Evil in Genesis

A Contextual Analysis of Hebrew Lexemes for Evil in the Book of Genesis

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Ingrid Faro
  • Bellingham, WA: 
    Lexham Press
    , February
     2021.
     296 pages.
     $20.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781683594512.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The book Evil in Genesis develops the author Ingrid Faro’s dissertation thesis, similarly titled “A Lexical, Exegetical, Conceptual and Theological Study of the Evil in Genesis” (Illinois: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013), and overall, the focus is to ask what is evil and discover how it is portrayed in the relationship between God, humans, and the world. The book begins by highlighting that the main conflict that arises within monotheism is often a result of the clash between the existence of evil and the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. Yet, most of the literature on evil fails to talk about where evil originated, which as Faro states, is in the Book of Genesis.

Over the course of the book, Faro aims to investigate the use of the main Hebrew lexemes for evil in Genesis (ra'a'- verb, roa’- adjective, and ra'a- female noun) as well as to synthesize the data and concepts about evil into a “theologically reflective narrative” (3). Helpfully, the author breaks down the meanings of evil into categories. First, to understand evil lexically means understanding evil as a major category word that refers to anything bad. However, if we understand evil exegetically then we know it as something that plays a role (alongside good) in developing the plot throughout Genesis. Conceptually, evil is related to concepts of death in direct comparison to good and blessing, whereas theologically, evil is anything that departs from God’s ways.

In the first part of the book, Faro highlights how the distribution of the forms of the lexeme evil are examined in context. This shows how evil progresses the plot of the story and how it brings together the texts via “lexical, semantic, syntactic equivalence and linguistic literary linking of pericopes” (37). Faro attentively makes the point of stressing that even though evil is spoken about throughout Genesis, nearly 60 percent of the use of evil in direct discourse actually communicates the attitudes or feelings of the individual. In a way, this can make the use of evil lexemes highly subjective, as the person is merely using the term to express their point of view. Therefore, what one person may deem as evil, another may argue is not, and so the use of evil may not be consistent throughout. Furthermore, throughout Genesis, narratives and discourse combine to provide multiple points of view. This, according to Faro, means the reader is drawn into the conflict between good and evil by the dialectical tools, the narrative and the “theological reversal to produce a literarily and theologically unified text” (47).

Throughout the book, Faro makes it clear that Genesis shows how God allows evil and good to coexist, for Faro states that “God works in the midst of good and evil” (62). Faro refers to Genesis 50:20, which highlights how Joseph never stated that God caused evil, nor did God ever say evil is good, but rather that God is able to use the bad to bring about divine purposes for those who have faith. In other words, those who follow God faithfully will continue to live a life that is blessed, but there is no guarantee of an easy life, free from harm or suffering. Faro indicates that through Genesis we can see that God made life with the ability to be free and make choices, and in this world, good and evil must coexist. Therefore, it is up to individuals to choose the right path or deal with the consequences of their mistakes. It is only through choosing God and following divine commands that one can truly achieve full character growth and development, and fellowship with God.

Overall, what Faro is skillfully trying to portray here is that Genesis shows that although the world was created by God, and we as humans were created in God’s image, God never intended the world [or creation] to be governed solely by God. Instead, as Faro states, “humanity’s role is to partner with God to bring about His good plans for creation” (188). In other words, we must work to overcome evil and master the bad forces at play. Faro continues by stressing that Genesis does not imply at any point that God causes or does evil, but rather it states that God does bring about consequences of evil and sin upon people or places, such as is illustrated in the story of Sodom (Genesis 18–19). God actually recognizes free will as well as evil inclinations but continues to allow humans to choose evil and exploit creation.

The key points Faro makes in the book surround the main claims regarding evil as found in Genesis,  are summarized well in the conclusion. According to Faro’s closing statement, the book of Genesis illustrates that the original creation contained no evil or conflict and was in fact only good. When creating humans, God gave them the responsibility to make choices, either for or against God. This means that human beings are not passive, but actually participate in the choice between good and evil. However, after humanity’s betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden of Eden, evil flourished and became an even stronger opposing factor to good. Following the Fall, it was clear that humans have the ability to choose good or bad, and that people can be led to bad choices, but can also change and become good. It seems that righteous people are those who follow God faithfully, whereas those who oppose God’s plans and will are seen as evil and coercive. Furthermore, Genesis makes it clear that God does not measure success by worldly standards; in fact, whether one has experienced fulfilment of God’s promises does not diminish the truth of such promises, for one could make them happen later in this life or in the next life.

Overall, Faro is clear and decisive in highlighting how evil can be understood within the book of Genesis, and skillfully links evil, God and human beings—and the relationship between all three—to the scriptural book so decisive in Jewish and Christian religions.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Paige Simpson is a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University, England.

Date of Review: 
July 9, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Ingrid Faro is former dean of academic affairs and visiting professor of Old Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois, and associate professor of Old Testament at the Skandinvisk Teologisk Högskola (Scandinavian School of Theology) in Uppsala, Sweden.

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