Showing posts with label Adam and Eve. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adam and Eve. Show all posts

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Third Creation Narrative (Genesis 5)

I wrote in late May about the supposedly dull genealogy at the beginning of Matthew's gospel (which can be found here), and it would seem that Genesis 5, entirely dedicated to genealogy, is another dull chapter. I think that appearance is misleading.

I had a look to see what some important Christian figures had said about this chapter to get a more rounded view, so I had a look at John Calvin's commentary on Genesis: nothing about the genealogy itself, just a little about the opening phrase and on the very ending, connecting it to the Flood, plus a paragraph or two on Enoch. This seems a general trend, though I only had a cursory glance. To remedy this, I would like to give a sketch of why I think Genesis 5 is a third creation account (after Genesis 1, Genesis 2) and why it is a fascinating story which sets the scene for the enigmatic verses at the beginning of chapter 6.

We must first ask a question: what does a creation narrative contain, and what issues does it seek to address? These accounts contain explanations of origins, of where the audience came from. Although the term is anachronistic if read back into the times of the ancient Israelites, they seem to set up a certain metaphysical perspective on the world, or more narrowly on humans' role in it. Thus, Genesis 1 presents a highly theocentric metaphysical view of the world, where everything is at a word away from God's command, everything is ordered and tidy, and humankind has a great dignity as well as the task to be fruitful and have dominion over the Earth. Genesis 2, on the other hand, which truly does stand alone in a sense (though is obviously made more rounded with Genesis 1) is a very anthropomorphic picture of God's hand in creation, with God hand-crafting humankind from the earth of the ground, and is said to "plant a garden in the east" (2:8). Combined we see God as entirely transcendent and beyond everything, and at the same time God as walking with us and bringing about growth in our midst - "imminently transcendent."

I propose that Genesis 5 is similarly a creation account: it begins with God once again being said to create man, in the likeness of God, male and female he created them, then he blessed them (v. 1). In this way, it echoes directly the similar statement in Genesis 1. Except unlike what we learn in Genesis 2, Adam is not said to father Cain, but Seth. Cain is completely forgotten, and interestingly, Eve is also forgotten - neither appears again in the Hebrew Bible, though they are both mentioned in the Christian New Testament.

In fact, there's not much mention of anything going wrong in Genesis 5 at all. The harshness of life suggested by the curse in Genesis 4 seems forgotten. The fratricide of Genesis 4 between Cain and Abel seems forgotten, as everyone seems to live peacefully. The line of Seth which came about almost as a fruit of that murder seems to be doing just fine. Calvin makes a long point about death, but I think for the original audience, un-immersed as they were in the eternal life and "death as the curse of sin" theology of centuries later after God's revelation in Christ, the long life and numerous children spelled peaceful success for the children of Adam in the line of Seth.

The line of Seth contrasts itself with the line of Cain directly as even the names resemble, or are even copied: Cain-Cainan, Enoch-Enosh, Irad-Iared, Mehujael-Mahalel, et cetera. Cain's Enoch had his name attached to a city, whereas Seth's Enoch walks with God. Lamech of Cain and Lamech of Seth also contrast similarly.

This would all be accomplished if the text said "lived a long life" after each patriarch, and left it at that. There seems to be no precedent for having details about when the first son (note the text has females but it is the first son which is mentioned in each case) was born or how old exactly the men were at their time of death. It indicates a great longevity - one I admit that I am unsure about - but it is nonetheless fairly superfluous.

What then are the numbers for? I dare say there is some of the typical symbolism in various of the numbers, such as the "perfect" 777 years of Lamech. These do not concern me presently, so I would instead like to point out three things which I find interesting which one discovers when one plots the lives of these men on a time-line:

I did not attempt to draw this entirely to scale, but the recorded events do occur in the correct order spatially.

First, note the green zone, where everyone in the line of Adam through Seth lives concurrently. Here the community of the line of Seth lives peacefully among each other, as far as we can tell, and coexist amicably with all their children. For about a century and a half, everyone from Adam through to Seth's Lamech coexist.

Then the red line, and this is the crucial second point: the curse of sin rears its ugly head, and death finally enters the world naturally. The murder of Abel was death at the hands of another human, and perhaps the curse was restricted to Cain's line, but suddenly this line is painfully aware of their own mortality. Close to a millennium since Adam came into the world, and now it is clear: humankind is destined to die.

I must stress this point of surprise, the jolt that comes from Adam's, and soon after Seth's death: it will be important to understand Genesis 6's cryptic starting verses, but it is even more important for understanding my third point: Noah is born into the mortal world. Note how the red line has everyone except Noah being born before the knowledge of humankind's mortality. Noah is the first person to be raised with the understanding that part of what it means for a person to live is that at some point they die. For everyone before him, death has been at most the consequence of active human violence. Once again, this will be crucial for understanding the figure of Noah throughout the Flood narrative.

To conclude, allow me to return to the idea of Genesis 5 as a creation narrative, and more importantly, how it answers the question that such an account raises: this genealogy presents humans as being first and foremost in the likeness of God, who created us and bestowed us with his blessing. Humans are fruitful creatures, who have children and live long lives. Except there's something horribly wrong - the reader knows full well that there was a curse pronounced on the first couple, Adam and Eve, and that life is therefore finite. This third and final creation account is practically an attempt at forgetting the weight of sin, at erasing all sin from history. This is why Eve, the woman who was tempted, is not mentioned, or Cain and Abel, or indeed anything evil. It thus foreshadows the Flood, where in a catastrophic way creation tries to renew itself by putting to death all the evil that has passed.

Yet it will not work. No amount of historical revisionism will suffice to change the fact that humans are mortal because of sin. With the Flood we shall see that even forcefully removing everything that has gone wrong in the past to try and start afresh will fail: sins must be forgiven, not simply forgotten. It will take the waters of baptism, not just of the Flood, gushing from the side of Christ on the Cross, to erase sin.

Note of gratitude: to the amazing work of Leon R. Kass that I discovered recently, many of whose comments are loosely paraphrased here. In particular, I refer to his commentaries in "The Beginning of Wisdom." He in turn claims to be indebted to Robert Sacks. Thanks to them both.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Effects of the Fall (Genesis 3:7-24)

Before we get to what happened after the first sin, I want to bring to mind something that was said when everything was still perfect:

"And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed"

"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves."  (3:7 - directly after they eat of the fruit)

Sin is the violation of a command of God, and this is the working definition in the first books of Genesis. But sin and wrongdoing are not identical sets of actions: things can be wrong without being sin, it seems, because although the first thing (as we shall see) that the first pair does when they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is cover themselves up, because they thought it was wrong, they were naked beforehand. So it cannot be the case that what is wrong is necessarily sin, or it would have been sin to be naked. No no, sin requires there to be a law against it, as St Paul says in his epistle to the Romans (which will be commented on in about seven months).

 "They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’"(vv. 8-13)

This depiction of God is highly anthropomorphic, and I suggest that we are meant to consider this in an allegorical sense because of this - not robbing it of truth, but not sending out archaeologists to try and find "the God footprints" either.

When God asks where the man is, he answers with fear. Why is the man afraid? Part of this anthropomorphic nature of this depiction of God is that he does not strike fear into the hearts of humans, as happens in other sections of the Scriptures. The man was not afraid of God before he ate from the fruit - but now something has changed. Man is is afraid, because now, man is guilty. Man is guilty because now he feels shame at being naked - and this raises the question: "who told you you were naked?", or in other words "how did you find out it was wrong to be naked?" The next question asked by God is not completely rhetorical, in that I think God is asking the man with some degree of sincerity - but the important bit is how then the man responds, and it illustrates one of the more common themes of sin in human history: blaming someone else. In my opinion, there are few things that separate us from God quite as much as our inability to accept that our wrongdoings really are ours. Objections to Christian doctrines that take the form "how can God blame me for this?" or "if God had done this for me, I would not have done that wrong" have root in the same problem, which is our recurring inability to say "I did wrong - and perhaps there were some factors involved that did not help, but I am at fault here."These separate us from God because we cannot be reconciled without forgiveness, and we cannot accept forgiveness unless we admit that we require it.

This "blaming of other" is in its fullest form here, because the man blames God for giving the woman in saying "This woman whom you gave to be with me" (v. 12), and then the woman for being the active cause in saying "she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." (v. 12). Notice that the man does indeed admit that he ate - but he seems to try and exempt himself from guilt by pointing out that it was brought about by something over which he had no control, and so others are at fault, really. As I said, this lies at the heart of the problems that face us all in reconciliation.

Though that was said of the man, the woman did much the same, so I will not comment on it. Instead, I shall proceed to the more long-lasting consequences of their sin:

The Lord God said to the serpent,

‘Because you have done this,
    cursed are you among all animals
    and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’

To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.’
And to the man he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    “You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 
 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.’
(vv. 14-19)

This has been commented on extensively, so I urge you readers to look up a commentary, specially one of a church father. I want to make a few points, but these will be more things to consider:

1. The traditionally Christian interpretation of the serpent as the devil is odd in this section, because in talking about the serpent's descendants, the implication is that the consequences will reach far beyond the death of the serpent. Even if we ignore this clear implication (it's also implied of the woman, which is true enough), then it is still unclear who exactly the descendants of the devil are. Are they demons? How were they conceived? And many more like these. It is furthermore unclear how the curse of going on the belly translates to the devil, as well as a few others.

2. The man's curses come from him listening to his wife. As a practical application, we are therefore divinely advised against this (I am joking on this point). I think this verse should be understood as listening to one's wife above and before God - which is a reasonable thing to be against.

3. These curses, to first degree and broadly speaking, can be thought of as the breakdown of relationships: between woman and nature, between man and nature, between woman and man, and between humans and the divine. There's more to it that that, and the childbearing one does not fit naturally into that categorization, but it is certainly of note that with sin, these relationships are broken.

"The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them." (vv. 20-21)

The naming is interesting here for a few reasons: man had already been naming things for a while now (it was his first job, whilst he searched for a companion), so it is curious that it took so long to find her a name (a proper name - ie, a personal one). Second, and perhaps to nuance that point, she was named before: "woman", in chapter 2. So why a second naming? Third, she is named mother of all who live, even though St Paul will say millennia later that Adam brought death[1]. This is not a contradiction, of course, but an interesting contrast between the supposed result of sin and the name "Eve", which sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for "living."[2] 
Leaving the issue of the naming, it is also interesting to see God's providence in the clothing of this couple. I may be horribly wrong, but I suspect there is some symbolic meaning to it which eludes me - could it be that "before they were clothed with glory, now they are clothed with skins", as some have said? Is it merely a symbol of God caring for even the banished sinners? I am not sure.

Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’ (v. 22)

The best I can muster right now to understand this verse, and it seems legitimate, is to say that God could not, in good conscience, give immortality to a flawed moral agent such as this first couple. He will be saving humanity - but he would only be damning humanity to eternal fallen-ness if he let them have life everlasting now.


Overall, I want to make renewed note of how formulaic this sin has been: it had all the key aspects to the temptation, it showcases the effects and it displays the behaviour that follows from the sin (which is similar but not the same as the more general term "effects of sin"). I think this is particularly fitting to how I interpret this passage in light of the whole of Genesis: the writer has to explain why the good world that God has created does not seem good, and the answer he gives is "humans sin". The role of this narrative is to explain why God cannot be blamed for the corruptness of creation, and we will see in weeks to come how other ancient near Eastern stories are going to be adapted to fit this theme, in particular, how Noah's flood explains natural catastrophe in terms of God's just anger with human evil - at least, a particular mega-flood of which there were many legends, many attributing it to capriciousness on behalf of the gods. The point of this section, therefore, is to explain how creation got bad when it was made good by a good God.

And to this effect, noting also how generic and general the committed sin is, I think that this man and woman are really symbols of us. Whether they were real people or not is, at this point, unclear, because the point can be made if they are figureheads of us or actual people. In terms of what the Bible says, how later writers of Scripture use Adam and Eve is going to shed far more light on the issue than this passage here. Nonetheless, we should think of this couple as if they were us, because if this story says anything, it says "the reason we can't have nice things is that humans commit wrongdoings," and insofar as we are humans, it is our fault that the world is the way it is. There is nobody else to blame.

[1] Adam is the word for man in Hebrew - the NRSV translators decided to use "man" throughout Genesis 2-3, but after many centuries this man is going to be spoken of as if he had a personal name "Adam." This usage is similar to saying Eve's name was "Woman."
[2] The writer of Genesis was brilliant both at naming his characters and subtly changing the names so that it only sounded like the thing being punned with.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Sin of the Fall (Genesis 3:1-7)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. (vv. 1-6)

This passage raises a set of questions that is only explained years and years later, and that is, who is this serpent? Does he know what he is doing? Did God make him this way? Although I'm inconsistent with this rule, I'll avoid trying to make speculations right now, because the text does not give this information.

The serpent opens with a simple enough question as to what exactly it was God had commanded. Some translations add "really", and make it sound like this question is made to raise doubt - but although it is possible that this effect is produced, the text does not read that way. The doubt will come from the lie that the serpent tells the woman, enticing her to desire the fruit, since the question really only makes the woman reaffirm what was God said...roughly.

One thing interesting about the woman's response is that it is not quite right. She has given herself a rule that is stricter than what God actually said, as far as we know, that only prohibits eating. A pastoral note can be made from this, in advising people against taking the commands of God beyond their scope, in any way. For instance, though Jesus is clear that lust is equivalent to adultery of the heart, it does not follow that admiring the beauty of another is forbidden. There may be a fine line between admiring and then twisting that admiration to an inordinate desire of a sexual nature, but it is also the fine line between sin and not sin. It must be clear to us that every time one thinks of someone else "woah, they have great eyes!", one is by no means being unfaithful to one's spouse. It is only when one then goes on to desire that person for oneself that it has lustful overtones. This is crucial if we are to avoid despair, and indeed, retain confidence that God's sanctifying grace really is at work.

Even so, the woman's response is roughly correct. Death is to follow from eating of the fruit, and here comes the lie: the serpent coaxes her in saying "there will be no punishment, it is no big deal. In fact, look how desirable it is! What gains it would bring if you ate! God only said that because he does not want the best for you." This mirrors temptation exactly, I think. In essence, we sin because we think that there will be no punishment, or not that big a punishment. We sin because we desire what is forbidden, and we think it will bring us something we lack and need. Finally, and here is the theological aspect to it, we sin because although we know that a good God would find it reprehensible, we become convinced that God is somehow withholding something from us, and that we would be better off disobeying. No sin is ever committed when we truly believe that we will be worse off when we sin, no sin is ever committed for something unappealing. Some have suggested that the essence of sin is mistrust of God, but though this is a useful generalization, these three aspects on which the serpent lie more fully spell out the root of all sin.

The Second Creation Account (Genesis 2)

Although for the ancient Israelites Adam and Eve are not particularly prominent figures, Christian theology values them enormously. We value them because in Adam we see a type[1] of Christ, a parallel drawn in particular by St Paul in the epistle to the Romans, chapter 5. I will not for now discuss that passage in Romans - I will get to it in due time, but the typological parallels that are relevant will be drawn. I will also only note the differences with Genesis 1 where relevant.[2]

"Then the LORD God formed man [Hebrew adam] from the dust of the ground [Hebrew adamah], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." (v. 7)

The author is using a play on words here between "adam" and "adamah", the word for "man" and the word for "ground." This is a sort of humbling message, specially after Genesis 1 where we get the importance of being in the image of God and having dominion over the earth. This foundational truth[3] is important to grasp, and we are reminded of it every year on Ash Wednesday when we have the priest draw the cross in ashes on our foreheads and say much the thing that is said in this verse. 
 "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." (vv. 15-17)

Having established that God is in no way indebted to man, we see that still God gives to him everything he needs - he asks only that man refrains from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for his own sake. If man eats from the tree, then on that very day, he will die. This is a losing of the divine life, not of the earthly life - for us creatures, to have the divine life requires the earthly life, the biological life, but it is certainly distinct. It is completely false to transpose the statement and say that biological life means one has divine life. St John's gospel uses the word life in this way, as the divine life, since even those condemned still have life, in some sense.

Summary of verses 18-22: The man names all the animals, but none are quite a suitable partner, so God makes woman from the man's rib. Then we read:

"Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
   for out of Man this one was taken.’

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed." (vv. 23-24)

God continues in his providence, having already given man everything he needs physically, he makes woman, the companion of man, who together can be mutually fulfilling. An incredible mystery is found here, because St Paul (or whoever wrote the epistle to the Ephesians) is going to take this and make it apply to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Let us make one point very clear: this relationship sets up the mystery, but it is not in itself part of the mysterious oneness of the body in marriage - the man and the woman here were the same flesh beforehand also.

"And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed." (v. 25)

I think this verse has some key information about the nature of sin, too, and also helps us understand what St Paul writes in the epistle to the Romans about the law and sin. I will comment on this, however, in relation to what happens after they eat of the fruit, when I comment on Genesis 2.

A take home point:

So far, everything is written so as to be thought of as perfect. This is, quite literally, paradise, the garden of Eden. In the context of the book of Genesis, we are meant to think of it this way - but we're also meant to have a problem. We, as human beings that live in the real world, have absolutely no experience of God in this way, or of the perfection of paradise. Both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 have problems which the Enuma Elish, the epic of Gilgamesh, Sumerian myths and any other number of creation (and soon, flood) stories avoid easily: we have a perfect God, yet the world seems far from perfect. Throughout the next 10 chapters in particular, but throughout Genesis as a whole, the writer is going to have to treat the problem of evil in a way no previous religions had to. The reason for evil is going to have to be something other than God himself - and we shall get to what the writer says in Genesis 3.

[1] I use type in the typological sense.

[2] Differences abound, but since Genesis 1-11 does not attempt to write history in the conventional sense, it is not a matter of particular importance.

[3] I don't wish to poke too much fun at my young Earth creationist brethren, but they seem to miss that humans were made from the ground if and when they say things like "evolution destroys the dignity of humans by making them a product of the natural world." The theory of evolution may not be found explicitly in the Bible, but the idea that we are made from the most earthly of things - literally, the earth of the ground, certainly is.