Introduction by Derrick Peterson
[For John Walton's Plenary, which he gave before the workshop, click here]
Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religion out of the University of Chicago, argued that most religious rituals were attempts to commune with the primal origin of all things. They embodied--in his words--a "myth of the eternal return" in which history's motion was temporarily suspended as the religious rituals and consciousness intersected normal time, and the mysterious Beginning or Primal Time residing latent at the heart of reality would soak suddenly the mundane like ink bleeding into white pages.
Agree or disagree with Eliade, one can certainly perceive (perhaps with a bit of tongue in cheek) how this characterization of religion also names the debates that rage in the United States over creation and evolution: the thrash of struggle not just movements of belligerence, but whose motions embody like ritualized prayer differing senses of the sacred on all sides.
But like all rituals, ours too threaten to become route and unthought. What is it then that we are defending, when we defend Genesis for example? And is "defense" even the right thought? After giving his Plenary talk on hermeneutical humility (available soon) Dr. John Walton (author of The Lost World of Genesis One, The Lost World of Scripture, and The Lost World of Adam and Eve, gave a workshop helping us think through many of the pertinent issues surrounding interpretation.
What does it mean to interpret Genesis literally, for example? It means, says Walton, to take the words in their original historical and cultural context. For if we read our concerns and our questions into the text we are precisely not reading literally, but are only using the text as figurations for our own agenda. We certainly hope you enjoy this workshop; even if you end up disagreeing with it, it will give you plenty to reflect upon.
John Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. His Primary focus in areas of comparison between the Old testament and the Ancient Near East, particularly Genesis. He is the general editor for a five volume series. The Zondervan illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, and the forthcoming NIV Cultural Background Study Bible. He is the author of many books including The Lost World of Genesis 1 and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. He lectures across the country and around the world on the topic of Origins.
[Photo Credit: Dulnan]