Sunday, September 21, 2008

Genealogies and Giants

When Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, things go down hill fast. Moreover we move from language that is very mythical to language that is transitional. It contains matter of fact material delivered with unusual data, for example: A string of patriarchs who live over 900 years.
It begins with the story of Cain murdering his brother Abel. What lies behind this first primordial murder? After a story of ritual punishment we are given a genealogy of Cain. This is followed by The birth of Seth and a detailed genealogy following the Adam-Seth chain which contains a bizarre sequence of implausible birth and death ages. A sequence of patriarchs starting with Adam live to impossibly long ages ranging from a low of Enoch at 365 when he is taken away by God, to Methusalah who lives to the age of 969. Noah doesn't have children until he is 500. It seems very unlikely that these are accurate accounts of human ages. The arithmetic is carefully confirmed in each case, for example:Genesis 5:12-14 When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. 13 And after he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 Altogether, Kenan lived 910 years, and then he died. Notice the careful confirmation of the arithmetic: 70 + 840 = 910 years. Each of the generations is described this way. Why is that?
One ought always to admit ignorance in matters like this. We simply don't know why these numbers are the way they are. The way numbers are conveyed in Hebrew, like Greek, is with letters standing for numbers and their interpretation demands that you know what the letters mean. One theory I have seen advanced is that the meaning before the Babylonian captivity was different from the meaning after, and the original meaning had been forgotten. In the course of the redaction a later system of interpretation was applied and the careful summations were added to make sure that 1) the numbers added up, and 2) the same thing didn't happen again. Thus these odd and implausible numbers may simply be due to a common human failing, that of forgetting.
Numerology of various sorts has a very long and respectable history. Theomatics is a term used for the process of calculating the numerical values of letters in Hebrew and Greek. It's worth a look if you're interested in calculating 666 for example. In Hebrew mysticism this is called Gematria and is related to Kabbalah which is itself a much misunderstood subject.
What are we to say of these numerical matters? I think we can say that it is a mystery. It may be a mistake. It is probably not literal, and all of these statements are conjectural. The mystery only deepens when we reach Genesis 6:4: The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. This is one of the reasons why I say that we have not entirely gone beyond the realm of myth here. Who are these Nephilim? and who are the sons of God and the daughters of men? There are many speculations, but again these are only conjecture and reach us out of the dim mists of time and the fog of history turned to myth.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Threading ...

All tapestries are woven of threads. One of the more moving metaphors of life for me is that of the thread. In Greek mythology there were three Fates: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spun the thread of life. Lachesis measured out the thread of life, and Atropos cut the thread of life. Thus was your destiny determined. The tapestry of all life was woven with these individual threads.
I like that image. I think it conveys a kind of global vision of the providence of God and not merely an ancient fatalism. Each thread is woven into the pattern of life in a certain way so that the pattern will be correct, the world will not be right without that particular thread woven in in just that way.
In Scripture the threads are the sentences that convey meaning. We are told in Psalm 104:24 "How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." A thread in Scripture is an idea, a concept which reveals God to us in some particular way. Each of the threads is positioned to convey the message of God's revelation. When a thread is torn from it's position in Scripture, we cannot always be certain that the meaning is preserved. For that reason I am very uncomfortable with what I call the snippet approach to bible quoting. One snippet here, another there, and you can prove 'most anything.
I want to step back a little from the discussion of Genesis to revisit Adam and Eve. We saw Adam is derived from earth and Eve from life. Eve desired wisdom under the enticement of the serpent and gave the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam to eat. This act of disobedience caused them to lose paradise and gain a life of toil, pain and ultimately death.
I have a lot of questions about this story. I am curious about its ultimate meaning. So let's flash forward thousands of years to the New Testament. The word 'Adam' only appears in 24 places in the bible (if you search on that single word in )
Sixteen are in the Old Testament and eight in the New Testament. Of these eight I will focus only on half: 1) those in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and those in Romans chapter 5.

1 Corinthians 15:21-15;41-49

1 Cor 15:21-25
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Cor 15:41-49
41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

Romans 5:12-14

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

The Wisdom of God, He who is with God from the beginning and without whom nothing was made that was made comes to transform us from earth, the natural man, the first man, to transcendent man, risen with the likeness of the Man from Heaven.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What are we to make of this?

The story of the temptation and disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is emblematic of the Fall of Man from a state of original bliss in perfect communion with God to a state of relative degradation, condemned to toil and pain and death. These trappings to the story are the accumulation of ages and ages of exegesis.
The story itself has very primitive elements. It is mythic, set in a place of perfection. It is mythic in the sense of animals given sentience and voice in the form of the serpent. The implication being that other animals, less crafty, less disobedient, may also have had voices. God Himself is pictured as a gardener, a shaper of the earth, who shapes even life itself, but also one who is jealous of competition. The last verse we saw said: Genesis 3:22 "And the LORD God 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."

Some Questions

What does it mean that "man has now become like one of us ..."? Who are "us"? Why is it a surprise that "man has now become like one of us ..." if man was made to be in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) then how can it be that God is now concerned? What is "the tree of life" which man had not been forbidden to eat of?
The point is not that I have answers, but that I have many questions which are not answered by any exegesis that I've seen. Eve ate because the fruit was beautiful and wisdom was desired and because the serpent had lied to her. The wisdom was the knowledge of good and evil, i.e. the capacity to discern the true nature of things, hence becoming more godlike, but also more rebellious since to eat was to disobey. What does this tell us about the relationship between obedience to divine command and knowledge? C.S. Lewis in a number of places cites John 7:17 "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." [King James Version] as a basis for his view of a 'Deep Church' of those who serve God through their obedience. " In following the serpent after wisdom, Adam and Eve doomed themselves to perpetually seeking a lesser wisdom perhaps, than would have been offered had they been obedient. Moreover, the second tree, the tree of life, still awaits us.

The End of Bliss

Chapter 2 of Genesis ends on the verse Genesis 2:25 "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." — It's probably a good time to point out that the chapter and verse notations as well as any little headings are all very late additions to the bible. They are not original and they are often not very well considered.
Enter a talking serpent. Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Everyone is used to assuming that the serpent is Satan, but Satan is a much later conceptual entity. The serpent could be anything at all, but one thing he certainly is and that is the personification of disobedience and rebellion. His very first action is to sow doubt.
The precipitous Fall of Man takes place in the span of a single verse (two short sentences), Genesis 3:6 "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it."
The serpent had made two claims, one false and the other true: 1) "You will not surely die" which was false, and 2) "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." which appears to be true. For before they ate of the apple they had no shame at their nakedness, although it is not said if they should have felt shame, that is only an implication and not an assertion.
The Consequences quickly followed — Was is wisdom now that informed them that they were naked? God called to the man but he hid because he was naked. When God asks Adam if he has eaten of the fruit of the tree from which he had been forbidden to eat he compounds his betrayal: Genesis 3:12 "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Thus Adam, Father of the Human Race starts his reign with a double betrayal. He disobeys God, blames his wife, who then blames the serpent.
The Consequences are:
1) the serpent is condemned to slither on the ground,
2) enmity is put between the woman and the serpent and in a verse with several Christian interpretations we are told: Genesis 3:15 "... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." In Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ we saw one of the Christian interpretations acted out in another garden. There are three translations, that from the Hebrew, the Greek of the Septuagint (LXX), and from the Latin Vulgate. Each translation has fostered a different interpretation. (See Here) The Hebrew uses a neuter it, the LXX he with Christological implications, and the Vulgate uses she with Mariological implications. It all seems a mystical treatment of a mystical passage.
3) Eve, woman, Life, is condemned to pain in childbirth and submission to her husband (Genesis 3:16),
4) the very ground is cursed and man is condemned to a life of toil. Genesis 3:17 "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life"
5) finally they are cast out of the garden. However the reason given is bizarre: Genesis 3:22 "And the LORD God 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."

What are we to make of this?