I have enjoyed being a part of the Brazog blog tour and reading other bloggers’ reviews of The Evolution of Adam, in particular James McGrath’s posts. It’s very rare that I am reading a book that many others are also reading and blogging on and it is refreshing to see others’ takes on similar material. In part 1 of my review on this blog, I provided an overview of the book, its intended audience, and Enns’ reason for writing it. Today we will look at Chapters 1-4, which are collectively referred to in the book as “Genesis: An Ancient Story of Israelite Self-Definition.”
As I alluded to on Monday, the title of the book is a bit misleading. Evolution is a reason for questioning a literal interpretation of Genesis, but it is not the only one and as a reason itself is not covered in depth. Instead, Enns chooses to focus Part 1 of his book on the other reasons, reasons that do not receive as much attention and stem from his discipline of Biblical studies.
The other two reasons come from Biblical criticism and archaeology. Biblical criticism showed, using “internal data”, that Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch as we have it now was written later than first imagined, during the post-exile period. This led to the belief that the Genesis creation narrative (and the rest of the Pentateuch) was composed as a theological response to its exilic crisis. Meanwhile, Biblical archaeology revealed from “external data” that Israel had a narrative context and that they freely adapted themes for their stories from surrounding nations. The combination of criticism and archaeology thus paints a picture of a nation writing stories of their culture and their own beginnings that were based on those of others but were uniquely shaped to reveal who they were as God’s people, in the good times and in the bad. (p 5-6)
In Ch. 2 (When Was Genesis Written), Enns puts forth some of the specific reasons that have led scholars to believe in a post-exile date for the Pentateuch. First, there are the many interpretative challenges that arise from either academic or even general reading of the text. Enns list 14 such issues from the first three chapters of Genesis alone. Second, examples from within Deuteronomy are provided which make Mosaic authorship suspect and also suggest a later date of composition. Enns points out that questions about these examples and others have caused issues to arise regarding authorship of the Pentateuch since the 4th century AD. Note that Enns does NOT say that these issues were concerns of the majority (or even a “healthy” minority); he is showing that differing interpretations existed prior to the major driving forces (evolution, Biblical criticism, Biblical archaeology) making themselves known. However, it wasn’t until later, beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries that the influence of Biblical criticism would be really appreciated. I’ll leave the details of this for the interested reader because this is outside of my field of expertise and this review is feeling bogged down already! Nevertheless, for those who are interested in this topic and are not familiar with the work of Julius Wellhausen, Ch. 2 is worth the price of admission. It is well written, informative, and interesting, which ain’t easy when talking about Biblical criticism! Or so I hear…
In Ch. 3 (Stories of Origins from Israel’s Neighbors), Enns writes that proper understanding of Genesis can only be achieved by comparing with the “external data” of other, older ancient near-east creation stories, a position brought to the popular level over the last few years by the work of John Walton. Enns crafts the term “genre calibration” to make this point. Yes, yes, 1000 times yes, he goes to lengths to show that Genesis is unique and does speak out against some of the prevailing ideas about God (or the Gods) and God’s behavior. Nonetheless, the similarities are profound.
Whether Genesis was inspired by the specific stories or arose out of a common worldview is insignificant; in combination with the arguments from Ch. 2, this means that the creation accounts in Genesis should not be considered as historical events. Enns states that Genesis must be read and understood by these ancient standards and that, as such, it cannot overlap with the scientific story of human origins. I would counter-argue that similarities or not, I don’t understand why it is directly and logically connected that Genesis can’t be a guide to scientific debates. I don’t think it can and I am not a concordist, but how does showing that the Israelites and others shared similar myths definitively mean Genesis (and Adam in particular) can’t contribute to “contemporary scientific discussions” about human origins? Perhaps I am arguing semantics here, but I don’t think so. Enns ends Ch. 3 by writing that Genesis is not a literal or scientific description of historical events but a theological statement in an ancient idiom and that we need to reorient our expectations of what Genesis can and is telling us (p 56). In these last few pages he writes persuasively, honestly, and forcefully, returning to his ideas from Inspiration and Incarnation. I appreciate his flair and transparency, but others may not. However, it doesn’t benefit anyone if he doesn’t lay it out there like he does. The end result is that his words will stimulate conversation, which as I mentioned in the first post of my review is a major focus of the book.
Although I would gather that Ch. 4 (Israel and Primordial Time) is the most speculative of the first 4 chapters, I must say I found it to be the most fascinating and the most personally rewarding. In it, Enns writes that Adam IS proto-Israel and that the second creation story in is placement of Israel in primordial time. The sweeping cosmic vision of Creation described in Genesis 1 becomes Israel’s creation story in Genesis 2. Enns notes parallels of Israel’s creation as a nation at the exodus, the giving of the commandments, the land of Canaan, and the exile to specifics of Adam in the garden. If you subscribe to the view that the Pentateuch was written post-exile, the mirroring is fascinating and Enns spends the majority of the chapter attempting to support his argument. (p 66)
On Friday, we will look at Part 2 (Paul and Adam). See you then.
p.s. I’m beginning to see why Rachel Held Evans wrote this in her excellent review of the book.
“ I wish I could get into all the details of what made this book so helpful, but this would require a series of posts that will have to wait for a later time.”
Once you’ve waded into the details, it’s hard to get out… !