Sandra Richter’s recent book, Epic of Eden is a great resource for those with a messy brain in regard to the Old Testament. In this book Richter writes primarily to cure what she has coined “the dysfunctional closet syndrome.” Epic of Eden is intended to assist the reader in overcoming linguistic, historical, cultural, and geographical barriers. This is accomplished mostly through chronology and geography. Richter simplify things by listing five names which serve as signposts for different eras (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David). Further, three places are given in the Ancient Near East to give the biblical narratives a real place (Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt).
The first of Richter’s key points is the concept of redemption through the lens of Israel’s tribal or patriarchal culture. Then the concept of covenant (berit) is explored. This is laid as framework for the book. With the notion of covenant laid out, Richter writes on God’s original intent in the Garden of Eden and his final intent in the New Jerusalem. Next, the author guides the reader chronologically through the Old Testament by enumerating Yahweh’s covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally the New Covenant enacted by the incarnate Jesus. In essence, the covenants expand their limits from one man and one woman (Adam ; Eve) to the church and all people (New Covenant, Christ).
In this book, Richter is primarily dealing with two things. The first is a disorganized knowledge of the Old Testament. The second is a misunderstanding of the Old Testament’s culture and theology. Through her treatment of covenant, the reader is given an organizational system for the information and a better understanding of the patriarch’s world. Through her explanation of creation, redemption, genealogies, and geography the reader is able to traverse the various barriers of a distant and different culture. Ultimately, Richter is providing the reader with a biblical theological hermeneutic – a lens through which to view the Old Testament. For the Epic of Eden, Yahweh’s covenants with his people, co-opted from Ancient Near Eastern treaties, are the best way to grasp the information given in the Old Testament.
With any book, there will be merits and faults of the material. Richter’s primary accomplishments are organization and helping her readers through Old Testament culture shock. She helps us organize, but she also explains Ancient Near Eastern culture in a relatable way. For example, the firstborn received a double portion because of their pivotal role in Israelite society, not an overt favoritism (p. 29). Also, she explains how the covenant in patrilineal societies was a way of making non-family into family (p. 30).


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