Tryggve Mettinger’s The Eden Narrative

Mandy got me The Eden Narrative for Christmas. I happened to see it on Eisenbrauns, and it sounded extremely interesting. As it turns out, my hunch was correct.

Mettinger has an extremely readable style, while still managing to communicate all of the academic “meat” that one might expect or desire. If I were not to restrain myself, his bibliography alone might fill out my summer reading list quite nicely. The book undertakes a literary and “religio-historical” study of Genesis 2-3, which Mettinger terms, and I think correctly, the Eden Narrative. The chapters themselves are laid out according to the type of study undertaken in them. As a result the book is easily read a chapter at a time, though the whole does fit together nicely. Chapter one contains the introduction and a few opening issues, such as a survey of scholarship on the Eden Narrative and the question of whether there is one tree in the narrative, or two.

Chapter 2: This chapter subjects the narrative to a “Narratological Analysis.” Overall it does an excellent job of bringing the reader up to speed on where Mettinger is at and some of the vocabulary he will use. It outlines his thoughts on the plot of the narrative perfectly.

Chapter 3: Here Mettinger moves into an analysis of the theme of the narrative. He surveys what other scholars have mentioned in relation to literary theory and theme, as well as the theme of the narrative itself, and then examines four themes, or thematic elements, of the narrative (death verses immortality, disobedience and its consequences, theodicy, two trees).

Chapter 4: This chapter concerns itself with the genre and function of the Eden Narrative. I felt a bit as if the chapter could have benefited from a few more pages. The author makes an excellent case for seeing the Eden Narrative as myth. He also surveys the nature of genre, and has a very brief excursus on structuralist approaches to the narrative. I ultimately agree with his conclusion that structuralist approaches too often ignore the plot of the narrative. Nevertheless, there are some interesting proposals out there that I’d like to read more about.

Chapter 5: This is perhaps his weakest chapter. Mettinger wants to find traces of the Adamic myth in Ezekiel 28, which I think is certainly possible. However, the analysis feels slightly rushed. Also, his attempt to find the abstract “wisdom and immortality” in his reconstructed version of the Adamic myth based on Ezekiel 28 is, in my opinion, unconvincing.

Chapter 6: Chapter six, however, makes me think that a possibility of “wisdom and immortality” as a major theme in the Eden Narrative (contra the Adamic Myth reconstructed solely from Ezekiel 28, and a brief mention of Job 15) is possible. Both Adapa and Gilgamesh deal with the concept of immortality and wisdom. The problem is, of course, that “wisdom” as applied to Mesopotamian literature is a “misnomer,” as Lambert has pointed out (Babylonian Wisdom Literature, 1). Mettinger is well aware of this fact, but continues to use the term wisdom. A far better term might be “knowledge.” I realize that many scholars speak of Babylonian “wisdom,” even Lambert. However when dealing with this in a Biblical text it confuses the issue. The “wisdom” on offer in Genesis, with so many parallels to Adapa and Gilgamesh, has very little to do with the wisdom in the canonical (and even extra-canonical) wisdom literature. This fact is an important one, but even with the bad terminology the chapter makes an excellent comparison. It is this chapter that convinces me that immortality and knowledge may well be part of the Eden Narrative, not the analysis of Ezekiel 28.

Chapter 7: Here Mettinger wraps up his arguments by reviewing and tying things together. I think that he may rely a little too much on his dating of the Eden Narrative to the postexilic period. He sees strong Deuteronomistic ideas in the Eden Narrative, even though it lacks much of the language. I wasn’t convinced of this fact. This makes perfect sense since Mettinger assumes agreement on the dating of the Eden Narrative, and doesn’t waste space on surveying the relevant scholarship. Nevertheless, his argument that blessing and cursing, as well as sin as disobedience is coming from a Deuteronomistic influence that in turn influences his dating, and then his dating influences the idea of a Deuteronomistic influence on the text seems to be circular to me.

Overall, the book is worth a read to those interested in the primordial history, or in the creation accounts in particular. It was an easy read, and certainly worth the relatively little time it took to finish it. It’s also the first Eisenbrauns book I’ve owned and completely read (I also own Babylonian Wisdom Literature, which I have mostly read, but treat more as a reference tool and so have not really read consecutively; Mandy owns Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, but I haven’t even considered picking up that tome), so I feel all warm and fuzzy.

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One thought on “Tryggve Mettinger’s The Eden Narrative

  1. Thank hou for Your good summare and commentary on this book, that in fact was in part discussed at the seminary in Old and New Testaments exegetics at Lund university.The parallel between Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28 appeared to be striking.
    Besides that the type of research made by Mettinger seems to fit in very well in a before experienced collision between faith and science, where Christians with a deep faithfulness to the Word of God, in hte writings of Mettinger can find a way to understand how these very criticised texts came inteo being and in what symbolic world they are written and as a final result be abel to understand their deeper meaning.

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