This account is a fiat, not an experience to learn from. The distinction of privileged human over the rest of creation is clear in a comparison between this declaration and the subsequent ones directed toward ’ishah and ’ish. This command reveals what is behind the traditional translation of “having dominion”. It is non-relational.
What “serpent” means here remains unclear. What is clear is that any connection between a serpent and a retrojected understanding of a satan is a false equivalency.
Humans and animals, alike, need a cunning compatriot able to goad or trick. Without a coyote-like character, there is no continuation of a story that begins before us and includes us.
Initially, it is unclear whether an evolutionary forebear of today’s serpents once walked as well as talked, before parseltongue, a universal language. DNA evidence suggests a physical transformation different than other reptilian skitterings.
Culturally, it is unclear if this serpent is a remainder from Canaanite myths of a primordial sea-serpent whose cunning may be nothing more than its connection with the roiling water pre-Day One and all the possibility that lies beyond the boundaries of a children’s book of literal creatures (unless naming shape-shifted their first form).
It is unlikely this story is simply a folktale account of why snakes crawl. To go just a little deeper, we are invited to look again at the dual categories of good and not-good. One recurrent reality is the cunning ways we have manipulated both good and not-good to advantage particular persons and programs.
Politics at every level from personal to familial to clan and tribe to city- and nation-state slightly shift the conversation until “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength” and an opponent is a repeatedly sequential treasured friend and implacable enemy. One little word separated Easter and Western Christianities and became a Shibboleth projected into every aspect of everyday life—damning all differences.
A variance does not need a good/not-good differential applied to it such as the same verb here used to distinguish a mere “hiss” (a cunning echo of a big-bang’s background radiation) from an involuntary reaction to “trample” the hisser. This one verb traps us into enmity that also separates us from all the good still available beyond a Day One boundary of light/good and dark/not-good beyond a physical sun, moon, and stars.
And they saw. And they ate. And they heard. And they hid.
Many have commented on the difference between seeing and hearing. At the moment I am remembering Jacques Ellul and the limits of apprehension. Our eyes face forward. We can focus near and far but peripheral vision, at best, takes in half our current context and the further to the side we strain, the less detail is available. Our ears have their frequency limits but we can gather sound information from all around, a part of teachers’ having eyes in the back of their head.
These senses can work well together, and they can also be so consuming that the other sense is blocked out. To be captivated by a lovely tree makes hazy what we have heard and is still echoing if it weren’t overridden by what we are seeing. The music of the spheres asks us to close our eyes and drop our jaw to best attend to its presence.
The differences between sight and sound energize and relax us, put us on high alert and settle us down. Each can sharpen or dull our attention. Window shopping can trigger our desire, and a snatch of song can transport us miles and years away.
Any tree can be seen to be central, just like a tamed fox or a tended-to flower we have come to know. In this knowing we know good and it won’t be long before we also know what is not-good about this good. Declarations of “It is good!” are always provisional and come back to bite us. Eventually, we will need to see past this duality.
The story we come into the middle of has G*D present in a garden and knowable through hearing. How do you imagine G*D sounds like ahead of our seeing? Humming a catchy tune? Singing “Some of My Favorite Things?” Shuffling clumsily after a long day and yearning for a mini-Sabbath?
If none of these trigger you to alert, why hide? Why respond with fear when you are missed and asked after? Now for more questions.
’Ishah touched the Tree of Knowing Good and Not-Good with her eyes.
This look is not a mere glance but a call—a lusting after, a deep desire to sate a ravenous appetite. An ability to discern a difference between good and not-good awakens with as much force as a physical desire for survival, a need to eat. This feast for the eye cannot but be followed in an instinctual and reflexive grasping of the Tree’s fruit and ravenously cramming it in as fast as ever one can.
There is here no concern for moderation or a fear of choking. Focus is only on downloading this knowledge as quickly and completely as possible. Note the lack of discerning anything behind the data or a vehicle whereby it can be evaluated or applied. For now, there is only grasping.
This example of eating can be paired with the gasping for air one experiences from a breath held too long. It is as though we have waited from forever to receive this reviving inspiration. We know our emptiness, and there is no time to waste before sucking in new life.
Note that once we have received a good we can recognize our desire is to share it with all and even enforce it on all until it loses its goodness and becomes an outmoded trope alive in injunction and dead to a needed next bite or breath of a new good for a new occasion.
And so ’ishah passes a taste to ’ish. See, taste, know.
And so the generations pass on traditions that will need as much judgment as does nudity. This previously single-state can now be seen as good and also as not-good. And we still work at making boundary choices. When will we be nude and when naked? Such knowledge can never again be a once-for-all decision.
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Note: After language, sewing is our first technology, not fire nor wheel.
While unseen in English translations, there is a connection between ’ish and ’ishah being “naked” and a serpent’s “cunning.” In this case, “cunning” is the shorter, sharper word.
It is a well-tested rhetorical process to overstate a proposition to engage another party in a knee-jerk denial. Such a disclaimer will usually contain its own overstatement. Now the battle of wit against innocence can be joined. This scene, in part, is quite evident in false statements made by today’s leading politicians. Every response is open to a “gotcha” moment. Defensive responses carry the seed of their own downfall.
Here “touch” is added to a proscription from eating or taking into one’s self that which will awaken continual distinction and choice—taking away a call to simple obedience. Adding “touch” as an intermediary between seeing and eating helps bridge the gap or desensitize a final bite. It is like cheating at bobbing-for-apples.
With this touching overstatement, the Serpent can jump to results, not process. The ante is upped. At stake is not just dying—which is not yet known—but shifted from some unknown state, “lest you die,” to an accusation that the creator has set up the creature. Since there is no known location for the deadly tree, one might inadvertently brush by and touch it. If touch is the same as eat—you’re doomed beyond any choice you make.
It takes but a slight sleight-of-hand to move the goalpost away from the negative of death (negative even if it is not known what it means) to the positive of knowing the difference between good and not-good. If only I knew this, I would escape doom through my own reasoning and not leave room for happenstance to devolve back into chaos (as unknown a state as death).
Look, the out is right before you. Just touch, but don’t eat. Unfortunately, like any newborn, anything touchable goes right to the mouth. Game over. Cunning wins.
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If you are interested in a recent example of how overstatement works to entangle people, you can check out this editorial by James Comey: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/01/opinion/william-barr-testimony.html
The second creation story officially ended at 2:23. Verses 2:24–25 insert a fable’s moral.
At this point Creation 2.0 draws a curtain on its Act 1. Here are two reflections during this intermission.
- The morality of a series of new creations loosed by ’ishah and ’ish clinging to one another in both a bonding ritual of “one flesh” or generating a separate “single flesh” child has come down to us in its heterosexual truncation that marriage equals one man and one woman.
The United Methodist Church is presently “unclinging” itself—dividing into its competing visions of Grace—forcing Arminian (female?) apart from Calvinist (male?). This division over sexuality reveals different relationships between a creator and creation that goes far beyond the wedge issue of sexual orientation. The war over grace is more than this current battle over the limits of marriage within a culture and its ecclesial counterpart of ordination as a relationship between humans and G*D.
Such a division reveals the limits of morality as a decision-making tool.
Kass writes as a philosopher using Genesis as a lens to look at the topic of Wisdom. He does an excellent job of noting alternative perspectives from biblical scholars not in the mainstream. His book is a helpful adjunct to a pious/devotional or traditional approach to the Bible.
Kass has been correctly critiqued for his tendency toward patriarchy and male privilege when it comes to matters regarding sexuality. His writing on the second creation story (including the coming Act 2 — “Adam, Eve, and Serpent”) needs attentive reading lest the traditionalist bias of dominion over a created order and the female part of an androgynous first ’adam hold sway in a reader’s response to the story as told.
With this caveat, I do recommend this resource for its emphasis upon wisdom and midrash that keeps Genesis pertinent to today. Kass’s focus on narrative and philosophy over piety and morality is refreshing and stimulating.
Stories explaining the beginning of some particular behavior can be quite fanciful and equally unhelpful. This reference to a socially recognized relationship of marriage cannot later claim to be a justification for any specific claim, such as the privileging of heterosexual relations over a variety of other intersections of individuals or even singleness.
The only “father and mother” at this point is a creator carrying both what has come to be called masculine and feminine characteristics and passing them on through their image. These verses are a foreshadowing not an ontological claim of righteousness.
The ’adam of male and female in Genesis 1 and the ’adam carrying both within and needing to clarify both through division along the lines of a rib have a primary connection with their creator. The cascade of creation differentiation is about to reorient the story away from an initial creation to identify claims by individuals and groups.
As well as connecting “father and mother” to G*D in “one flesh” resultant from the “clinging” of man and woman to one another is not only a biologic, psychic, and spiritual bond but a resultant child. The two have become one, not as a reuniting but as a setting forth or calling forth of yet another creation and creator—a child.
This overly fanciful reading allows for the usual expectation to be fruitful and multiply to begin far in advance of the closing of Eden as a garden and its remembrance as a location and dream of eternity that will plague the rest of the story. In the imagery of Greg Brown, a focus on eternity has damn-near wrecked this place.
A difference between naked and unclothed introduces what can only enter later with a return to the earlier throwaway line about a tree of life and tree of knowing good from not-good. These verses are very meta-story and need to keep their appropriate place within a story and not be an explanation of anything.
My apologies for the multiple posts. Something was adding extra code to my blog posts and it has taken quite a bit of time to try to track the culprit down. At this point, past coding errors have been corrected and I’ll try to figure out if this was a one time error or if there is some other intersection that is causing the difficulty.
My current expectation is that things will return to the one-post-a-day, Monday through Friday.
A creation story within a creation story. The imagery changes from a potter shaping clay to a contractor building from an architectural blueprint (“rib” is later used as an architectural detail).
Presumably an anesthetist G*D has a protocol for awakening as well as a putting to sleep. Left in darkness is the number of Days this Not-Alone Project took. Did ’adam sense a loss before recognizing a transformational return of a heretofore unconscious part?
It is not until there is another image of an image of a creator that we have speech, a talking with another as well as a creator in the cool of the day. Tilling and watching do not seem to engender grist for conversation.
’Adam’s first words are in the form of a feminine indicative pronoun, “This one.” Fortunately, the writer has an already formed grammar sufficient for the needed poetic form appropriate to this creative moment.
This one … at last … bone/flesh
This one … rising ’ishah … from ’ish
… this one …
Up to this point naming has been a matter of distinguishing one thing from another. Now a “something else” can be named for what can be seen as a connection between differences. We might even go so far as a recognition of a constructed Galatea who can be encountered and that will make a difference in the expected arc of a Pygmalionesque ’adam.
With the introduction of ’ishah (too easily condensed to a category of “woman”) the story of a simply tiller and watcher (too easily identified as “male”) cannot remain the same (here remember the song of a lonely goatherd in The Sound of Music).
Creativity calls for setting up experiments to test possible solutions to a present difficulty. Here ’adam is seen to be alone (lonely, as a projection of G*D?) and a series of beasts and fowl are brought forth to see if they will care for the result of being alone. This is a similar but different track than Creation 1.0—loneliness from being cast adrift in a cosmic whirlpool of endless possibility—or—condensing whirling possibility into specifics such as water, earth, plants, and animals—or—loneliness within a too limited job-description to till and watch a statically perfect Eden.
Here, from the same soil, more is fashioned. This more, as always, misses the empty spot resulting from distinguishing this from that—always seeing that which is not me exactly where we desire to be most reflected. To this extent, G*D and an image of G*D both make initial errors in first experiments capable only of narrowing the questions-at-hand to fit the current context. A still more general theory will have to await a further defining of current conditions.
As a creator awaits their creation’s secondary responses of identifying/naming its surroundings and continually finding a play toy, not a partner, it becomes apparent that bringing more forth from the same soil is no better than attempting to change the basic results of any system by repeating its processes. A quanta jump is needed. And, likely, subsequent leaps.
To move beyond aloneness takes more than denotations and literalism. There is not a way to move beyond this existential reality than to look within at the foundation for such loneliness and recast all that is encountered as a beloved other that does not complete or finish a storyline, but stimulate a gratitude needed to begin a larger quest than escape from current limits.
There is no knowing what may like behind an insight or judgment that it is not good for a starter human to be alone. It may be as crass as any tired parent desiring a reliable source of distraction for a sincere but stumbling tiller breaking earth indiscriminately. Who wants to spend their time micro-managing what was supposed to take care of itself?
The outrigger of training wheels comes to mind. Aloneness needs more than help. Something alongside will bring better balance. Something oppositional will slow things enough for a second thought to arise. Some counter-weight, counterpart, will move beyond a single view, that a 3-D world might be better apprehended. [“Beside”, “opposing”, and “counterpart” are all optional translation choices.]
Wherever this something more is located—alongside, ahead, or behind—it needs to be more than an add-on that can be lost or broken. This something needs to be bone deep, something that will sustain over a long haul. This something needs to be active, not passive.
This something that will address a state of aloneness will be challenging to state once, much less translate into far distant societies, cultures, or languages. Alter phrases this something beyond aloneness as a “sustainer beside.”
Given the multiple valences available from the Hebrew and imagination, we might wonder about the need for an external companion or counterpart. Given the task to till and watch and the noted state of aloneness, does this protohuman need help or assistance with the tilling (not being done fast enough) or the watching (an engaged thoughtfulness)? If tilling, any automaton will do. If watching, an opponent and parser of words will bring a deepening of engagement or partnership with what is encountered. Here we try to distinguish between a servant and a soul-mate and an integration of a singular one.