Will Make of Thee a Great Nation: A Book Review

This post is a review of the book I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation (Salt Lake City, UT: American University & Colleges Press, 2008) by Val D. Greenwood.

The subtitle of the book says that the book contains “Old Testament stories as told by Val D. Greenwood.” In the preface of his book, the author says that the purpose of his book is to make the great stories of the Bible “available for adult study in a simple, straightforward style” (p. ix). His goal is to help readers of these stories gain a deeper appreciation for the Old Testament. He said: “I hope . . . that the stories you read here will introduce you to the Old Testament, enhance your scriptural experience, and help you find deeper meaning in the Old Testament canon.”

After reading several stories from the book, I found many problems of interpretation and a large amount of eisegesis which take away the pleasure of reading and enjoying these Old Testament stories.

Since my time and space are limited, I chose to select two stories from the book in order to highlight some of the problems I have with the way Greenwood tells his stories. I have posted these two selections here. If you have not read them I suggest that you read the two selections before reading my review.

These are only some of the problems I found; I could mention several others. Take, for instance, story number 2, “The Serpant [sic] Deceived Me.” In Greenwood’s story Adam said: “I now know that she is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man, and the two of us together shall be one flesh. And for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.” This is a paraphrase of Genesis 2:23-24.

There are two problems with Greenwood’s interpretation. First, the addition of “and the two of us together shall be one flesh,” is not in the text and reflects a modern day effort to emphasize the sanctity of marriage. There is nothing wrong in emphasizing the sanctity of marriage, but this emphasis is not present in the story.

Second, Adam did not say “And for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.” This statement was said by the author of Genesis in order to explain what Adam said about Eve.

Greenwood wrote: “God told Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of every tree, except that which came from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” This is a paraphrase of Genesis 2:16-17. Greenwood’s statement is false. The problem with his interpretation is that God spoke these words only to Adam, not to Adam and Eve since Eve was not yet in existence.

Greenwood wrote: “Adam and Eve enjoyed their lives in the garden and were kept busy caring for it. They were also busy naming the animals.” This statement is also false, since in Genesis 2:19-20, Adam names the animals before Eve was created. In fact, it is during the naming of the animals that Adam realized that there was no one who could be his partner.

As for story number 6, “In You and In Your Seed,” the story as told by Greenwood is filled with inaccuracies and misstatements. As most Bible students know, the word “Chaldeans” in Genesis 11:28 is an anachronism since the Chaldeans did not come into prominence until the seventh century B.C. But since Genesis 11:28 mentions the Chaldeans, the presence of the Chaldeans in Greenwood’s story is acceptable. What is not acceptable is to say that “The Egyptians had great influence among the Chaldeans.” I do not know where the author found this information; the statement is historically inaccurate.

It is also inaccurate to say that “Abram’s father and most of his family, worshipped the false Egyptian gods.” This is not true. At Shechem Joshua told the Israelites: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors — Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor — lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). If Terah and his family worshiped other gods, and they did, these gods were Mesopotamian gods, not Egyptian gods.

It is also inaccurate to say that “Abram, however, because of his righteousness, did not turn to idolatry,” since as Joshua 24:2 clearly says that Abraham worshiped other gods. The truth is that Abraham abandoned the gods of his father after he came to the knowledge of Yahweh.

To say that “A great famine swept the land of Chaldea and Abram’s family suffered greatly. As the famine reached its peak, Terah left Ur” is just a guess because the Bible does not say that Terah and his family left Ur because of a great famine. Personally, I believe that this is not true. If one would guess a reason for their migration, probably the wars in Mesopotamia at the beginning of the second millennium would be a better reason.

The statement, “Terah eventually died at the age of 205 years. After Terah’s death, when Abram was 75 years old, Jehovah appeared to him in answer to his prayers and told him to take Lot and go to the land of Canaan,” is not true. Genesis 11:26 says: “When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” If Abraham was born when his father was 70 years old and he left to Canaan when he was 75 years old, then he could not have left after Terah’s death, since Terah died at the age of 205.

The statement, “Abram left Haran as Jehovah commanded him, taking his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, the people they had converted in Haran, and . . . arrived at a place called Jershon,” is not Biblical since the place called “Jershon” does not appear in the Bible but in The Book of Mormon. According to The Book of Mormon, the land of Jershon was located “on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful.”

Another statement that is full of inaccuracies and eisegesis is the statement about Abraham and Sarah in Egypt. Greenwood wrote:

The Pharaoh was pleased with Sarai because of her beauty, and he pleaded with Abram because of her–offering many gifts if Abram would give Sarai to him for a wife. But, though Abram declined, Jehovah brought great plagues upon the Pharaoh and his house because of Sarai.

The Pharaoh became very angry when he finally learned that Sarai was Abram’s wife. “Look at the trouble you have caused me,” he said to Abram, accusing him. “Why did you tell me she is your sister and not your wife? Do you not know that I might have taken her as my wife? You must take her now and leave my country.”

Greenwood said that Abraham declined Pharaoh’s offer, but he did not: “Therefore he [Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels” (Genesis 12:16).

Greenwood put these words in Pharaoh’s mouth: “Do you not know that I might have taken her as my wife?” But this is not correct. Genesis 12:19 says: “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife?”

I could go on and on pointing to problems of interpretation in Greenwood’s stories. Anyone who reads this book will not gain a better understanding of the Old Testament. To the contrary, the many inaccuracies that I found in only two stories, the faulty exegesis of the text, and the incorporation of Mormon geography into the stories of the Old Testament demonstrate that those who read this book will get a distorted view of the Old Testament.

Although I wish Greenwood well, I cannot recommend his book to anyone. As an Old Testament teacher, I am very jealous about the correct teaching of the Old Testament and I feel that this book does not present a good overview of the true teachings of the Old Testament.

Anyone who wants to read the stories of the Old Testament in “a simple, straightforward style” should get a copy of the Good News Bible, or the New Living Bible, or even The Message and enjoy God’s word in a style that is easy to understand.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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5 Responses to Will Make of Thee a Great Nation: A Book Review

  1. Brian says:

    >it’s amazing how this kind of nonsense gets published.

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  2. >Brian,I believe that this book is a type of self-publication. The author may be sincere in what he is trying to do, but his book reflects almost no research at all.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  3. Anonymous says:

    >Dear friend,I am grateful that you agreed to review my book, I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation. I know that you are a very busy man and there are many demands on your time. I would have been grateful if you had actually reviewed the book rather than focusing on portions of just two stories in an effort to show my “mistakes” and lack of objectivity.I am the first to admit that neither I nor my book is perfect. I am, after all, a mortal man and am prone to the foibles of mortality. I stand by what I stated in my Preface: “Wherever my interpretations may prove to be inaccurate, I take full reponsibility, as I do for everything else you find here.” Objectivity is a very difficult matter, as you know, because one man’s eisegesis is another man’s exegesis. I think you will agree that none of us is completely objective about anything, but are, rather, a reflection of our own backgrounds and experiences. We see everything through the lens of our own experience. And I certainly admit to that, as I trust you do as well.You are concerned about the problems with my interpretation of Genesis 2:23-24. The only thing I did that you seem to disagree with is to change the pronoun “they” to “we” so that I had Adam applying his statement about a husband and wife being “one flesh” to him and Eve personally and not just to mankind in general. Perhaps I should not have done that, but I felt it made this issue more of a personal issue. Also, I am not sure how you can be certain that the words spoken in verse 24 were the words of the author of Genesis rather than the words of Adam. There is certainly nothing in the text to suggest that, either in the Hebrew or in the English (KJV). I suppose one might surmise that Adam would not have known enough about the relationship of husbands and wives to say such a thing, but there is no clear-cut evidence that this statement was not Adam’s statement.You are absolutely correct about the commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil being given to Adam alone before Eve’s creation. I agree that I was wrong in stating that it was given to them both. However, there can be no doubt that the commandment applied with equal force to both of them and that Eve was well aware of this commandment. Is not this the same as if God gave it directly to both of them?As for the naming of the animals, Genesis is certainly clear about this being a responsibility given to Adam before Eve’s creation. I was wrong in suggesting otherwise. I would note, however, that my error came from the fact that I was not as thorough as I might have been in preparing this story. I adapted it from a story I wrote earlier for a Latter-day Saint audience, where I stated in a footnote as follows: “The Book of Moses (Moses 3:19-20) has Adam naming the animals before Eve is created. The Book of Abraham (Abraham 5:19-21), however, says that the animals were named after Eve’s creation.” I made an error in not picking up on this issue when I adapted the story for “I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation.” I have been unable to find the source of your statement that “it is during the naming of the animals that Adam realized that there was no one who could be his partner.” I have always believed that this understanding came not from Adam but from the superior intelligence of God himself. I am wondering if you have information to suggest otherwise. If so, I would be pleased to take note.With regard to story 6, my reading in many sources indicates that there was an extensive Egyptian influence throughout the entire “fertile crescent” during this period of time. With regard to Joshua 24:2 (KJV), it is not clear to me that Abraham was among those whom Joshua said worshiped other gods “on the other side of the flood.” I read that verse to not say anything specific about Abraham’s worship, but only about the worship of Terah, Abraham and Nahor’s father. Anything else seems to be only supposition.With regard to the matter of Abraham’s age when he departed from Haran and the death of Terah, I most surely am in error. If Abraham left Haran when he was 75 as the scripture says (Gen. 12:4), then it is obvious that Abraham left Haran several years before his father Terah died there. I stand corrected.On the matter of a place called Jershon, I should not have included this in my story. I have the same problems here as I have with the matter of Adam naming the animals. I converted this story from a story for Latter-day Saints and overlooked the fact that this information comes from the Book of Abraham. (Abraham 2: 15 and 16 states: “[15] And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother’s son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way of the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way; [16] Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran by way of Jershon, to come to the land of Canaan.”) This is not the Jershon of the Book of Mormon, as you suggested, but is a place identified by Abraham in his own writings in the Book of Abraham. It is believed by many to be the same as the place we now know as Jerash in Jordan, near the Syrian border.With regard to Pharaoh’s statement to Abraham when he (Pharaoh) learned that Sarai was Abraham’s wife were: “Why saidest thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife:…” (Gen. 12: 19 [KJV]). How can you read this differently? I have checked the Hebrew words involved, and, insofar as I can tell, the Hebrew does not seem to suggest any translation contrary to this.Though I have made some errors, which I freely admit, I hope you will remember that my book was not written, nor does it pretend to be, another translation of the Bible. As I said in my Preface: “I do not intend for “I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation” to replace or upstage the scriptures in any way. I hope, rather, that the stories you read here will introduce the Old Testament (should you need such an introduction), enhance the scriptural experience, and help you find deeper meaning in the Old Testament canon.” I am pleased to report, that despite the minor problems and our differences in interpretation, many have found such to be the case. The modern Bible translations are good and they help many, but my book does something that a complete translation of the Bible does not and cannot do. It leaves out those parts that people find tedious and irrelevant and focuses on the wonderful stories that can enrich their lives and their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is not to say that those difficult parts of the Old Testament are not important [for they definitely are], but only that many who are not students of the scriptures find them difficult and irrelevant in their view of life and do not spend time reading them.)Thank you for your kindness in wishing me well. I wish the same for you.Best regards,Val Greenwood

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  4. Robin says:

    When I read that the author was Mormon, I went back and read some of the stories and compared them to the KJV, NKJV, ESV & NASB and I noticed the same differences you mentioned above.

    Like

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