The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. Sandra L. Richter, Intervarsity press, 2008. ISBN: 978+8308-2577-6 Albert Einstein once said “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. ” This is an extremely powerful quote, and I will seek to convey its strength, as applied to our lives as Christians, upon the careful review of Sandra L. Richter’s The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. Richter designed this text as merely a tool by which we might further our understanding of the Old Testament narrative.
With one minor glitch in her system, Richter handled the task as that of an expert in the field would – with patience, attention to central detail, and arresting dialogue designed to pull the reader in and leave them starving for more. Richter prefaced The Epic of Eden with a mind-boggling introduction that left no doubt in my mind that this was going to be an enlightening read, and I don’t say this casually. The second definition of the word enlighten, according to Merriam- Webster, is “to give spiritual insight to”, and Richter disguised a promise of nlightenment within the initial pages of this text.
As a perfect example of this concealed assurance, Richter states that the end result of a church not knowing their Old Testament history is that “The church does not know who she is, because she does not know who she was”(17). These words resonate with the threat of a Christian identity crisis, while at the same time, the promise of an assured, powerful, Christian identity. One of the more profound ideas in Richter’s Epic of Eden is her use of an effective metaphor is chapter one. “… we need to get past the great barrier – that hasm of history, language, and culture that separates us from our heroes in the faith” (21).
This comparison seems to collect all of the hesitancies, the reservations, and the relative fear in understanding the Old Testament, and places them in a neat little package aptly titled the great barrier. Richter wasted no time in eliciting the appropriate internal response: there is a barrier to my knowledge of the Old Testament, and I am largely the reason that barrier exists. It became immediately obvious to me that, should I want to remove this barrier and learn more of who I am, nd where I came from, and dare I say, where I’m going, then I will require further reading.
That promise of enlightenment, at this point, has become an extremely dominant theme. Richter takes a superb approach to answering the question of “How? ” How will we, as Christians recognizing the need for Old Testament knowledge, come to understand the features of the Old Testament most relevant to who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going? Richter makes reference to the “dysfunctional closet syndrome” (18), a metaphor she uses to relate he idea that we possess a disorganized, collective array of varying thought and knowledge processes relevant to our Old Testament experience.
In order to gain a full, working comprehension of our history, we must organize our ‘closets’, and become familiar with the pieces that are stuffed inside. Richter begins her teaching that we tend to see things through the lens of our own experiences, our own societies, our own cultures. This strengthens the great barrier in that we are not able to appreciate the events of the Old Testament, due in part to the differences between hat we know, and about that which we read. Richter points out that “… to truly understand their story, we need to step back and allow their voices to be heard in the timbre in which they first spoke.
We need to do our best to see their world through their eyes” (22). Richter allows the reader to identify this facet of the great barrier as more than a mere hindrance to understanding. Richter begins her breakdown of the Old Testament by stating the overall theme of the text- redemption. I would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate motivating factor in persuading one to truly nderstand the Old Testament. This is the ultimate goal in the life ofa Christian: to be redeemed by the Father for the wayward life lived as a human, who could never hope to prevail without it.
Richter explains that the word redemption was actually adopted from “… the laws and mores of Israel’s patriarchal, tribal culture” (40). She goes on to reference several popular stories from the Old Testament, in order to allow the reader to fully grasp the concept of redemption as it was applied in Old Testament text. The following are two examples: Ruth and Boaz – “But in his ntegrity, Boaz chooses to embrace the responsibility of a patriarch and become Ruth’s gdel – her ‘kinsman-redeemer” (42). Lot and Abraham – Lot and his household are invaded by a “… oalition of Kings from Mesapotamia… ” (43), and Abraham, being Lot’s uncle, swoops in to save him (accompanied by hundreds of his family members). “So Abraham puts own household on the line, his own life on the line, in order to rescue his brother’s son from a strong enemy against whom he had no defense. This is another expression of ‘redemption in Israel’s world” (43). The author uses these to nhance our understanding, on a more personal level, of the word redemption, and later, the impact it would have on the life of a faithful Christian when dealt by the hand of God.
Richter begins to “organize our closets” by explaining the “… real time and space – real people, real places, real faith” (47). In order to understand our Old Testament story, we must first “… know something about the time and space our heroes occupied” (47). She does this by identifying the five “key players” (47): Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, and their approximate time within the context of ur history. Richter, I believe, uses these figures as the framework of her explanation because each holds extreme value in the overall story of redemption.
There are many stories involving other players in the Old Testament, but these five are the ones that have experiences directly relevant to our redemption. This was a masterfully crafted technique, and one I appreciate for its value in my own Old Testament comprehension. Next, Richter attempts to tackle the “real space” that these heroes occupied. Before delving into the topic, Richter acknowledges the idea that “. eography is a trauma-inducing topic for some folks” (55). Remember in the first paragraph when I touched on the idea that there was a minor glitch in her system?
Her attempt at wading through the waters of the geographical flood that stands ever- present in my mind failed miserably. Geography that we learn about in modern-day American education is one thing, and easy enough. Geography pertaining to the bible was an entirely different monster before reading Richter’s Epic of Eden, and it depictions of the space referenced in the text. But after her initial easy-to- nderstand reference of the pertinent places, the text became Jumbled, and I found myself constantly going back to check the maps, and then losing my train of thought.
I continued on this annoying cycle throughout the entire explanation of space. I was ultimately left feeling confused and asking more questions, which resulted in the loss of information that I feel I should have been able to retain. Richter did an excellent job of keeping me entertained enough to forge ahead in my thirst for Old Testament knowledge by explaining in great detail the covenants that were held by the key layers of the Old Testament.
To be quite honest, before reading Epic of Eden, I was only fully aware of the covenants between Adam and God, and between Noah and God, and I was only vaguely aware of the covenant between Abraham and God. I was delighted that Richter tackled these stories as someone with a strong passion for spreading the gospel. Because of the time and depth that she put into portraying each covenant, I am left with a broader understanding of each of the covenants, and of how they relate to my story, my redemption.
Overall, Epic of Eden delivered on its (albeit hidden) promise of enlightenment. I have come a long way in the time it has taken me to read this book, and this can be attributed to the organized, complete set of facts that Richter pulled from the bible for use in aiding my comprehension, my enlightenment. I can now pick up the Old Testament, open to any page, and with my newfound knowledge, I can understand the story and know that it is also my story. An allusion to Einstein’s quote – I have found understanding, and so it is that I now experience peace.