I want to thank Adrianna Wright at InterVarsity Press for sending me a courtesy copy of The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter, Ph.D.
The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament
Sandra L. Richter, Ph.D.
Intervarsity Press, October 2008
In The Epic of Eden, Sandra L. Richter, Ph.D., touches on one of Christianity's most sensitive nerves: a lack of understanding about its origins. And in a straightforward and uncritical manner, Dr. Richter brings a bit of healing to this problem.
Dr. Richter labels the underlying problem "the dysfunctional closet syndrome." She likens the average Christian's understanding of the Old Testament to a disorganized closet in need of tidying; a hodgepodge of names, places, facts and figures which amount to little more than clutter. On the whole, I think Dr. Richter is correct, and I think her analogy is quite useful. For my male readers, I would suggest substituting "toolshed" for "closet" if the dysfunctional closet reference isn't quite hitting closely enough to home. The Epic of Eden is Dr. Richter's attempt to organize our respective closets. In her words:
My goal in writing this book, therefore, is to deal a mortal blow to the dysfunctional closet syndrome. I am convinced that the key to the problem described above is order. Until a believer is able to organize what they know about the Old Testament meaningfully, they cannot use it. An appropriate quotation whose source I have lost over the years says this: "Facts are stupid things until brought into connection with some general law."
So my goal in this book is to provide structure. Metaphorically speaking, to pick the clothes up off the floor, get some hangers, a pole and some hooks, and help you build a closet of your very own. You already have many (possibly most) of the facts you need: I'm going to give you a place to hang them.
Dr. Richter's solution is to organize the closet clutter into its respective Covenant cubbies: Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New. Dr. Richter does not expressly discuss an "Edenic" Covenant, although she thoroughly addresses God's original purpose in Eden, and brings it full circle by concluding that God's original intent for Adam is fully accomplished in Christ.
Perhaps the most enlightening section of The Epic of Eden (for me) is Dr. Richter's detailed discussion of the concept of Covenant. The idea of "covenant" or, in modern legal language, "contract" has considerably less depth and richness today having devolved simply to mean a piece of paper outlining an agreement between parties which may or may not be kept. Yet, this is the framework most (Western) Christians have of "covenant."
Second only to visiting Israel is The Epic of Eden in bringing the words of the Bible to life for me, at least as regards our watered-down understanding of the immensely important Biblical and historical concepts of covenant and redemption. These concepts merit entire books of their own, but Dr. Richter does an admirable job of giving lost substance back to words in the Bible we use so casually.
Dr. Richter also does an exceptional job of putting the Bible into real space and time. The recurring Biblical timeline also helps the reader to keep events in historical context. For anyone who needs to clean their Old Testament closet, The Epic of Eden is a wonderful organizational tool.
If there is a shortcoming of The Epic of Eden it is that there is simply too much clutter to tackle. I give the author a tremendous amount of credit for the effort to organize the Old Testament closet, and I think this book is as enlightening as any I've read. But, rather than giving the reader a clean closet, The Epic of Eden gives the reader a system of organization, an Old Testament filing system. It's a closet organizer, not a maid.
Also, I appreciate Dr. Richter's attempt to bring the Old Testament and the ancient Middle East into a more modern and understandable light. In a note to the Introduction, Dr. Ricther writes, "The text of this book is designed for the layperson and should be easily understood by most with little assistance." I'm not entirely sure Dr. Richter's frame of reference isn't a little skewed, and The Epic of Eden is certainly not dry, academic reading. It is highly readable. And enjoyable. But I would guess that on a readability test The Epic of Eden would score at an undergraduate or higher reading level. This is not to detract from the book, but to ensure the reader knows this is not light reading.
In short, read the book. Page for page, The Epic of Eden packs more punch than most books. The actual text itself is well under 250 pages and can easily be read in a few sittings. More importantly, however, is the effect The Epic of Eden will have on your Bible reading. I would guess that most people who read this blog have at one time or another heard a remarkable sermon or sermon series that changed how they read and understand the Bible. Reading this book is a lot like that, only moreso.