The ancient Near Eastern mode of thought is not at all intuitive to us moderns, but our understanding of ancient perspectives can only approach accuracy when we begin to penetrate ancient texts on their own terms rather than imposing our own world view. In this task, we are aided by the ever-growing corpus of literature that is being recovered and analyzed.
After an introduction that presents some of the history of comparative studies and how it has been applied to the study of ancient texts in general and cosmology in particular, Walton's Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology focuses in the first half of this book on the ancient Near Eastern texts that inform our understanding about ancient ways of thinking about cosmology. Of primary interest are the texts that can help us discern the parameters of ancient perspectives on cosmic ontology that is, how the writers perceived origins. Texts from across the ancient Near East are presented, including primarily Egyptian, Sumerian, and Akkadian texts, but occasionally also Ugaritic and Hittite, as appropriate. Walton's intention, first of all, is to understand the texts but also to demonstrate that a functional ontology pervaded the cognitive environment of the ancient Near East. This functional ontology involves more than just the idea that ordering the cosmos was the focus of the cosmological texts. He posits that, in the ancient world, bringing about order and functionality was the very essence of creative activity. He also pays close attention to the ancient ideology of temples to show the close connection between temples and the functioning cosmos.
The second half of the book is devoted to a fresh analysis of Genesis 1:1 2:4. Walton offers studies of significant Hebrew terms and seeks to show that the Israelite texts evidence a functional ontology and a cosmology that is constructed with temple ideology in mind, as in the rest of the ancient Near East. He contends that Genesis 1 never was an account of material origins but that, as in the rest of the ancient world, the focus of "creation texts" was to order the cosmos by initiating functions for the components of the cosmos.
He further contends that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is founded on the premise that the cosmos should be understood in temple terms. All of this is intended to demonstrate that, when we read Genesis 1 as the ancient document it is, rather than trying to read it in light of our own world view, the text comes to life in ways that help recover the energy it had in its original context. At the same time, it provides a new perspective on Genesis 1 in relation to what have long been controversial issues. Far from being a borrowed text, Genesis 1 offers a unique theology, even while it speaks from the platform of its contemporaneous cognitive environment.
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Customer Reviews for Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology
I begin by responding to the first reviewer who gave this book a 1. He was expecting something for the average layperson to read. It is therefore most unfortunate that his mistaken assumption resulted in a negative review of such an outstanding book. This book is written by a scholar for other scholars (primarily—though many informed pastors and laypeople can appreciate it if they have sufficient background). "Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology" was not intended for the average reader like "The Lost World of Genesis 1" was.
With that said, here's my review. Dr. Walton had a major insight back in 1998 that he followed up on with extensive research. It dawned on him that the ancients used a "functional" way of viewing creation vs. a "material" one, like we modern readers. This dramatically affects how we view Genesis 1 and other creation passages.
Walton published his idea in popular resources, apparently without first running it through the gauntlet of peer-reviewed scholarly evaluation. He wrote about his insight in his IVP Background commentary in 2000, his NIVAC commentary on Genesis in 2001, and of course in the "Lost World" in 2009. However, it's one thing to convince the general public who can't verify his insights from the Ancient Near East, it's another to persuade the scholarly community. In part, I'm guessing that's what "Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology" is all about.
In this book, Walton provides the firepower for his insight that unlocked many mysteries about Genesis 1. Genesis 1 has been so mysterious that it has generated countless different perspectives and interpretations, all of which somehow project our modern understandings onto the ancient author. In a sense Walton's insight and subsequent research allowed him to solve the mystery and provide a very clear understanding about what Genesis 1 is saying, verse by verse. He built on other scholars who provided well established "pieces" of the picture, but his insight tied it altogether.
As a scholarly treatise, this was a great read. I've read similar treatises that quote from German, French, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin without translating. So, while directed toward specialists, he made this more accessible (for folks like me who wanted a more rigorous investigation of the proposal in Lost World?).
This is an outstanding contribution to biblical scholarship. I think this book is a game changer that will affect the way that scholars, pastors, and lay readers will think about Genesis 1 for generations to come. They will acknowledge that the basic understanding of Genesis 1 has finally been apprehended with a great degree of confidence. His proposal makes SO much sense. Personally, my understanding of Genesis 1 has benefitted tremendously from Walton's writings and I am very grateful to him for that.
Thank you Dr. Walton!
I marked "value" not so high. The publisher could have produced this as softcover and sold it for $10-15 less. But that publisher specializes in scholarly treatises, and this volume was actually kind of cheap compared to their others!
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Review 2 for Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology
Tedious to the point of tears!
Date:April 24, 2012
Michael L. Greene
After reading Mr Walton's other book: The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this subject), I was eager to read this book also. My enthusiasm has dissipated significantly, however. The pages seem to drone on endlessly citing examples from what must be every last deity figure of the ancient world. I am 61 years old and have six years of post-high school education, and have an extensive Christian library which I am regularly adding to. In all my years of reading I can't recall a more tedious book than this one. It is excessively documented and footnoted with what seems to be every conceivable ancient religious, and modern theological reference to this subject. I would not recommend it to anyone, other than as a reference work for someone doing a doctoral dissertation on ancient cosmologies- for this it would be excellent! By the end of the second chapter my mind was swimming from the frequency of names of ancient deities, tablets, temples, and quotations of ancient texts, both in the text and in the abundant footnotes. I have no reason to believe that all of Mr walton's citations do not, in fact, support his conclusions; but for me they proved prohibitive to enjoying the book. This book would have been much more useful to ordinary christians to use in formulating (or adjusting/correcting) their beliefs regarding the origins debate if it were not (as I believe) so over-documented. I was hoping for a book which I could offer to my Christian and non-christian friends as a source of discussion in this very important area of debate. This book is not that book.