Seth D. Postell, Adam as Israel: Genesis 1–3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 216 pages.
I would like to thank Pickwick for providing me a review copy.
I really wanted to like this book, and truth be told, I did like a lot of it. However, it was also disappointing for a number of reasons, which I will address presently. I will first summarize the book, though.
The book has seven chapters: a brief introduction, a chapter on the history of interpretation, a chapter on recent studies, a method chapter, two chapters on Genesis 1–3, and finally a chapter on Genesis 1–3 as an introduction to the Tanahk (i.e., the Old Testament in its Hebrew canonical form).
The chapters on the history of interpretation and recent studies are both good. The history of interpretation is abbreviated, but necessarily so, since that isn’t the focus of the book. The chapter on recent studies is especially valuable for anyone interested in studies that recognize the proleptic nature of the beginning chapters of the Genesis. The method chapter seems to be a hold-over from the dissertation form of this work, and will be uninteresting to most readers. Postell explains his “text-centered” approach, noting what it is and what it is not. His two main chapters are very unhelpfully titled, “A Text-Centered Analysis of Genesis 1–3, Part 1” and “Part 2.” There are essentially four sections in these two chapters, which have more helpful titles: “The Land in Genesis 1–3,” “The Sinai Covenant in Genesis 1–3,” “Seduction and Exile in Genesis 1–3,” and “Pentateuchal Bookends: Failure and Hope.” These two chapters are full of rich material. On almost every page Postell makes connections between Genesis 1–3 and the rest of the Pentateuch that spark the imagination and get the gray matter working. It should not be surprising that some of his connections are strained, especially when one considers the sheer number of connections he proposes. Nonetheless, the bulk of his observations are insightful, pertinent, and convincing. His last chapter is equally stimulating, but much less complete and less convincing as well. The focus has been on Genesis 1–3 in the Pentateuch, so this last chapter is more of a proposal for where things might be headed. As such, Postell does draw some connections that suggest a more thorough treatment of Adam typology in the OT is warranted.
Reading this book was a bitter-sweet experience for me. One the one hand, I love reading authors that take typology and intertextuality seriously. And as I noted above, Postell provides more than enough food for thought. He has done extensive textual work to demonstrate his connections (though he does, at times, rely on conceptual parallels or parallels between synonyms), and for the most part they are convincing. My issue with this book centers on his understanding of typology. He is refreshingly clear about his conservative evangelical credentials, including noting that he accepts Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch despite its insignificance for his project (55). (He does, however, believe that the Pentateuch was redacted in the post-exilic period [75, n. 1], which exerts a controlling influence on his interpretation.) Nonetheless, it is my conviction that he has failed to adequately reflect on why the Bible is typological or how the typology of the Bible relates to its divine inspiration (a fact he accepts). This is suggested in his discussion of intertextuality when he cites the work of Jeffrey Leonard approvingly. Leonard notes that there are obvious similarities between Gen 12:10–20 and the exodus narrative, but suggests that the “a skillful tradent might have modeled a tradition from the Abraham narratives on the pattern of the exodus” since Abraham’s story could hardly have given birth to the much more complex and detailed story of the Exodus (68). Postell finds this argument persuasive and useful, since he wants to argue that Genesis 1–3 “was composed with Israel’s story of biblical history already in mind” (69; emphasis mine). I find this argument unsatisfying since I think it fails to adequately integrate our conviction about the divine authorship of Scripture into our hermeneutics. Allow me a brief excursus on the nature of typology and divine inspiration.
The Bible is typological because history is typological. In other words, Adam does not just pre-figure Jesus in the Bible, but in history as well. Likewise, Abraham’s real life typologically foreshadowed Israel’s real exodus. And so on. Thus, a typological recounting of history is not one legitimate alternative among other legitimate alternatives. Rather it is the best and most appropriate way of telling the history of God’s work in the world. In discussions of inerrancy and inspiration, it is often noted that the Bible is not a “journalistic” recounting of events. Or that the genre of the Bible is not “history” in the way our high-school textbooks were “history.” It is often assumed that this was God’s accommodation to particular genre conventions at the time of the writing of the Bible. In other words, had the Bible been written in our time, we might expect it to look different—to be more “journalistic” or “historical” and less “literary.” But it would have been a simple matter for God to inspire Moses and the other Biblical writers to write in a genre more in keeping with our modern conventions for history-writing. (For more on accommodation see my post here.) Rather, God inspired the Biblical authors to use typology and literary art because history is typological and exhibits literary art. In other words, the biblical authors didn’t massage real events into a literary format—the real events were already conducive to a typological and literary retelling. History and the Bible both exhibit typology and literary art because history and the Bible both have the same author—God. As the first chapter of Genesis demonstrates, God is a poet. And because he is sovereign over history as he was sovereign over the writing of the Bible, both exhibit identical traits. This is where Postell and Leonard (and others) go wrong. We don’t look at Abraham and Israel and say “the complexity of Israel’s story must have given rise to the similar but simpler story in Genesis 12,” which is a logic that reflects naturalistic presuppositions. To argue, as Leonard does, that it is “nearly impossible” to understand how the Abraham story could have given rise to the details in the Exodus story only makes sense if one denies or brackets out the idea of God’s sovereignty and divine inspiration. Rather, we note that God sovereignly orchestrated history such that what happened to Abraham in miniature happened to Israel in full and the Bible reflects this real history. Likewise, the Adam narratives weren’t written with Israel’s history in mind. Israel’s history was “written” (i.e., foreordained and executed) with Adam’s experience in mind.
For Postell, typology works in reverse. Notice that the title of the book is Adam as Israel instead of Israel as Adam. The details of Adam’s story are explainable in light of Israel’s story, not vice versa. Thus, Adam is a miniature Israel, as opposed to Israel being a second Adam. This is further revealed in the fact that Postell argues that “land” in Gen 1:2–2:4 refers to the land of Canaan, not to the earth (82–95) as most scholars take it. This (mis)understanding of typology affects a lot of his interpretive conclusions, as does his conviction that the authorial intention of the Pentateuch lies with the (late) editor of the final form. This is most clearly seen on pages 134 and following in which he explicitly argues against the common view that Genesis 1–3 serve as a warning to the Israelites to follow God’s law in the land (i.e., the new Eden), and instead serve as a prophecy that Israel will not follow God’s law.
There are a few other critiques I could offer, and many more points of appreciation, but I’ve chosen to focus on the issue of typology in this review mainly because it was my biggest frustration with the book and because it is an important issue that I think has bearing on other important issues, such as inerrancy and the historical Adam.
Though the tenor of this review might communicate otherwise, this is an excellent book and is a must-read for anyone interested in Adam or Israel typology. It has much to say about the creation mandate and about various other themes and motifs, such as the temple/tabernacle, the Sinai covenant, Sabbath rest, and so on. Any seminary-trained reader or educated layperson will learn much from this book, though I recommend it most strongly for those working on or with an interest in Genesis 1–3, the Pentateuch, the Creation Mandate, Adam or Israel typology, and temple theology.
Admittedly, Postell notes that it could have been “prophetically” in mind.
Here he follows the argument of John Sailhamer, his doctoral supervisor. This book is largely an apologia for many of Sailhamer’s more distinctive ideas, as can be seen in the index entry for “Sailhamer.”
Peter Enns notes in a review of this book that Postell’s thesis fits well with his own view that Adam was not a historical person. I think Postell’s thesis could be right and Enns remain wrong. Nevertheless, Enns’ comments illustrate that Postell’s method is not in conflict with a rejection of inerrancy or with the naturalistic hermeneutic that Enns employs.