Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton. The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton are scholars of the Hebrew Bible. The Lost World of the Flood is about the biblical Flood narrative in Genesis 6-9. Here are some thoughts about the book.
A. At times, the book seemed to imply that the Bible is inerrant, so
the author of the biblical Flood story must have understood the Flood
as something other than a literal worldwide event, since we know, on the
basis of science, that such an event did not happen. That comes across
as wishful thinking. At other times, to its credit, the book actually
made an attempt to argue that the biblical author did not regard the
Flood story as literally and historically true, in every detail. For
instance, it argued that the Ark was unlike ancient boats.
B. The book still maintains that there was a historical Flood,
albeit it was a local catastrophe. At the same time, it argues that the
biblical story employs hyperbole to make the Flood look like a
universal event, for divinely-inspired theological purposes. According
to Walton and Longman, the biblical Flood story fits within a larger
theological narrative about God dwelling with humanity and bringing
about order. The Flood is about God correcting disorder and essentially
resetting creation. In my opinion, the book was slightly unclear about
whether the biblical author deemed the Flood to be a worldwide event,
or instead was consciously exaggerating for rhetorical effect an event
that he believed was local. It seemed that, overall, the book was
arguing the latter, and yet the book placed the biblical Flood story
within the context of what it conceived as ancient cosmology, in which
mountains form the boundaries of the world. That would arguably imply
that the biblical author considered the Flood to be worldwide, in terms
of his limited understanding of the extent of the world.
C. Related to (B.), I am rather ambivalent about the book’s
argument. Can the biblical author portray the Flood as an event of
global significance, while believing that the Flood was not actually a
global event? Undoing and resetting creation: that sounds universal!
The book refers to the Conquest: it is an event of placing order in the
land of Israel, yet it is obviously exaggerated, as the biblical
Conquest narrative alternates between presenting the Conquest as
thorough and acknowledging that it was incomplete. Could the biblical
Flood story reflect the same sort of approach? Again, I am ambivalent.
D. The book argues that showing that the Flood actually happened
would not prove the truth of the Bible. That makes a degree of sense:
why would it prove Christianity, and not the other religions that have a
flood story? At the same time, Walton and Longman appear to be arguing
that the Flood itself does not have an inherent theological meaning,
that what is divinely-inspired is the biblical interpretation of the
Flood event. That is a bit nebulous, though. Why not say that God sent
the Flood for the theological reasons that the Bible mentions?
E. The book is informative about ancient Near Eastern concepts that
overlap with the Book of Genesis, including flood stories, genealogies,
and divine-human beings. The book even offers the interesting
suggestion that the Noah story was originally Akkadian. The book
explained some of the ancient Near Eastern Flood stories better than
other secondary literature that I have read. For instance, I have
wondered how the Atrahasis story could portray the gods as dependent on
humans for food, when the gods existed prior to human beings; how did
they survive before humans came on the scene? Well, the gods had to
grow their own food, and that is why they created humans: to grow it for
them. The book was rather unclear, though, on what the toledoth in
Genesis were. It seemed to be implying that they were ancient sources,
some of them going back as far as Adam. Many critical scholars will
disagree with that.
F. Surprisingly, the book effectively explained how the Bible can be
perspicuous while not being clear in every detail. It argues that the
Bible is perspicuous on salvation. Before, I have tended to dismiss
this idea. Perspicuous about salvation? Then why do Jews, Protestants,
and Catholics have different ideas about how to be saved? But Walton
and Longman offer a bare-bones summary of the Christian message: Christ
died and rose to save us from sin, and we should place our faith in
Christ. The Christian canon of Scripture does teach that clearly, I
believe. I should also add that Walton and Longman effectively tie in
their theological understanding of the biblical Flood story with themes
in the New Testament.
G. In one case, the book surveyed scholarly views effectively. In
another case, not so much. On where it did so effectively, it referred
to different scholarly views about the noisiness of humans keeping the
gods awake in the Atrahasis story. Some conservative scholars and
apologists like to make the Atrahasis story into a foil for the biblical
Flood story: God is justly punishing violence and sin in the biblical
Flood story, whereas the gods in the Atrahasis story are merely annoyed
because the humans are keeping them awake. But some have argued that
the humans in the Atrahasis story, by keeping the gods awake, were
challenging the sovereignty of the gods and fomenting disorder. To
their credit, Walton and Longman refer to that view. On where they
could have referred to more scholarly debate, they could have discussed
the debate over the view of William Ryan and Walter Pitman that there
was a massive flood around the Black Sea. Walton and Longman agree with
this view, while distancing themselves from saying that this was the
flood that inspired the flood stories in the ancient Near East. But
this view has been subject to critique since the Ryan and Pitman book
was published in 1998, though a 2016 study has affirmed it. Walton and
Longman perhaps should have conveyed awareness of this.
H. Stephen O. Moshier contributes a chapter that presents scientific
arguments against a global flood. It requires concentration, and maybe
even notetaking, if you are not a scientifically-inclined person and
want to follow Moshier’s arguments. The book has another chapter that
critiques the view that Flood stories throughout the world were inspired
by a global flood. It does so lucidly and effectively.
My questions and critiques notwithstanding, I am still giving this
book five stars. In many respects, it is an informative and lucid
treatment of the biblical Flood story.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.
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