Book Review: “How to Read Genesis” by Tremper Longman III (2005)

I picked up How to Read Genesis for a seminary course which ran through the Pentateuch, and I found it a helpful addition to my reference library. While Longman’s work certainly doesn’t stand out as an exceptional commentary on the book of Genesis (acknowledging as much on p.17), it does add much to the discussion of the background of Genesis, something most laymen need for their own study of the book.

Specifically, Longman emphasizes the correct principles for interpreting the book. The four key principles (and their related questions) that he discusses are listed as follows:

  • PRINCIPLE 1. RECOGNIZE THE LITERARY NATURE OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS
    Question 1: What kind of book is Genesis?
    Question 2. How did ancient Hebrews tell stories?
    Question 3. Was Genesis written at one time by a single person?
    Question 4. What can we learn about Genesis from comparable ancient Near Eastern literature?
  • PRINCIPLE 2. EXPLORE THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE BOOK
    Question 5. When was Genesis written?
    Question 6. What does Genesis tell us about the past?
    Question 7. Does our knowledge of the ancient Near East help us understand Genesis?
  • PRINCIPLE 3. REFLECT ON THE THEOLOGICAL TEACHING OF THE BOOK
    Question 8. How does Genesis describe God?
    Question 9. How does Genesis describe God’s relationship to his people?
    Question 10. How does Genesis fit into the whole of Scripture?
    Question 11. What in Genesis is theologically normative for today?
  • PRINCIPLE 4. REFLECT ON YOUR SITUATION, YOUR SOCIETY’S SITUATION AND THE GLOBAL
    Question 12. What is my redemptive-historical relationship to the events of Genesis
    Question 13. What can I learn from Genesis about how to think and act in a way pleasing to God?
    Question 14: How can I keep from imposing my own views on Genesis?

Regarding Principles 1 and 2, for example, Longman helpfully summarizes his own study with the following conclusions: although Genesis is “technically an anonymous book” (143), “1. Moses had a foundational connection with the production of the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch as a whole. 2. Moses used sources, presumably oral and written, that were handed down to him from an earlier time. 3. Evidence of significant post-Mosaic redactional activity exists in the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch. 4. It is not possible or useful to definitively and completely divide the pre-Mosaic, Mosaic and post-Mosaic materials from each other.” (157) This final statement is important for us non-liberal believers who actually trust the authority of the Bible, for while Longman does acknowledge Wellhausen’s postulations of the J-E-D-P authorship of the Pentateuch, he concludes that the details of human authorship are ultimately unimportant. God inspired His Word, period. Any arguments beyond that should have no real bearing on our acceptance of its inspiration.

Tremper Longman’s How to Read Genesis would be a fine addition to anyone’s study of the book of Genesis, “the first chapter of a five-chapter work we refer to as the Torah, or the Pentateuch” (114). Such study of Genesis essential to one’s understanding of Scripture as a whole, so I recommend this resource highly.

©2015 E.T.

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