Posts Tagged ‘Pentateuch’

Sometime ago, Brian, my fellow infrequent contributor to BBG, offered up a post on five resources to help people understand the Pentateuch in a posted titled “Five Books for the Five Books.”  I wholeheartedly agree that the resources he listed are helpful, and would even now agree (I didn’t then, as you can see in his original post) that T D Alexander’s book, From Paradise to Promised Land, is the best book I’ve read on the Pentateuch.  The person not interested in source criticism would do well to skip the first 100 pages or so, but otherwise it’s a fantastic overview of what the Pentateuch teaches.

A few years back I picked up a copy of another study on the Pentateuch at a CBD Warehouse Sale.  I bought it because I recognized the author’s name from my Exegesis in Genesis class with Duane Garrett (and I’ll explain why he stood out to me a in a minute), and because the sale price was $6.79 (normally priced $24.99).  The Pentateuch As Narrative was my first introduction to OT scholar John Sailhamer’s works.  It took me a while to sit down and read through it a bit, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in it.  He has since gone on to write another book on the Pentateuch, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, which received a hearty endorsement from John Piper.

Sailhamer, who essentially gives a running commentary on the Pentateuch in this book, is at his best when he’s pointing out easy-to-miss connections throughout the Pentateuch.  For instance, Sailhamer shows verbal parallels between Noah and Abraham, demonstrating that they each “represent new beginnings in the course of events recorded in Genesis.  Both are marked by God’s promise of blessing and his gift of the covenant” (p128).  The same goes for parallels between the story of Abraham going in and out of Egypt (chapters 12-13) and the story of Israel doing the same (in the Joseph story and in Exodus 11-12).  “By shaping the account of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt to parallel the events of the Exodus, the author permits the reader to see the implications of God’s past deeds with his chosen people” (p142). 

I could probably list off a couple dozen other examples (connections between the flood story and purification laws, brilliant!), not all of which are entirely convincing, in my opinion.  But the effect of all this is in demonstrating that there is a narrative unity to the Pentateuch.  Whatever else one wants to say about the sources behind the Pentateuch (safe to say that Sailhamer is hardly convinced by Documentary Hypothesis advocates), the final form of the text is intended to be seen as a unity.

That is not to say, however, that I always find Sailhamer’s analysis correct.  I’ll give one quick example to make my point.

I mentioned earlier that Sailhamer’s name rung a bell with me for a specific reason.  In my aforementioned Exegesis in Genesis class, Dr Garrett mentioned Sailhamer’s view of the “days of creation” in Genesis 1.  I was quite familiar with the 24-hour view and the indefinite-period-of-time view (or whatever it should be called), and even the framework hypothesis.  But I hadn’t heard Sailhamer’s view before.

In a nutshell, Sailhamer argues that the days of creation in Genesis 1 are not referring to the creation of our planet (he does see that in Genesis 1:1, just not what follows).  Instead, these days refer to God’s creation/preparation of the “land” (read: Promised Land) for Israel.  You can find a more detailed presentation of his argument summarized by Matt Perman (who is actually summarizing Sailhamer’s argument in Genesis Unbound– apparently one book making his point isn’t enough!) at the Desiring God website.  One of the alluring features of this view is the use of “land” (eretz, in Hebrew) in Genesis 1 and the rest of the Pentateuch.  “The Land” is a common thread in the Pentateuch.  God had promised it to Abraham and his descendents (Gen 12:7) and much of the rest of the Pentateuch is centered around the theme of God preparing them to live in the Land. 

My reaction, though, is that Sailhamer reads the evidence backwards.  While I appreciate the verbal and thematic connections between Genesis 1 and various other places in the Pentateuch (God separating the waters on Day 3 and with the Red Sea), I would argue that the Red Sea account points back to the creation of the world, rooting Israel’s story (the creation of Israel) in God’s total creative power.  I’m intrigued, but not convinced (but could be, I suppose).

So The Pentateuch as Narrative would not be my first book to recommend to someone on the first five books of the Bible.  From Paradise to Promised Land still holds the #1 slot for me.  But I think it’s good for me to have someone throw a few curveballs.  That someone is John Sailhamer.  He comes to the text with a different set of eyes, picking up on details that I never would have seen.  While I may disagree, I’m rarely disappointed.

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Thanks again to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.


Sorry for 2 book review posts today, but I wanted to get part 1 of my review on this blog rather than referring you back to my old one.  I promise I’ll never do it again (yes, I am employing the universal promise-negation tactic of crossing my fingers).


I intended to use this part of my review of Waltke’s OT Theology to review his sections on Genesis, but realized how long it would end up being.  (Actually, I’m beginning to realize just how many reviews it will take to work through this book; a change of plans may be in order).  So, I’ll give some thoughts on chapters 7-11, which leads us up through the story of Noah.


His thoughts on the creation narrative were helpful, arguing that Genesis 1 is in fact history, but neither “straightforward history” nor science.  What is most important is what the biblical account teaches us about God as Creator.  “As the Creator of the cosmos, he [God] triumphed in the past, as Creator of history he triumphs in the present, and as Creator of the new heavens and new earth, when the creation theme peaks, he will be triumphant in the future” (p203).


I found his discussion of the “us” in Gen 1:26 to be fascinating.  Against the common Christian interpretation that “us” is referring to the Trinity, or even the less common “self-deliberative plural”, he takes it to refer to the “heavenly court”, that is, angels.  Two points from his argument revolve around the issue of the Hebrew word elohim, which is actually in the plural form.  He argues that in Genesis 3 the word is not used to refer to God, but rather heavenly or divine beings.  He notes that elohim is elsewhere used as “divine beings” rather than “God” (1 Sam 28:13).  Also (not to get to technical), “you will be like elohim, knowing good and evil” (3:5) uses a plural participle rather than a singular modifier (which is what’s used when elohim is referring to God rather than a plural group); the same wording occurs in 3:22.  There’s more to the argument, but suffice to say that I’m intrigued by his suggestion, granting that it may have the best support in context.  The big question I’d ask in response is whether it is said that the angels are also created in God’s image and is it fair to read between the lines and come up with a strong “heavenly court” concept. 


I appreciate that Waltke carried the story of the Garden into Genesis 4, where we see the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Here we see that the situation is worsening as they leave the garden, yet this story “assures us that I AM accompanies Adam and Eve and their family outside the garden (“I AM looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” v. 4) and superintends the giving of the seed of the Serpent and of the woman (“God has granted me another child in place of Abel,” 4:25) (p269).


Waltke follows Warren Gage in noting the parallels between Adam and the creation story and Noah and the “new creation” story.  I never realized how many lexical similarities there are between the two stories; there are enough that it’s hard to argue against the intentionality of the parallels.


There are a couple relatively minor problems, as I see them, with these chapters.  I was a little disappointed not to have a fuller treatment of the theology in the creation story and the flood narrative as compared to the similar stories in ancient Near Eastern literature.  To be sure, he discusses these, but I feel like there’s so much more to mine in this area.  When you compare the non-biblical accounts with the biblical ones, you can grasp the picture of God that the original audience would have been taught in contrast to their pagan neighbors (this is part of the role of exegesis, after all).  On this, I’d recommend Victor Hamilton’s treatment in his Handbook on the Pentateuch. 


On pages 273-275, Waltke discusses the popular Christian position that Satan is a fallen angel.  I remain unconvinced of this (though I’m willing to be).  Surprisingly, while rejecting (correctly, in my opinion) the interpretation of Isaiah 14 that says the Babylonian ruler mentioned there is actually Satan, he argues that the “King of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28 does refer to Satan.  On the grounds of context and genre, I see no reason to read this chapter as anything but what it says it is: a prophecy against the King of Tyre.  After all, it occurs in the middle of a collection of prophecies against various nations and evil rulers (context).  And, it’s poetry- it uses metaphorical and lofty language to make a point (genre). 


In all, these chapters were helpful.  His exegetical treatments of the biblical writings are superb, even if space limitations leave you wanting more (of course, I could solve that problem by purchasing his Genesis Commentary.  Like a good biblical theologian, Waltke tries to draw out how biblical writers use these stories and develop them.  Subsequent reviews will deal with this more, for now it’ll have to suffice to say that I am finding this book a profitable read.

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