John Walton has been kind enough to respond to my earlier post in which I challenged some of his conclusions on Genesis 1. Below the fold, he defends his conclusions with verve, and provides further supporting documentation. Enjoy!
The Goal and Purpose of Genesis 1: John Walton Responds
The reason that Genesis 1 has been understood as material for so long is because our world has been so entrenched in a material ontology that it cannot think that there is even another possibility.
On the meaning of ברא bara’, it is important to make the connection to the ontological argument. IF it is true (and I believe the evidence is substantial) that the ancient ontology is functional rather than material, then in their minds the line between existence and non-existence is a functional line rather than a material line. If existence is defined functionally, then to bring something into existence (=create) is a functional act. The ontology preceded the lexicography. In light of the ontology, the lexical data take on new significance as the objects of בראbara’ are examined. My raw data chart for ברא bara’ may serve as a point of departure (go here). The chart will be explicated in my forthcoming Eisenbrauns monograph.
So, why can't Genesis 1 be both functional and material? Of course it CAN be both, but each one would have to be demonstrated, not assumed. Material cannot be the default simply because we have come to think in material terms most naturally. So consider the following:
1. I have given evidence that the initial verb is functional; several of the other verbs (separating, naming) are functional and integrally a part of the functional ontology of the ANE; the literary context is functional (1:2 does not begin with no material, but with no functions; 8:22 clearly restores functions in the aftermath of the flood that most all agree was undoing creation and presenting re-creation); the cultural context is functional, the textual assessment throughout the chapter is functional ("it was good"-- known to be functional when contrasted to what is not good in ch. 2); and the theology is functional (temple and rest in temple). It is difficult to detect any material interest at any level. With the pervasive functional perspective, the burden of proof lies on the person who wants to incorporate a material aspect.
Of course there IS a material phase (just as there was in "creating" a temple)--but the question has to be what part of the story is told in Genesis 1? One could say that a material phase preceded the creation of a temple, but the actual creation of the temple would have been in the seven day dedication, which is functional in orientation. It would be like the tension we feel between the descriptor "person" rather than the dehumanizing "carbon unit." Notice also the rhetoric connected with labeling in the discussions of abortion ("fetus" vs. "baby").
2. Of the seven days, three have no material suggestion at all (day 1 [light was not viewed as something material in the ancient world, and it is day and night that are being created since they are what is named]; day 3, day 7); Day 2 has a potentially material component, but nobody believes that a solid dome actually exists, so if that is material it makes for some problems (some say that the רקיע raqiʿa is not the dome but the space created by the dome, but then it is likewise not material). Two days have material components (4, celestial bodies, 6, people) but the text addresses them only in functional terms. This leaves only day 5. So how can we say that the orientation of the text is material? Why should we assume that it must, should or could be seen as a material account? We need to ask what makes US so interested in seeing it as material? Does it not take on the appearance of special pleading? Consequently, you can see that the semantics of ברא bara’ is only one small part of the argument.
My 2003 Lecture at Calvin College
People should not just work off my 2003 lecture online because my thinking has had a lot more development since then. At that point I was not yet analyzing in the context of ontology. The treatment in the chapter on Cosmology in Ancient Near Eastern Thought is a more helpful presentation the information.
Just a side note -- someone on the blog brought up my lecture at Calvin and suggested that I got taken to task. It must be understood, that I had a relatively small time slot and my main topic was the Chaoskampf motif. I took about ten minutes at the end of the lecture to present the Genesis 1 theory and apologetically presented it only as conclusions without the time to present the supporting evidence. Of course people had questions and I fielded them to the best of my ability as time allowed. One of my respected colleagues there expressed doubts by asking what I would do with עשה ʿasah, since that seemed much more material. As you might imagine, the study of עשה ʿasah is far more complicated than ברא bara’, and all I could say was that having done the study, I did not find that it jeopardized the position. Full data to come in the Eisenbrauns monograph.
The Debate among Proponents of Young Earth, Old Earth, and Evolutionary Creationism
Contrary to the statement made by John in the original post, it is immaterial to me whether I "bypass the debate," for I have no vested interests in the debate. I am attempting to understand the text of Genesis as an ancient Near Eastern text--wherever that leads. If the conclusions reached in that attempt can be applied to the debate you mention with helpful results, that is fine, but I have no intentions in this respect.
Alan Lenzi’s Review of Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament
Alan Lenzi's review should be read more carefully. He took me to task, not on my data (though he disagreed with a few points as any competent reviewer should), but on his conclusion that I was still trying to use ANE comparative studies for apologetics. He acknowledged that I had stated that it was not my intention to do so ("Although apparently wanting to offer an alternative . . ."), but he concludes that I "explicitly return to this dichotomy throughout the remainder of the book." One of the main evidences he offers of this supposed methodological flaw is from a chart in the book (p.40), where I mentioned apologetic use, from which he concludes that was still pushing in that direction. Unfortunately, he misunderstood the chart. The chart was presenting how comparative studies HAVE BEEN USED, not how they SHOULD BE USED (noticing his misunderstanding, the chart will be more precisely titled in the next edition). It is equally unfortunate that he then decided that the book should not be used in universities because of its apologetics stance (a stance found primarily in his misreading of the chart). He seems confused that I would so contradict myself, when in reality, he has simply read the chart wrong.
Of course, I AM a confessional scholar, but the book was not an attempt to present or vindicate that approach but to move beyond it into common ground. I appreciate his review as I would any serious review, and I respect Prof. Lenzi's scholarship. But I was disappointed that he seemed to draw his conclusions based on something that I was not saying.
More Observations on the Meaning of ברא bara’
John in an earlier post cited BDB, but BDB is outdated both in information and in lexical semantic theory. It is characterized by a diachronic approach to lexical semantics that simply is unreliable. My conclusions were based on the data of the nature of the direct objects that the verb takes. If John or anyone else has a different read of the data, I would be happy to hear it. It is difficult to contest my conclusion that the objects are consistently functional.
John in the original post says that "For Walton’s redefinition to be plausible, he would have to show that all the ancient versions and the historical memory of the Hebrew language itself, which continues to use ברא Qal in reference to acts of creation, are fundamentally mistaken." That makes it sound that I am claiming that bara does not refer to an act of creation. That would be a misrepresentation. Of course bara is an act of creation--the only question is, what aspect of creation does it address. I would contend that functional creation was much more important in the ancient world, and is much more significant theologically. I tried to present the data that indicated that assigning functions is the ultimate act of creation. The fundamental mistake is that later interpreters and translators who cannot think beyond a material ontology have imposed their ontology on the text. You will recall that I likened Genesis 1 to a cosmic temple dedication account. What would the creation of a temple be? The material phase would only be staging. Even when the material phase was entirely complete, it would still not be a temple. The temple is created in the dedication ceremony when it is made functional.
John confidently asserts "bara in the Qal in ancient Hebrew probably has the specific concrete sense of ‘shape, form, fashion’ in Gen 1:27 and in Isa 43:1, 7; 54:16. A more generic “make’ is plausible in all other occurrences of ברא." What is this "probably?" Present the data across the spectrum of the 50 occurrences instead of making broad undefended statements. Why should anyone believe a "probably"?
I am surprised at John’s confidence when he says: "According to Walton, when Gen 1:21 says that ‘God created the great sea monsters,’ “the point need not necessarily be physical manufacturing as much as assigning roles (Genesis, p. 70). But this is strained." John has chosen ONE passage--I dealt with 50, and this passage fit the profile of the others (thanks to Rob for offering statements to that effect). You can't simply take one and deal with it independently. The fact is that Gen. 1:21 would be one of the occurrences that was ambiguous on its own.
If that were the only usage I had, it certainly would be strained. But I did not build my case on one passage. Only the other occurrences show clearly the inclination of the verb to refer to functions. John then follows with his statement, "Physical manufacture is the primary sense of ברא." What is the basis of this conclusion? John has not offered the evidence that should give him or his readers confidence in his opinion.
My Forthcoming Monograph
A full monograph entirely devoted to Genesis 1 with all of the ANE data and Hebrew lexical work has been on contract and in house at Eisenbrauns for two years. It was presented at a Midwest regional SBL meeting and I went right to book contract rather than start with articles. It is just caught in the logjam at the publisher and so has not yet appeared. Furthermore, a majority of the points that I make in presenting my position regarding functional creation are well-documented in the footnotes in Ancient Near Eastern Thought (though my conclusions on ברא bara’ were the result of my own study).
I hope this helps clarify some points.
John H. Walton, Genesis (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001); “Genesis and Cosmology” (lecture, 2003, go here); Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006)
The 2006 volume is reviewed by Alan Lenzi here.