Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton #4

Walton GenesisToday’s post concludes my read through of Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, by John H. Walton. This section will discuss “rest” of Day 7 and present a summary of his conclusions. I strongly agree with Walton’s main points that Genesis must be read as an ancient document and that it presents creation as a cosmic temple. I am not convinced that Genesis deals only with functions, but I think it is an important discussion.  I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Walton closes chapter 4 with a section on Day 7 entitled "Temple and Rest in Genesis." His point is that Day 7 portrays God as "resting" on his throne in his "cosmic temple" on Day 7 and assuming rule over his creation and its functionaries that were created on the previous 6 days. This makes the seventh day the climax of the creation story, unlike the way it is usually portrayed in a more traditional material creation. Thus, the creation is a temple building project. The entire universe functions as a temple (Psalm 132, Psalm 78.69, Ezekiel 47, Isaiah 66.1) and the garden of Eden is the hub, control center, of the universe. Unlike other ANET texts, humans function with God in the temple and share in its rule. I would see the command to "subdue" the earth as God tasking humanity with spreading his rule and garden throughout the entire earth as happens at the end of the book of Revelation. Thus, rest is not God disengaging from the work of maintaining the universe. It is God taking control of his creation and ruling it in partnership with the human imagers he has created on Day 6. 

As is the case in temple construction, the mere completion of the material construction phase does not produce a functioning temple. Only when the functions are identified, the functionaries installed, and the deity has entered the temple does it begin to function. This is creation as it was understood in the ancient Near East. 183

God’s presence in Eden is understood to be the source of all life-giving waters. “It is not only the dwelling place of God. It is also the source of all the creative forces that flow forth from the Divine Presence, that energize and give life to the creation in a constant, unceasing outflow of vivifying power.” In conclusion then, the Garden of Eden is understood to function as the antechamber of the holy of holies in the cosmic temple complex. 186

The creation account at its core is a narrative of the initiation of the functioning of the cosmos by recounting the primary purposes for which the elements of the cosmos have been put in place and by officially installing the appropriate functionaries in their place. The entire cosmos is viewed as a temple designed to function on behalf of humanity; and when God takes up his rest in this cosmic temple, it “comes into (functional) existence” (real existence in ancient thinking) by virtue of his presence. The rest that God thereby achieves and enjoys facilitates his rule of the cosmos by providing the means by which he engages in the control of the cosmos that he has set in order (which is what is meant, in modern terms, by “he created”). 190

Chapter 5 is a short chapter summarizing the basic conclusions of the study. His main point is that Genesis is written to ancient people in a form they would understand, not to answer modern questions of material origin. Thus, Genesis shares much of the cosmology of the ancient world, but reworks what is shared to reveal information about the nature of God, the functions of the cosmos, and the identity and functions of human beings. For example, Genesis does not correct the three-tiered (waters below, waters around and waters above) ancient material view of the cosmos, but instead corrects its view of God:one God, not many, who is separate from His creation and has no beginning. There is no "battle of the gods" for control of the universe, but the One God who has designed and manages the universe to bless his human image bearers. Humans are not slaves to God, but are in covenant relationship with Him, with an important task to care for his sacred temple space (Eden), which ultimately extends to the entire cosmos. The key to reading Genesis is to read it as an ancient book which is revealing answers to timeless questions. We must understand it within its own time and context before we can apply its timeless answers to modern questions.

The God portrayed in Genesis 1 does not set up the cosmos to function for himself but for humanity alone, though his presence in the ordered cosmos is important for maintaining this order. Finally, the role and station of humanity in the cosmos is different. The archetypal presentation in Genesis relates people to God only through his image, thereby delegating to them a ruling role in the cosmos (not just over other people); furthermore, it views them as serving deity not by meeting his needs but by caring for sacred space. Thus, Israel shares with the rest of the ancient Near East the idea that cosmology deals with questions regarding human archetypes, but the archetype that is developed has a different shape entirely. 194–195

The greatest differences in both degree and number pertain to the divine world. Israelite thinking has no element of theogony, for the Creator-God of Israel has no beginning, and there are no other gods whose existence needs to be explained. Furthermore, divine functions are not related to cosmic functions in Israel as they are in the rest of the ancient world, so the origins of cosmic functions (i.e., their existence) is not related to the existence of deity. 198

The most important result of this study for the interpretation of Genesis is the realization that the Genesis account pertains to functional origins rather than material origins and that temple ideology underlies the Genesis cosmology. 198–199

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