Barry Newman's Blog

June 28, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:18 pm

The essential information

If anything like this thesis is correct the most important question becomes, “What is the essential teaching that is being given here?”  Or rephrased to give us a distinctive Christian point of view, the question becomes, “What truths does God intend for us to learn from this account, words created by one or more human beings, yet an account brought into existence by God, ‘under his good hand’?”

If a hearer/reader pays careful attention to the words of chapter three, allowing himself or herself to be immersed in these words, it is difficult for him or her not to feel their considerable weight.   Is not the desire to be deceived when the truth would prevent us travelling down a path that we desire, our way of operating as well as the woman’s?  Does not what appeals to our senses have much in common with what appealed to hers? Is it not our inclination to seek after one’s own considerations rather than to fall in line with God’s prescriptions, the same as the woman’s?  Do we not desire to operate beyond the healthy bounds that God gives us in his demands on how we should live, just as the man and the woman did?  Is it not our fundamental desire to act independently of God, as was the underlying position of the man and the woman, no matter how different their offence is from ours? Is it not very easy to operate contrary to the dictates of God – just as the man did without apparently much thought?  Are we not well aware of the propensity to blame others and to diminish if not to avoid altogether our responsibility in matters where we have erred, just as the woman and the man did?  Do we not even like to put some of the blame on God just as the man did?   Is it not our self awareness with its self indulgences that cripples much of our life and prevents us from giving proper consideration to God and others like ourselves, just as the self awareness of the man and the woman made them concentrate on coping with their nakedness?  Do we not also make feeble attempts to deal with our sinfulness, attempts that are only short lived and hardly rate as effective, as was the case with the man and the woman? Do we not justly deserve God’s anger and judgment as did the man and the woman?  Do we not live in a world of distorted, harmful and fractured relationships both within humanity and within the created world at large just as such a world was experienced by the man, the woman and the serpent?  Is it not appropriate that this world should be a world where life is difficult because we are “difficult” – a world appropriate for sinful man, as the world outside of the garden was appropriate for sinful man?  Should it not be the case that death should become the natural outcome for such distorted beings – the man, the woman and us? Last but not least, though unexpectedly, is not this God the one who showed mercy and kindness to that man and that woman, the same God who has shown mercy and kindness to us through the Lord Jesus Christ?  He has achieved for us by his grace what we cannot achieve for ourselves, dealing absolutely effectively with our offences and enabling us to be transformed into the image of that Jesus, his son, today being declared righteous even now in his presence, one day being made perfect?

The account and the gospel

Being steeped in this Genesis account and no other comparable account and having his eyes opened to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is no great surprise  that Paul the apostle later could write:”Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned … (and) death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offence of Adam, who is a type of him who is to come … (and) if by the transgression of one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ … (and) as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5: 12 – 19) and finally, “Since a man came by death, by a man also came the resurrection from the dead.  For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15: 21, 22).

A number of things could be said concerning the connection between Genesis 2 and 3 on the one hand and these texts (and others) on the other but that must be left for another day.  At least at this point it should be said, “Thanks be to God for the Genesis account and Paul’s references to it!”  And with respect to the Son of God and all that comes with him, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”


June 26, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:40 am

How did the account come into existence and what of its apparent reality?

“Did the author/editor make up and construct the account?”  As an alternative to what was suggested above, about it all really happening that way, the answer to this question could be, “Yes”.  There could have been some intentional borrowing of certain ideas, even if quite limited in extent, from surrounding cultures with the intention of giving a correct understanding of mankind and his relationship with God and the world that God had created.  The author/editor would have knowingly created the account and one might assume that those to whom the account was originally given would have appreciated its origins. One might assume that the original hearers/readers did not believe that serpents could talk, that a tree that would “open one’s eyes” and a tree that could provide for ongoing life, ever existed.

But why give somewhat detailed descriptions of the rivers, and the reference to Eden, in which the garden is sited, being in the east?  Mention has already been made of the possibility that the author/editor wanting his hearers/readers to appreciate the theological significance of this garden – a garden especially blessed by God.  However additionally, it could be that the author wants to create the idea that the whole account is real in some important sense.  Maybe he wishes to guard against the idea that it is a mythical account that anyone could make up or refer to.  He does not mean it to be treated as a “Just so …” story or a story of magical proportions that has nothing to do with our world.  Surely he intends it to be an account of the most significant of all realities and perhaps this is partly the reason why it is given a realistic setting.

June 23, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:13 pm

A possible compromise with a modern understanding of the antiquity of mankind?

As one continues reading Genesis it becomes reasonably clear that the account of things given in Gen 2 and 3 is consistent with their occurring somewhere between 4, 000 and 10, 000 B.C.  How does this gel with a modern understanding that homo sapiens has been around for well over 100, 000 years.  And then what are we to make of the evidence that species before homo sapiens made tools, observed religious rites and attacked one another?

In an attempt to find some conformity between the Genesis account and a belief that homo sapiens has been around for say 200,000 years, we could assume that there were human beings outside of the garden when the man and the woman were there.  We might further assume that these other human beings were only considered by God to be related to him, in the same way that the man and the woman were related to him, when the man and the woman were driven out of the garden into the world beyond the garden.  That is, the man and the woman in some sense stood as representative of man and woman. When the man and the woman disobeyed and came under the judgment of God, so all mankind were considered as disobedient and under God’s judgement.

This idea may have some appeal especially from a theological point of view. But Gen 2 and 3 give no hint of the existence of human beings other than the man and the woman.  To begin with, there was no rain and no plants cultivated or wild.  Then the one man was fashioned and came into existence outside of the garden.  He was then placed in the garden.  The woman was then formed and she came into existence inside of the garden.  The man sees a role for the woman as a bearer of children and calls her “Eve”.  They are later both driven out of the garden into the world outside of the garden.  The narrative has only one man and one woman in view and at the beginning of things they constitute humanity.  The attempted compromise may be very valuable from a theological point of view and well worth considering. However it cannot be supported from Gen 2 and 3 alone.

A scientific perspective

From a modern scientific perspective and with its assumptions about uniformity: serpents do not talk and do not understand what a human being might say and never have talked or understood the speech of humans; there is no such thing as a tree of life or a tree of the knowledge of good and evil and there never has been; there is no evidence that human beings discovered themselves to be naked after they had eaten a certain type of fruit.  And what does the scientific enterprise know of cherubim?  And what of human being-like species that behaved very much like human beings well before homo sapiens? With this perspective, responses to the question, “What really happened?” might be, “I do not know.” or “Whatever happened it did not happen like that.”  or “Nothing happened like that.” or even “To ask the question is unfortunately to miss the point.” Yet still we might ask, “But how did the account come to be?  What beliefs did the writer or editor have?  What are we meant to learn from it?”

June 19, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:05 pm

Concluding remarks

Ancient Near East Similarities

There are some similarities between the Genesis account of the garden and some of the mythology of the ancient Near East.  Serpents sometimes have a prominent part to play in such mythologies. There are references to “magical” food the eating of which could bestow immortality. Cherubim-like figures are not unknown.  However, according to Walton “the paradise motif in the ancient Near East is nearly nonexistence”. (p. 181) He makes reference to a Sumerian myth that refers to the world of humanity before the institution of kingship and even before the existence of civilisations. At that time, human beings were naked, the land was not tilled and there was no irrigation. Walton comments that this corresponds more to the picture given in Gen 2: 5, 6 than to any idyllic existence.  Thus while the Gen 3 account may draw on or be reflective of, to some extent mythical material from surrounding cultures, on the available evidence, any similarity is quite minimal.  As mentioned earlier, the existence in antiquity of royal gardens in the ancient Near East is well known.

What really happened?

One of the intriguing things about the garden is the attention the author/editor gives to where it is situated. In Gen 2 we are told of the placing of the garden in Eden, towards the east and given descriptions of the rivers associated with the garden.  It is as though the garden is a real place and situated in our world.  As much as we might balk at a talking serpent and two extraordinary trees, of course it is possible for God to have created a special garden with some special trees and have a serpent capable of conversing with human beings.  It is possible for things to have happened exactly the way they are described in Gen 2 and 3.

And of course God could have appointed some astonishing creatures to guard the entrance to the garden.  We might ask but where is the garden now and what happened to these cherubim?  When, if ever, were they relieved of their duty?  The account does not provide us with any answers to these questions.  However in attempting to be faithful to the character of the account, we might postulate the following:  The man was placed in the garden to work it and take care of it; upon the removal of the man from the garden, the garden deteriorated; even the tree of life grew old as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and in the course of time, both these extraordinary trees ceased to exist.  Finally, the garden could not be distinguished from the world that had been outside of the garden.  Guard duty was no longer required.

But what really happened?

June 17, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:54 pm

The cherubim guarding the entrance on the eastern side

It might strike us as a little curious that the guards, the cherubim, are placed on the east side of the garden.  However, presumably that was the way into the garden.  The entrance was on the eastern side, recognising, as earlier suggested, that the garden was basically an enclosed affair.  It would need to be enclosed in order to contain the animals of the garden.  Is there any significance in the entranceway being on the eastern side?  A number of suggestions come to mind but with little confidence in their validity. One reasonable possibility is that if the location of the garden is, as earlier suggested, at the head of what we now refer to as the Persian Gulf, then the eastern side would be bounded by that “bitter river” (see an earlier blog). While an enclosure of some sort would be necessary wherever the garden was bounded by land, perhaps that part of the garden being open to the water needed no artificial “wall” as far as the animals were concerned. However, when it came to preventing the man and the woman re-entering the garden, that would require the setting of guards at the entrance way.

Regarding the cherubim, Walton (p. 230) comments that the description given to them in the Biblical literature is in accordance “with archaeological finds that suggest that cherubim are composite creatures (like griffins or sphinxes)” He also refers to a Neo-Assyrian seal which “depicts what appears to be a fruit tree flanked by two such creatures with deities standing on their backs supporting a winged sun disk.”  There could be a connection between the sun and the cherubim reflected in the Genesis account in its reference to their guarding the eastern side of the garden.   Perhaps of greater significance is the Biblical material that refers to the cherubim numerous times as extraordinary creatures who in the Old Testament, according to Walton “usually function as guardians of God’s presence.”  Are we being reminded in the reference to the cherubim not only of the necessity of the man and the woman to be driven from the garden but that it is God’s garden to which they are not  permitted entrance?  The irony is, as Walton recognises it, that while the man was “to take care of” (to guard) the garden, the cherubim had “to guard” (same Hebrew verb) against the man and the woman coming back in. As he puts it, “The warden is off to jail.” Alternatively one might say, “He who was to take care of, is taken care of!”  Or again, “He who was to be keeper is kept out!

The “flaming sword flashing back and forth” is possibly a depiction of ongoing lightning.  The cherubim would act as guards but they would be aided by the presence of bolts of lightning.  The awesome display of lightning would of course be seen from afar and would be sufficient to deter any attempts at re-entry.  Any thought of even closely approaching the entrance would be ruled out.  God’s dealings with the man and the woman are now complete.  No, not really. There is a chapter four and much more to follow.  However, at this point, as we further reflect on chapter 3 and some of the material in chapter 2, we need to raise some questions about what the author/editor really believed, the reality of what is depicted and the theological significance of this part of the Genesis account.

June 15, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:14 pm

Genesis 3: 22 – 24 – The man and the woman driven from the garden

“And the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (NIV)

Being “banished” from the garden

A number of facets of this final scene have already been mentioned – the knowing of good and evil, the preventing of access to the tree of life and the working of the ground.  One might expect that the reference to “man” in 3: 22 would be to generic man – man without the definite article as in Gen 1: 26 and 2: 5. However, in accord with 2: 23 where the reference is clearly to the man working the ground, it is the man who is spoken of as the one who has “become like one of us”. Furthermore it is that same one who is referred to as being “banished” from the garden.  Of course, the woman is “banished” along with the man for indeed the eyes of both of them had been opened.  Yet the focus is on the man – the one to whom the command had been directly given, the one whom God placed in the garden, the one for whom God fashioned the counterpart helper, the one who failed to exercise any responsibility towards his wife.  Great is the blame to be attached to the man.

The phrase, “the man has now become like (as) one of us” has overtones with Gen 1: 26 – “Let us make man in our image”. It was suggested in an earlier blog series that the reference to “us” in Gen 1: 26 was probably a reference to God and his heavenly court and that what lay behind the notion of “us” was the existence of personal relationships existing between God and other members of his court and amongst those other members themselves. It was also suggested that in order to prevent any misunderstandings, 1: 26 is quickly followed by 1: 27 where the reference is solely to God’s image. The “us” of 3: 22 could also be a reference to God and his heavenly court. Here however, man who was originally made “in our image” has become “like one of us” and in this case, the similarity is not something to delight in.  Rather it is a matter that is regarded as appalling.

What is this similarity?  In conformity with the idea that for the man (and the woman), what happened upon eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil was their becoming in some inappropriate way self aware, so here the suggestion is that there is a reference to the self awareness of the members of the heavenly court.  However, their self awareness was not inappropriate.

What the man (and the woman) had become was so seriously inappropriate that God decided that he would not allow such beings to have ongoing life.  Their access to the tree of life was to be denied forever.  And being denied such access meant being banned from the garden.  Being banned from the garden meant having to work the ground to enable vegetation to grow that would provide the food that would enable the man to eat and so live, though such life would have death stamped upon it.  In the end the man (and the woman) would die.  It could be that we are meant to see irony in the statement that the man will have to work the ground from which he was taken.  He came from the ground outside of the garden and he will now have to work at that same ground in order to eke out an existence in the world beyond the garden. And one day, when death for him has its final say, he will become part of that ground that is outside of the garden.

The word, “banished” probably writes too much into the text, the basic sense behind the Hebrew word being, “sent”.  The specific sense of the word varies depending upon context.  However, the Hebrew word translated “drove”, the other word used to describe God’s activity at this point, does seem to have a forceful element to it. In Exodus 2: 17, some shepherds drive some women away from a well and in the title to Psalm 34, reference is made to Abimelech driving out David.  The man and the woman do not go by their own initiative, God does not invite the man and the woman to leave and they do not go after a little prodding.  They are driven out.  We are left in no doubt as to the seriousness of their offence and the utter necessity of their not being allowed to have ongoing existence.

June 14, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 4:20 am

The two verses – a textual aside?

In his sparse comments on these two verses, Walsh refers to them as “isolated narrative lines” that “have no structural connection with the rest of scene six” (3: 14-19 constitute scene six in his analysis).  In a footnote he comments that “3: 20 is …a proleptic reference to 4: 1 (and) that the function of both verses within the Eden account must be sought on the level of the account as a whole.”  Certainly 4: 1 refers to the birth of Cain and the reader is prepared there for more children to come.  However it is not clear to this writer why “the account as a whole” has to be considered in order to discover their function.

The judgments on the man and the woman, in light of what might have been, can only be described as horrific. The basic account has almost come to its conclusion – the conclusion reached in vv. 22 – 24.  Functioning somewhat as an interlude, rather than an aside, vv. 20, 21 provide the hearer/reader with some relief.  All is not completely lost.  Death has already begun and will inevitably follow, yet life is to be provided.  The man and the woman are ashamed and the attempt made by them to deal with their shame is pathetic and short-lived as a solution. Yet God comes to their rescue and their shame is curtailed.  The hearer/reader is about to be informed of something which he/she is probably anticipating but he/she will remember the words of these verses, when confronted with what is to come. The loss is not total.  Hope has been born.  Rather than a textual aside, these verses provide the hearers/readers, with a brief breathing space before they must face what is to follow and provides a view of things that has some optimistic elements.

June 12, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 12:43 am

The garments that Yahweh Elohim provides

In verse 21 we have a reference to Yahweh Elohim making garments for the man and his wife.  The garments are garments of skin and hence we assume that some animal or animals have died by one means or another.  It is not uncommon to conclude that God actually “sacrificed” the life of one or more animals for the sake of the man and the woman.  While it seems obvious that the use of the skin of one or more animals implies that one or more animals had died, the text is silent about this being a matter of some significance or that God himself brought about that death.  In fact the death of animals may have already been part of the man and the woman’s existence in the garden.  Given that in the garden apparently nothing equivalent to the tree of life was provided to prevent the death of an animal the author/editor may have thought it appropriate for the hearer/reader to assume that the death of animals would be a natural occurrence.  Again the text is silent on such a possibility just as it is silent on seeing anything of considerable significance in the fact that animal skins were available.

What is of significance is that Yahweh Elohim provides them.  He is aware of their shame, their consequent need for covering and the inadequacy of what they had created for themselves.  It is out of his kindness that these animal skins are provided.  They are long lasting and not susceptible to tearing in contrast to the leaves of a fig tree sewn together.  What is difficult to deny in this part of the account is the portrayal of the grace of God for sinful humanity.

“In some contexts, clothing someone is an act of investiture.  Kings and priests were clothed in installation ceremonies. Joseph was clothed by his father in a special coat and was clothed by Pharaoh on his appointment to high office.” (Walton, pp. 229, 230)  With the man and the woman however, there is shame that needs to be dealt with, not honour to be conferred. There is some similarity between what happened to the man and the woman in the Genesis account to what happened to Adapa in the Tale of Adapa. Adapa, failing to eat of the bread of water of life, was in need of being clothed and that clothing was supplied by the god Anu (Walton, p. 230).  A tale that is something like an inversion of the Genesis account is that of Jason and the golden fleece. In that story, Jason travels to the far ends of the earth and finds a dragon that is guarding a golden fleece that is hanging on a tree. Media, a sorceress, comes to his aid.  She drugs the dragon and the golden fleece is theirs.  He is a hero.  In the Genesis account both the man and the woman are abject failures.  They have no honour, only shame.  But God deals with their shame.

June 10, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:38 am

Genesis 3: 20, 21 – The man names the woman; Yahweh Elohim makes garments

“Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was (NIV reads, “would become”) the mother of all the living. The Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” (New American Standard)

The naming of the woman

The vocabulary that is used of the man naming the animals and the birds (Gen 2: 19) is also used here in his naming of the woman.  It was suggesting when considering the former situation that perhaps one of the important aspects of his giving these creatures their names was that it was an indication of his authority over them.  If that is true, and it is a debatable point, the same may apply with respect to his naming of the woman.  However it was also pointed out that the context for his naming of the creatures was one where there was no suitable helper to be found among these creatures.  That is, that context suggested that in his naming of them the man recognised what they were but more to the point what they were not.  In the naming of the woman, “Eve”, the man may have been exercising some authority over her but again the context is one of recognition – he recognises her role as mother – indeed the mother, of all who would come afterwards.  The text does not indicate anything improper about the man naming the woman, “Eve” and his recognition of her role in the world would seem to be the main if not the only point that is being made.  It is true that God does not name the woman, “Eve” but it would seem to go beyond the text to suggest that the man erred in so doing.  Rather than having the sense of exercising authority over, the naming of an entity, in this context, may simply imply that the role or function of that entity is being recognised.

At the very least it would seem to indicate that the man is perceptive.  It could be that in association with his now being aware of his nakedness and being aware of the woman being aware of his nakedness that the man recognises the sexual aspect of their nakedness and the possibility of sexual activity leading to new life.  Of course the text is relevantly silent on such a connection.  Perhaps the author/editor is allowing the hearer/reader to fill out the details that relate the awareness of nakedness to sexual activity and to the production of children.  We should not assume that the hearers/readers were naive about such matters.

The Hebrew word for “living” has already appeared a number of times in the account (e.g. 1: 21, 24; 2: 7, 19) and is commonly associated in these passages with the Hebrew word for “creatures”. However, as in 2: 7, the entity that is referred to as living is that of humankind.  The Hebrew word for “Eve” has the same sound as the first part as the Hebrew word for “living” and the writer makes use of this similarity in his “explanation” as to why she is called, “Eve”.

June 7, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:37 pm

The three judgements

In Walsh’s terms, “each decree imposes two punishments, one involving an essential life function, the other a relationship.”  What is also of significance is how the three judgments are linked.  The relationship problem for the serpent involves itself and the woman. The relationship problem for the woman involves herself and the man.  The relationship problem for the man involves himself and … ? At this point we might have expected that for the man his problem involved himself and God. Instead, if the suggestion above is appropriate, the problem was between himself and the ground – almost it seems somewhat of a come down.  Not God, but the ground.

There is a sense in which if the man’s relationship breakdown was portrayed as involving God, then that would have said something false about the relationship between God and the woman and God and the serpent.  All were under the judgement of God and all were thereby clearly estranged from God.  What then is the significance of “ground”.  The serpent was one of those creatures made on Day 6.  It is one of many.  The woman is special – she was fashioned from a chunk of the man.  The man is special – he was formed from the dust of the ground.  The man’s relationship with God is in a sense mediated through the ground.  For the writer to indicate that for the man, in the judgment of God, the problem is the ground, is perhaps an elliptical way of referring to the fact that his problem is with God without thereby implying that the serpent and the woman did not have a similar problem.  However, perhaps we are seeing too much in the man’s relationship with the ground as a consequence of seeing too close a parallel among the three judgments.

It is noteworthy that while the serpent and the ground are both subject to a curse from God, neither the woman nor the man are cursed.  Surely the hearers/readers are thereby encouraged that with the man and the woman all is not lost. Humankind is not subject to an everlasting all-pervasive ban.  God still has some part for them to play and he will not abandon them.  They stand in a relationship with him that is not that of the serpent or the ground.  For them there is hope.

Reference is often made to the order in which the serpent and the woman are addressed.  A popular idea is that what we are given is an order which is the reverse of what God originally intended.  Originally the order was the man, the woman and then the serpent.  Now it is the serpent, the woman and then the man.  The point of the latter ordering could be to indicate that the proper order has been reversed but the hearer/reader knows this from what occurred anyway.  However, the order in which God addresses the three could simply have been dictated by other considerations such as, increasing the suspense, beginning where the drama began and finishing where it finished, or simply having the order correspond to what in principle remained, the correct order, moving from lower in the order to higher in the order.  Whatever the intention of the writer, that there was an inversion of order is clear from how the drama unfolded.  The serpent deceived and persuaded the woman; the woman was attracted to the idea of eating the fruit, ate the fruit and then gave it to the man; the man, absolutely limp – minded and refraining from exercising any responsibility, then ate.  This was the man to whom God had spoken directly.

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