Niehaus, Jeffrey J. When Did Eve Sin? The Fall and Biblical Historiography. Lexham, 2020. xi+172 pp. Pb. $17.99 Link to Lexham Academic
Gordon-Conwell Professor of Old Testament since 1982, Jeffrey J. Niehaus’s short monograph on the fall deals with a small detail in Genesis 2-3 as an entry into a larger discussion of how biblical history writing works.
The issue is simple. In Genesis 2:17 God’s command to Adam concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is, “You shall not eat.” In Genesis 3:3b, Eve appears to add the words “neither shall you touch it” to God’s command. Niehaus affirms biblical inerrancy, so this cannot be a contradiction. It is therefore possible Adam or Eve added to God’s command or that Eve accurately reports the original command from God. Most readers have likely heard the explanation that Adam told Eve not to touch the tree, usually in the context of a sermon on legalism (adding to God’s commands, etc.) Niehaus challenges this common interpretation.
Niehaus’s thesis in When Did Eve Sin? is this: biblical history often uses a “laconic third-person omniscient narrator followed by a first-person retelling of the same story with additional details.” “Laconic” here means “using few words” rather than “aloof,” “rude,” or a lack of interest in the topic. As he will demonstrate in chapters 4-5, biblical histography often tells a story twice with slightly different details. These kinds of paired stories (doublets?) are not evidence of two often contradictory traditions, but rather the historiographic style of the Old Testament. One problem for Niehaus is that there is no evidence for this style in other ancient Near Eastern history. In his God at Sinai (Zondervan 1995), he explored what he called the Theophanic Gattung (or type scene). This pattern of reporting a theophany of the invisible and only God is unique among ancient histories because “these things do not happen” in pagan histories. Applied to the problem of this monograph, scholars do not need to use pagan histography to understand a literary genre in the Old Testament.
Chapters 2-3 survey the history of interpretation, including Jewish (Philo, Talmud, Cassuto) and Early Christian (Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine) writers. Niehaus includes Reformation writers (Luther, Calvin), Critical Scholarship (Driver, Gunkel, Von Rad, Westermann), and Evangelical Scholarly Tradition (Keil and Delitzsch, Vos, Kline, Ross, Beale, etc.). He concludes that there is a long tradition of interpretation that assumes the woman added to God’s commands, and sometimes Adam added to God’s commands. Only rarely does an interpreter suggest that the woman reported what God said (Chrysostom, Augustine).
Chapters 4-5 Examine the data supporting his view that biblical history often uses a laconic third-person omniscient narrator followed by a first-person retelling of the same story. Much if this is drawn from the Old Testament, but Chapter 5 demonstrates this style with the three versions of Paul’s Damascus Road experience. The first is a third-person omniscient narrator, the second two are Paul’s first-person reports with additional details. Rather than three contradictory stories, Niehaus concludes Luke follows the pattern of Old Testament historiography.
Conclusion: When Did Eve Sin? is a short book (172 pages, but 5×8 size) with a clear and concise thesis. Even did not add to God’s command in Genesis 2:17 when she said, “Neither shall you touch it” in Genesis 3:3b. This monograph contributes to the interpretation of Genesis. But perhaps more important is Niehaus’s suggestion there is no contradiction here because this is the way the Old Testament writes history.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. I purchased the Logos edition. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.