmogony, we should not expect to see it in Genesis 1, either. Surely even you must agree that ברא was perhaps not the most obvious word to use in respect to “creation” if ex nihilo was what was being described.

    The most obvious way to read Genesis 1 is to read it as an ancient Israelite myth about how their god formed their present environment–structure, function, form, all of it.

    That’s a scholarly mindset if I ever heard one! The right way to interpret literature is to choose the most obvious interpretation! 🙂

    I fully believe that the Genesis 1 account is a Jewish adaptation based on earlier mythology. But it’s much too structured to be simply the beliefs of pre-Jewish Canaanites without any craftmanship.

    I suppose maybe your biggest problem is with Walton’s assertion that Genesis 1 is not at all about “structure”, and only about “functions”. Perhaps you’re right: perhaps it’s about structure and function both as you say. Perhaps Walton’s view of Genesis 1 is incomplete: how does this invalidate what he says on the part he’s got right?

  11. I don’t intend to publish a public refutation here of Walton’s views of Genesis 1. I wandered over here from John Hobbins‘ blog, who reviews the evidence for the meaning of bara’. My purpose in posting earlier was simply to note that one should not uncritically adopt Walton’s ideas about bara’ as if they are common knowledge. I do not think Walton has provided a convincing argument to redefine this key verb. From this, his other views seems to rise. Therefore, I think his precise understanding (it’s all about function) is in question. I do not have the book at home, so I cannot review his arguments on this verb and write a point by point refutation (not that I should spend the time doing it anyway). But my real issue is with his lexicography and the inferences he draws out from this.

    By the way, I’m by no means trying to argue that bara’ means creation ex nihilo. I’m not sure where you get that. The idea is completely untenable. I’m saying Walton hasn’t shown that it has the precise functional sense that he gives it.

    By the way, ME/pars.u are not common ANE concepts; they are Mesopotamian (Sumerian and Akkadian). Comparative mythology requires one to be careful about importing one culture’s ideas into another culture’s texts. But I honestly do not recall Walton’s treatment or how he invokes (if he does) the ME/pars.u, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

    As for your other comments–which seem to misunderstand my statement, I spoke very generally about Genesis 1 as myth on purpose because I wanted to emphasize that it is in fact a MYTH (probably written by the Priestly school sometime in the mid-first millennium with a high level of literary artifice and theological significance, especially in contrast with the imperial powers’ mythologies). Its role as myth is truly obvious for anyone familiar with the ANE. You don’t need to be a scholar to realize the importance of noticing obvious clues for interpreting a text.

    Generally, Walton’s book is very learned but very problematic. Here’s my review , which does not discuss Gen. 1 because I had bigger, more important fish to fry. I think he squandered a great opportunity to synthesize a lot of important material for students who desperately need to hear it.

  12. Fair enough. I acknowledge that Sumerian and Akkadian mythology is where the ME/pars.u terms themselves come from; I would suggest, however, that whether the distinction between “function”/purpose and physical substance still lingered in the ANE generally during the time of the composition/compilation of Genesis is a question worth exploring. Do we believe that Egyptians truly thought that Nut literally spread herself out across the sky, and that if you threw a spear high enough you might injure her? Were either the creators or primary recipients of mythology under the impression that the physical descriptions of the characters/settings were literally as described in the myths, or did they view their mythology as primarily concerned with conveying culturally relevant meaning, using non-literal narrative in order to do so? The latter is what is behind Walton’s conviction: is it really so rare among ANE scholars? The actual physical configuration of the universe was much less an issue for them than was its purpose.

    I spoke very generally about Genesis 1 as myth on purpose because I wanted to emphasize that it is in fact a MYTH (probably written by the Priestly school sometime in the mid-first millennium with a high level of literary artifice and theological significance, especially in contrast with the imperial powers’ mythologies).

    Agreed on all counts. Although I’m unsure as to where you’re going with this.

    I have not read the book you reviewed, so you may be interacting with things I am completely unaware of. What I am defending is what I find valid about the presentation linked to above and his NIV commentary on Genesis.

    As far as bara’, I suppose your biggest beef (and that of John Hobbins) is that Walton tries to argue that there was nothing physical involved. Inasmuch as he does so, with a little more research I might be willing to concede that Walton is overstating the case. Perhaps you may speak to the so-called framework hypothesis of which Walton’s view is a slightly nuanced adaption (the framework view has little to do with “functions”).

  13. I continue to see the need to nuance and focus my disagreement. My earliest post was too vague (I was writing with one thing in mind and expected readers to know that without me saying so): Walton is correct to talk about function. There’s no doubt that function is involved in the account (e.g., light is created for a function, and the sun and the moon do something according to Gen 1). There are many points about Genesis 1 that he makes that are important and typical of informed ANE scholars (e.g., the comparison of creation with temple building, e.g., and highlighting the motif of order vs. chaos). So you’re right to see my main problem with his highly doubtful understanding of bara’, which makes him read the entire Gen 1 account exclusively in “functional” terms. It’s not about material, it’s about function, he’d say. I really think this is where his desire to side step some very problematic contemporary concerns (evolution and creationism) pushes him out of historical bounds. (I don’t share these concerns since I’m not a believer.)

    So about that verb: If you look at Isa 43:1 bara’ is used in parallel with yas.ar, a verb whose participial form means “potter.” The first part of the verse is translated something like this: “Thus says Yahweh, your creator, O Jacob, the one who formed you, O Israel.” The parallelism suggests semantic overlap between the two verbs; I would suggest this overlap includes the idea of “manufacture.” Verse 7 of the same chapter uses bara’, yas.ar, and ‘asah one after the other. Granted, each of these verbs may have a slight nuance in meaning, but I seriously doubt one can put them in some kind of order or impose distinctions that permit one to interpret bara’ as “appoint, ordain, assign function.”
    Again, they all seem to revolve around the idea of manufacture. Perhaps Walton has an answer for this, but I haven’t seen it.

    You bring up something very interesting in the following:
    Were either the creators or primary recipients of mythology under the impression that the physical descriptions of the characters/settings were literally as described in the myths, or did they view their mythology as primarily concerned with conveying culturally relevant meaning, using non-literal narrative in order to do so?

    I don’t even know if they would have recognized what we call mythology as something distinct from, say, the exploits of a famous king three generations earlier (myth vs. history). So I’m not sure they would have explicitly been able to articulate the notion that myths could “convey… culturally relevant meaning, using non-literal narrative.”

    You’re basically asking how the ancients conceived of deity. That’s a tough question.

    We have situations, e.g., with the River god Id, who presided over judicial cases involving the river ordeal, where the text says the people will jump into “the god” (where the god’s name is used where I have “the god,” meaning the peole will jump into the river). The gods were supposed to have entered their divine image after the image was fashioned, but they were also supposed to have resided in heaven, but they were also supposed to have some kind of association with a cosmological or physical item (e.g., a celestial object). We are not dealing with a simple either/or between materiality and significance/function/purpose. In fact, the either/or way of posing the question may still belie our modern concern with materialism (including reactions to it). Lots of anthropological thinking has gone into how people relate their ideas about non-obvious beings to the world around them. And opinions range widely. Honestly, I think we’re still in the early stages of getting at this issue in Mesopotamia.

    I’m going to have to leave off without addressing the framework hypothesis, which I find interesting but also theologically motivated (though not necessarily wrong because of this). My kids are demanding attention today as are a huge stack of undergrad papers. . . . Maybe you could say something about how you think the framework hypothesis and Walton’s views relate. In any case, thanks for the challenging interaction.

  14. It’s not about material, it’s about function, he’d say. I really think this is where his desire to side step some very problematic contemporary concerns (evolution and creationism) pushes him out of historical bounds. (I don’t share these concerns since I’m not a believer.)

    I understand. It’s quite possible; he certainly seems to have some hang-ups with evolution, and his presentation begins by trying to re-direct and offer an alternative to the various competing creationist theories (curiously, but tellingly, leaving out the possibility of a strictly mythological reading).

    Again, they all seem to revolve around the idea of manufacture. Perhaps Walton has an answer for this, but I haven’t seen it.

    I really think Walton’s main beef is with the idea of ex nihilo creation. He does emphasize the point that bara’ is always used with preexisting structures. But you’re right that he does seem to prohibit the notion of manipulation of physical matter. Interestingly enough for the readers of this blog, modifying his interpretation along the lines you’re suggesting makes Genesis 1 read much more like a poetic/literary description of evolution, in that we’re talking about development from earlier, less organized/”purposeful” material!

    So I’m not sure they would have explicitly been able to articulate the notion that myths could “convey… culturally relevant meaning, using non-literal narrative.”

    Perhaps not in so sophisticated a fashion. But it seems to me that they’d be rather impatient – as are most not in academia today – with a story that told them about atoms and inertia and gravity devoid of any real sense of purpose or meaning. The desire of humanity for narrative, the usefulness of story for conveying raw facts, is something that remains in humanity even today. Analogies, parables, and fables all help us visualize abstract or recondite information with fresh eyes. I can’t help but think that the Egyptians, for instance, would have realized the dimensional problem of a slender goddess spreading over the whole, 360º expanse of the sky as she is pictured in period reliefs – could it be that they didn’t think that the mechanics was as important as the fact that there was a deity in charge of the firmament?

    We are not dealing with a simple either/or between materiality and significance/function/purpose. In fact, the either/or way of posing the question may still belie our modern concern with materialism (including reactions to it). Lots of anthropological thinking has gone into how people relate their ideas about non-obvious beings to the world around them. And opinions range widely.

    Great thoughts, Alan. I do think we are perhaps guilty of reading a bifurcation of natural and supernatural into the ANE where such a distinction was foreign to them. Walton is right to refocus our attention to the premium placed on meaning/purpose/function in the ANE; whether he goes too far in essentially asserting that the ancient view was a mirror image of modern materialism and focused on purpose explicitly is definitely worth considering. I wonder, though, if he would say that the Hebrews were unique in their lack of emphasis on material; for instance, having a non-corporeal deity who did not allow himself to be depicted as a “graven image” and who mocks gods of stone seems to be an argument that the Israelite divines (responsible, after all, for providing both the third commandment and Genesis 1) were being consistent by carefully avoiding exaltation of the creatures and referring only to God’s use for them.

    As far as how the framework hypothesis relates to Walton’s thesis, they both subdivide the creation week into two and have the second half in charge of the first half. One way of talking about the FH is to refer to the subjects of days 1-3 as the “kingdom”, and the subjects of days 4-6 as the “kings” in whose charge the “kingdoms” are entrusted. It avoids the problem of denying the manipulation of physical material; it retains the aspect of providing meaning and purpose for the objects. I’m not sure what makes you think that it’s a theologically motivated theory; perhaps you can explain, if you get a break from grading those papers 🙂

  15. Correction: I said, “and focused on purpose explicitly”. I meant “and focused on purpose exclusively”.

  16. For those interested in our recent discussion, check out John Walton’s recent response to some of these charges.

  17. Alan and Steve,

    Sorry it’s taken so long to interact with your postings. As you know, real life sometimes gets in the way of real life (if you get my meaning).

    Anyway, I wanted both of you to know that I appreciated the polite manner in which you two interacted. Hopefully, we can revisit this conversation after this fall’s publication of Dr. Walton’s monograph on Genesis 1.

  18. This is truly interesting.

  19. Bob

    Walton is a heretic, he thinks he’s the new martin luther. He sets up a false dichotomy between function and material. He automatically presses a Greek mind on a Hebrew mind, the exact opposite of what he says he’s trying to do.

    • Bob,

      Perhaps you’d like to read Walton’s more recent monograph on Genesis 1. It softens the perception that he’s creating a false dichotomy between the functional and the material.

      And the label of “heretic” is quite a charge. Perhaps you’d like to elaborate?

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