Barry Newman's Blog

April 30, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part III)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 8:50 pm

The dialogue between the serpent and the woman (cont)

And now the serpent comes clean.  He does know what God said, or so he indicates.  Whereas the woman does not refer to the certainty of death that follows the partaking of the fruit, the serpent, does not hesitate to make that connection, though it is a denial of the connection. “It will not be the case that dying you will die.”  That is “You will not surely die.”  Walton (pp. 204, 205) argues that syntactically the serpent does not “deny the precise penalty as God worded it.”  To deny what God had said, would require, in the Hebrew, placing the negative particle between “dying” and “you will die”, Rather it denies the woman’s version of what God had said, her version being, “or you will die.”  The serpent does this by placing the negative particle before the two verb forms, his denial amounting to saying, “You claim you will die, but I claim that while it could occur, it will not be inevitable.”

But there has to be a sugar coating to the bitter pill she is being tempted to swallow together with a suggestion of her inferiority and her need to rectify this.  “Partake of this fruit and your eyes will be opened – as it is, you do not see clearly, your understanding is unfortunately limited – but then you will be like God.”  She is promised a transition that moves from human ignorance to God-like knowledge.  Though she chooses not to speak the name of the tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent shows no hesitation.  “Of course if you eat of the fruit of that tree you will gain knowledge.  You will gain discernment.”  Oh the lie that hides behind the truth.  She is given no idea of what that discernment will amount to.  And see how the serpent pictures God as one who jealously guards his own knowledge and only forbids the partaking of the fruit because he does not want the woman (and the man) to become like him.  The image being created is one where indeed God is the one who provides both the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – they are there together in the middle of the garden – but he has set limits to his blessings for this woman and this man and would seem powerless to prevent the woman and the man from acquiring knowledge like his knowledge.

This portrayal of God is completely at odds with what we have already learnt of him.  He provides a helper who is a “counter partner” for the man. By implication, the man is a “counter partner” for the woman. The man and the woman are in a luxurious garden.  Animals and birds inhabit its grounds and there is no tension between their existence and that of the man and the woman.  They are given a tree of life, the fruit of which will give them ongoing life.  They could eat of any tree bar one.  It is in the middle of the garden along with the tree of life.  It is as though they are being reminded of the possibility of choice and outcomes at the one place in the garden – life or death – a bountiful gift and a commandment to be obeyed (but see an alternative or at least an additional suggestion later).  Simply trust this good God.  Even if we did not know what followed, we the hearer or the reader should be anxious to have the woman protest.  Why does she not protest?  She has not yet partaken of the fruit but offering no objection to what the serpent has said she is well on the way to doing so.


April 29, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part II)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:03 am

The dialogue between the serpent and the woman

“And the serpent said to the woman” – I am reminded of the boy with Asperger Syndrome in Jodi Piccoult’s book, “House Rules” who told the following joke:  Two buns were in an oven.  One bun said to the other, “It’s hot in here.”  The other replied, “Wow a talking bun!”  (End of joke – a joke that some do not appreciate.) The serpent not only speaks but assumes that the woman will understand what it is saying.  Indeed the conversation proceeds without a hitch.  There is no surprise on behalf of either party.  Are we not surprised?  It is an interesting question.  Did the narrator, the writer not think that his hearers/readers would be surprised or at least indicate in some other way the oddity of it all?  We will revisit this matter later.

The craftiness of the serpent is evident throughout the dialogue.  It would appear that we are to assume that the serpent knows something of what God said to the man.  Walsh (Walsh, J.T., “Genesis 2: 4b-3:24: A Synchronic Approach”, Journal of Biblical Literature, 96, 1977, 161-177) claims that the serpent makes a statement, rather than asks a question.  Perhaps what is said should be viewed as a statement of surprise that begs a question – “So God really said …!” Are we meant to understand at this point that it has overheard God speaking to the man and expresses concern about what it thinks God has said?  Perhaps, to begin with, we are meant to assume that he is not quite sure exactly what God said and invites the woman to provide clarification. And why does he speak to the woman and not to the man?  Are we supposed to think that the serpent operates on the basis that she, having been told what God had said to the man, second hand, is going to be more open to suggestion as to what God really said?  The subtlety of what is going on here is intriguing.  The question implied in the statement made by the serpent, as though it does not actually know, is “What did God really say?”  Many of us are conscious of this sort of question being asked when we wish to avoid facing up to what he really did say!  The suggestion made by the serpent as to what God might have said is of course to be dismissed outright.  What, not to partake of the fruit of any tree of the garden?  Of course God could not have said that.  How were the man and the woman to live?  Anybody faced with the serpent’s suggestion would know that the response has to be a resounding, “No, that is not correct.”  The serpent, in order to deceive, does not have to appear to be trustworthy in every respect.

The woman in her response seems to be on the right track, or nearly so. We were told in Gen 2: 9 that the tree of life is in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil seems to be there also.  This is confirmed in what the woman says in reply to the serpent.  However, her reply can also be understood to indicate that she finds conversing with the serpent not all that unpleasant.  She could have said simply, “No that is not right. There is only one tree, the fruit of which we are not allowed to partake of, and that is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  It could be that we are reading too much into the dialogue but by not naming the tree the woman is perhaps denying its character and so weakening an understanding of what has been forbidden.  Additionally, by referring to a prohibition against touching it, while this may have been a sensible precaution to adopt, even though there is no indication that God had so said, she seems to be displaying her fear of partaking of the fruit itself rather than a respect for the actual commandment of God.  Certainly she gives her own version.  She does however faithfully refer to death, though not with the striking certainty of “surely”.  No, we cannot be satisfied with the appropriateness of her response.

April 27, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part I)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 12:31 pm

                                                                                                                                             Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24

Genesis 3: 1 – 5 – the serpent and its dialogue with the woman

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (NIV)

The serpent

The serpent arrives upon the scene entirely unannounced.  The Hebrew begins, “And the serpent”. We cannot but focus upon it.

According to Walton, the serpent features prominently in the mythology of the ancient world. (pp. 202, 203) “The serpent was viewed as possessing mystical wisdom and as a demonic and hostile creature.” “It played a significant role in … the religious symbolism, and the cults of the ancient Near East.” (Walton quoting, N. Sarna) In Egypt, “Adapis, the enemy of the gods in the form of a snake, represented the forces of chaos.” In Mesopotamia, the god Ningishzida, shaped like a serpent, is “one of the deities who offers Adapa the bread of life by which he can gain immortality” and he is associated with a tree of some mystical primeval significance.

By comparison, the serpent of Genesis 3 is not portrayed as a being of great power.  Indeed as the narrative unfolds, as a generic being, it is consigned to being a creature that is to be crushed while still having power in its bite. Nonetheless in its dialogue with the woman it demonstrates characteristics somewhat reflective of the myths found within surrounding cultures.  It claims knowledge about what eating the fruit of an extraordinary tree will and will not do.  Its assertion is that eating the fruit of that tree will not necessarily result in death (see later) – the implication being that those who eat of the fruit of that tree will not necessarily put in jeopardy the possibility of having ongoing life. And as the account progresses, we see it as an agent for chaos. 

It has a type of wisdom – it is craftier than any of the beasts of the field – those creatures referred to in Gen 2: 20, to whom the man gave names.  Craftiness or shrewdness can be a desirable characteristic and is related to wisdom in Proverbs 8: 12.  But those having a spirit of ill intent towards others can also be spoken of as being crafty (Job 15: 5).  In the case of the serpent of Gen 3, its shrewdness is probably better described as a type of cunning, with deception its goal.  Though the serpent possesses no magical ability, its destructive capabilities are enormous.  No wonder that in later writings it is portrayed as Satan. 

Yet in the Genesis account, it is one of those “beasts of the field” that Yahweh Elohim has made.  One could maintain that it simply appears on the scene and is compared with the “beasts of the field”, rather than being one of them. However, if this were the case, we have a single entity that simply makes its appearance, as though it were a creature quite independent of God.  Yet later in the account God deals with it as though it is one of his creatures and I assume that that is the real situation. It is under the authority of God.  It will have to answer to God.  It is not a creature that has an independent existence, coming into being apart from God.

April 10, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 25 (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:18 pm

Here is the full series

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24 to become two separate series

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:41 pm

The blog series entitled “Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24” has been rather lengthy and at this point has only reached the end of the second chapter of Genesis. 

For this reason a post for the series dealing with only the second chapter of  Genesis will now appear as complete, under the heading, “Science and Genesis 2: 1 – 25”.  The post should appear soon.

The next series will now be referred to as “Science and Genesis 3: 1- 24”.

 The new series will begin in a couple of weeks time.

April 8, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4b – 3: 24 (part XXIV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:37 am

What did the author/editor really believe?

This question is asked from time to time in the blog series on the early chapters of Genesis because our understanding of things seems to differ from the understanding being given here.  The account moves smoothly from “no rain” and “no man” to “rain clouds” and a “man” that is made from the soil. Wild and domesticated plants can then develop.  To begin with, the man, who appears on stage already fully developed, is on his own. There has not yet been a woman.  He is provided with a large number of creatures, animals and birds and recognises that they cannot satisfy his aloneness.  God then performs “an operation” on the man and, using what he removes from the man, he makes a woman. 

Did the original writer or narrator of the account really believe that it all happened just this way?  We can’t really tell. However it is not impossible that, as with the earlier material, someone made it up.  The person would have been in contact with cultures that had various accounts about the creation of man and woman and their relationship to the world of other creatures.  However this writer/narrator wanted to remove from such accounts any indication that the creation of humanity was independent of the one and only true God – Yahweh Elohim and in any way contrary to his character and his purposes. 

In this scenario, under the good hand of God who is sovereign over all, the account of man and woman gives Yahweh Elohim his due – an account that portrays him as he should be portrayed.  We read the narrative and see him in control,  bringing to pass whatever he purposes. And man is absolutely dependent on this God for all things including that great necessity – a helper-counterpart.  This God cares for his creation and has a special care for mankind and they have a special relationship with him. He has made man and woman – their differences and their similarities presumably for the benefit of both.  And this writer/editor will soon indicate how man and woman are in the mess they are in because of what in fact they are.   But at this point of the narrative he sets the scene that will enable him to best demonstrate how awful is the actual situation in which mankind finds himself and why it is so appalling.  Yet it will not be a situation without hope.  But I have already encroached upon the next stage of the drama.

April 5, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4b – 3: 24 (part XXIII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:49 pm

The comment about man and woman

This section of the Genesis account, as it is about to conclude, has a comment by the narrator – something which could strike us as a little odd.

In Israel normally a wife joined her husband’s family and became a member of his tribe though she often remained with her family in the early stages of the marriage with her husband making conjugal visits to her in her family home during that period (Walton, 178).  Presumably this is what the narrator is alluding to in making the comment about a man (ish) leaving his father and mother.  I suspect that with respect to this matter, the author/editor is not giving his hearers/readers any information with which they are not already familiar.

Probably the term, “for this reason” or “therefore”, while arising out of what the narrator has just recorded, should be understood to refer to why a man leaves his father and his mother.  He does so because he wishes to be joined to his wife, to become one flesh with her.  Undoubtedly sexual union is in mind.  However it is not clear that the author/editor intends for there to be any emphasis on pleasurable sex or sex leading to conception no matter how significant these matters might be in reality. It is also true that “the being joined together” and “the one flesh” notions have significant connotations that will be referred to later in Scripture, but in this narrative, I think the recognition that man and woman come together in a sexual act is predominantly in mind.

However, why does the author/editor make the comment at all and having made the comment returns then to the narrative? Making the reference to the man (adam) and his wife both being naked and yet not being ashamed and having reminded the hearers/readers of the social setting with which he and they are familiar, in which there is a type of embarrassment associated with a man and a woman being joined together, would seem to be a way of drawing attention to a certain innocence about this man and this woman at this point in time. The author/editor by referring to what occurs in his world at his time is reminding his hearers/readersof a custom that highlights the social sensitivity that surrounds the sexual act performed between a man and a woman.  By comparison he is then able to indicate that with the man and the woman in his narrative account, such sensitivity does not exist.  He has set the scene for the events of chapter 3 in which the situation will change. In a few words, the narrator has prepared the hearer/reader for recognising the sharp contrast between the world that they know and the world of this man and this woman.

April 4, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4b – 3: 24 (part XXII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:02 pm

The term, “man” – an aside

Some comment needs to be made at this point about the word translated “man” or Adam”.  The word “Adam” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word (adam) meaning “man” and bears an unmistakable resemblance to the word “adamah” (meaning “ground” from the dust of which the man was made). In Genesis 2 and 3, the Hebrew word, “adam” is found about 23 times.  (The word “ish” translated “man” first makes its appearance in Gen 1: 23, reappears in 2: 24 and Eve uses it to refer to Cain in 4: 1).  In almost all instances in Genesis 1 to 3 the word “adam” appears together with the definite article.  For that reason this writer has so far preferred to refer to “the man” rather than “Adam”.  The first time in Genesis that it would seem appropriate to refer to “Adam” is in 4: 25 followed by 5: 1, 3, 4 and 5.  The definite article is not attached to “adam” in these verses. A suggestion here is that at the junction of the appearance of the second toledoth the reader is being presented with a different perspective where the man now clearly takes on the identity of a person with a name, the name, “Adam”.

In Genesis 2 to 3 there a few instances where adam does not have the definite article.  In Gen 1: 26 and 2: 5 adam is used generically to refer to “mankind” but in 2: 20 and 3: 21 “for the man” seems to be the sense of the compound word used, though it could be argued that the reference in 2: 20 is generic. A generic use also appears in the midst of the references to “Adam” in Gen 5, in v. 2

April 3, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4b – 3: 24 (part XXI)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:16 pm

The man and the woman

None of the creatures were found to be a “suitable helper”.  Walton comments that neither the combination of two Hebrew words translated, “suitable helper”, nor the second word is to be found elsewhere in the Old Testament (p. 176). The second word is a compound word made up of two prepositions.  Apparently, the first part of the second word relates to the idea of “comparison” and the second part of the second word relates to the notion of “opposite”.  Opposites by their nature belong to the same category.  “Day time” and “night time” belong to the category of periods of a 24 hour day and together they make up a complete 24 hour day.  “Up” and “down” are opposites lying at opposite ends of the spectrum of vertical direction. The “helper” being described in the text is one who by comparison belongs to the same category as the man – both are of mankind. (Gen 1: 26, 27 and 5: 5 use “a man” generically, and referring to both male and female, “a man” in these verses is a reference to “mankind”).  But the helper being looked for is not just different from the man but opposite to the man – each at the other end of the bi-polar parameter of mankind.  Walton thinks that the two words taken together could be translated “partner” or “counterpart”, the former emphasises the helper notion, while the latter reflects the compound word.  He would opt for the word, “counterpartner” if it existed (p. 177).  I opt for, “helper-counterpart” or “counterpart-helper”.

Yahweh Elohim now acts again.  He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, presumably so that he does not feel the pain of what he is about to do, removes some piece of him, closes up the area affected and then fashions what he has taken from the man into a woman.  He then presents the woman to the man.  In part, what God does has the character of an operation carried out on a patient. While the man is unconscious, God removes a part of the body and concludes the operation with the closing of the wound.  Unlike any modern medical procedure however, Yahweh Elohim then moulds what he has taken from the man into another human being, but a different human being, one that is at the other end of the human dimension from the man – a woman.

What is meant by “one of the man’s ribs”? Walton comments that the Hebrew word translated “rib” is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament anatomically but rather it refers to the sides of some object, such as a building or a room.  He notes that there is an Akkadian cognate with a similar semantic range that is used anatomically but it refers not only to bone but flesh and muscle as well (p. 177).  The suggestion here then is that what God removes from the man is a decent sized chunk and having done so, he closes up the flesh.  Perhaps the picture being conveyed is that, being made from a large portion of the man, she is like the man, she shares his humanity.  There is probably no intention that we should imagine that the man is now however substantially changed.

How does God “create” the woman?  Walton points out some oddities (p. 177).  The Hebrew word involved is one that refers to something being built and any direct object of the word refers to what is being built.  Thus the Hebrew here could be read to indicate that the chunk from man is being built, rather than the woman. He further points out that a preposition precedes the word for woman and so she becomes the indirect object.  With this understanding the text reads, God built the “chunk” for the woman. Walton suggests that the sense of the text could be – “Then the Lord God built up the side he had taken from the man for (the purpose of making) a woman” (p. 178).  And just as the creatures were brought to the man so now the woman is brought to the man.

Whereas with respect to the creatures the man gives no sign that a “helper-counterpart” has been found”, he now exclaims, “Ah, now, here I have what is needed, bone and flesh from my bone and flesh (something just like me?)” but recognising the woman to be different and in a play on words, he further states, “For (this reason?), this shall be called woman (Hebrew: ishah) because this has been taken out of man (ish)”.  She will be a helper because she is like me.  But she is not the same as me so she needs to be thought of differently – she is a counterpart to me. The text does not say that what he called her was her name (as was the case when the creatures were brought before him). His reference to her being called woman is probably to be thought of as an indication of his way of thinking about her, rather than his giving her a name.

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