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Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary Paperback – September 1, 2005
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"From every standpointmethodological and theological, structural and syntactical, linguistic and literary, apologetic and and worldviewthis expository survey is a model of 'good reading' of the text. Here you have a landmark treatment of Genesis 1-4 as canonical communication from God, a work of detailed scholarship that no serious student or honest teacher will henceforth be able to ignore." --J. I. Packer
About the Author
C. John Collins (PhD, University of Liverpool) is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the author of The God of Miracles and Science and Faith.
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Top Customer Reviews
There have always been questions and disagreements as to the correct understanding of these texts, and, for the last two centuries, questions and disagreements as to the sources and motives involved in the texts. For Collins, all of these issues, as they relate to the chapters being studied, are scrutinized. After explaining why we must reject the expositional assertions of some readers and scholars--that these texts not be viewed through the lenses of subsequent ancient writers, Collins examines the "allusions, echoes, and reverberations" relating to these texts that we find in later Old Testament, inter-testamental, and New Testament writings.
As must be expected, Collins' expositions and conclusions may not please those who enter into Biblical studies with firm conclusions already demanded at the outset. Some may disapprove of his frequent examination of the inter-testament writings, but to do so would be to misunderstand the larger expositional process. Some may dislike his conclusions regarding the meaning of the Genesis 1 creation "days," but his position seems well supported and appropriately tentative (as I believe any honest treatment must be). He finds the "literal" (i.e., "normal day" or "24-hour day" theory) understanding to be inconsistent with, and uncooperative with, immediate texts and later reverberations. He seems to take a position that embraces the "literary" understanding as to the "days" being structural literary devices, but also goes at least part way with the "day-age" theory in that he sees no reason to set aside the abstract sequence of the discourse. (Collins shows no interest in the "revelation" theory of Genesis 1 days, and it seems that none may be warranted). He is correct that we need not trenchantly encase our understanding in any single theory (if you think you understand how creation worked/works, start reading at Job 38, smarty-pants!) His exposition on the nature of the genealogies of Genesis 4 is informed by a relatively quick but [I believe] decisive examination of echoes (OT, Apocrypha, NT), supporting a conclusion that if one looks to the genealogies as being intended to produce mathematical sums, sharply defining temporal history, one must then choose not to cooperate with the author's intent, which, without doubt, was about lineages and relationships and not about modernist expectations of 'history'. That the genealogies permit (and contain) gaps, even significant gaps, is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt (by direct comparison of echoing accounts). That none of the Bible's writers had any interest in calculating genealogical sums toward the modernists' concept of history, should, of itself, be instructive. This was never their intent.
Having read Richard Friedman's articulation of the Documentary Hypothesis (source criticism, "higher criticism"), I found Collins' treatment of source criticism to be quite valuable. S.R. Driver's positions are critically analyzed as well as Friedman's, and the Documentary Hypothesis receives serious damage from Collins' examination of the literary clues found in these four chapters (the focus of this book), although he suggests that the same result applies to the entire scope of the Documentary Hypothesis if subjected to literary analysis. (As Collins points out, while source criticism traces its inspiration to assumptions that the materialist MUST posit concerning sacred texts, apart from the "motive" aspects of source theories, source criticism, per se, is not inherently incompatible with theistic expectations of scripture.) Before summarizing his treatment of source theories, Collins writes: "Do these pericopes come from separate sources or not? There is no way to answer this question, since the putative sources no longer exist. But for each feature that is put forward to support the source theory, it turns out that literary and grammatical considerations supply a better explanation in terms of the overall flow of the narrative. In other words, if someone produced this text by stitching sources together, he left the seams smooth indeed." pg 231 Stepping briefly beyond the four focus chapters (but with an eye to a tie-in), Collins also discusses the expositions and arguments that K.A. Kitchen has recently brought to bear against the Documentary Hypothesis, showing that, at least certain specific texts within the Pentateuch would have to have been composed in the 12th or 13th century BC, and further, that the texts containing features that can only be explained rationally by placing then in that era would have to have been written by someone with a conspicuous high education in that era's best literary art and style. Among the Hebrews (slaves in Egypt), who could fit this description and be capable of producing the kind of literary eloquence we find in Genesis 1, for example. The obvious candidate is inescapable, his name is Moses ("educated in all the learning of the Egyptians. . . a man of power in words" [Acts 7:22], see also Ex. 2:10, Heb. 11:24-27). No, this doesn't establish, or necessarily even support, the traditional viewpoint that Moses was THE author of the Pentateuch. This traditional view is unwarranted in its extremity, unsupported from scripture, and certainly not Collins' understanding. The full picture of authorship/editorship of the Pentateuch cannot be painted, but the Documentary explanation is unwarranted (though interesting).
A properly informed understanding of these first texts of the Bible is of tremendous value in understanding the whole of scripture (and, as any good contextualist would note, the reciprocal is true as well). This is probably the best book of its kind available.
I am an Evangelical Protestant Christian, so I come to a book like this with some presuppositions about the inspiration of Scripture. Traditionally, our perspective has focused on the words - or "verbal" inspiration. While I remain convinced the whole Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - is uniquely inspired by God, it seems our focus on "verbal" inspiration has created a blind spot; we seem to miss the literary forest for the lexicographical trees.
This commentary is very helpful in this respect. Collins does not dispense with nor disregard the traditional views, but believes they need to cooperate with the Hebrew literary conventions of the time when Genesis was written. He remains true to the traditional view of Mosaic authorship, but cautions us to understand the concept of "authorship" in a broader sense, for which he shows evidence even within later Scripture. He interacts with the "documentary hypothesis" (the idea that Genesis was "stitched" together from disparate sources) and shows convincingly (and helpfully from an Evangelical perspective) that regardless of the provenance of the stories, what we have before us is a highly unified, artistically stylized text. He argues we should be less concerned with what can only be a speculative enterprise (the form of the putative "original" sources) and more interested in the literary art of the whole.
The two things I did not like about the book (and thus 4 stars and not 5) were:
1) As a reader of commentaries, I expect a certain structure to them. This one is a bit disjointed as far as those prior expectations are concerned.
2) I found the exposition of the creation narratives a bit tedious. I think too much effort was expended in attempting to reconcile the literature with the chronological presuppositions many among us as Evangelicals hold. It is not for the divinely inspired literature of the Bible to be conformed to our presuppositions and exceptions; it for us to reform our presuppositions and expectation in the light of what we learn about the divinely inspired literature. Collins comes very close to helping us reform those expectations, but seems to want to hold on to chronological presuppositions which may require our reconsideration.
I am convinced that while on the one hand a student could study the Hebrew Bible as a literary artifact to learn of the conventions of its literature without believing in the God of the Bible, a student who already believes and reads so he can know God better cannot succeed in that effort without first understanding those literary conventions. Collins has helped immensely in this respect.
If this review has helped you, please take a look at my new book: Community Conservatives and the Future: The Secret to Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Next Conservative Generation
However you understand Genesis 1-4, C. John Collins invites you to realize that these chapters lay the foundation for all good science and philosophy, for they tell us that the world came from a good and wise Creator, who made the world for us to live in, enjoy, and rule (p. 266).
This is a good balanced book which allows the reader to see that Genesis 1-4 are historically and theologically true, even if the reader does not read these chapters as recording a chronological and scientifically precise account of how the universe began.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, C. John “Jack” Collins offers a detailed exposition of the Pentateuch’s opening chapters...Read more