Book Review: The Epic of Eden by Sandra L Richter

Book Review: The Epic of Eden by Sandra L Richter

Richter, Sandra L., The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008. 263pp.

Summary of Contents 

The first chapter, The Bible as the Story of Redemption, discusses the barriers we create by comparing other cultures to our own, or by claiming superiority over another culture (p.22). However, God revealed His plan through a particular ancient tribal culture (p.24-5), which was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal (p.25). The protection of the family and its patriarch meant everything. Within the context of this familial tribal culture we can best understand the concept of redemption, which restores the relationship of the individual to the father’s household (p.45), and is a picture of our restoration to our Heavenly Father.

The second chapter, The Bible in Real Time and Space, Richter unfolds the redemption story within the framework of time and space (or, geography) (p.47). The main characters Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David mark five different periods of time, and includes narrative and theological details in the epoch of Israel’s history (p.55). Mesopotamia, Canaan, and Egypt identify the geographical areas and the powers that would engage Israel (pp.56-60), and the different spaces within which Israel would journey and dwell.

The third chapter, The Concept of Covenant: The "General Law" That Holds Our Facts Together, discusses the theological concept of the covenant (p.69), which is an agreement between two parties who swear an oath to do, or not do, something in accordance to their mutual interests (p.70). One example was the suzerain/vassal covenant, whereby a greater king would make a covenant with a lesser king, with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (p.73). God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David to serve Him alone, (beginning with Abraham) including blessings of land or curses of exile for Israel (pp.86, 91).

God's Original Intent, in chapter four, was for Adam and Eve to live in paradise, and to enjoy His presence as long as they obeyed the one commandment to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit (p.92). Genesis 1-2 gives an overview of creation, and Dr. Richter discussed the different views of the creation narrative. However, Adam and Eve fell, and with them the human race (pp.112-4). As a result, Eve would experience pain in child bearing, and Adam, fruitless labor (p.111). The whole world suffers the consequences of Adam’s choice (p.118). Christ, the Second Adam will redeem creation and restore Eden (pp.114-5).

The fifth chapter, God's Final Intent: The New Jerusalem, the author reveals God’s plan to restore Eden. When Adam and Eve were banished, God placed cherubim to keep them out of Eden (p.117). At Sinai, God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle where He would meet with His people (p.120). The Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s vision of the temple had visions that pointed back to Eden or the New Jerusalem, which is what we know of as heaven (pp.124-8). This final intent is illustrated by a fallen climber in need of rescue (p.130). The rescue story unfolds from Adam to Christ and the covenants culminating in the New Jerusalem (pp.131-3). Only Christ, as the Last Adam, can undo Adam’s curse by his death and resurrection (p.134).

Chapter six, Noah and Abraham, the Lord found that the earth was violently corrupt and the whole human race was thoroughly wicked (p.137). Therefore, Noah was tasked with rescuing a remnant of God’s creation from the flood to begin anew (p.138). On all accounts, according to Richter, “the flood was an epoch divider.” The flood destroyed the earth and returned back to a “pre-creation state” (p.144), thereby giving Adam’s race a second chance. Thus, the primeval narrative of Genesis ends, and “datable history” (p.154) begins with Abraham around 2000 B.C. (p.155). God made a covenant with Abraham, promising land and heirs, which He sealed by passing through animal sacrifices, and circumcision (pp.160-3).

Moses and the Tabernacle, in chapter seven, actually begins with Joseph, who was sold in to slavery and rose to be the vizier of Egypt, and who settled his family in Goshen (pp.170-1). After the passage of time, a new Pharaoh ruled who did not know Joseph’s history, and thereby enslaved the Hebrews, because he feared them. The Lord heard the outcry of His people and remembered His covenant with Abraham (p.171-3). Moses led God’s people out of Egypt to redeem God’s people (p.174). God’s covenant with Israel established the law, the calendar, and the tabernacle where they enjoyed God’s presence for the first time since the fall (p.175).

Chapter eight, David and the Monarchy, follows the establishment of Israel as a theocracy under the Mosaic covenant, which lasted until 586 B.C. (p.189). At that time, the nation was ruled by judges and cycled through the same pattern of “obedience > disobedience > foreign oppression > repentance > deliverance” (p.193). Instead of covenantal faithfulness, Israel wanted a king, so they could be just like the other countries. Saul was anointed king, but he eventually disobeyed God, so David was anointed instead. He served in Saul’s court as a musician and slew Goliath on the field of battle (pp.199-201). David became king and God made a covenant with him to establish his throne forever (p.203).

The New Covenant, the Return of the King, in the final chapter begins the account of Cyrus who conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to rebuild their community in Palestine (pp.209-11). Since they no longer had a temple, they worshipped in the synagogue and practiced Judaism in community. The Jews looked for a Davidic messiah to come and deliver them. This messiah is Jesus who came to tabernacle with men, and became the mediator of a new covenant (pp.216-7). His kingdom arrived on earth in the Incarnation. Yet, Eden will one day be restored in the New Jerusalem at the Second Coming (p.219). The Christian is now the temple, redemption is accomplished, and the family of God is restored (p.222-4).

Evaluation 

Overall, this was an outstanding book and an easy read. I particularly loved how the author helped the readers to organize their understanding of the Old Testament similarly to how one attempts to organize their closet. By way of introduction, she posited the notion that too many Christians suffer from "Dysfunctional Closet Syndrome." Consider this book the "Container Store" for doing some Spring cleaning with your knowledge of the Old Testament. While I do not necessarily agree with all of her conclusions regarding the two frequently asked questions about the Law and Israel, I absolutely appreciate the way she organized the Old Testament around the five major figures: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. From Creation to the Divided Kingdom, and exile, the book weaves a beautiful tapestry of redemptive history.

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