Sunday, March 21, 2010

The cosmic temple

I was asked whether I think John Walton's "cosmic temple" paradigm is compatible or incompatible with a YEC chronology. Here is my response:

1. That’s an intricate question to answer. The answer depends one how we answer several questions: (i) How does Walton interpret his own position? (ii) Is his position internally consistent? (iii) Is his position all of a piece such that one must either accept it in toto or reject it in toto? Or is it the case that some elements of his position are more convincing than others, such that we can scavenge parts his position and incorporate those elements into a different paradigm?

In terms of real time chronology, he draws a distinction between temple construction and temple inauguration or dedication. He finds general justification of this distinction in the difference between the constructive stage of the tabernacle (Exod 35-39) and the inaugural stage (Exod 40).

He also draws attention to the 7-year construction of the temple (1 Kgs 6:37-38), in contrast to the 7-day dedication and subsequent 7-day feast (1 Kgs 8:65; 2 Chron 7:9).

He also suggests that Gen 1 may have served as the liturgy reenact and thereby commemorate the events of Gen 1 (90-91,99).

He thinks that Gen 1 has reference to the inaugural phase and not the constructive phase. There are, however, some difficulties or ambiguities with that position:

i) Gen 1 doesn’t distinguish between the creation of the cosmic temple and the dedication of the cosmic temple. Walton may think that’s implicit in the narrative, but the question is whether he’s getting carried away with the symbolism.

If the narrator in Gen 1 is using temple motifs to evoke the notion of a cosmic temple, he could be quite selective about what motifs he chooses to include. The narrator’s intention is not to describe or imply a systematic parallel with the tabernacle (or earthly temples like Solomon’s temple). Rather, he’s using temple symbolism to trigger certain associations and thereby foreshadow the Pentateuchal narrative of the tabernacle.

He never meant to suggest the process was the same in case. Rather, he’s planting narrative cues so that when the audience hears the later account of the tabernacle, they will think back on Gen 1 and realize that this world is God’s world. Holy ground. A cosmic theophany.

ii) Walton seems to think the inaugural chronology is literal. But if that’s his position, then, in consistency, the chronology of the material phase would also be literal.

In the case of Solomon’s temple, we have multiples of seven:




But to be consistently literal, if inaugural phase was 7 calendar days long, then the prior constructive phase was also 7 calendar days long

Perhaps Walton would object that we shouldn’t take the comparison that far. But, if so, then his argument from analogy begins to break down.

In addition, the septunarian numerology is an essential feature of both accounts. It’s meant to evoke and memorialize the Sabbath.

So to say the septunarian timetable applies to the inaugural phase, but not to the constructive phase, destroys the emblematic significance of the septunarian numerology.

2. I think the numerology is consistent with either YEC or OEC. On the one hand, the duration of a holiday can obviously correspond to real time.

On the other hand, numerology often involves a somewhat stylized use of round numbers to create artificial symmetries. I think we can see this in the flood account, with its recurrent multiples of seven.

3. There is also a difference between a symbol and a metaphor. A metaphor is a literary device whereas a symbol may be both literary and literal.

For example, Solomon’s temple is studded with symbolism. Yet Solomon’s temple was a real building.

By contrast, Ezekiel’s temple is (IMO) a literary construct (transcribing the seer’s vision). I don’t think that’s a blueprint for a real building.

And John’s depiction of heaven (in the Apocalypse, is also a literary construct, which makes generous use of Ezekiel’s figurative temple.

By the same token, I think the “cosmic temple” interpretation of Gen 1 is neutral on the YEC/OEC debate, for Gen 1 is both a text and narrative with real-world referents.

As such, the emblems of sacred time and sacred space could be figurative, literal, or a somewhat stylized depiction of reality. I don’t think a “cosmic temple” paradigm is sufficiently discriminating to settle that question. It may be possible to isolate the precise interpretation in light of other textual or intertextual clues, but I don’t think the “cosmic temple” paradigm per se will necessarily select for one over the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment