Barry Newman's Blog

May 31, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:02 pm

An aside on God cursing

Certainly the idea of God imposing something like a hex is inappropriate.  It is human beings, operating in a world akin to magic, who seek to place a hex on somebody or something, with no certainty that their endeavours will bear fruit.  God does not operate by magical means and he does not simply endeavour to bring about his determinations, as though he might fail. His own power is sufficient for him to accomplish what he decides to do.  However as implied earlier, while Walton’s view that curses are wishes might be appropriate when applied to men, that notion seems quite inappropriate when applied to God.  In 1 Samuel 26 David utters a curse but he cannot guarantee that it will come about.  That will be up to God.

Furthermore, this writer does not concur with Walton’s agreement with Scharbert’s analysis of Deuteronomy 28: 16-28. While 28: 16-19 refers explicitly to the people of Israel being cursed (if they choose to disobey Yahweh their God),  vv. 20 – 28 together with vv. 29 – 68 are an elaboration of what these curses will amount to.  Verse 48 referring to what has gone before begins, “All these curses will come upon you.” (NIV)  (See Craigie, P.C., The Book of Deuteronomy, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, pp. 338-353 for a similar view.)  If this viewpoint is correct the “negative actions of the Lord” are not to be distinguished from the curses but are explications of those curses.  The point being made is that rather than seeing the curses that emanate from God in some passive sense – which could be understood to lie behind the idea of God removing his protection and favour, they are to be understood as referring to his promise of “evil” to come which he will positively bring about. Certainly understanding God to be removing his favour and protection is one possible way of interpreting his intentions in a specific situation but in the case of uttering a curse, this perspective seems too limiting.  The idea that God in his blessings is bestowing his favour and protection and that God in his curses is operating in an opposite manner to this – removing his favour and protection has a certain appeal.  But as Deuteronomy 28: 1 – 68, in the opinion of this writer, makes clear, both blessings and curses entail the positive action of God to directly bring about “good” in one case and “evil” in another.


May 29, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:35 pm

Yahweh Elohim’s judgment on the man

Unlike the situation with the woman but in a similar fashion to the serpent, the man is given a reason for his judgement. He listened, that is, he not only attended to, but took notice of, his wife.  He then ate from the fruit of the tree of which God had commanded he must not eat.  The woman was aware of the commandment, but presumably because the commandment had been given directly to the man, his offence is explicitly linked to the commandment – he disobeyed it.  Perhaps we are also meant to see, by way of implication stemming from what God had said, that when faced with the woman’s desire to eat the fruit, the man should have spoken up in opposition to her proposed action.  She should have then listened to him, not as it actually occurred, he listened to her.  Perhaps the man is meant to see that he has to face that issue as well.

As with the serpent and the woman his judgment also appears to be twofold.  The first part of his judgment concerns his basic existence – his need to be a food gatherer. Again the irony is difficult to miss. He ate of the food that he was forbidden to eat while in the luxurious garden which provided abundant fruit which he was free to eat.  Now he shall find it painful and difficult to acquire any food to eat.

Just as the serpent was cursed, so the ground is cursed also.  Mention has already been made of Walton’s view that the curse on the serpent could be understood as God “wishing” upon it a certain status. (p. 225) He also implies that in these curses God does not impose something like a hex upon the object cursed. (p. 229) Rather he argues that to curse is to remove something or someone from God’s protection and favour.  To support his position he appeals to the idea that “to curse” is the opposite of “to bless” and argues that in Deuteronomy 28: 15-28 (citing an article by J. Scharbert) the curses of vv. 16-19 are to be distinguished from those “negative actions of the Lord” in vv. 20 – 28 (p. 229, note 8).  Walton cites 1 Samuel 26: 19 as a good example of where being “cursed” means being “deprived of God’s favour, blessing and protection”.  The passage refers to David cursing those men who have, if they have, enticed Saul to be opposed to him.

May 28, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 2:25 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgment on the woman (cont)

Similar to the serpent, the second part of the judgement on the woman entailed a problem in a relationship. In her case it is the relationship between herself and her husband.  As the text implies, her husband ruling over her seems to be part of that problem but what does, “your desire will be for your husband” mean?

Walton admits that understanding the word translated “desire” is not a simple task (pp. 227-229). The word is found only twice more in Scripture – Gen 4: 7 and Song of Songs 7: 10. In Gen 4: 7 the sense seems to be that of “domination of” – sin has a desire towards Cain.  In Song of Songs 7: 10 the beloved speaks of the desire or attraction her lover has for her. Walton favours the view that the word “refers to one’s basic or inherent instincts.”  He suggests that since there has just been mention of the woman conceiving and bearing a child, the sense of v. 16b is that the woman has a basic drive to want to conceive and bear children but that she cannot do that without her husband.  So she is driven towards dependency on the man with the result that he is “in a position to dominate”.  The judgement would then be seen to be an unavoidable desire for her to have a husband who shall enable her to conceive with the resultant and unavoidable consequence that he shall rule over her. The irony is difficult to miss. Portrayed, upon her introduction into the world, as a “counterpart helper”, she is destined now to be a person of some subservience to the man.

God gives the woman no reason for his judgement on her. We might have expected God to have given her some explanation. Perhaps we are to assume that she already recognises why she is under the judgement of God – that it was obvious to her. Surely hearing God’s judgment on the serpent with its opening words, “Because you have done this” should have given her a strong clue! In a moment, hearing God speak again but to the man will reinforce for her what her involvement in the act was – the man listened to her!  Well, whatever her degree of awareness, God gives to her no explicit explanation as to why she and her seed are to suffer so.

May 24, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:00 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgement on the woman

As with the serpent, Yahweh Elohim’s judgement on the woman is twofold with the first part of that judgment relating to the women’s basic existence – her basic existence as one who conceives and bears children.

Walton (p. 227) claims that the translation, “childbearing” is inappropriate, “conception” (as in KJV) being a better rendering (p. 227).  Indeed, “conception seems to be the sense of the Hebrew word in Ruth 4: 13 and Hosea 9: 11 where the NIV translates it as such.  As Walton points out the problem for exegetes is how “pain” is related to “conception”.

The word translated “pains” (“painful” is understandably a related word) occurs two other times in Scripture (Gen 3: 17 and 5: 29).  In both instances the reference seem to be to a physical type of pain given that the context in both instances is the ground with which man has to contend – the ground that God has cursed.  However Walton claims that, “Nouns from the same root … refer to pain, agony, hardship, worry, nuisance and anxiety … (and that the verbal root) is not typically used to target physical pain, but mental or psychological anguish (though physical pain may accompany or be the root cause of the anguish)” (p. 227).  If Walton is correct it may be that we should understand even the Gen 3: 17 and 5: 29 texts as not restricted to references to physical pain but the mental and emotional anguish which can accompany unrelenting and necessary physical labour.  With the understanding that the “pain” is to be understood as “anxiety”, Walton argues that “the first half of v. 16 is an extended merism … referring to the anxiety that a woman will experience through the whole process from conception to birth”.  The anxiety begins at conception, extends through pregnancy and onto the giving of birth.  He suggests that a suitable paraphrase of v. 16a would be, “I will greatly increase the anguish you will experience in the birth process, from the anxiety surrounding conception to the strenuous work of giving birth”.  This writer’s suggestion is that while anxiety may be part of the experience, the “pain” is to be thought of in quite broad terms, encompassing mental and emotional anxiety and anguish as well as severe physical pain.

While the NIV states that God will make her pains very severe, arguably the text could be translated to indicate that God will “greatly increase the pain” (“greatly multiply your pain” -The New American Standard Bible).  A further possibility is to render the text, “Surely I will increase your pain.” (“I will surely multiply your pain” – The English Standard Version). The Hebrew is something like, “increasing, I will increase”, an idiomatic way of conveying the notion of “surely” (see the earlier reference to “dying you shall die”.)  If this last possibility is correct we could have a direct play on words, with the “surely, I will increase” of 3: 16 echoing “surely you will die” of 2: 17 and its denial by the serpent in 2: 4.  Furthermore the reference to “increase” in 3: 16 could be understood to be an echo of the “Be fruitful and increase” of 1: 28 with a touch of irony that the increase in numbers will now come about by means of an increase in pain.

If the understanding of either The New American Standard Bible or The English Standard version is close to the mark, then the implication is that “pain” at some level would have been experienced anyway, but now that “pain” shall be greatly increased or shall without a doubt be increased. There is a tendency for some to imagine that life in the garden was to be “a bed of roses”.  If one of the responsibilities given to the man and the woman was to tend the garden and if the woman was to have children (this is certainly implied) and if the bearing of children was to be accompanied by some “pain” from the beginning, then it should be clear that “the bed of roses” notion should be abandoned.

May 22, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 4:11 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgement on the serpent (cont)

The second part of God’s judgement on the serpent is concerned with its relationship with the woman and the relationship between its offspring (seed) and the woman’s offspring (seed).  This second aspect could be considered to be still part of the curse though a “waw” (and) continues the judgement and this part of the judgement does not concern other creatures of the animal world.  Even if not strictly part of the curse, it is a description of God’s intent for the serpent, an intent that shall come to pass and that shall create turmoil for the serpent.

Walton points out that while the ancient world did not think of a woman as having her own seed, that a man gave her seed is sufficient explanation for the reference being to “her” seed (p. 225).  He refers to Gen 16: 10 and 24: 60 where the account mentions Hagar’s and Rebekah’s seed respectively.  He also argues that given that “seed” is a collective noun one cannot argue from the singular “you” in “your head” and “you will strike” that the reference can only be to an individual. It could just as equally be a reference to the “seed.”  (pp. 235, 236) He cites Gen 28: 14 where there is a reference to Jacob being informed that “your” seed will be numerous and that “you” (singular) will spread out over the earth.  In the present text, since the enmity is between both the woman and the serpent and the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the “you” in “your head” and in “you will strike” should probably be understood as a reference to both the singular entities – the woman and the serpent, and the collective “seeds”.  At one level, what God speaks of, is an enmity that shall be realised for this woman and this serpent.  Walsh poignantly remarks, “The relationship of trust he (the serpent) so painstakingly effected (with the woman) will become undying enmity.” The irony is obvious.  However, at another level it shall be an undying enmity between all her offspring and all the offspring of the serpent.

Walton argues that the words translated, “crush” and “strike” come from the same root and that the translation involving these words should be something like, “He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (p. 226).  While remarking on the fact that not all serpents are venomous and that the only venomous one in northern and central Israel is the viper, Walton contends that the threat of a harmful bite is sufficient to attach the idea of danger to serpents in general.  Similarly one could argue that while not all humans will attack all serpents, the potential threat to serpents could also be viewed as constituting danger for serpents in general.  As Walton argues, the situation that is involved in the judgment of God upon the serpent is one that threatens the mortality of both the serpent (and its seed) and the woman (and its seed).  The text itself does not seem to hold any promise of a resolution to this enmity.  It is simply enmity with the potential of death being an outcome, through and through, for both sets of parties.  Indeed both head of serpent and heel of human will be struck.  There is no doubt about it.

May 20, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:21 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgement on the serpent (c0nt)

The judgement on the serpent is two-fold.  The first has to do with its basic existence – its locomotion. Strikingly, the serpent is cursed. Walton points out that curses in connection with serpents are not uncommon in the ancient world (pp. 224, 225).  “The Egyptian pyramid texts … contain a number of spells against serpents … Some spells enjoin the serpent to crawl on its belly (keep its face on the path).”  He also argues that the eating of dust is not a reference to the diet of snakes in the ordinary world, but rather an allusion, found in ancient literature, to what is eaten in the netherworld.  He refers to Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic who “on his death bed dreams of the netherworld and describes it as a place with no light and where ‘dust is their food, clay their bread.’” He suggests that such imagery belongs to the netherworld because of the nature of the grave and concludes that “the curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on its belly) and death (eating dust).”

“Docility” seems too soft a word but its use by Walton is consistent with his earlier statement that “the curse combats its aggressive nature”. Walsh suggests that the idea of grovelling is entailed in the serpent crawling on its belly and “grovelling” suggests more than aggressive behaviour being curbed. Walton’s reference to “wishing upon” as a way of referring to “being cursed” would also seem to require further thought. He later argues (p. 237) that in what God says, we have first “a prescriptive statement imposing a condition (curse), followed by a descriptive statement indicating the consequences of the new situation brought about by his behaviour (crawling on its belly eating dust).”  If the curse is to be described as a “wish”, then when God makes this wish, it unavoidably results in a state leading to equally unavoidable consequences.  I think it is preferable to simply see what God does as uttering a curse, the fulfilment of which cannot be avoided because God has determined that it shall be so.  The idea of God uttering a curse will be further explored later when examining the cursing of the ground.

The cursing of the serpent gives it a lower status than all the livestock and all the beasts of the field (the same two groups that the man gives names to in 2: 20 – see above). Though it is described as craftier than all the beasts of the field in 3: 1, now in 3: 14, it is cursed above all such. Its greater craftiness has ultimately lead to its undoing and now results in its lesser status.  The serpent’s image may be found on the crown of a pharaoh, as is indeed the case, but this serpent is to become a groveller and the lowest of all these creatures. All because “it has done this” – it deceived the woman.

May 17, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:46 pm

Genesis 3: 14 – 19 – Yahweh Elohim: his judgment on the serpent, the woman and the man

So the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crushyour head, and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (NIV)

Yahweh Elohim and his judgment on the serpent

The narrative moves immediately from what the woman says to what must be said to the serpent, with a simple “And (waw) Yahweh Elohim said …” There is no doubt as to who is in charge – who has the right, the authority and the power to decide upon the future of all three – the man, the woman and the serpent. It is Yahweh Elohim alone, and from his determinations there is no escape.  He addresses them in the reverse order to that in which they have been referred to but it is the same order that earlier unfolded when the serpent spoke to the woman and then when the woman gave to the man.

God asks no question of the serpent but proceeds immediately to its judgment.  It cannot be treated like the man and the woman. It is only one of the beasts of the field.  Indeed what God says later makes even its standing among the beasts of the field of little account.  If anyone is tempted to award some high status to the serpent, the fact that God does not consider it worthy enough of engaging in dialogue should alert the hearer or reader to its low status.

May 15, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:24 pm

Yahweh Elohim questions the man and the woman (cont.)

Without responding to the man at this stage, almost as though the man has had his say and that his excuses have been acknowledged if not accepted, God addresses the woman with great solemnity, “What is this that you have done?”  Her responsibility is enormous. She has been a participant in that event which has lead to the man’s disobedience.  In fact she led the way. We may want to argue that according to the account the commandment was given to the man, not to the woman.  However when questioned by the serpent, the woman understands that she is also under that command.  She bears her own responsibility for her eating of the fruit but the author/editor seems to be focussing on her involvement in her giving it to the man.  Of course we might contend that the man could have argued against her eating the fruit and that whatever she did he could have refused to partake of the fruit himself.  But both the man and the woman had a command from God.  To God they were both answerable.  She like the man however wants to avoid the brunt of the question.  “I have disobeyed you. I ate the fruit and I involved the man in my disobedience and he then disobeyed you.” could have been a response.  By contrast it was, simply, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”  She confesses that she has been deceived but by making the serpent the subject in the first part of her reply she endeavours to shift her culpability onto the serpent.  And we might add that this is a serpent that God had made, though the text at this point is silent on this issue.

Walsh argues that in both the man’s and the woman’s response it isn’t simply the word, “And I ate” appearing at the end of their response that suggests its importance.  He also appeals to the existence of a complex word order in the case of the response made by the man and alliteration in that made by the woman.  The author/editor wants the position to be perfectly clear to the hearer/reader.  God said not to eat – but they ate.

And as with the man, Yahweh Elohim, turning from the woman, as though her involvement has now been dealt with, then moves on to deal with the serpent.

May 13, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 2:55 am

Yahweh Elohim questions the man and the woman

In answer to God’s question of “Where are you?” the man refers not to where he is or was, but why, as it where, he had been difficult to find.  “I heard you, I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”  This is the first we hear of fear in the Old Testament – fear when confronted with a holy God whom one has chosen to disobey.

The man’s awareness of his nakedness comes to the fore.  The awareness of nakedness but not the nakedness itself is used throughout the drama to give a deep sense of shame to what has occurred.  At this point in the dialogue there is no mention of what he and the woman have actually done.  It is the shame that dominates. The man not only has a deep sense of shame in the presence of the woman, his shame seems to be more generalised.  We are probably meant to understand that he is ashamed of himself in his own presence and certainly he is ashamed of himself if he were to find himself in the presence of God.  Sometimes humanity is aware of these threefold sources of shame – ashamed to be what we are in our own presence, ashamed to be what we are in the presence of others and ashamed to be what we are in the presence of God.  Though the last is often the least felt, in this account it is that shame which dominates.  The man is aware of the nearness of God – he has heard either the soft sound of a footfall or the frightening sound associated with a fierce wind – but it is God himself that the man needs to hide from, not the sound that heralds his appearance.

God asks the man two questions, one following immediately upon the other.  The second one drives to the heart of what lies behind the first.  “Who told you that you were naked?” – How has it come to pass that you have acquired this knowledge about yourself?  “Have you eaten of the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” – I do not need to name the tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you partook of the fruit of that tree you would know that you were naked.  Did you do that?

God knows the connection between knowing good and evil and the awareness of nakedness – it is his garden after all.  He knew what eating of the fruit of that tree would do hence his warning.  Walsh argues that the operative word is the one translated, “Have you eaten?  It occurs in the Hebrew at the end of the question – the sentence reading something like, “Of the tree which I told you not to eat from, have you eaten?”  The root problem is not your awareness of your nakedness but that you did eat.  And I commanded you not to eat.  That is the crux of the matter.  I commanded and you disobeyed.

The man’s response seems so classical to those of us who are used to trying to avoid the truth by shifting the blame.  He even suggests that some of the responsibility belongs to God himself.   The man could have answered simply “Yes.”  He could have shown remorse but if he will not readily acknowledge his own responsibility he is not going to show remorse.  He invents a fig leaf of another sort which will turn out to be just as flimsy.  And how dare he try to convince God that God himself is partly to blame.  “The woman you put here with me …” – the four Hebrew words involved seem to have been put together to indicate that the man is trying to claim that the fault was not his entirely. (In so doing however the man acknowledges the order in which God had done things – the man first, the woman came later.) You did not have to put this woman in the garden with me, he says, conveniently forgetting how enthralled he was earlier to have found the woman newly made beside him. “Anyway, this woman having been put into this garden by you, she gave me some fruit from the tree.”  He could be suggesting that he did not actually take the fruit – she did and then she passed it on.  “Surely she bears the prime responsibility.”  Though God’s second question places the emphasis on, “Have you eaten?” the man will not answer that until the end of his response, where he ultimately admits, “And I ate.”  How reluctant we are to admit our errors.

May 10, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:12 pm

Genesis 3: 9 – 13 – Yahweh Elohim, the man and the woman – questions and answers

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Then the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (NIV)

Yahweh Elohim making a sound walking in the garden in the cool of the day

While he suggests it only as a possibility, Walton argues that the relevant text could be translated, “They heard the roar of the Lord moving about in the garden in the wind of the storm” (p. 224).  This is a far cry from, “They heard the sound of the Lord God as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day.

He arrives at his suggestion by way of  the following considerations:  the Hebrew “ruach” can be translated “wind” (or “spirit” or “breath); Akkadian usage indicates that “yom” translated “day” can have the meaning of “storm”, with Isaiah 27: 8 and Zephaniah 2: 2 associating “yom” with a fierce wind (Walton actually argues for a stronger connection between “yom” and a fierce wind); the Akkadian usage relates to the deity coming in judgement (as do the Isaiah and Zephaniah texts); the word “qol” (sound) can refer to sounds varying from the very quite to the very loud.

Certainly, “cool of the day” writes too much into the text.  And it could be argued that “roar” does likewise, with “storm” being an unusual way to render “yom”.  We are faced with two extreme possibilities or with something in between.  “Sound” and “day” would still be satisfactory translations for “qol”, and “yom” respectively without denying that the “ruach” was a wind of some substance, strong enough to be clearly heard and resulting in the man and the woman wanting to hide. However, what would the phrase “the wind of the day” mean?  “Ruach” can be translated “breeze” in which case, “the breeze of the day” could be understood as a reference to the cool of the day.

Perhaps the author/editor created two layers of thought. From one point of view there is a reference to God being likened to a monarch strolling through his garden enjoying the cool breeze of perhaps the early evening but who cannot find the man and the woman he has placed there. From another point of view there is a simply a reference to God who in anger, accompanied by a fierce and noisy wind, is intent on dealing with the man and the woman whom he already knows has disobeyed him. The stark reality is that the man and the woman have hidden themselves in the garden of the great king and God, the one and only king, finds them and he is indeed angry and brings his judgement to bear upon them.

In referring to the man and the woman as “the man and his wife” the text seems to focus on the man but additionally it might be a way of lowering the status of both of them.  Taking vv. 7 and 8 together, there is a solemn progression – “and they knew …, and they sewed …, and they made …, and they heard ….”  And then the man and his wife hid.  If there was an unusually loud sound or an unusually fierce wind or both, no wonder they hid.  But the man under questioning will give another reason for hiding, a more fundamental reason.

The man and his wife hid themselves from the face of Yahweh Elohim in the midst of the trees of the garden.  It appears that they left the scene of their offence – the middle of the garden and concealed themselves among the trees of the garden.  The luxurious garden, but always God’s garden, had been provided by him in part for their enjoyment, but it had now become a place in which to hide from this God.  They had to avoid any face to face contact with him.  To be right before him, in his very presence, had to be avoided if at all possible.

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