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.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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