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« Does Genesis 1 describe the creation of things or the assignment of functions to things? A Response to John Walton | Main | Boycott! A Messianic Jew becomes a Finalist in the Independence Day Bible Contest »


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If the ANE ontology was functional, where/when did we switch to a material ontology?

Do we have later interpretations of Genesis 1 with a functional ontology? Or did the switch to material ontology happen so early that we don't have any functional interpretations of the creation story?


For those of you wondering.

The manuscript is in-house here at Eisenbrauns. We are hoping for a Fall/Winter 2008 publication date. We do not currently have the item priced or available for pre-order. But, I assure you, it will be Eisenbrauns pricing, not Brill pricing : )


Alan Lenzi

I am very happy to hear about the monograph. As important as popularization is, it's still important to communicate with colleagues in established and scholarly forums! I look forward to reading all of the nitty-gritty details.

I will have some more to say later.


I wonder when we talk of function, are we talking about purpose. They would be synonymous with one another, at least, in my understanding anyway.

When God creates he is giving purpose to what He creates. This agrees with the term "image" (tselem), with what is lost in the fall, and with the preacher in Ecclesiastes (all is vanity and chasing after the wind ... all is purposelessness)


Now I'm really curious about what you think of his argument now, John. I do hope you'll share some thoughts.

Alan Lenzi

For those unfamiliar with my review of Prof. Walton's book, it is not really pertinent to the issue of the meaning of ברא bara' highlighted in the original post here at John Hobbins’ blog. So what follows is a tangent, initiated by Prof. Walton, in the broader conversation.

Prof. Walton says that my main problem with his book is its apologetic purpose; he also says that in this I have misunderstood and therefore misinterpreted his book.

Let’s start with the first claim: He says, He [Lenzi] 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. That's true, I think Prof. Walton, despite his statements to the contrary, actually wrote an apologetic book. I should note, however, that this conclusion is not isolated from some of the disagreements in “data,” that is, some of the disagreements I have with Prof. Walton’s interpretations. To the contrary, some of these flagged Prof. Walton's apologetic intention. Here’s one of the details in data / interpretation that I found “problematic” or “unacceptable”: Prof. Walton says Mesopotamian ritual is based on “common sense and experimentation” (p. 136) while biblical ritual is based on revelation (“ritual procedures were not the result of revelation in anything like the sense that is found in the Pentateuch [instructions from Sinai], p. 137). He knows the texts well, and I think he would agree with me that the cuneiform scholarly texts and incantations frequently talk about the fact that they were revealed by the gods (šiptu ul yattun; ša Ea iqbû; pirišti / nişirti ilī). (If anyone needs more evidence, my recent monograph on secrecy shows how similar the Mesopotamian and Biblical mythologies of revelation actually are.) Why then does Prof. Walton make the generalization about Mesopotamian ritual when it is contradicted by the ancient texts themselves? I think the answer lies in Prof. Walton’s theological need to differentiate the Bible from its environment. In other words, there’s an apologetic agenda in this judgment about Mesopotamian ritual. So it’s true, I take Prof. Walton to task for his apologetic intent, but this judgment is rooted in particulars of the text, both explicit (as noted) and implicit (see my review where I discuss Prof. Walton’s telling use/lack of use of the term “myth” and his treatment of historiography.)

By the way, is there some rule that says a guy will get fired at Wheaton if he calls the Priestly account of creation a myth? Enuma elish is a myth. Why withhold the label from Genesis 1?

Before I sound like the evil agnostic who is trying to throw the believer out of the academy, my problem is not just with the book’s apologetic intent. Apologetic books are written all the time; and a person has every right to defend their faith. Rather, I have a problem with how Prof. Walton’s book clouds / hides the apologetic intent. Prof. Walton purports to be looking for common ground between confessional and critical scholarship. In other words, he wants to move beyond the impasse. So he presents himself as charting a middle course. Maybe that was his intention. I’m not calling him a liar. But I just don’t see evidence in his interpretations to back up the rhetoric. This really is a fundamental flaw in the book, in my opinion, because the text's agenda is submerged below the stated purpose; and this is something I think students will have a hard time discerning.

One can say I am reading against the author’s intention. But the text is what is central to this discussion. I didn’t have access to the author until today. And scholars don’t judge one another’s ideas based on intention; rather, on presentation. Texts are a matter of public record.

Prof. Walton, however, believes I have completely misunderstood him. He locates my problem, despite the evidence I mention in an earlier paragraph, specifically as follows: One of the main evidences he [Lenzi] 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 [I] was still pushing in that [apologetic] direction. Unfortunately, he misunderstood the chart.

See my review page four (bottom) for my initial take on the chart. The following assumes that discussion.

The chart on p. 40 is labeled figure 2, "Roles for Comparative Study." The text that points the reader to this chart is located on p. 38 just under the third major heading of the chapter, “Integrated Role” (of the Comparative Approach). The other two headings in the chapter are “Comparative Study and Critical Scholarship” and “Comparative Study and Confessional Scholarship.” I read this chapter then as Prof. Walton’s attempt to criticize both sides of the debate (critical vs. confessional) and find a middle course between them for the comparative method. This, I think, is outlined in the third section, “Integrated Role.” The chart on p. 40 is explicitly attached to this third section (p. 38) AND it is the very last thing in the whole chapter. It therefore has discursive prominence--- it looks like the capstone to the discussion. So one can understand why I have aligned the chart on p. 40 with the author’s attempt to find a middle course between the so-called extremes.

Prof. Walton says, 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). If this is really the case, then the chapter’s structure is very problematic. And the chart should be explicitly aligned with the confessional approach to comparative method. I would suggest a more thorough revision will be necessary to convey the author’s intention. But as it stands now, I don’t think I have misunderstood the text. The text may not represent the author’s conscious intention, but that’s not my fault.

As stated earlier, my main problem with the book is its hidden apologetic agenda. This judgment is not solely based on the chart on page 40 but several other interpretations and implicit judgments throughout the book, as noted above and in my review. There’s a lot one can learn from Prof. Walton’s book. My disagreement here and in the review, which could have used a little more tempering, does not diminish the respect that I have for his immense learning. I look forward to his forthcoming monograph.


Thanks, Alan, for clarifying your views, and for backstopping your earlier remarks in light of new evidence on the other thread.

I think it's only natural that a scholar approaches the data out of cultural loyalty of one or more kinds. It's wise, I think, to describe these loyalties to readers with care, and unapologetically. I tend to reconnoiter the cultural loyalties of a work I'm reading by looking at the footnotes. An intersecting set of loyalties is usually evident in a matter of minutes. I think it's important to learn how to read every work of scholarship, not only as an attempt to deal with the data responsibly, but as a confessional work of some kind, even if the confession is as limited as: "I'm a student of a student of W. F. Albright, and the leitmotifs of my research, its particular pietas, are largely explicable in that light."

So much of scholarship is about filial devotion of some kind. I'm not saying it's a bad thing.

John H. Walton

Thanks to Alan for clarifying his comments. There would still be a lot for us to discuss, but this is probably not the forum for it. Perhaps what can be said is that we appear to have different definitions of apologetics. There is a great difference between trying to "prove the Bible right" (a traditional approach to apologetics) and trying to understand and clarify real distinctions between the Bible and the ANE world, which all would admit exist. It was my intention to address the latter, and I would not consider that to be apologetics -- simply responsible scholarship that either confessional or critical scholars can engage in. That individuals might have differences of opinion about the nature of those differences would be no surprise.

As Alan already mentioned, none of this deals with my interpretation of Genesis 1, which was not a subject of his critique (though it would be presumptuous to infer his agreement on that basis).


not impressive because i was looking for the three main points in genesis ch 1 if you can send me than thanks

Jonnathan Molina

I apologize if this comes off sophomoric but: You rock Dr. Walton! I haven't enjoyed a theo-thread so much in quite some time (many thanks to Dr. Heiser for linking this in his blog, the naked bible). Thank you all for sharing your wisdom with the world!


The meaning and range of "bara" can be easily determined by looking at other words used with it in parallel constructs. Isaiah 43:7, for example:

"Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created <01254> for My glory, Whom I have formed ,<03335>, even whom I have made <06213>."

In that verse are two other words which illuminate "bara". All one has to do is use a tool such as the Online Bible to find other verses which explain "bara". So simple, even a ploughboy can do it.


Just in case someone overlooked it, Isaiah 45:18 offers another word which is equivalent to "bara" (01254):

For thus says the LORD, who created <01254> the heavens (He is the God who formed <03335> the earth and made <06213> it, He established <03559> it and did not create <01254> it a waste place, but formed <03335> it to be inhabited), "I am the LORD, and there is none else.

In addition to
"I have created" (01254)bara
"I have formed" (03335) yatsar
"I have made"(06213) 'asah
from Isaiah 43:7, we now have
"I have established" (03559)"kuwn" from Isaiah 45:18.

“כי כה אמר־יהוה בורא השמים הוא האלהים יצר הארץ ועשה הוא כוננה לא־תהו בראה לשבת יצרה אני יהוה ואין עוד” (Isaiah 45:18 BHc)

“כל הנקרא בשמי ולכבודי בראתיו יצרתיו אפ־עשיתיו” (Isaiah 43:7 BHc)

It should be fairly easy to figure out what "bara" can mean or even does mean, considering the numerous words used in a synonymous manner.


My guess, Hansen, is that Walton would note that in a passage like Isaiah 45, verbs which appear at first glance to speak about manufacture are actually speaking about the assignment of roles.

On my part, I see no reason to deny that the verbs are speaking about manufacture. It is purposeful manufacture, in view of a particular function or calling, but it is still manufacture.


There are four different words used in parallel constructs with bara <01254>. Yatsar
<03335>, for instance, is used in the Genesis account with reference to the forming of both man and animals (Genesis 2:7,8,19).

In Isaiah, it is used to describe the forming of "light" (Is. 45:7) and the "earth" (Is. 45:18).

In Isaiah 44:9,10 and 12 "yatsar" describes the work of one who makes tools of steel to use in the manufacture of idols.

Isaiah 29:16 uses "yatsar" in a passage which describes communication between the pot and the potter. Yatsar is used several times in Jeremiah 18. The NASB translates it as "potter". A potter is clearly one who manufactures things--pots.

While this is not an exhaustive review of the words used in parallel with "bara", it clearly illustrates that "bara" equivalents, in this case, "yatsar" sometimes are specifically used to describe the manufacturing process, particularly of idols and pots and man and animals. It is also used to describe the creation of the earth (Is. 45:18).


In the interest of completeness, another word used in parallel with "bara" <01254> should be considered, the word "chadash" <02318>.

This word appears in English translation as "repair," "restore," "renew". "Create
"bara" in me a clean heart and renew "chadash" a right spirit within me," is one example

"Chadash" may have the meaning of repairing or renewing something which already exists. The word is used in an abstract sense to refer to the renewing of the spirit (Ps. 51:10) or the restoration of salvation's joy (Ps. 51:12). It is also used in more tangible tangible ways with reference to repairing the temple (2 Chron. 24:4,12).

After looking at all the passages where "bara" is used and considering the parallel terms used with it, I don't see the idea of functional assignment as preeminent, if it exists at all.

"Chadash" certainly adds to the range of "bara" but not in the sense of function rather than manufacture. Am I missing something? Is the ploughboy approach really inadequate or are the professionals indulging in sophistry?



Thanks for posting your research. It's a start but keep in mind that linguists determine meaning by more complex forms of analysis - for example, a study of argument realization in the case of a verb, and componential analysis.

A problem with your approach is that your attempt to determine based on parallel pairs lacks methodological controls. I could easily reduce your argument ad absurdum by carefully selected counter-examples.

I happen to agree with the drift of your research, but if you want to take this further, you would want to compare your results with the very different results Walton has obtained - in part already published in his IVP volume.


John, Thank you for taking a few moments to reply. I wonder about the lack of "methodological controls" which might reduce my argument "ad absurdum". Could you provide an example or two to illustrate your point?

In this case, I'm more interested in the journey than the destination. Not a lot of people are qualified to critique the journey. I could run through the LXX equivalents of the Hebrew words used with "bara", but I'm actually more interested in what weaknesses the use of Hebrew parallelisms has in an approach like the one I took above.

Your observations are greatly appreciated.


I didn't know what to even say when I read Walton's commentary on Genesis. I think William Lane Craig summed up Walton's views on Gen 1 best when he called them preposterous.

John Hobbins


Craig's conclusion might be right or then again, he might not even understand what Walton intends to say.

Please present arguments, your own preferably, for whatever conclusions you feel are warranted. The raw conclusions of an apologist and philosopher on an exegetical question have no weight whatsoever apart from the arguments behind them. What are they?

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    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.