“The Lost World of Adam and Eve” by John H. Walton

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing me with a review copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate immerses the reader into the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 in order to demonstrate the necessity of Genesis’ autonomy from the modern cognitive environment. In effect, he is able to explore Genesis 2-3’s implications for humanity without conflicting modern science. His research is honest to Genesis’ ancient cognitive environment. Even after illustrating the ancient context of Genesis 2-3’s message, he explores the New Testament’s use of Adam and demonstrates how it is compatible with Genesis’ ancient context. By his conclusion, he reasons that Genesis 2-3 is, in fact, not about human origins; rather, it is an explanation of how the priests of humanity, Adam with Eve, designated themselves as the ones who determine and create order in the cosmos.

Although Walton aims his work towards a primarily evangelical audience, it remains an essential analysis of human origins and Genesis 2-3. For any reader, he convincingly communicates the non-scientific nature of Genesis 2-3. In doing so, Walton allows for Scripture and science to maintain distinct and autonomous authoritative voices. And with the increasing secularism (not intended to be pejorative), he provides his audience the well-reasoned and thought out information to respect Scripture and the science of human origins.

Additionally, from an exegetical perspective, his sound approach to Genesis’ context explains many aspects of it which are generally missed by the common reader. For example, his pristine treatment of chaos in the ancient world clearly and concisely provides the reader with a proper frame by which to approach the text. Rather than leaving the discussion to the Hebrew bible, his clarity in connecting the information to the New Testament literature allows Christian readers to formulate more complete and thought out reasons for their faith. Even to those without a Christian faith, Walton’s book is a prime example of Christian scholarship which is honest with its materials, and yet also faithful to Christian tradition.

Overall, Walton is thorough covers many of the important aspects of Genesis 2-3. However, the one surprising bit which he excluded was any interaction with Jon Levenson’s Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Considering that Levenson exploration of the persistence of evil throughout the the Hebrew Bible agreed at many points with Walton’s conclusion, Walton should have utilized Levenon’s work more fully to paint a fuller picture of Genesis 2-3 and also support his conclusions.

In conclusion, John Walton’s exploration of the ancient context of Genesis 2-3 is an essential read to any person seeking to interpret Genesis 2-3 in its own context. For Christians, it provides an explanation of the New Testament’s use of Adam and allows them to better understand the underlying messages within the New Testament. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with what Walton considers to be authoritative texts, namely the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, his work opens up the ancient world to scholars and laypersons alike. With understandable language the reader is introduced to the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment and invited to read Genesis 2-3 in the same framework as ancient Israel. In doing so, the debate of human origins is no longer an issue and the reader recognizes how s/he can respect the sciences and the Scriptures.

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Re-Understanding the Leviticus Sacrificial System

Popular Christian tradition often defines and interprets ancient Israel’s cultic rituals and offerings in Leviticus through the narrow lens with which the New Testament discusses the issue of the sacrificial system. Passages like Matt 5:17-19, Rom 7:6, and Heb 10:1 leave an impression that the Levitical offering system was solely intended to prepare for Jesus and him alone. While this is undeniable in a sense, it is important to note the theological thrusts of these texts. Matthew, Romans, and Hebrews each work to demonstrate how Jesus fits into the grand scope of the Torah, not to provide a comprehensive discussion about the sacrificial system of Leviticus. Thus, in order to properly understand a book such as Leviticus, especially for a Christian, people must begin by recognizing that the New Testament is not definitive for Leviticus. If anything, Leviticus defines the New Testament and the New Testament operates within those parameters. Although it adjusts various understandings and interpretations (cf. Thomas Kazen 2002), it does not ever comprehensively discuss how the entirety of the system was abolished by Jesus.

In light of this brief discussion, what is required of biblical readers? Two basic ideas sum up how readers should approach Leviticus:

1) Recognize the layers of tradition within the offering system. Leviticus was not written over one year and left as the original copy 3,000 years later. Rather, it has been redacted through various editors who lived in their own time with distinct influences than others may not have had (cf. Yitzhaq Feder 2011). What readers read now is the results of centuries of redaction. As a final comment, that is not to imply that Leviticus in unreliable. On the contrary, it is reliable, except one must recognize the variation within it.

2) Leviticus should be read with recognition that the cultic ritual was central to lives in the ancient world. To ignore or place a glaze over Leviticus is to ignore the centrality of ancient Israel’s culture and life.

Although these are only two of many essential hermeneutic approaches to Leviticus, they are a good starting place. By observing these two ideas, it may actually be possible to read Leviticus. This begins with expanding beyond the narrow view of the New Testament’s understandings of sacrifice and atonement and moving towards a more comprehensive understanding of Leviticus that takes into account the textual redaction and centrality of sacrifice to the ancient world.