Friday, 6 January 2012

Dr John Walton - Genesis 1 & 2 as an account of functional origins not material

Have just been listening to Dr John Walton give a lecture on 'Genesis as Ancient Cosmology'.  I heard about Walton in a lecture given by NT Wright, in which Wright is impressed with the way in which Walton interprets Genesis 1 as being a temple document.

Basically, I was also impressed by the way in which Walton discusses the difference between modern scientific ontology and ancient near eastern views on being.  For example, according to Walton, the ancient Egyptians referred to the desert as 'the non-existent'.  The view that they, and many in the ancient near east, took to what we call reality was an eminently functional one.  (I am not sure, but I don't think that functional was equal to utilitarian, as such).  So, in modern parlance, to say of yourself at a party that 'I might as well not have existed' makes perfect sense to ancient near eastern ears.  That is, that even though you obviously inhabited a certain location within material reality at the party, you were unable or unwilling to function as a party-goer; thus, you didn't exist according to this functionalist logic.  The desert, then, even though it had obvious material presence, for the Egyptians did not exist because it held no function in their world.  Walton uses this point to draw out the conclusion that to read Genesis 1 as an account of material origins is to massively miss the point, as though what is interesting in the text (which itself functions as a myth of origins, not a science text) is how old the universe is, or of what it is made, or how it came to have its current material form.

There is a lot more, and I would recommend watching the hour long lecture.

1 comment:

  1. You are correct to give Dr Walton this platform through Tom Wright. The interpretive key is of course the ancient near eastern world-view, but alas, most people don't even know their own present-day world-view. I find this hugely challenging and unbearably too demanding to communicate in any way approaching sensible (given the short attention spans coupled with a sheer unwillingness to learn). Why is something so complex reduced to such cartoonish levels of silliness in our day and age?