Friday, August 14, 2015

Is Gen 1 merely functional?

John Walton has various strategies to dissolve the conflict between Gen 1 and the scientific establishment. Indeed, he position suffers from overkill. On the one hand, he says God accommodated erroneous depictions of the world. On the other hand, he drives a wedge between functional and material origins. If Gen 1 is merely about functionality rather than materiality, then it can't conflict with mainstream science. If, however, God accommodates error, then why bother with the functional/material dichotomy? 

Be that as it may, let's consider that dichotomy on its own terms. Were ancient worshippers really concerned with the functional value of shrines rather than the material value of shrines?

Fact is, it takes very little to discharge the functional value of a shrine. Consider numerous references to impromptu shrines in the OT, many forbidden, Take the Asherah pole. That's pretty modest. Or a particular tree under which to perform human sacrifice. 

For that matter, compare the tabernacle to the temple. They were functionally equivalent. If functionality is the ultimate consideration, why the lavish outlay for the Solomonic temple? 

Moreover, pagan civilizations build physically imposing shrines. Take Mesopotamian ziggurats and Mesoamerican pyramids. Or sprawling Egyptian temples–with their forest of columns. Take the Parthenon. The Temple of Artemis. The Pantheon. Vast Hindu and Buddhist temples. 

These are designed to impress the viewer. A statement of wealth and power. If anything, functionality takes a backseat to materiality. 


  1. Disclaimer: I haven't read the details of Walton's argument that Gen 1 is merely about functional rather than material origins, so perhaps I'm mistaken here:

    If Gen 1 is merely about functionality rather than materiality, then perhaps it can't agree or at least find some congruence with modern science either? Not that Gen 1 was written to agree or disagree or otherwise accord with modern science. But my point is Walton may at the same time be undercutting Christians who do see there are reasonable aspects in modern science which may be relevant to use to defend Gen 1.

  2. The more I read about other theories of Genesis, the more I believe these OT scholars are sophists who want to have their cake and eat it to. It is all speculation.
    By the way Alexander Heidel in his book The Babylonian Genesis comes to a different conclusion than Walton. Heidel saw the material as preexisting but in Genesis it wasn't and therefore was unique among the ANE.