Periodical Reviews -- By: John A. Adair
BSac 176:701 (January-March 2019) p. 101
By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary
“Before Human Sin and Evil: Desire and Fear in the Garden of God.” Mark S. Smith, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 80, no. 2 (2018): 215–30.
Modern scholars have often challenged the traditional Christian view that Genesis 3 describes humanity’s fall and introduces the concept of original sin. After surveying the debate, Smith proposes to address “what Genesis 3 says and does not say about the human condition and behavior” (218). This is ambitious, since doing the topic justice would require at least a monograph.
Yet Smith charges forward. He makes “three basic points” (218): First, he focuses on terminology used in the chapter, including “desire, knowledge, fear, desire again, and finally difficulty” (219). He concludes that, along with chapters 4 and 6, Genesis 3 “offers a deeply psychological representation of human nature” (218, emphasis his). He prefers this approach because the language of sin and disobedience is absent in the chapter (217, 219). His focus on the actual wording of the passage is commendable but, at the same time, quite rigid, given that concepts can be present even when specific abstract terminology is not. This is particularly true when story is the vehicle of expression. One could, for example, tell a story of being saved from drowning without using the words “saved” or “drowning.” It would be naïve to deny that the story is about being saved from drowning simply because certain words are absent.
Second, Smith asserts the story “is not simply informational or explanatory” (219). Rather, it is “performative” in that it “offers no explanation” for the origin of “human desire, fear, sin, or wickedness,” but simply “dramatizes them.” The appeal to speech act categories is appropriate, but what exactly is the illocution here? Surely there is more to it than “suspense” and “fantastical features” designed to move the reader.
Third, Smith suggests that “Genesis 3–6 provides the outlines of what the doctrine of ‘original sin’ attributes to Genesis 3” (219). These chapters “taken together dramatize several of the main elements of ‘original sin’ ” (he prefers “ancient sin” or “primordial sin,” 229), though they also portray “a series of u...
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