Friday, February 20, 2009

Interview with Author John Walton - Part 2

Question: You comment that readers of the historical literature should not so much look for "lessons from the life of Asa or lessons from the life of Saul" but rather "patterns, themes, and motifs that we ought to see as weaving the historical tapestry into a picture of the sovereign God of the covenant." (p. 212) Can you flesh out the difference between these two approaches and why the first approach isn't the best?

Walton: This distinction is important because it recognizes that the Bible is revelation about God, not revelation of the human figures. The humans are the instruments of God, but it is not about them. The problem is that usually the behavior of the human figures is described; it is rarely prescribed. Too often we end up reading between the lines to try to figure out why they did what they did, and in those cases we can only speculate. Our responsibility is to be like God, not to imitate the characters in the Bible. When we ask the question, "why is this text here?" the study of the literature as Scripture will generally lead us to the conclusion that it is not there to give models for behavior from the biblical characters. If that is not the author's intention, then that is not where we find the authority of the text.

Question: Have any of your views changed or significantly altered since the writing of the second edition?

Walton: No. Though I have developed additional interests, such as the Presence of God, that is now represented in a new chapter.

Question: You have specialized in the area of Ancient Near Eastern literature and its relationship to the Old Testament. Many today have argued that the Old Testament has borrowed from ancient pagan myths. Can you help us understand how we should approach this complex issue?*

Walton: The problem is with the focus on borrowing. It would be very difficult to prove borrowing under any circumstances, and given the limited amount of information available to us, it is an impossibility. The existence of similarities does not prove borrowing. Israel shared in the cultural environment of the ancient world. That means that many general ways of thinking were just natural to them. Even some specifics (such as laws or proverbs) would have been part of their cultural heritage. The mythology of the ancient world offers us a window to their worldview. That can be a benefit when we begin to explore the Bible. We should expect to find similarities because God communicated into a culture, and communication requires a context.

Question: Do you have a favorite Old Testament book? If so, why?

Walton: I can only assess my "favorites" in relation to the ones I most enjoy teaching. Those would be Genesis, Job and Jonah. I think I enjoy teaching them the most because they are the ones where I feel that I have the most to offer students. I enjoy giving students new ways to look at books and showing them why these perspectives are important.

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions. Congratulations to you and Andrew Hill on a great work.

For further reading:

* Works by Walton on the Ancient Near Eastern Literature:
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible
Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts

Other titles:

Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament
Genesis - NIV Application Commentary
Old Testament - The IVP Bible Background Commentary (co-editor)
"Jonah" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary vol 8 Daniel - Malachi (revised edition)
Covenant: God's Purpose, God's Plan

No comments: