Historical Genesis – Book Review

Historical Genesis: From Adam to Abraham
Author: Richard James Fischer
Publisher: University Press of America
Published March 2008
Reviewed by Jen Cardwell for Reader Views 04/08

The Science of Genesis

4 Stars

Historical Genesis coverWas there a real man named Adam? What is the location of the Garden of Eden? Who is Cain worried will kill him after he kills his brother, if Adam’s family are the only people on Earth? How could Noah and his sons have repopulated the earth in the time since the flood? How would they have even gotten all the animals of the world onto their ark? And how would the animals have gotten back to places like Australia and the Americas with time for evolution into different species?

Questions like this are asked over and over by people questioning the Biblical account of Genesis and creation. The stories of Adam, the flood, and the tower of Babel tend to be considered mere allegory, if not dismissed outright as a story cribbed from other, older creation stories. The other option is for a literal, traditionalist interpretation: Adam was the first man, the flood covered the entire world, all post-flood people spoke a single language until that debacle at the tower of Babel.

Richard James Fischer believes there is a fourth, more correct option. In an attempt to reconcile the Biblical record with the historical record, Fischer comes up with an extremely interesting hypothesis: Genesis is literally about southern Mesopotamia. Essentially, Genesis 2-11 is the story not of the world, but of the Jewish people and their origins. This is not to say that he claims that Genesis 1 is not the creation of the universe and the world. He in fact makes no claims at all about Genesis 1, his entire analysis is of Genesis 2-11.

Although I took a number of religious studies classes in college, I am not a Biblical scholar by any means. I have never made an exhaustive study of Genesis in the ancient Hebrew, nor do I know any ancient Hebrew at all, other than the bits Fischer taught me in “Historical Genesis”. Neither can I speak with real authority to the veracity of statements about pottery types and flood layers, kings lists and linguistic similarities between the names Ziusudra and Noah. I can say, however, that I felt that I knew far more about the scientific basis for placing the events of Genesis in Mesopotamia and the cultural implications of many parts of the creation and flood stories.

“Historical Genesis” has a very easy style for a book packed with so much scholarly research. The author and editors wisely chose to impart information under short subheadings in relatively short chapters. This kept the pace moving, and kept me from getting bogged down in nearly incomprehensible (to me) discussions about the differences in pottery in different layers at Eridu.

This book would be fantastic for a religious studies or seminary course on Genesis. Readers should have some familiarity both with the story itself as well as with some basic principles of anthropology and linguistics, if not being read in a class, or with some similar type of support system. I would highly recommend this book for any interested in the accounts in the book of Genesis. Whether you agree with him or not, Fischer’s book will make you think.

Buy this book on Amazon: Historical Genesis: from Adam to Abraham

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9 Responses to “Historical Genesis – Book Review”

  1. fyreflybooks Says:

    Have you read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? This post reminded me of part of that book – Quinn’s theory is that the story of Adam & Eve and the Fall, as well as Cain & Abel, are based on a story told by Semites herders about the origins of farming culture. It’s only a part of the book, but it answers a lot of questions about what the knowledge of good and evil was, why god set up the choice between the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, why god preferred Abel’s offering to Cain’s, etc. – stuff that’s part of the story but has never really made a whole lot of sense.

    In any case, if you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it – on its own merits, but particularly if you’re interested in historically-based biblical exegesis.

  2. Devourer of Books Says:

    I haven’t read it, it sounds very interesting. I’ll have to add it to my wishlist.

  3. kegsoccer Says:

    Hmm this sounds good… especially since I’m not really a good Catholic and I’m always questioning stuff! (to the dismay of my family) *sigh* another book to add to my TBR pile :)

  4. rantsandreads Says:

    Ooh, this sounds really interesting. I’ll have to put it on my to-read list, and recommend it to a couple of friends. =)

  5. Natasha @ Maw Books Says:

    Wow, that sounds like an interesting theory that makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought of it like that before, although I’ve always had a lot of questions that I believe will be answered “on the other side.”

  6. Devourer of Books Says:

    That is pretty much how I had always left it in my head too. I’m not sure if Fischer is right, but it did all make sense. I couldn’t tell if there is counter-evidence that he left out, but the evidence he presented seemed reasonable.

  7. April Reading Wrap-up « Devourer of Books’ Weblog Says:

    [...] Historical Genesis by Richard Fischer (ReaderViews Review Book) [...]

  8. ReaderViews Reviews « Devourer of Books’ Weblog Says:

    [...] Historical Genesis by Richard James Fischer See review here [...]

  9. judi Says:

    your review grabbed me from the very beginning with all those questions – i’m so excited to check out this book!

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