Encountering the Book of Genesis: Book Review
Bill T. Arnold, Encountering the Book of Genesis (Baker Academic, 2003), 234 pp.
Encountering the Book of Genesis: Goals
Encountering the Book of Genesis is part of the Encountering Biblical Studies (EBS) series. According to the editors, the goals of the EBS series include 5 intellectual goals and 5 attitudinal goals. The intellectual goals include: 1) present the factual content of each OT book; 2) introduce historical, geographical, and cultural backgrounds; 3)outline primary hermeneutical principles; 4) touch on critical issues (why some people read the Bible differently); and 5) substantiate the Christian faith. The attitudinal goals are a unique feature of the EBS series and include: 1) to make the Bible a part of students’ lives; 2) instill in students a love for the Scriptures; 3) to make them better people; 4) to enhance their piety; and 5) to stimulate their love for God. The attitudinal goals, along with intellectual goal number 5 (substantiate the Christian faith) make this series unabashedly evangelical in the truest sense of the word (seeking to share the gospel with a view to transforming lives). The goals also make it obvious that the focus of this series is on students. In fact, the publisher’s preface states that “this Genesis volume is intended primarily for upper-level collegians” (p. 13). This should not discourage any serious Bible student from picking up this book however. Although at times there is some “upper-level” collegiate language, the book is eminently readable and full of good information for anyone wanting to explore the main messages and issues concerning the Book of Genesis.
Encountering the Book of Genesis: The Structure
Arnold breaks his treatment of the Book of Genesis into 5 different parts. “Part 1: Encountering God’s Creation” looks at the so-called Primeval history found in Genesis 1-11. “Part 2: Encountering Abraham: God’s Faithful Servant,” treats Genesis 12-25. “Part 3: Encountering Jacob: God’s Troubled Servant” looks at Genesis 25-36. “Part 4: Encountering Joseph: God’s Model Servant” examines the rest of Genesis (chapters 37-50). “Part 5: Encountering the Authorship of Genesis,” completes the book by reviewing and evaluating the evidence on the authorship of Genesis. This includes everything from examining and evaluating the evidence for Mosaic authorship to surveying the history of the documentary hypothesis. A final concluding section surveys the story of Genesis and shows Genesis’s part in the canon of Scripture, especially as it relates to the Pentateuch (entitled: “From the Patriarchs to Moses”) and the rest of Scripture, including the New Testament (entitled: “From Moses to Jesus”). In terms of his actual commentary on the sections of Genesis, Arnold follows the toledoth (“these are the generations of…”) formula, which is the natural outline of the Book of Genesis itself.
Encountering the Book of Genesis: The Content
Each chapter of Encountering the Book of Genesis begins with an overview of what the student can expect to learn (laid out in terms of an “Outline” of the biblical text, and “Objectives”–what the student should know after reading the chapter). Similarly, each chapter ends with a set of study questions. Unlike some books with study questions, these questions are actually helpful in making the student think about the material covered in the chapter. By answering the study questions, the student can be confident that he or she has achieved the goals announced in the “Objectives” section at the beginning of the chapter.
Because Encountering the Book of Genesis is intended to be a student textbook, each section not only includes a commentary on the passage under consideration, it also includes photos, maps, charts, tables, and special text boxes that deal with specific topics. This layout has many features in common with the “Teach the Text” series reviewed elsewhere on this blog (see my review on the Samuel commentary in this series, including the Logos version which can be found here). The text boxes are often quite interesting. Some of the topics include: “Did God Use Evolution to Create the World?” (p. 27); “Life-Spans of the Pre-Flood Family of Adam” (p. 56); “Polygamy in the Bible” (p. 95); and “Levirate Marriage in the Old Testament (p. 150), to name only a few.
What I Didn’t Like About Encountering the Book of Genesis
While it is a great idea to include photos, maps, charts, etc., the black and white presentation of the Encountering Biblical Studies series is very disappointing. In most cases the black and white photos are so indistinct that they are not helpful whatsoever. The colorful cover of Encountering the Book of Genesis is very appealing, but sets you up for a major disappointment when you open the book. Next to the photos, some of the maps that are included are unhelpful. For example, under a section entitled, “Who Were Israel’s Neighbors?” (p. 44) a black and white map of the ancient Near East is included–so far so good–but the map doesn’t detail the names or places of any of Israel’s neighbors! I also didn’t find the map of the much-disputed location of Sodom and Gomorrah very helpful (p. 103). To be fair, however, many of the other maps included are useful. Another small irritant is the use of endnotes rather than footnotes. Considering that the editors didn’t want to muck up the format by having footnotes at the bottom of the page, this is understandable, nevertheless, for those of us who like to look at the footnotes, it is a constant nuisance. My final complaint about this volume concerns the binding. I have the paperback version of Encountering the Book of Genesis and I found it to be very unwieldy. The book is very stiff and difficult to handle when turning from page to page. As books become used and the binding relaxes, they can often be opened to a particular page without the entire book folding back in on itself. Such is not the case with this book. You must hold it open with two hands or give up trying to read a page. This feature is another reason why the use of endnotes is annoying.
What I Did Like About Encountering the Book of Genesis
What did I like about Encountering the Book of Genesis? Absolutely everything except what I have noted above. The text is well written and full of good information, especially for the beginning student of Genesis. Don’t let the 234 pages fool you; there is a lot of information packed into this volume! For one thing, the book is larger than usual, measuring 17.1 x 1.4 x 24.8 cm (Americans break out your measurement converters!), and consisting of two columns of text per page. Arnold is well-read. He draws from the best material available on the Book of Genesis and the ancient Near East and does a great job of distilling it for the student. He clearly communicates the main themes of Genesis (see my article, “The Theme of Genesis” for what these are), and deals with all the major issues pertaining to it. The bibliography is excellent and there is also a glossary to help the student with unfamiliar terms.
Besides his insightful comments on the text, Arnold has a couple of chapters that focus on helping the reader to gain the bigger picture of the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis. In Chapter 3 “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” (pp. 43-53), Arnold looks at Israel’s neighbors, ancient Near Eastern parallels to Genesis 1 and 2-4, as well as ancient views (including Israel’s) of the nature and makeup of the universe. In the chapter on the Flood story, he also looks at ancient Near Eastern parallels to the Flood (pp. 59-61). In Chapter 6 “Tracking Abram and His Family” (pp. 77-88), Arnold looks at the geography of the ancient Near East, deals with questions related to the historicity of Abram, introduces the student to the scholarly breakdown of ancient archaeological periods (Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, etc.), and discusses the nature of the religion of the Patriarchs. In my opinion, Arnold’s discussion of the religion of the Patriarchs (which he discusses in several places throughout the text), and its differences with the later Mosaic Period, should prove to be insightful to beginning students of Genesis. While some might call Arnold a bit “preachy” I would prefer the word “pastoral.” However one looks at his application of biblical truths (personally I liked it), he admirably achieves one of the stated goals of the EBS series.
Evaluation of Encountering the Book of Genesis
I suppose the highest personal praise I can give this book is that I plan on using it as a foundational textbook for my class on Genesis. The books in the EBS series are intended to be textbooks, and Encountering the Book of Genesis has certainly achieved that goal. This book deals with all of the major themes and issues related to the Book of Genesis, while at the same time doing it in a concise way. The text boxes, tables, charts, as well as some of the maps, also go a long way in visually orienting the student for a greater learning experience. I recommend Encountering the Book of Genesis, not only to “upper-level collegians,” but to all who are interested in learning more about the Book of Genesis, while also being personally challenged to grow in their relationship with the Lord.
Buy Encountering the Book of Genesis at Amazon USA / UK
- Series: Encountering Biblical Studies
- Paperback: 234 pages
- Publisher: Baker Academic (January 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801026385
- ISBN-13: 978-0801026386
(Special thanks to SPCK for sending me this copy of Encountering the Book of Genesis, in exchange for a fair and unbiased review!)