Good, fair summary of Sailhamer’s book. I was lucky enough to have learned Hebrew from Sailhamer and take a Genesis exegesis with him while in seminary. So, I guess I have my biases too. 🙂
You said that you had a hard time following along with Sailhamer’s argument about the difference in syntax between Genesis 1:6 and 1:14. I had the same trouble, but I think I read in either his EBC Genesis commentary or in his Pentateuch as Narrative that the main difference is the use of infinitives in Genesis 1:14. In 1:6 two ‘hyh’ verbs stand alone in their own clauses as a jussives, “Let there be an expanse in the midst…and let there be dividing…” In 1:14, however, the jussive ‘hyh’ verbs are followed by infinitives, making them purpose statements (I think Sailhamer uses GKC here). If this is right, 1:14 is no longer about God speaking the sun, moon, and stars into existence, but is, in a sense, telling the already-existing lights what to do. “Let the lights…be for dividing….and let them be for signs….” With such a position, Sailhamer could still argue that all the lights mentioned around 1:14 were all created in the beginning (1:1).
The part of Sailhamer’s argument that I find most satisfying is his insistence that in 1:1 the “beginning period of time” is indefinite. Whether or not this comes across in the book, I know that in class he said that Genesis 1:1 could have contained billions of years (his stance) or could have taken milliseconds (which young earth creationists would prefer). For him, it really doesn’t matter since Genesis 1:1 isn’t about the length of time, but about the purpose and significance of God as the Creator and Maker. I see this as a strength that can be adjusted for a wide variety of views on the age of the earth. I’ve put together a number of resources on my own blog about Genesis, some of which might help solidify some of Sailhamer’s arguments, if you’re interested.
For me, your criticisms of the book weren’t so much that Sailhamer was wrong, but that he didn’t address issues that you also thought were pertinent, such as the chapter’s implicit (or maybe explicit) challenge of other ANE creation stories. Almost as if Sailhamer forget to include a chapter. 🙂 I guess in the end I haven’t read any other views which make better sense of the Hebrew syntax in these opening chapters, while also understanding them in a biblically-informed and theologically robust manner that takes its clues from how the later Israelite prophets understood the chapters.