Barry Newman's Blog

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.


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