This book has two main goals. The first is along the lines of Walton’s earlier book, The Lost World of Genesis One. The authors aim to situate not only the Bible but the notion of biblical authority, in its original context. A huge part of this original context is the primacy of orality in the ancient world. Our is (well, was) a text-centered age. Our ways of reading the Bible, of thinking about its authority (and whether it had authority), even reasoning about it, were all based on the Bible AS TEXT. Walton & Sandy make a case for the oral origins of both the Old and New Testaments. Even the letters of the NT, the very genre of which seem to us to be the epitome of texts, were composed in and in terms of a world were orality was primary. This goal of the book will be of value to all Bible readers.
The author’s second goal is to begin the reconstruction of the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy in terms of the orality of the ancient world. As they demonstrate, a doctrine of inerrancy based on the primacy of TEXT is rather different than one based on the primacy of orality. A textual world is more likely to collapse the Bible into a huge set of propositions, in which context inerrancy is them built on the accuracy of all those propositions. The oral world pictured by Walton & Sandy allows for more appreciation of a range of genres in scripture. Though they are committed to a high view of the authority of scripture, they recognize that if we read the Bible in terms of the primacy of orality, evangelicals will likely need to find a term fo replace inerrancy. As an evangelical Wesleyan, I especially appreciated their approach.
The weakness of their text comes in part of their central model of orality. They build off the work of John Searle’s speech act theory (I saw no mention of J.L. Austin), primarily in distinguishing between locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts. Their use of Searle is superficial, however, failing to investigate and apply his distinction between illocutionary force (WHAT is going on in the speech act) and propositional content (the INTENTIONAL dimension of the speech act). If not Searle himself, they would have profited from closer attention to Anthony Thiselton’s appropriation of speech act theory in New Horizons in Hermeneutics. Closer attention to the philosophy of language and the philosophical hermeneutics that employs it, would have strengthened their case.
This book will be of interest to all who seek a more contextual reading of scripture, especially to those who seek to honor the authority of the Bible in a way that fits with the ancient cultures in which it was produced.