Friday, April 5, 2013

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 2

Continuing the series I started earlier this week...

Genesis 2:8-17
In the creation account of 2:4-3:24 the deity is referred to as Yahweh Elohim (usually shown as "LORD God" in most English translations) rather than merely Elohim (God) as in chapter 1. The double identification of the deity, found eleven times in this section, occurs almost nowhere else in the Pentateuch (the sole exception being Exodus 9:30 where the Greek equivalent of this construction is curiously absent from the Septuagint). It has been suggested that someone inserted "Elohim" into a text that previously only had "Yahweh" as a means of softening the transition between the creation accounts of 1:1-2:3 and the one found in 2:4-3:24. Given that this is the only place in Genesis where this construction is used, that certainly seems plausible. Otherwise we're left wondering why in the world Moses would've suddenly switched gears on us, not that Bible expositors haven't provided quite a few guesses.

Anyway, Yahweh Elohim plants a garden/orchard, makes a man and places him there to work, care for and maintain it. Why? If we don’t bring all of our interpretive baggage with us, the obvious reason seems to be because Yahweh wants to be able to eat from it, but he doesn’t want to have to work it himself. He does allow man to eat from the trees in the orchard, however, and this is for the man’s provision and wages for his services. Man is essentially Yahweh’s slave, made from dirt. This would fit with most of the other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths like the Atrahasis Epic, which has the gods forming man from clay in order to serve them in tending to creation because they don’t want to do it themselves. Again, Yahweh seems to be failing to distinguish himself from the other gods of the Ancient Near East.

An exception is made for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as that fruit was exclusively for Yahweh Elohim and whoever else is to be included in the “us” of 3:22. To deter the man from eating the fruit of this tree, Yahweh Elohim tells him that eating of it will lead to death “in the very day” he eats of it. This is usually understood as a test to see if man will obey God. However, the narrative never indicates that it was. Later interpreters read it that way, but that’s not in the text itself.

The straightforward reading is that Yahweh Elohim simply didn’t want the man to eat that fruit and obtain the knowledge of good and evil, wishing instead for him to remain in his ignorance. In fact, the only explanation we get from the narrative itself as to Yahweh’s motives comes from the serpent. Given the way in which Yahweh reacts to events, there is every indication the serpent’s understanding of the situation was basically correct.

It certainly appears that Yahweh really is worried that the man will become more like a god, knowing good and evil. The serpent’s statement to the woman that she will not die could at worst be considered a half-truth in that eating the fruit did not lead to immediate death, but rather eventual death. It should be noted, however, that eventual death only comes almost a thousand years later and that Adam is able to personally witness the passage of nearly one sixth of all of human history. Nowhere in the text was Adam ever promised immortality for him and his posterity upon the conclusion of some arbitrary probationary period. There is only concern from Yahweh after the fact that man would become immortal as well as having knowledge, and steps are taken to make certain this does not happen.

If this is indeed the case, it would mean that the serpent was not lying at all and is instead a promethean figure that is common in ancient mythology. This character takes something reserved for the gods and gives it to mankind. This fits right in with the worship of the serpent by the Israelites suggested in the accounts of the bronze serpent (Num. 21 & 2 Kings 18:4), Moses’ staff [or is it Aaron's?] (Ex. 4 & 7), the serpent’s stone altar where David’s son Adonijah made sacrifices (1 Kings 1:9), and even the Levites who may have originally been snake-charming priests of the serpent god Leviathan only to be later adapted into the narrative as a patriarchal tribe of Yahwist priests perhaps once exclusive Yahweh worship was demanded by some monarch like Hezekiah. Additionally, it appears that the serpent was correct in that Yahweh’s threat of instantaneous death was really just an empty one. In fact, if one just lays aside the typical assumptions about the character and intentions of both Yahweh and the serpent, it becomes fairly obvious who actually lied in Genesis 2 & 3 (hint: it's not the serpent).

The objection will be raised that it was spiritual death for mankind that was implied here and that this spiritual death was immediate. Again, that information has to be provided by later interpreters and is not found anywhere in the passage itself. Genesis 3:7 even relates an awakening of sorts, not anything like death. When Yahweh does begin handing out curses, death is only alluded to in 3:19 as Yahweh says man will now have to work really hard to get things to grow instead of just being able to pick fruit from Eden’s orchard until the adam (man) returns to the adamah (ground), forming a nice little Hebrew pun. Note that it’s only in verses 22 and 23 that Yahweh has a forehead-slapping “oh, yeah” moment and makes the decision to expel man from the orchard so he can’t later become immortal by eating from the tree of life. There is nothing in the text whatsoever that indicates the man was ever intended to be immortal in first place.

There’s nothing about a soul even existing, much less somehow dying or continuing to exist in an intermediate state after physical death. We did have Yahweh breathing the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils, but that’s not really special according to Ecclesiastes 3:19 and 12:7 where we are told animals have the same breath (Hebrew: ruwach) and this wind merely returns to God when the dust returns to the ground. The ancients, of course, believed that invisible and often mysterious forces like wind/air/breath originated from the gods. Note what Yahweh doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Your body will return to the dust from whence it came, but your disembodied soul will have some sort of conscious existence that will continue on afterward in a place called Sheol.”

Positing the threat of instantaneous spiritual death, or even temporal death for that matter, raises more questions than it answers. How would Adam have even known what death was if it was non-existent prior to this? How could the threat even be understood if the concept was completely foreign to Adam’s experience? If he couldn’t even remotely conceive of what the consequences were for his actions, how could he properly weigh his options or consider the risks? Why even make the threat at all if the person you’re threatening doesn’t comprehend the very nature of the threat? It’s like telling a small child not to take a cookie from the cookie jar, for in the day that they do, they will surely become a theoretical physicist. The child has no idea what you're talking about.

If we are supposed to understand the consequences of these actions as having brought about the prospect of the eternal, conscious experience of divine wrath and judgment in the form of torment in a lake of fire for Adam and all his progeny, then why aren’t these things clearly expressed here? Why isn’t the notion of experiencing “eternal contempt” even hinted at until much later in Daniel 12:2? Why is that the only passage in the entire Old Testament which contains an undisputed reference to a literal resurrection? Why is there no evidence that prior to Persian/Zoroastrian contact the Jews ever had any expectation of physical resurrection after death much less a general resurrection at the end of time? With something as utterly horrifying as never-ending torment on the line, why is there so little discussion of it in first 39 books of the Bible? Are we really going to just chalk this up to progressive revelation and give God a pass for keeping this rather vital piece of information from humanity for thousands of years?

The fall of man was a supposedly cataclysmic and sweeping event with eternal consequences necessitating the death of the second person of the Trinity and the everlasting torment of billions, and yet hardly anything is said about this event again until Paul takes up the subject in Romans and Corinthians. I am aware Adam is mentioned in Hosea 6:7 and am unconvinced that the adam spoken of there is the character from Genesis 2-3, but is more likely referring to a city in the Jordan Valley as the context of the Hosea passage clearly suggests. Note that it says “there” as in a place and in the next verse also refers to the mountain region of Gilead. The parallelism is clear. The city of Adam is in the valley and Gilead the mountains. In both places they did bad stuff. The other possibility for the verse remains that this is merely the generic word for “mankind.” Either way, it’s disputed and therefore inconclusive.

There is, of course, a passage in Ezekiel that deals with a fall of sorts occurring in Eden, but the details are quite different from what is recounted in Genesis and the one being described in Ezekiel is a king. Of course, this passage has been construed to be about the fall of Satan. Never mind the fact that it explicitly identifies the subject as the king of Tyre and that understanding the passage to be about Satan requires some rather unwarranted conclusions to be drawn from poetic imagery along with adding all kinds of assumptions and discounting some inconvenient details. What if this passage is just making reference to a different version of the Eden story? After all, Ezekiel evidently relied on a different version of the Exodus story as well. At any rate, Ezekiel makes no mention of this event having any lasting impact on the whole of creation.

Other than in those two Pauline letters, the subject of the fall of man remains absent from the rest of the Bible and as such, Paul appears to be the only biblical writer who holds all of humanity somehow accountable for Adam’s sin. So from Genesis to Acts none of the biblical writers thought this subject was worth bringing up or expounding upon? Really? It’s without a doubt the worst event in the history of the universe and it’s not even on anybody’s radar until Paul comes along some four thousand years later to use this event in an effort to explain to his Greek audience just how a Christ dying on a stick is able to remove sin from people (Romans 5) and similarly how his rising from the dead is able to grant life to people (Corinthians 15)? That’s a bit curious, don't you think?

The fact remains that nothing in Genesis 2-3 speaks to the notion of a transcendent, invisible, omnipotent, omniscient God setting in motion an overarching redemptive plan. Nothing indicates this is a cosmic test for his ultimate creation so he can demonstrate that this man will fail to keep his covenant and love, serve and obey him fully. Nothing in the passage indicates this will be the impetus for having to send himself in human form to obey himself and sacrifice himself to himself on mankind’s behalf only to save but a fraction of them from his own eternal divine wrath.

Instead, pretty much all of the narrative accounts from Genesis 2:4 onward point to the notion of a very anthropomorphic deity who shares all the petty emotions of man and who’s just trying to stay ahead of the curve, often reacting on the fly. This is fairly easy to see if one simply replaces “God” with a name like “Zeus” in the account and imagines this story occurring in some other place in some other culture’s mythology. When one sees things like a fantastic orchard with magical fruit, a talking animal trickster, a deity who behaves like an immortal man with lots of power, mortal beings encroaching on the gods’ turf only to have the gods slap them back, and a narrative that seeks to explain to primitive cultures why certain things in life are the way they are, these passages begin to look just like any other ancient culture’s origin myths.

Like those stories, the one in this passage is seeking to answer questions about why people don’t live forever even though mankind appears to be intellectually superior to the animals, why men rule over women and women resent them for it, why women endure severe labor pains in a way that other animals familiar to the writers didn’t, why farming as opposed to hunting/gathering is hard work and why people get freaked out by and want to kill snakes. There are better explanations for these things now available to us, but they weren’t abundantly evident to the originators of these stories thousands of years ago so, like nearly every other culture, they made stuff up.

Also, the idea that the serpent here was possessed by an angelic being named Satan or the Devil is something that is only vaguely implied in Revelation 12:9 and nowhere else in the entire Bible. Supposed parallels between Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and Adam and Eve in Eden or even the poem concerning the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 are even bigger stretches. Similarly the oft-cited passage from Isaiah 14 is clearly referring to the ruler of Babylon, not Satan. Satan has to be read into the text of both the Ezekiel and Isaiah passages. Nothing in the text of Genesis indicates that the serpent was anything more than a cunning talking snake that foiled Yahweh’s plans and was punished for it (along with every other snake).

There are four rivers mentioned in this passage, dividing from the river that flowed from Eden: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates. What’s odd about this is that at least two of these rivers are known to exist today, the Tigris and Euphrates. This is a problem if one posits a global (or even a vast localized) flood that would’ve supposedly covered the earth with layers of sediment and produced the fossil record seen today. Such a catastrophic event would’ve utterly destroyed these rivers. Creationist websites like Answers in Genesis freely admit this. Their solution is that the survivors of the flood named the Tigris and Euphrates rivers we now know after the antediluvian ones mentioned here, but they’re actually different rivers.

The problem with this is that verse 14 specifically identifies which Tigris River it is that the writer is referring to saying, “it runs along the east side of Assyria.” Assyria was so-named either after Noah’s grandson Asshur (Gen. 10:22) or a city of the same name founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:11), meaning Assyria wouldn’t have existed until after the Flood. In light of this, the renaming solution proposed by AiG becomes silly as one now has to posit an additional pre-flood Assyrian civilization, which really complicates the explanation. It's obvious the author intended for his audience to identify this as the same river. If not, mentioning it runs along the east side of Assyria becomes pointless and confusing for any reader, especially an ancient Israelite audience.

Furthermore, verse 13 mentions Kush, not referring to Ethiopia (which would be really problematic), but rather the area of the Kassites in northeastern Babylon, presenting a similar problem to the identification of the Tigris. This is further evidence that the author of this passage clearly wants the reader to identify the geography of Eden with the area around Mesopotamia. Either he’s not aware of the Flood story to come in subsequent chapters or he, much like the writer of the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh epics, doesn’t understand enough about geology to realize that a flood of the magnitude described therein would drastically alter the landscape of the region making all of these geographic features unidentifiable to people in the aftermath.

Yahweh says (to himself?) “The being of man by himself is not good.” So he decides to make a helper who corresponds to the man. How does he set about doing this? He now forms “out of the ground” animals of the field and birds of the air and brings them to the man. Note that he doesn’t create them out of nothing and that they are created after the man has already been created, contrary to what was in the creation story of chapter 1. Sadly, though, there was not found a companion who corresponded to the man, so Yahweh then goes to his second plan and instead makes a helper out of the man’s own body. Why does the writer of many of these early passages of the Pentateuch so often portray Yahweh as a god of trial and error?

Note also how this paternalistic society goes about explaining why men are actually superior to women even though it’s pretty obvious that every man alive came from a woman. This myth grants men the ultimate trump card. They can say, "Sure, men all came out of their mothers’ bodies, but the first woman came from a man." Paul (or someone writing in his name) will build upon this idea and further denigrate women based on this myth (see 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2), pointing out that it was actually man who was made in God’s image and that woman was made for man. To top it all off it was the woman who was deceived and, of course, passed on these flaws to all women because apparently gullibility, like sin, is hereditary.

It's worth pointing out that this deficiency in women was present prior to the fall. In other words, the implication is that God made them in such a way that they could be easily deceived. That's why preachers, when discussing male/female relationships often like to spin this in a way that shows how Adam (who was with her) wasn't doing his manly duty as the rational one and should've protected the woman from the serpent's lies. That’s also why the poor, gullible idiot women should keep their mouths shut, learn from their husbands and stay at home and make babies, preferably man-child. Besides, men have more natural upper body strength and clearly the overriding morality of most of the Bible, especially as it pertains to God, is might makes right (see Job 38-41, Romans 9:19-21).

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