R.W.L. Moberly, Professor of Theology and Biblical Interpretation at Durham University, has offered up the second book in the new series, ‘Old Testament Theology’ (the other being the volume on Jeremiah by Breuggemann). Many of those who would read this review know that Moberly is my thesis advisor, so I am naturally somewhat predisposed to appreciate his work, and this volume is no exception. Hopefully, however, this review will be helpful to others.
Moberly begins his work by discussing exactly what a “theology of Genesis” should be. He discusses traditional historical criticism and ideological criticism, but proposes his own canonical and confessional theology whereby Genesis is understood “within the context of continuing traditions of faith, life, and thought” (12). Thus, Moberly’s work is significantly different than many “theological” studies of the book of Genesis, and is, in fact quite different than one would expect of a book titled, The Theology of the Book of Genesis.
The content of the book is a series of nine studies of particular texts that have significance for Genesis as received Scripture today, as well as two methodological studies on reading Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. One of the strengths of this book is that each of these studies draws upon previous significant publications that function to give the work more scholarly depth (see the bibliography below). The specific texts discussed are Gen. 1; 2-3; 4; 6-9; 12:1-3; 12:3a; and 37-50. As a theology of the book of Genesis it may seem disproportionate for Gen. 12:1-3 to receive almost 40 pages while chapters 37-50 receives only twenty and Gen. 13-36 receives no mention at all (I’m sure John Anderson will be disappointed that Jacob is not mentioned).
Moberly’s approach is encapsulated in the following paragraph:
The theological interpretation of scripture – its reading with a view to articulating and practicing its enduring significance for human life under God – involves a constant holding together of parts and a whole which is regularly reconfigured. It is in the meeting of biblical text with canonical context and the ongoing life of communities of faith that theology is done – and where one may hope to try to articulate a theology of Genesis (17).
Moberly accomplishes this view of biblical theology very well. This little book is an excellent example of how careful exegesis can inform the believing community. I find it to be an extremely helpful approach. However, this approach tends to give more weight to texts that we are interested in rather than to texts that the Genesis itself emphasizes. This can lead to abuses of the text for the text as a whole is no longer allowed to dictate its own emphasis. Thus, in taking this approach we must keep in mind that the texts we are most interested in may not be those that the book in as a whole is most interested in and we must respect the books own emphases.
Furthermore, though I have not read the other volume in this series I cannot say if it is characteristic of the series or whether it is Moberly’s own idiosyncrasies that have led to the form the present book takes, but calling this book The Theology of the Book of Genesis is significantly misleading. Moberly himself says that this book is “a guide to, rather than a comprehensive coverage of, what theological understanding and appropriation of Genesis today may involve” (20). This is eminently true of the book. It is nowhere near a theology of the book of Genesis, but it is a very excellent engagement with the theology of the book of Genesis. And as such, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in what theological interpretation may look like.
Bibliography of studies by Moberly that inform this book:
“How Should One Read the Early Chapters of Genesis?” in Reading Genesis after Darwin, ed. Stephen Barton and David Wilkinson (New York: OUP, 2009).
“Did the Interpreters Get it Right? Genesis 2-3 Reconsidered,” JTS 59 (2008): 22-40.
“On Interpreting the Mind of God: The Theological Significance of the Flood Narrative (Genesis 6-9),” in The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays, ed. J. Ross Wagner, C. Kavin Rowe, and A. Katherine Grieb (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 44-66.
“The Mark of Cain – Revealed at Last?” HTR 100 (2007): 11-28.
Prophecy and Discernment, CSCD 14 (Cambridge, CUP, 2006).
“How Appropriate Is ‘Monotheism’ as a Category for Biblical Interpretation?” in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism, ed. Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North, JSNT Supp. 263 (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 216-34.
“Living Dangerously: Genesis 22 and the Quest for Good Biblical Interpretation,” in The Art of Reading Scripture, ed. Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 181-97.
The Bible, Theology and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus, CSCD 5 (Cambridge: CUP, 2000).
“Solomon and Job: Divine Wisdom in Human Life,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? Wisdom in the Bible, the Church and the Contemporary World, ed. Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 3-17.
The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, OBT (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001).
At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34, JSOT Supp. 22 (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1983).