Creation in the Old Testament

Written by Bernard W. Anderson, ed. Reviewed By David W. Baker

In a foreword the series’ aim is stated as ‘collecting and reproducing key studies’ and giving a ‘balanced overview of the problems and various approaches to them’. This goal is approached by a new introductory essay by the editor, followed by nine further essays in English, all having been published during the past ninety years. Four of these have been abridged, with one being updated. They explore this important area from a number of approaches including comparative religion, linguistics, form criticism, theology and ethics.

Anderson’s introduction looks at ‘Mythopoeic and Theological Dimensions of the Creation Faith’, seeing the chronological development of the motif based on a critical reconstruction of the relative dating of the biblical texts. This development is from the creation of a people during the pre-monarchical period, through ‘order’, based on the election of David and Zion, the dependence of his creatures on God found in Psalm 104, the idea of ‘creation as origination’ in the Priestly source, and the new creation in Deutero-Isaiah. The discussions are useful, though some of their force is diminished if one espouses a different view of the relative dates of biblical passages.

H. Gunkel’s comparative study of the biblical creation account with Babylonian myth broke new ground when it appeared in 1895. He posits a series of mythic features in Genesis 1 and elsewhere which have Babylonian roots. While it is important not to read Genesis as arising from a cultural vacuum, many of Gunkel’s proposals have been abandoned or modified, though his contributions still merit study.

In another epochal essay, G. von Rad asks about the theological relationship between creation on the one hand and election and salvation on the other. He sees the former as only secondary and supportive of the latter. This controversial position has been debated strongly by a number of scholars, including three in this volume. H. H. Schmid, looking not only at the biblical evidence but also at ancient Near Eastern sources, convincingly argues that ‘the doctrine of creation … is not a peripheral theme of biblical theology but is plainly the fundamental theme’. C. Westermann in his contribution also stresses the importance of creation and the creator for all of theology. G. M. Landes, in studying ‘creation and liberation’, comes down strongly in support of the link between these two doctrines, with salvation and creation both being necessary for an adequate understanding of either.

W. Eichrodt looks at the first Hebrew word in Genesis, ‘in the beginning’. He compares the validity of its translation as a relative (rsv margin, neb) to an absolute (av, rsv, niv). He argues for the latter on linguistic and theological grounds. D. J. McCarthy compares the Ugaritic motif of the conflict between chaos and order with similar biblical motifs. He sees the Ugaritic documents as ‘merely sources for means to describe what is important … the proper ordering of the world of man’. H.-J. Hermisson observes the place of creation in wisdom literature. He looks in particular at Psalm 104 and Job 38–41, among other passages. In the final essay on ‘creation and ecology’, Anderson usefully explores the relationship between human and non-human creation. He looks at the place of violence in creation, deriving from man rather than God, and sees the current and future responsibility of man toward the rest of creation based on the Noahic covenant and the new creation.

In sum, this collection of essays serves as a very useful entry into the study of this key area of theology. While differences in pre-suppositions and procedures will preclude blanket acceptance by most readers of this review of all of the views expounded, the questions raised should continue to spark further research. One hopes that this will include work by conservative scholars, whose absence is marked in this collection. One suggestion which would increase the value of this collection for all its readers is that Scripture and subject indices be included in any future edition.

David W. Baker

Ashland Theological Seminary