The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origin Debate
by John H. Walton
(IVP Academic, 2009, 192 pages)
John H. Walton is an experienced Old Testament scholar. In The Lost World of Genesis One, he turns his expertise to placing the first chapter of Genesis firmly within the context of ancient Near Eastern literature. The book is written at a popular level and is intended to inform the creation vs. evolution debate at a practical level.
Walton argues that the authorial intent of the Genesis creation account can only be grasped if read in light of other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. Through highlighting the ways that Genesis parallels and differs from other creation myths, Walton sketches some of the assumptions that inform the ancient worldview of the author of Genesis. The major point of the book is that the cosmology of Genesis is “function” oriented rather than “materially” oriented. This means that the Genesis creation myth deals not with the creation of the material elements of the world, but rather, with the ordering of creation to function as a cosmic temple in which God comes to dwell on the seventh day.
The book is helpfully broken down into eighteen propositions which serve as chapter titles. Walton’s argument gets practical as he claims that the functional orientation of the Genesis creation account means that it is not concerned with the material origins of the universe. Genesis does not, therefore, have anything to say about the validity or invalidity of biological evolution.
The book is extremely helpful on a number of levels. Though it is in many ways a distilling of OT scholarship for a popular audience, Walton’s reading of Genesis 1 as an inauguration of the cosmic temple is original and illuminating. His basic take on the relationship between ancient literature and the natural sciences is clear, insightful, and persuasive. I’m not entirely sure that his functional/material distinction is as clear cut as he makes it out to be, but it does shed helpful light on a text that can be difficult to read with fresh eyes.