Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible Paperback – 1 Nov 2012
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As the authors put it at the end of their book: "Genesis was written to answer ancient questions for ancient Israelites" (Kindle location 1392). It wasn't written to answer modern questions about evolution or dinosaurs.
I don't agree with every point raised by the authors, but they do succeed in their goal of showing that Genesis has to be read as an ancient story through ancient eyes. This does not take away from the message of the book; I now have a greater appreciation for Genesis than before.
The authors also tackle the problem of taking slices out of the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to draw out moral lessons for modern audiences. They show that this was not the intent of the ancient writers and to use these stories for short moral lessons is to do violence to the larger story that Genesis paints.
The book is only a short one, which left me wanting to read more. The authors helpfully suggest other books for further reading.
There is one annoying feature about the book, which is the authors' writing style. They appear obsessed in mixing in humorous comments, which I found distracting and sometimes a bit bizarre. It is possible that they feel that this style will give them a wider readership. If like me, you do find this irritating, I do encourage you to ignore it and plough on with the book. It certainly has opened up a greater depth of understanding for me.
The authors' take may challenge some conventional, evangelical Christian viewpoints but they are explained in such a non-confrontational but reasonable and logical manner that it will not offend. It is a little bit too "street-American" English for most of us Brits but then, I guess they are the main target readership. Well recommended.
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The authors contend that Genesis must be read with Ancient eyes and in a way that would have made sense to the original readers of the book. Nothing controversial there, although a necessary point as we know from the multiple misreadings of Genesis. I applaud them for hammering that point home repeatedly during the book. The main thesis that guides their interpretation is that Genesis (and the Pentateuch as a whole) came to its final form during the Babylonian exile (586BC or so). It was a story written by people who were struggling to understand their identity as God's people when it felt like God had abandoned them. This makes great sense of the evidence in Genesis. How else are we to understand that Cain and Able knew about a sacrificial system before one was around? What about the references in Genesis 36 "before any king reigned in Israel"? And so on. But this view is more than a little controversial and to me seemed like a slightly more nuanced version of the Documentary Hypothesis. If you disagree with this starting point you're not likely to agree with much of the rest of the book. While there is much to commend this view, I was not wholly convinced. I found it raised too many questions about the historicity of the events in the Pentateuch.
That said there is much to be gleaned from this book. The big picture ideas are fantastic. Modernity has tried to read Genesis 1 & 2 through the lens of science, assuming it to be a scientific account. Of course it was thus rejected as myth. But we must read it through Ancient Eyes. The key point is not a scientific account but how Yahweh is better than the pagan deities of Babylon. While this doesn't settle the cosmological and evolutionary questions but certainly shifts the reader back to the original purpose of the creation narrative.
Another major thesis of the book is that Genesis is a prelude to Israels story. This I found extremely helpful. I had never thought of Adam as Israel. But the parallels were striking. Their interpretation of the Tower of Babel story was excellent. I was also struck by the sheer messiness and sordidness of the Genesis families. Yet God remained faithful to them. Something that is easy to miss if you've been reading Genesis for years. The writers dealt candidly and honestly with many questions people often ask about Genesis. E.g. Are there two seemingly contradictory creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2? If Adam and Eve were the only people on earth who did Cain marry? How did Cain start a city if there were no other people? Was the flood truly global? And so on....
I think many people will profit from this book. It certainly prompted me to go back and read Genesis again in light of these new ideas. Books that motivate one to study scripture are worth reading. However one big thing the book lacked was how Genesis connects to Christ. If that was there it would have been dynamite. It's hard to rate a book of this size. It was small for a reason, and it served a good purpose, but for the glaring omission of Genesis' relation to Christ and the lack of alternative view points presented with regards to the origin of the Pentateuch I gave it a 3 out of 5.
Insightful, challenging for one who has adhered to the literal 7 day thinking from Genesis. Easy to read, and my gosh, how can you not like Peter Enns??
I've changed so much of my thinking in the past 5-6 years and it's men like Jared and Peter who've help to push and challenge me along the way.
Again, I don't care if you agree or not...read it for the sake of being humble, open and interested in other perspectives from fellow believers.
Genesis is indeed the story of the people of God and Enns and Byas help us get back to it, even if it is not the story you know.
The authors expand on the theme that the story of Adam and Eve isn't about the first human beings, but is instead a story of Israel in miniature. Just as Adam and Eve were banished from the garden for disobeying God, so was Israel exiled from the promised land for disobeying God.
The authors go on to suggest that the emphasis on the flood story is not about how (reporting facts of history), but about why God sent a (local) flood, and why the Canaanites deserved everything they got. The authors also point out how Abraham's trip to and from Egypt mirrors the Exodus story. At the end of Genesis, a difficult period of growth is about to begin, just as at the end of the Babylonian captivity. Instead of thinking of this as distorting history, the Israelites saw it as connecting the present with the past.
The authors conclude by again pointing out that the book of Genesis wasn't set up to settle the timing and order of creation, but to answer ancient questions for ancient Israelites.
This book is an excellent, fun-to-read introduction to the entire book of Genesis, although the "Further Reading" page is much too short. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Old Testament.
Prepare to put on your thinking caps.