Dr. Leithart Responds

Dr. Leithart responded to Dr. Witherington’s criticism of his exegesis in the last chapter of his book Defending Constantine (mostly about his thesis that Adam was put in the Garden to guard it). In the comment section of his last review post, Dr. Witherington says this:

Yeah I read his response. He doesn’t even pretend to answer the question—- ‘guard the garden from what??? Snakes? I don’t think so. There is no evidence of human hostility against other humans before the Fall and no need for such guarding. Besides the Hebrew verb in question does not stand alone, it stands in tandem with another verb and two are quite rightly and naturally translated together as tend and keep, or the like (see most of the translations).

P.S. Bill Arnold’s Genesis commentary is clear enough on these two verbs— they are infinitive constructs indicating purpose—- which he rightly translates to till and to keep it, hardly synonyms much less redundant. The image is of planting and tending. Not guarding anything. (See Arnold Genesis p. 59 and the notes).

And then another commenter, “Tim” said:

Let’s keep in mind that the two verbs in Gen 2.15 do not simply appear there. They are paralleled in the law, where the Levites were called to do practical service in the temple, and to guard it. Seeing those sorts of links is very important, and the sort of stuff that Leithart frankly does well.

I do encourage you to read Leithart’s Deep Exegesis. It’s a very important book on the matter of hermeneutics.

To which Dr. Witherington said:

Which is not Adam’s job. Adam has no business fighting Satan before the Fall. The parallel to Leviticus isn’t. Leviticus envisions a totally different social situation from the one depicted in Gen. 2. As for deep exegesis, if this means deep allegory based on an over-reading of the OT, no thanks. Word studies are fine but the contexts need to be parallel. Otherwise, we are guilt of the same sort of stripping words out of their contexts as the JWs.

Both Dr. Leithart and Dr. Witherington make interesting points, but I get the feeling they’re just talking past each other. I suppose that’s one of the problems with debating on the intertubes. I would like to see them interact more, but it sounds like they are already convinced of their positions. Maybe an OT scholar should comment on the issue.


Now that I think of it, I don’t like Dr. Witherington’s response. In the words of my GRTS professor Dr. Lawlor, he is focusing too much on the event and not the text and thus blows through what the text is saying, especially if one takes the Pentateuch as a whole. If the Pentateuch is a whole with a unified meaning, then one should be able to track the use of words through different narratives despite “different social circumstances.” The meaning may change in each narrative, but one should takes serious the possibility that there is a connection between the Garden narrative and the narratives of the Tabernacle and the roles of the priesthood. That is, in a analogical (not equivocal) sense, Garden = Tabernacle; Adam = Priesthood; and, of course, God = God. So, I think Dr. Leithart’s proposal is possible. It would be interesting to track the use of the word (shamar– to guard, keep) in connection with the other word (I can’t think of it at the moment) through out the Pentateuch (and, honestly, through 2 Kings as well). One thing that makes me lean towards Dr. Leithart’s proposal is the fact that the four covenant functionaries (Judge, Priest, King, and Prophet) in Deuteronomy 16-18 appear in every single narrative (either alone or in connection with the other three) from Joshua to 2 Kings. That’s a startling continuity! This makes me think that, while the “social situation” may be different between Adam and Leviticus/Numbers, there may be a functional connection that the narrative brings out. That may be a stretch, but after all, I’m not an OT scholar. 🙂


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