"Adam as Israel" by Seth D. Postell. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are a passel of approaches to Genesis 1-3 that come to disparate conclusions. There’s young earth or old earth; theistic evolution or punctiliar creation; divine guidance to order out of disorder or creatio ex nihilo. There is also the perspective that Genesis chapters 1-3 are strictly poetry, or an adaption of Ancient Near Eastern mythology, or an affirmation of creatio ex nihilo retold with a theological and literary structure rather than chronological specificity. A passel of approaches, indeed! Seth D. Postell, Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel, has put forward his own analysis in “Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh”. To get the most out of this insightful and involved 204 page paperback will require some working knowledge of Hebrew, though the book can be managed without it by a persevering reader.
The direction of “Adam as Israel” is clearly laid out in its subtitle. Postell works diligently to prove that “when understood as the introduction to the Torah and to the Tanakh as a whole, Genesis 1-3 intentionally foreshadows Israel’s failure to keep the Sinai covenant as well as their exile from the Promised Land in order to point the reader to a future work of God in the “last days”” (3). For those not quite in “the know” Tanakh is an acronym for the three major sections of Hebrew Scripture: Torah (Law or teaching of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and K’tuvim (Writings). The author’s exertions and efforts all pour into his assertions. He does this through what he denominates a text-centered, compositional analysis (2) of the three chapters, in distinction to other types of approaches.
Postell frankly states that “First, there are textual reasons for suggesting that the author of the final form of Genesis 1-3 intended to represent real historical events. Second, subsequent biblical authors apparently understood Genesis 1-3 to be about real historical events” (47). Though the author, as far as I can see, doesn’t affirm this as his own position or disaffirm, nevertheless it helps to clear the air of the clouds and smoke diffused by those who think these three chapters are strictly myth or merely poetry. As the author approvingly affirms, simply because literary artistry is employed, does not automatically relegate the account to historical fantasy (46).
The author carefully works out numerous ways in which “Genesis 1-3 prophetically foreshadows Israel’s exile…in order to wed the final form Pentateuch with a prophetic eschatology” (75). He also shows how the primal story fits within, shapes and is shaped by, the forward looking, hopeful structure and flow of the rest of Hebrew Scripture in its concluding configuration. “The final form Pentateuch leaves the door open to a future work of God…to the faithful God who will one day ensure the success of another “Adam” through whom he will accomplish all of his creation purposes” (148).
Obviously, this short review leaves unmentioned many and most of the details and deductions hammered out in “Adam as Israel”. Yet, whether or not one agrees with every conclusion, a foray into this volume will help to expand the reader’s recognition that the Hebrew Scriptures have canonical seams that not only stitch the main sections together, but expose a purpose and intent that is bigger than the individual episodes. Delving into the author’s thinking will give a thoughtful reader reasoned grounds for seeing layers of themes and theology in Genesis 1-3 that introduce the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole. And investigating this material will assist to attune the learner to hear the harmony humming through the Tanakh that is awaiting its finale. I highly recommend the book!
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