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August 22, 2004


Here's something to make up for days of neglect. I've been thinking about Genesis a lot recently, and here are my thoughts on part of it (chapters 2 and 3). Feel free to skip this if you find theology type stuff fantastically boring.

Genesis 2:15-23

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. […] Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." […] The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. […] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; […] and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. […] Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

God creates man, then decides man should not be alone. He creates all other creatures, which the man names, but none of them are suitable. Finally God makes woman from the man’s rib, and this at last is a helper fit for him.

Would not an omniscient God create man and woman simultaneously? If the God of Genesis is all-knowing, why would he go through the rigmarole of having Adam name all the creatures in an attempt to find a suitable helper? Surely an omniscient God would know from the beginning that the only fit mate for man is woman.

Genesis 3:1-3

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

God, of course, made the subtle serpent. What is “subtle?”

  • So slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive: a subtle smile.
  • Difficult to understand; abstruse: an argument whose subtle point was lost on her opponent.
  • Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.
  • Characterized by skill or ingenuity; clever.
  • Crafty or sly; devious.
  • Operating in a hidden, usually injurious way; insidious: a subtle poison.

(From www.dictionary.com). The serpent, then, represents something difficult to describe or understand; something ingenious, with fine distinctions; something devious and hidden. What could be a better description of the human experience? The serpent represents life as we know it now, and that is of course an orthodox interpretation.

Genesis 3:4-7

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, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that’s how God wanted these people. He didn’t want them knowing good and evil and, on the literal level, lied to them to prevent them gaining this knowledge. In God’s eyes ignorance is life, an eternity of worshipping him. The serpent knows the ramifications of eating the forbidden fruit: they will become like God. This implies that the serpent is already like God, since if the creature weren’t already aware of good and evil, how could he have this insight? From where did this knowledge come? Since God created the serpent, was it he who gave the creature this understanding? Or did the serpent come to perceive God’s designs independently? If knowledge is so dangerous that God expressly forbade the humans from attaining it, why did he create a creature that knew the truth, or that was capable of attaining the truth, a creature that would then turn around and give the humans precisely what God was trying to deny them? Why would an omniscient God sabotage himself and his creation in this way? In fact, why did he endow the humans with the ability to possess this knowledge? Why did he create this magical tree in the first place?

Perhaps it was a test. Did the humans love/fear God enough that they would resist this temptation despite the implorations of the serpent? But a test implies that God doesn’t already know which way they will decide. Can a God be called all-knowing if he needs to set a test in this way? Furthermore, without knowledge, can free will even exist? What does it mean to say that Adam and Eve didn’t know good and evil, right and wrong? Does it mean they were unable to tell the two apart, or does it mean they were capable only of good? Either case leads to an awkward situation: in the former, they didn’t know disobeying God was wrong, and should be forgiven; in the latter, they weren’t capable of badness, and thus eating from the tree was good. Alternatively, perhaps the serpent somehow injected them with either culpability or the ability to perform wrong prior to them making their decision to eat, but this is unorthodox and imbues the serpent with God-like powers.

Genesis 3:8-10

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, 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?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

How could these two hide themselves from an all-knowing God? Why would an omniscient God need to ask, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:14

The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

The statement “because you have done this” is intriguing. First it implies the serpent chose to reveal the truth to Adam and Eve, i.e. the serpent had free will, and thus knowledge. Second, it implies God didn’t know how the serpent would decide; the serpent is somehow outside of God’s omniscience.

Genesis 3:15-19

To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain 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 Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of 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 to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The punishment begins. The pain of childbirth, and presumably the danger associated with it, is greatly multiplied. Man is given rule over woman: the birth of misogyny. Man is subjected to lifelong toil. Humans become mortal, and will one day die. It is hard to imagine a greater punishment for their transgression (assuming it was a transgression at all, given their lack of knowledge when they made their “decision”). You are now like me, says God, you have what I have, and your reward is subjugation and death.

Genesis 3:22-24

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" -- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

It is apparent that the remedy for mankind’s mortality already exists in Eden. The tree of life, should its fruit be eaten, would undo God’s punishment of death. This raises the interesting question of why God created this tree to begin with: if Adam and Eve had not eaten of the tree of knowledge, their immortality would not have been taken from them and they would have no need for this life-giving fruit; yet an omniscient God would already know that he would expel the two from the Garden in order to prevent them gaining back their immortality once they came into possession of knowledge, making its creation redundant. This would seem to be the ultimate cruelty within an especially cruel punishment: God has taken away man’s immortality, and possesses the means for man to retrieve it, yet prevents him from doing so. Even if we consider, as the orthodoxy holds, that man’s eternal salvation is provided for through belief in Christ, it’s undeniable that countless generations were subjected to the agony of death in the millennia before the Crucifixion, and those who deny Christ still endure it, and always will.

One of us. This is perhaps the most intriguing phrase of the book, if not the entire testament. Either God is referring to the Trinity (“you have become like one of the three natures of me”), which raises many interesting questions, or he’s referring to one of us gods, which raises even more.

If he is referring to the Trinity, to which part does he refer? The Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit? The Son was the only aspect of the Trinity who became human, of course, so this would be the logical choice. Or perhaps “one of us” is not meant to select any particular aspect, but is referring to them all: they all, individually, possess the knowledge which humans have now obtained. The concept of the Trinity, always considered somewhat convoluted by non-Christians (and, frankly, a lot of Christians), is most definitely required to explain this peculiar phrasing while maintaining the monotheistic nature of the faith (though many Muslims consider the Trinity to be a form of polytheism). It is to explain this kind of wording, as well as the observation that “elohim,” the Hebrew word usually translated as “God,” is in fact plural, that the concept of the Trinity became official Church doctrine after the First Council of Nicea.

Alternatively the God of Genesis was referring to gods in general. From an orthodox point of view this is polytheistic and thus heretical, but it’s possible to postulate more than one god, all of whom are somehow a part of the “one true God,” sometimes called the Godhead. Viewed logically this is no more of a contradiction than is the Trinity, in which the aspects are simultaneously separate and one. But this approach implies that the God of Genesis is not in himself the whole of the Godhead. Yahweh, in this light, becomes just one of potentially many gods, moving Judeo-Christian beliefs much closer to other religions both past and present. This belief, that Yahweh is one of several or many gods, is part of the great secrets revealed by various non-orthodox traditions, the “hidden knowledge” of Kabbalism and Gnosticism.

To be continued...


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