Barry Newman's Blog

June 6, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 1:02 am

Yahweh Elohim’s judgment on the man (cont)

The aside was pursued because of the question mark that hangs over what it means for God to curse the ground.  It does not seem appropriate to this writer that it means God withholding his favour, blessing and protection unless by that is implied the positive bringing about of something very undesirable, given utterance in the form of a curse.

A special characteristic of curses is that they carry with them considerable fervour and highlight the involvement of the one who curses in what the curse promises.  When God curses both the serpent and the ground, that fervour and heightened personal involvement should not be missed.  Something of the utmost serious nature has come about.

In the case of the ground, what actually happened?  Did the nature of the ground suddenly change and change catastrophically?  Is that the way the hearer/reader is meant to understand the situation?  That is certainly possible.

Another possibility is as follows: Up to this point in the account the author/editor has simply indicated that the world outside the garden was originally without wild or cultivated vegetation (as suggested earlier) because there was no man to till the ground and there had been no rain.  Then God (on the basis of the analysis previously given) sent rain and fashioned the man from the dust of the ground. Next God planted a garden and placed the man in the garden.  The author/editor, except for his reference to the wild and cultivated vegetation has told us very little about the nature of the world outside of the garden.  Furthermore, the man seemingly being placed in the garden immediately after being made has in reality very little experience of what the world outside of the garden is like. When he is removed from the garden he experiences a world that was already prepared for him – a world with cursed ground.  God in his curse of the ground was simply stating what the world outside the garden was really like, though we are not meant to see it as cursed until God has indeed cursed it. However, this scenario would not satisfy those who have an understanding that to begin with the world was created a “perfect” world.

Perhaps we should not try to postulate too much but merely accept that according to the account, as a consequence of the disobedience of the man, the ground was cursed by God.  The author/editor does not have a problem with the ground undergoing a change even a drastic and sudden change.  Nor perhaps does he wish to rule out the idea that the world outside of the garden was prepared for the disobedient man, though it is not to be viewed as cursed until God utters his curse.

Whatever tack we take, the account makes it clear that the man who always needs food to eat will now struggle to survive and his struggle to survive will be unending.  All the days of his life will be characterised by the pain – the hardship, worry and anxiety he will experience as he works the land.  For the ground will produce thorns and thistles not the luxurious trees of the garden.  That will be what the ground will produce without his effort but these thorns and thistles will not be edible.  The only way he will find food is to work the land and grow the plants of the field – cultivated crops.  He will survive but it will take effort.  It will be by the sweat of his brow, and there will always be that uncertainty about whether whatever he plants will be “fruitful” in the end.

No mention is made of the “shrub of the field” as in 2: 5 which could be considered to add further weight to the idea that this was not cultivated but rather wild vegetation. Perhaps the thorns and thistles are representative of the “shrubs of the field” in which case, the world outside the garden was already prepared for the man who would have to live outside of the garden, as suggested above.

The second part of his judgement is interwoven with the first.  The man will be destined to toil for his sustenance until he returns to the ground.  From the ground he was taken to the ground he will return.  From the dust of the ground (the soil?) he was made – dust he is and dust he shall become.  As Mme Ramotswe wanted to say to Mme Makutsi in Alexander McCall Smith’s Blue Shoes and Happiness, when burying a ground hornbill, “We are returning it to ground from which it came, the ground from which we came too.” (p. 199) The second part of each of the judgments that were made for both the serpent and the woman entailed a relationship problem.  If we are meant to see something similar in the case of the man, then perhaps it is in terms of his relationship with the ground.  He is a product of the ground and if that relationship was to be ongoing there would be no further developments.  However in God’s judgment upon the man, the ongoing character of the relationship comes to an end.  The reverse occurs and the man becomes dust of the ground.  He was derived from the ground and now part of the ground is derived from him.  However, for more on this, see later.

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