The Lost World of Genesis: 1 – Material Origins or Functionality?

John Walton, in his book ‘The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate‘, argues that the early chapters of Genesis serve not to expound upon material origins, but to provide a basis for their functions. Apparently, this was not the concern solely of the author of Genesis but of the dominant Mesopotamian culture and their texts as well. It comes as no surprise then, that many parallels can be found between Genesis and concurrent Mesopotamian texts such as the Enuma Elish. There were significant contrasts as well, which I leave to a later post. But the point to note is that early Israel shared a similar cosmology and worldview with their neighbours. For the Mesopotamians, the gods determined the function of everything in the cosmos, and an object was not considered to exist until it had a function. Therefore, the Genesis account (apart from the first verse) is not about the creation of matter from nothing, but about the ordering of matter to serve a particular function. Walton draws parallels between the creation account in Genesis 1 to that of the setting up of the Temple.

With this, I launch into a new series exploring and reflecting upon the meaning of the first 12 chapters of Genesis, based on my reading of Melvin Tinker‘s book ‘Reclaiming Genesis‘. I’ve named this series after Walton’s book, as I like the mystery that it evokes. It reminds us that the world of Genesis and its author remains largely veiled from us in the 21st century, in the midst of the continuing quest to uncover its full meaning.

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