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Book Review: Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis by John R. Coats

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Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis, by John R. Coats, is pretty much a self-explanatory book by the title alone. Coats examines the first book of the Bible through a new set of eyes. The premise is simple enough. Each book is not a literal retelling of biblical events, but rather a type of metaphor. In other words, it should be read as symbolism which represents the individual life of the reader. Reasonable? Yes. However, it’s probably not a bad idea to have some sort of religious text nearby when reading for comparison purposes. The Torah will work, since it has the first five books of the Bible contained within its pages.

The introduction lays out the sources used in compiling the chapters. One form of understanding these is known as Source Theory, which is briefly explained. The notes at the end list each page’s group of references for further study if one chooses, since some are more obscure than others.

Coats sprinkles his thoughts with personal reflections of how he identifies with the people and places in Genesis. For the most part, these are interesting. The tale of an interaction with his daughter will curdle milk. While I realize it should be taken in context, Coats is also clearly out of line.

Rather than an interpretation of each chapter, there are four large sections covering a certain person or group. These sets have a further breakdown of Acts – three subsets apiece. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. Readers can read straight through, or select whatever section appeals best.

Despite Coats having a theological background, this book is easy enough to understand. There is a natural ebb and flow to his words so readers will want to know more as the pages go by. Is it the best interpretation out there? Each person can decide. Further study might be indicated, but perhaps not. Just don’t consider this book the final word on the subject. Other ones exist.

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