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In the beginning . . .

by
27 June 2011

John Rogerson reads a discussion of Genesis

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Old Testament Theology: The theology of the book of Genesis
R. W. L. Moberly
Cambridge University Press £15.99 (978-0-521-68538-2)
Church Times Bookshop £14.40

THIS is best described as a series of essays on selected chapters and topics from the book of Genesis. The essays include an engagement with Richard Dawkins on the subject of creation, a consideration of James Barr’s view that Genesis 2-3 is not about a “fall”, and a discussion of the conclusions drawn by Regina Schwartz from God’s apparently arbitrary acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of that of Cain.

Dawkins’s use of the Flood story opens a chapter that considers, among other things, the relationship of the Flood narrative to the epic of Gilgamesh, and what happens if you interpret the end of the narrative with and without the clause in 8.21 which says that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was evil. The problems raised by the promise that Abraham would be a blessing to all the nations, the nature of the religion of the patriarchs, and the way in which some Christians have used Genesis 12.3a to justify support for Israel are next dealt with, as is the question whether Genesis 22, the story of the Binding of Isaac, portrays Abraham as a monster or a model.

Whether, and in what way, one can or should speak of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as “Abrahamic faiths” is a discussion in response to Karl-Josef Kuschel; and the final chapter engages with Gerhard von Rad’s interpretation of the story of Joseph.

It will be seen from this account of the book’s contents that what is meant by “the theology of the book of Genesis” is the interroga­tion of the text in the light of modern questions that are raised about it. The discussions of these questions often lead to alternative readings by the author — readings that tend to reaffirm, although not uncritically, more traditional understandings of the selected parts of Genesis. The author draws on a number of suggestions that he has made in earlier publications.

Readers will find that one of the most useful aspects of the book is the way in which it engages with writers who have used Genesis negatively rather than positively. It is a demonstration of why Genesis continues to be important for Jewish and Christian faith and practice.

Canon J. W. Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University.

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