Ingrid Faro. Evil in Genesis: A Contextual Analysis of Hebrew Lexemes for Evil in the Book of Genesis. Bellingham: Lexham, 2021. 383 pages. $29.99 (paperback).
The presence of evil in the world and the Bible is leveraged in arguments against God’s goodness and used as proof to demonstrate the non-existence of God, resulting in widespread theological and philosophical debate. Yet, as Ingrid Faro, Visiting Professor of Old Testament at Northern Seminary, notes, there is very little research on the use of evil in the book of Genesis (1). She compensates for this lacuna in Evil in Genesis: A Contextual Analysis of Hebrew Lexemes for Evil in the Book of Genesis.
Although she draws conclusions about the definition and meaning of evil in Genesis, she suggests that the theology of evil in Genesis does not lead readers to ask questions about the origin or nature of evil but about how humans should respond to evil (200). Still, questions about the definition, nature, and portrayal of evil drive her study of the English gloss “evil” for the Hebrew lexemes רע ,רעה ,רעע in the Masoretic Text (7).
Faro provides an initial examination of the lexical data (Part 1), followed by an investigation into the cognitive connections between sight, good, and evil (Part 2). She then synthesizes the information gained in her research by following the plot of conflict between God’s interests and human interests in Genesis (Part 3) before providing her final conclusions. In addition, three insightful excursuses are included, along with an appendix outlining all the occurrences of evil in the MT compared with Rahlfs’s LXX and the NASB translation.
Faro challenges the dual distinction between qualitative and moral/ethical evil preserved in standard lexicons as far too limiting (9). Her examination of the lexical data in Genesis is convincing on this score, demonstrating the need for a more nuanced understanding of evil in Genesis that accounts for the “wide semantic freight” of the Hebrew lexemes obscured by the English gloss “evil” (15). Especially helpful is her taxonomy of evil, where she maps four distinctive categories of meaning, demonstrating the various uses of evil in Genesis (75).
By including cognitive connections to evil, her study extends beyond the lexical research itself. Her inductive examination of the relationships between sight and good with evil results in an interesting connection between the opening and closing chapters of Genesis that help readers ask the right questions about evil as portrayed in Genesis, not so much about the origin of evil, but of the impact of the human response to evil (200).
Beyond the profit gained by her conclusions, scholars and students may find value in her methodology for pursuing studies relating to the use of evil in the Pentateuch or other books of the Bible, studies she hopes others will pursue (200). The technical aspects will doubtless deter general readers. However, she provides guidance as to which sections may be skipped by a less academic audience or individuals wishing to avoid the technical features of her writing, making her work accessible beyond the confines of a primarily academic readership (2).
Aaron Downs is a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.