Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11.
By Joseph Blenkinsopp, New York and London: T and T Clark International, 2011, xii + 214 pp., $100.00 paper.
Joseph Blenkinsopp, with a brilliant mind and admirable ability to write, is a Catholic scholar of considerable merit. He is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. His research is obviously familiar with rabbinic, patristic and medieval literature and he quotes with ease from the works of Homer, Hesiod, Plato, Shakespeare, Donne, Cowper, Nietzsche, and Barth.
The author adopts a format that assumes creation cannot be restricted to an event, nor to two versions of an event. He sees the biblical record as descriptive of an allegorical sequence: creation - uncreation - recreation. He utilizes speculative discussion rather than systematic exposition. His view of Genesis is best summarized by his statement: “… the Biblical text is a relatively late Hebrew-language version of a literary mythic tradition of great antiquity” (page 132). He relies heavily on the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, also called the JEDP theory, in which: J=Jahwist, E=Elohist, D=Deuteronomistic History, and P=Priestly Code. He sees these as the “sources” of the patchwork literary quilt of the Hebrew Bible. Blenkinsopp never explains or defends this theory but simply assumes that his readers know it and accept it as foundational.
Blenkinsopp, then, assumes Genesis to be composed of fragmented myths about Creation, the Flood, early man, and Hebrew origins. He contends these legends were orally assembled, and redacted through the centuries after being adapted from Mesopotamian mythology. He suggests the Pentateuch may have reached its final form as late as the Post-Exilic Period (538-432 B.C.).
The author is willing to allow for any interpretation of Genesis chapter one except “a straightforward chronological reading of the chapter” (page 20). He insists that the “ex nihilo” view of creation, though accepted by Judaism and New Testament Christianity, is not the preferred interpretation from a “linguistic and exegetical point of view” (page 30). The author finds it necessary to remind his readers that science assures us that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the catastrophic extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago “led eventually to the emergence of mammals, including humans” (page 5). There is not even the whisper of an acknowledgement that many Biblical scholars and competent scientists dispute this evolutionary tale; there is not in the bibliography a single entry that would indicate that Blenkinsopp has read any defense of a literal six-day creation; to be fair he does mention “creation science” (page131); nor would he be comfortable with a framework hypothesis for Genesis one and two. Such omission must be intentional considering the author’s acumen and ability. Given Blenkinsopp’s view of God, which could be charitably described as open theism, it is probably inaccurate to describe his view as theistic evolution.
Speculative discussion serves Blenkinsopp’s purpose better as he promotes Genesis 1 – 11 as mythology; his view is that the Bible has no more credibility or reliability than any other ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mythology. He is clearly conversant and comfortable with a plethora of mythologies and indicates they all have a contribution to make in understanding human origins and specifically the question of evil.
Blenkinsopp includes a litany of speculative mythology including Adam’s “first” wife as Lilith or perhaps a serpent-goddess. He is certain that there is no connection between “Adam” and sin but finds perhaps an allegorical explanation of the nature of death. His ethical concerns consist of how humanity can deal with a damaged world “into which we, like the first parents, have been thrust” (page 19).
He also is very much exercised over the long-term detriment of the concept of original sin and how that has adversely affected the advance of feminism. Blenkinsopp leaves little doubt about his dismissal of original sin; he laments, “This unfortunate tradition of denigration, in which male fear of the female played, and continues to play, a significant part, was perpetuated in Early Christianity” (page 79). The “traditional” view of original sin offends “our modern sensitivities” (page 80).
The author concludes, that Genesis 1 – 11, while not inerrant nor infallible, can provide us with “often surprising resources for understanding our place in the world, opening up new perspectives, and suggesting fresh points of entry into a revelation and worldview that can free us to go beyond our mundane formulations and taken-for-granted assumptions” (page190). What that revelation might be or what value that worldview might have, Blenkinsopp is perhaps reserving for another book.
There may be some value in such a book in a study of ANE mythology; its rambling format makes it less suitable for reference. The book could be useful for graduate students to observe the clear incompatibility the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis with the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.
Temple Baptist College, Cincinnati, OH