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The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context (The Lost World Series)

ISBN: 9780830852413
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Our handling of what we call biblical law veers between controversy and neglect.

On the one hand, controversy arises when Old Testament laws seem either odd beyond comprehension (not eating lobster) or positively reprehensible (executing children). On the other, neglect results when we consider the law obsolete, no longer carrying any normative power (tassels on clothing, making sacrifices). Even readers who do attempt to make use of the Old Testament “law” often find it either irrelevant, hopelessly laden with “thou shalt nots,” or simply so confusing that they throw up their hands in despair. Despite these extremes, people continue to propose moral principles from these laws as “the biblical view” and to garner proof texts to resolve issues that arise in society. The result is that both Christians and skeptics regularly abuse the Torah, and its true message often lies unheard.

Walton and Walton offer in The Lost World of the Torah a restorative vision of the ancient genre of instruction for wisdom that makes up a significant portion of the Old Testament. In the ancient Near East, order was achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society. The objective of torah was to teach the Israelites to be wise about the kind of order needed to receive the blessings of God’s favor and presence within the context of the covenant. Here readers will find fresh insight on this fundamental genre of the Old Testament canon.

Resource Experts
  • Explores the authoritative significance of the Torah for the church
  • Provides a guide for faithful Old Testament interpretation
  • Explains how the Torah functioned in its original context


Part 1: Methodology

  • The Old Testament Is an Ancient Document
  • The Way We Interpret the Torah Today Is Influenced by the Way We Think Law and Legislation Work

Part 2: Function of Ancient Near Eastern Legal Collections

  • Legal Collections in the Ancient World Are Not Legislation
  • Ancient Near Eastern Legal Collections Teach Wisdom
  • The Torah Is Similar to Ancient Near Eastern Legal Collections and Therefore Also Teaches Wisdom, Not Legislation
  • The Israelite Covenant Effectively Functions as an Ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty Treaty
  • Holiness Is a Status, Not an Objective

Part 3: Ritual and Torah

  • Ancient Near Eastern Ritual Served to Meet the Needs of the Gods
  • Ancient Israelite Ritual Serves to Maintain Covenant Order Because Yahweh Has No Needs

Part 4: Context of the Torah

  • The Torah Is Similar to Ancient Near Eastern Legal Collections Because It Is Embedded in the Same Cultural Context, Not Because It Is Dependent on Them
  • The Differences Between the Torah and the Ancient Near Eastern Legal Collections Are Found Not in Legislation but in the Order Founded in the Covenant
  • Excursus: Observations About Composition
  • Torah Is Situated in Context of the Ancient World
  • Torah Is Situated in the Context of the Covenant
  • Torah Is Situated in the Context of Israelite Theology Regarding Yahweh’s Presence Residing Among Them

Part 5: Ongoing Significance of the Torah

  • Discussions of Law in the New Testament Do Not Tell Us Anything About Old Testament Torah in Context
  • The Torah Should Not Be Divided into Categories to Separate Out What Is Relevant
  • Torah Was Never Intended to Provide Salvation
  • Divine Instruction Can Be Understood as a Metaphor of Health Rather Than a Metaphor of Law
  • We Cannot Gain Moral Knowledge or Build a System of Ethics Based on Reading the Torah in Context and Deriving Principles from It
  • Torah Cannot Provide Prooftexts for Solving Issues Today
  • The Ancient Israelites Would Not Have Understood the Torah as Providing Divine Moral Instruction
  • A Divine Command Theory of Ethics Does Not Require that the Torah Is Moral Instruction
  • Taking the Torah Seriously Means Understanding What It Was Written to Say, Not Converting It into Moral Law
Walton and Walton take recent scholarship on ancient Near Eastern law and apply it with great dexterity to their investigation of the biblical Torah. Ancient law codes, like the Laws of Hammurabi, very likely did not form the actual law of their respective societies, and this book is willing to face the implications of this honestly. Overall, it builds a careful and important argument for how to approach biblical law. And it is brave enough to show that most casual interpretations by modern Christians will almost inevitably go awry. One can only hope that this kind of work will begin to dampen the naive and simplistic readings that plague much of American Protestantism today.

—Bruce Wells, associate professor, department of Middle Eastern studies, University of Texas at Austin

Walton and Walton rightly view Torah in the broader context of wisdom and as an expression of wisdom. This is exactly what passages such as Deuteronomy 4:6 and Psalm 19:7 imply.

—Kevin Chen, associate professor of biblical studies, Union University

Walton and Walton continue their Lost World series with a study of Torah, understood as instruction rather than law, wisdom rather than legislation. They point out how Torah is often misunderstood by Christians because they assume that it functions like modern laws or Greco-Roman laws. Instead, the authors argue, the Torah should be interpreted in its ancient Near Eastern context, where order was achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society. The collections of ‘laws’ contained selected illustrations, intended to teach a model for right and wrong as guidance for judges but were not comprehensive legal codes that regulated everyday life in detail. This careful and readable study will be valuable for all who are interested in Old Testament law and its relevance for Christians today.

—David L. Baker, All Nations Christian College

  • Title: The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context
  • Authors: John H. Walton, J. Harvey Walton
  • Publisher: IVP Academic
  • Print Publication Date: 2019
  • Logos Release Date: 2019
  • Pages: 288
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subjects: Bible. Pentateuch › Criticism, interpretation, etc; Law (Theology) › Biblical teaching
  • ISBNs: 9780830852413, 9780830872572
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-03-07T21:56:10Z

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. Previously he was professor of Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for twenty years.

Some of Walton’s books include The Lost World of Adam and Eve, The Lost World of Scripture, The Lost World of Genesis One, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, The Essential Bible Companion, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, and The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (with Victor Matthews and Mark Chavalas).

Walton’s ministry experience includes church classes for all age groups, high school Bible studies, and adult Sunday school classes, as well as serving as a teacher for “The Bible in 90 Days.” John and his wife, Kim, live in Wheaton, Illinois, and have three adult children.

J. Harvey Walton (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is a researcher in biblical studies and has contributed to a variety of publications. He is pursuing graduate studies at St. Andrews University.


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  1. Brayden Brookshier
    (I bought this book in print but will probably get it in Logos too) I don't say it lightly, but this is one of those books that every serious student of the Bible needs to read. Part of this broad reach is because of how foundational understanding of the Torah is. If we misunderstand the Torah, we are likely to misunderstand other parts of the biblical text. One of the major arguments is how Torah is misunderstood because it is (wrongfully) read as "law" in the sense of legislative law or even a moral code. The ANE didn't have a legislative understanding of law like we do. And the Torah is not comprehensive enough to provide a moral system. However, it appears to be better understood as wisdom that will instruct Israel how to be in covenant with Yahweh and bring order. Basically, our categories of legislative law and morality are the wrong categories and are absent in the OT world. However, categories such as wisdom and order are much more imperative for understanding. While I may not have agreed with every sentence in the book, I whole-heartedly agreed with the major message of the book. I only wish that the book had another chapter or two. But that speaks to it being such a great book. :) Read this book if you want to better understand the composition, function, and purpose of the Torah in its original context!

Enjoy this month's free book and discounted resources!


Digital list price: $21.99
Regular price: $16.99
Save $14.00 (82%)