Review: Genesis and the Rise of Civilization by j. Snodgrass

genesisI must be honest with you: in Bible college, Old Testament Studies were far from my strong suit. I only two two OT courses; the first one, I paid almost no attention at all, and the other one I did get a lot out of, albeit with some struggle. With all due respect to Professor Brubaker (Chairman Bru) at VFCC, I honestly just couldn’t pay attention. It bored me. Jesus and his followers were just far more interesting than the Patriarchs and the Israelites and Moses hitting rocks in the desert when he was supposed to speak to it.  It just never caught on with me.

As usual, though, it seems that this particular book was the exception. When Mike Morrell offered up Genesis and the Rise of Civilization up as a book for review, there were a couple things that hooked me…

  • The author, j. Snodgrass, was inspired by the writings of Daniel Quinn (Ishmael and The Story of B, for example), with whom I have a bit of an ambivalent relationship.  I have been DYING for someone to take on what Snodgrass does here; take his seminary education and dialogue with the ideas that Daniel Quinn puts forward in his works.
  • It attempts to place Genesis much more into its time period, that of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution (something with which I also have an ambivalent relationship). Though WRITTEN long after said revolution, it was passed down for thousands of years prior through oral tradition, so locating it at that time period works very well, in my mind.

Anyway, Snodgrass makes the case in Genesis that the book of Genesis is actually the story of groups of hunter-gatherer societies that were overtaken by the agrarian/farmer civilizations that sprung up around them and eventually overtook them.  The speakers of Genesis saw themselves as serving a single God, who didn’t support the oppressive empires and desertified lands that farmers gave birth to, and the stories in Genesis were reminders to their descendants that their God YHWH had greater, better things in mind.  Snodgrass takes the reader down through all the stories of Genesis, looking not just at the Scriptures, but also at Midrash (rabbinical interpretation/folklore adding to the text), ancient near-Eastern mythology, and, of course, the writings of Daniel Quinn.

The content in this book is awesome.  I seriously wish that it had been around seven years ago when I told OT Survey; it would have warped my freshman mind to hear just the Midrash legends about Genesis (who knew that God created a woman prior to Eve?!).  I also loved his dialogue with Quinn’s work; he makes good use of it without kissing Quinn’s butt the whole time (or even using Quinn’s terminology of “Takers and Leavers”). Instead, he takes Quinn seriously and integrates his work quite seamlessly with his other sources as he produces his own thoughts and ideas on Genesis.

One thing I also want to note is his style; Snodgrass is a seminary graduate, and it does show, but he’s the kind of seminary professor I would WANT to have.  Why?  Because he talks like a human being.  There’s not a whole bunch of eight-syllable words that only have meaning in the Academy; it’s straight talk conveying complex ideas in a way that anyone reading can understand, and I cannot begin to express my appreciation for this enough.

Overall, excellent read with so many thoughts provoked.  Mister Snodgrass, I salute your work!

 

Note: j. Snodgrass blogs here.  You should go look.

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