The Influences Of The Ancient Near East On The Book Of Genesis -- By: Richard D. Lanser, Jr.

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 23:4 (Fall 2010)
Article: The Influences Of The Ancient Near East On The Book Of Genesis
Author: Richard D. Lanser, Jr.

The Influences Of The Ancient Near East On The Book Of Genesis

Richard D. Lanser, Jr.

At many Bible colleges and seminaries today, students are told to understand the book of Genesis as typical ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature, sharing many features in common with them. Representative of scholars teaching this view is John H. Walton of Wheaton College. He proposes that, following a pattern scholars detect in ANE literature, Genesis 1 presents a cosmology that bypasses entirely the creation of the initial raw materials of the universe. Instead it regards them as preexistent, with their origin never addressed. This concept is probably most accurately reflected in his 2009 work, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. He asserts that things—by which he apparently means material “stuff”—are not the focus of Genesis 1 at all. Rather, he declares, “Genesis one is about God bringing order (functionality) out of disorder (nonfunctionality).” In his book he elaborates on this:

analysts of the ancient Near Eastern creation literature often observe that nothing material is actually made in these accounts… Scholars who have assumed that true acts of creation must by definition involve production of material objects are apparently baffled that all of these so-called creation texts have nothing of what these scholars would consider to be creation activities. I propose that the solution is to modify what we consider creation activities based on what we find in the literature. If we follow the senses of the literature and its ideas of creation, we find that people in the ancient Near East did not think of creation in terms of making, material things—instead, everything is function oriented (2009: 35, emphasis added).

The emphasized phrases show Walton is primarily concerned with understanding Genesis 1 in the light of ANE literature. This is confirmed in a blog comment by Walton himself: “I am attempting to understand the text of Genesis as an ancient Near Eastern text— wherever that leads” (2008). This marks a departure from the time-tested principle of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. It forces him to view the ancient Israelites as a typical ancient Near Eastern people, including embracing common cosmological ideas. He apparently does this because the Israelites’ overlapped in time and geography with other ANE cultures.

Walton further holds that, since ANE cosmologies assume preexisting matter, this also underlies the ancient Hebrew cosmology in Genesis 1:

The evidence in ...

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