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Finding Our Way Through Genesis Two

The fourth post I ever wrote on this blog was a recap of a talk I heard John Walton give at a meeting of the Wheaton-Naperville chapter of the ASA. Four years later I had the opportunity to hear him speak on Genesis 2 at the same venue. As it was then, it was a complete pleasure to hear him speak. His exegesis was fascinating and his manner engaging.

Walton began the talk by asking whether Genesis 2 is a detailed recounting of day 6 of the Genesis 1 narrative or if it's at some point later in the narrative. One problem he points out with the first option is that you have a different creation order in Genesis 2 than in Genesis 1. Additionally, he notes that every other time in Genesis where you have an account that is synoptic of the one preceding, it is a story about two brothers. Walton, then, finds it likely that Genesis 2 tells a story from some point in time after day 6.

Next Walton tackled the occurrences of 'Adam' in Genesis 1-5. 'Adam' in 1:26-2:5 is referring to humanity in general and has no definite article. Starting in 2:7, interestingly, we have articular usage, through 3:24. One would not expect this of a personal name. The names Adam and Eve, themselves, mean human and wife. Walton thinks that they were meant to serve as archetypes.

At this point Walton circled back to Genesis 2. If Genesis 2 is sequel to Genesis 1 then these people aren't necessarily the same people as those in Genesis 1. In fact Genesis 4 seems to require other people. Therefore, Adam and Eve aren't the only people on the earth. From here Walton carries out his archetypal reading. Everything said about Adam and Eve is also true of all humanity.

I won't detail the entirety of the talk, but I will bring up one really fascinating point. Gen. 2:7 says 'then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life...' Walton makes an interesting observation. He notices that dust is a poor choice if you want to make something. You can't mold it into anything. If you wanted to stress the earthiness, impurtiy, or fragility of humanity you would probably use clay as it conveys the same idea but is actually malleable. Dust seems to carry a different connotation, notably in 3:19, that of mortality. So being created from dust is not a comment on our craftsmanship, rather on our mortality. Anyways, immortal people would not need access to the Tree of Life. Only mortals would.

All in all it was a very provocative lecture. We're still at least a year away from his book on Genesis 2 being ready for print. I think Walton is right on in his archetypal reading. One point he repeatedly made is that he has no problem with the narrative being historical.[1] While historical figures certainly can function archetypically in the Bible, I have to wonder if these stories are so far removed from anything that may have happened that calling them historical has little value. Either way, the theological truth about the human condition and human needs is what the story is really about.

[1] He views Adam's "surgery" where his "rib" is removed as nothing of the kind and some sort of revelatory dream. Similarly, in Genesis 3 he sees the snake as the chaos monster. I add this to restrict the range of interpretations of historical.


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