About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Glenn Schaefer at Simpson University during my senior year for a class on Genesis.
J. H. Walton wrote the article for “Creation” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003; pp. 155-168). In his article Walton has four segments. In his segment on the “Sources” that the author of the book of Genesis had access to, he basically states that there are two main cultural sources—creation accounts from Egypt and Mesopotamia. In the segment on “Individual Features,” Walton shows similarities among the different accounts from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel. Some examples are the similarities of light/darkness, water, creation by spoken word and rest. In sum of the third segment, Walton uses the “Conceptual Worldview of the Cosmos” to show the people of the Ancient Near East (ANE) were not as concerned with cosmology (how the universe is structured) as it is with cosmogony (how the universe began). In the fourth segment, “Literary Features,” Walton states that the author of Genesis borrowed from other resources in the ANE, yet God still inspires the book. How well is this information presented, however? What was his goal?
Walton’s goal was to give some good literary and cultural background of the ANE so that the text of Genesis might be better understood. In fact, the most prolific section of writing is the introduction of the article. Walton explicitly states the purpose of his article: to engage the text of the Bible in light of the cultural background of the Israelites in the ANE with respect to the literary features of that era (2003, 156). This goal is accomplished, although not in the most beneficial way for all who read it. At the least, Walton did accomplish grounding the text in light of the literary and cultural backgrounds of the Israelites. However, he did not show relevancy to the study of the creation account found in Genesis or conclude his arguments.
The weakest point of Walton’s article is the fact that he does not conclude his segments except in one case. For example, he does not bring any conclusions to the individual features of the creation accounts. He devoted five pages or so to such features but does not give any conclusions as to how they directly apply to the book of Genesis and the people of Israel. Any correlations were implied as though understood by all who read it. The absence of conclusions leaves the readers asking what they are to do with the information, thus leaving them lost. This is by far the weakest feature of the article.
The strongest point in this article is when Walton gives a conclusion to one of his segments. His third segment entitled, “Conceptual Worldview of the Cosmos,” comes to a conclusion, thus relating all the previous material presented in that segment to the understanding of the cultural context of the Israelites. Walton surmises that the worldviews of the ANE have several similar elements as the Israelite worldview and they rest in issues of cosmogony rather than in deity. Walton sums it all up by saying that the people of the ANE knew they were created to serve God (or a god or gods), even though they did not know exactly hot to go about doing it. For the first time in the article there is a sense of relevance and pertinence to the study of the creation account in Genesis. Therefore, this conclusion serves as the highlight or climax of the article.
I appreciated the second segment of Walton’s article, “Individual Features.” In this segment, Walton goes through fifteen different features involved in different ANE creation accounts. This shows that the Genesis creation account is part of the ANE and shares particular elements with other ANE creation accounts. Understanding the different ANE versions of the origin of the world in comparison to the Genesis version helps illuminate the supremacy of God over the gods of the other ANE cultures. I also appreciated the fourth segment because it gave some attention to the fact that the author of the book of Genesis “made use of material from the ANE […] Inspiration can operate through editors, redactors and tridents as effectively as it operates through authors” (Walton 2003, 167). Even God reached Israel through the popular thought of that time.
Overall, this article was too informative. I would not recommend this article to just anyone, because the text was far from exuberant and the information bombarding. I would recommend this article to those who have an open and focused mind that is capable of drawing conclusions on its own. Otherwise, this article might prove to do more harm than anything by confusing and discouraging the reader by leaving them with the misconception that the book of Genesis is not original and thus not authentically inspired by God.
Dalton, J.H. 2003. “Creation.” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. T. Desmond
Alexander and David W. Baker, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, pp. 155-68.