Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The Rise and Fall of Humanity”

Genesis 2.4b–3.24:

Technically I think the second creation account is found in Gen. 2.4b–25, but notice that, unlike the first creation account, this isn’t a free-standing literary unit. Therefore, though 2.4b–25 may be a “second creation account,” I think Gen. 2.4b–3.24 is better understood as a mythological (= etiological) account of humanity’s current situation as estranged from God. Again, I’ll start with some basic observations:
  1. 1. We do violence to the literary and theological integrity of this account when we harmonize it with Genesis 1. Some people, due to their high view of Scripture (with which I am sympathetic given my own commitment to the Bible and its teachings), have argued that Gen. 2.4bff. is a more detailed account of “Day 6” from Gen. 1.24–31. But we create a number of subsequent problems when we harmonize these accounts. (NB: These problems arise because of an extra-textual interpretive procedure rather than because of the text itself; the problems I list here are not problems with the Bible so much as they are problems with our reading of the Bible. This is a very important distinction.)

    • (a) The order of creation resists harmonization. In Genesis 1 we find the animals of the land created on day 6, followed by the creation of humanity [ha’adam; 1.27] after the creation of the flora and fauna on days 3, 5, and 6. In Genesis 2, however, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up” when God “formed man from the dust of the ground” (2.5, 7). Confusingly, the creation (or better, formation) of man (not humanity) is on “the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (2.4b); is this a reference to day 1?!

    • (b) The account of gender differentiation resists harmonization. This is actually a sub-point of the previous point. In 1.27 the emphasis is entirely on the “image of God” and the function that humanity, as God’s image, performs. The language is strikingly equalizing: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1.27; my emphasis). Here the only distinction between male and female is “male ≠ female” and “female ≠ male.” (Perhaps the point here, moreover, is that “male ≠ image of God” and “female ≠ image of God,” but rather “male/female = image of God.”) This is not the case in Genesis 2, where “the man” [האדם; ha’adam] — not “humanity” — is formed from the dust of the earth (2.7) and “the woman” [אשה; ‘iššah] is only subsequently “taken” from the man (2.22). The male/female distinction is further emphasized in Adam’s act of naming. In 2.19–20 Adam’s domination over creation is typified in his naming all the creatures the LORD God brings before him; in 2.23 Adam similarly names his former “rib” “Woman” [‘iššah], “for out of Man [איש; ‘iš] this one was taken.” Adam once again names the woman at 3.20, just as he had previously done with all the animals. By way of contrast, notice that God himself named “humanity” [אדם; ’adam] at Gen. 5.2. Additionally, notice that at this point only Adam has a speaking role; “woman” (she isn’t called “Eve” until 3.20) is passive until the serpent addresses her. Though 2.24–25, I think, goes some way to level this hierarchy (or, better to contextualize it such that the woman isn’t merely the man’s servant), the second creation account encodes a hierarchical order that differs significantly from the first account of humanity’s creation.

    • (c) Finally, the function of each account resists harmonization. The first account, as we have seen, explains the origin of creation in the will and word of God and ensconces humanity within creation as the image of God. The second account, as we shall see shortly, explains the origin of the human family, its functioning (with the male as its head), and its relation to the rest of creation. If we broaden our scope to include Genesis 3 as part of the second account, as we are doing here, then this account also explains why life is more a bed of briars than it is a bed of roses.

  2. 2. According to Gen. 2.15, I think humanity was created to work. There is a tempting reading of Genesis 2–3 that work (especially “toil” or “labor”) are the result of sin and God’s subsequent curse. But I don’t think the current text makes precisely that point. Of course, I want to generalize the concept “work” beyond agricultural effort, but I think I can marshal Paul as an ally here (cf. Eph. 2.10).

  3. 3. I see a chiasm in Gen. 3.9–19, where God comes looking for the man (2.9–11; = A), who defers to the woman (2.12; = B), who defers to the serpent (2.13; = C); God then curses the serpent (2.14–15; = C´), then the woman (2.16; = B´), and then finally the man (2.17–19; = A´). I’m not sure what significance this might have; certainly I don’t think C–C´ (the middle of the chiasm) is the main point, especially since the serpent is then whisked off-stage and the narrative continues with Adam and Eve and the adventures of the first family.

  4. 4. But I do notice that at 3.7 the man and woman “knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves”; that is, they covered their own nakedness. After God’s judgment upon them, however, “the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (3.21). Maybe it is significant that their clothes, which cover their nakedness/sin, are now made of animal skins [עור; ‘or] rather than vegetation; remember that Abel’s acceptable sacrifice in the next chapter was one of sheep while Cain’s rejected sacrifice was vegetarian. More importantly, I think, is that after the curse it is the LORD God who covers the man’s and the woman’s nakedness/sin, which the pair had previously sought to cover themselves.

Once again, a number of NT traditions pick up the traditions inscribed in Gen. 2.4b–3.24. Perhaps most significant, at least for me, is Jesus’ promise to the Asian churches in Rev. 2.7: “To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” Despite appearances, the reference to “the paradise of God” isn’t pointing to “heaven.” The Greek word παράδεισος [paradeisos] means “garden”; when Jesus refers to “the tree of life that is in the garden of God,” then, we see that what he offers the churches is the undoing of the curse of sin, the hiding of the tree of life (cf. Gen. 3.22–24).

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