Thursday, July 23, 2009

Posted for a curious friend.

3:1. Revising the myth, J represented the serpent not as a demon whose origin, whatever it may have been, owed nothing to God, but as a beast of the field which ... God had made. Nor was he, even in intention, a benefactor of the human race, but a subtle liar. He deliberately misled the woman in telling her that by eating of the forbidden tree she and her husband would be like God, knowing good and evil (vs. 5), for he knew all the time that the sole result would be consciousness of sex with, in the thought of J, its consequent misery.
3. Lest you die: God had warned the man and the woman that if they should eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, the consequence would be death. There can be little doubt that this was a feature of the earlier myth. There it was, it would seem, a mere threat, impossible of fulfillment. In the event, the best that the offended deity could do was to prevent man's access to the tree of life (cf. vs. 22). J could not tolerate the idea that God would threaten what he could not perform, nor could he, without defeating the purpose of his narrative (see Exeg. on vs. 23), have the warning put into effect. At the same time he was under the necessity of preserving the salient points of the original tale (cf. Exeg. on vs. 22), of which the warning of immediate death was one.
It is hardly possible that J intended the sentence in vs. 19, "you are dust, and to dust you shall return," to be taken as the implementation of the warning. For in the first place it is difficult to suppose that he, artist that he was, would have been content to leave unexplained the awkward fact that action had been thus delayed. And secondly there is no suggestion in vs. 19abb that man's "return to the ground" was a consequence of his disobedience; the implication is rather that this was his natural end.
The inference would seem to be unavoidable that for J not death itself but man's attitude toward death as the final frustration of a frustrated life was the last consequence of the alienation from God which his rebellion had caused. And, as will be shown below (see Exeg. on vs. 7), this attitude was the inevitable result of the radical disordering of human relationships which was the immediate consequence of his act. Thus J has here again revised the original myth. Facing the problem of how to deal with the threat which was not fulfilled, he was brought to a new understanding of man's fear of death--"the king of terrors" (Job 18:14)--in which all other fears are bound up. No magic tree of life could cure this malady, let alone give immortality, so J omitted all mention of it from his narrative.
4-5. The account of the temptation of the woman in vss. 1-6 is written with superlative skill, and reveals further the psychological penetration of the author. The serpent appeals to the human desire to be like God. This is a right and reasonable desire. The later command, "ye shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2; cf. Matt. 5:48), makes it clear that man is possessed of the potentiality to become like God--in character. This likeness is to come through submission to God's will. The serpent in telling the woman that likeness to God is to be achieved by defiance of his command tacitly suggests that the likeness which is within human reach is likeness not in character but in power. He suggests that man can make himself the equal of God.
6. The woman sees that the tree is good for food and ... a delight to the eyes. Deceived by the serpent, she is now deceiving herself. All that she wants to do, she tells herself, is to satisfy two legitimate desires, for food and for beauty. By what right has God forbidden their satisfaction? Her real desire, however, is for power. It is difficult to say whether or not this same self-deception is implicit in the next clause, that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. Both the fact that this was not something which could actually be seen and the explicit subject the tree, unnecessary after the preceding clause, suggest that this clause is a gloss (cf. Gunkel, Genesis, p. 17). If this is the case, the glossator may simply be carrying J's description of the woman's thought a little further: the desire for wisdom, too, is a legitimate desire which God has no right to thwart. On the other hand, his reference may be to a wisdom which is not of God, the wisdom of magic, an instrument of power. If so, it would seem that J in describing the woman's self-deception had been careful to tell only how she had consciously justified her action to herself, thus suggesting that she had refused to admit her real motive. The glossator then, feeling that this was too subtle to be grasped by the ordinary man, added the clause to make explicit what J in his sensitivity had left implicit.
7. The perfidy of the serpent was immediately apparent on the eating of the fruit. Far from becoming like God, knowing good and evil (vs. 5), they knew only that they were naked. The concreteness of the statement is characteristically Semitic. The nakedness of which they hitherto "were not ashamed" (2:25) becomes an intolerable indecency, demanding that it be covered now that the consciousness of sex has sprung to life within them. It must not be supposed that J regarded the sexual relationship as in itself evil. Having been ordained by God (cf. 2:18, 21-23), this could only be good. But it had been infected with evil when man in his desire for power had disobeyed God. This had impaired the relationship between man and God and so had thrown the relationship between the man and his wife into disorder.
Whatever the context of the earlier myth may have been, in the present form of the story the actors, the first man and the first woman, constitute the whole human race. The relationship between them thus symbolized all human relationships. It is difficult to say whether J would have consciously subscribed to the statement that the sexual relationship is the basic human relationship. It is unlikely that he thought in such terms. Nevertheless in view of the psychological penetration which marks the story as a whole there can be little doubt that he was, however inarticulately, aware of the definitive character of this relationship. The representation that the awakening of sex consciousness was accompanied by a consciousness of guilt thus contains a recognition of the fact that all human relationships are disordered. Alienation from God has brought with it alienation from man. Loneliness is the specter which haunts unredeemed humanity.
8. The idea that God, like a man of substance, strolled in his garden in the evening was presumably derived from the earlier myth. In the statement that the man and his wife hid themselves from God the author, again in concrete terms, records their sense of guilt.
B. DISCOVERY (3:9-13)
10. The economy of the narrative should be noted. Nothing is said of what the culprits thought when God called to them, or of how they emerged from their hiding place and stood guiltily at a distance (ibid., p. 19). And yet there is no loss of effect. The concrete directness of the writing gives the narrative strength and clarity.
11. The impression conveyed by the record of the questioning which follows is not that God had to make an inquisition to find out what had happened, but rather that he at once knew the cause of man's shame and was compelling him and his wife to convict themselves. This is in agreement with the clear though implicit representation in the account of the sentencing of the serpent, the woman, and the man--that God was in complete and enduring control of the situation which confronted him. With this vs. 22 may again be contrasted: there God fears that man may put himself pennanently beyond his control by attaining immortality. Vss. 9-19, 23 thus provide a further example not only of the skill with which J has revised the earlier myth, but also of his unshakable conviction of the omnipotence and omniscience of God and of man's inescapable dependence upon him.
C. THE CURSE (3:14-19)
14-15. The curse pronounced upon the serpent explains etiologically: (a) why serpents have no legs--the myth seems to imply that formerly they had walked like other animals--and (b) why, as was supposed, they ate dust. Thus in vs. 14 two physical characteristics--one real, the other imaginary--of the animal are accounted for. Vs. 15, on the other hand, deals with a psychological characteristic, not only of the serpent but also of man--the ineradicable hostility between them. The verse is accordingly on another level than vs. 14. This may suggest that it is secondary, a suggestion which perhaps receives a certain support from the fact that its meaning is not altogether clear. It is a matter of dispute as to whether the author thinks of the serpent's attack upon man as fatal, causing man's death by striking at his heel as surely as man causes the serpent's death by crushing his head. To this question Gunkel (ibid., p. 21) gives an affirmative answer, Skinner (Genesis, p. 80) a negative, and with this agrees the messianic interpretation placed upon the verse by Targ. Jonathan, Targ. Jerusalem, the medieval Christian exegetes, and Calvin (see ibid., pp. 80-82, for an outline of this development and for a summary of the allegorical interpretation the verse has received).
There is, furthermore, the difficulty that the Hebrew verb shûph, rendered bruise, adequately describes the effect of man's action against the serpent but scarcely that of the serpent's action against man. It may be, as Gunkel suggests (Genesis, p. 21), that the use of shûph is due to a scribal error, and that shA)aph, which seems to have the required double meaning of "crush" and "aim at," was original (see, however, Skinner, Genesis, pp. 79-80). Finally, it is perhaps not without significance that the verse reveals a certain reflectiveness not unlike that which informs 2:24, the J authorship of which has already been called into question on independent grounds.
16. Thy sorrow and thy conception (KJV) is a more literal rendering of the Hebrew than your pain in childbearing (RSV). Since, however, for a Hebrew woman conception was not a burden but a joy, the word can scarcely be original here. Instead, "thy grief" should be read; cf. the LXX, "thy groaning."
The first half of the verse provides an etiological explanation of the pain suffered by women in childbirth, the agony of which is frequently referred to in the O.T. (cf. e.g., Isa. 13:8; Jer. 4:31). It is a question whether the second half,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you,
speaks of sexual desire in woman, or whether it alludes to her natural desire for children--in which case thy desire shall be to thy husband (KJV) would perhaps be the better rendering. In either case the reference is to the wife's dependence upon her husband and so to the necessity she was under to endure the arbitrary treatment customary in the age in which the story was written. Most significant is the fact that J, far in advance of his time, sees that this domination of woman by man is an evil thing. The implication is that the relationship between husband and wife was intended by God to be a mutual and complementary relationship of love and respect, not a relationship in which one dominates the other. And the further implication is that all human relationships were intended to be mutual relationships--though the expression of this mutuality would necessarily differ with the character of the relationship; i.e., the mutuality between friend and friend differs from that between parent and child, for instance. Thus all attempts at domination, so characteristic of human conduct, are a consequence of the disorder which has infected the relationship of man to man, and at the same time make for further disorder and for the further alienation of man from God.
This being the case, J2's melancholy attitude as regards sex (in contrast to the matter-of-fact attitude of j1; see Exeg. on 34:1-31) becomes understandable. On all sides he was confronted by Baalism. This, being a fertility religion, was concerned above all else with the reproductive powers of nature, and this concern had issued in sexual license. To the temptation of this religion the Israelite peasant only too easily succumbed, and this led to further alienation from Yahweh. It is not surprising therefore that J2 reveals a tendency to regard the sexual relationship as the focal point of evil, the center of the tragic infection which blasts human hopes and reduces life to dust.
17. The penalty laid upon the man (read "the man" for Adam; in the J narrative )AdhAm, "man," is not elsewhere a proper name; see vss. 9, 12, etc.) is that of expulsion from the garden "to till the ground from which he was taken" (vs. 23). This involved toil--for you shall eat of it should be read "you shall till it," required by vs. 23--as unremitting as it was frustrating--the word rendered toil (RSV) also has the meaning "pain" or sorrow (KJV). The frustration is the result of God's curse, cursed is the ground because of you. Man's relationship with nature, like his relationships with God and with his fellow men, is in disorder.
18. That this verse is not from the same hand as vs. 19a is shown by the awkward double occurrence of eat (cf. Holzinger, Genesis, p. 35; Rudolf Smend, Die Erzählung des Hexateuch [Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1912], p. 19) and by the fact that it breaks the connection between vss. 17 and 19. It is a gloss by one who presumably felt that J's meaning was not sufficiently clear: it might be thought that he was representing the simple necessity of tilling the ground as the punishment for man's disobedience. This was indeed for J part of the punishment; it was not the whole of it. For (as has been pointed out in the Exeg. on vs. 17; see also that on vs. 19) he regarded the sense of frustration which dogged the peasant--and every man--in his work as the more terrible consequence of man's sin. It is this point which the glossator is concerned to stress in vs. 18a. Vs. 18b, noting the contrast between man's present food and the fruit of the garden, may be from a still later hand, as is suggested by Holzinger (Genesis, pp. 35-36), who, however, retains vs. 18a as part of the original narrative.
19. Till you return to the ground: The reference is to the burial of the dead. For out of it you were taken refers back to 2:7, and stresses one of the salient points, of the story. You are dust, and to dust you shall return would seem to have been taken by J from an independent poem, for it says that man was made not from the ground but from dust--which led to the intrusion of "the dust of" in 2:7.
It has already been noted that there is no suggestion here that man would have lived forever had he not eaten of the forbidden fruit (cf. Gunkel, Genesis, pp. 22-23; Skinner, Genesis, p. 83). Rather the implication is (see Exeg. on vs. 3) that man would have regarded death not as the last fearful frustration but as his natural end. The fear of death is a consequence of the disorder in man's relationships, as a result of which they are no longer characterized by mutuality but by domination. Man, aware of his need for others, attempts to compel them to fill his need that he may be secure. In this he may even be successful for a time. But he is always haunted by the fear that those whom he dominates will free themselves from him, and he tries to quiet this fear by further aggression. In this, too, he may be temporarily successful. From the fear of death, however, he cannot escape. For in the depths of his soul he knows that the structure of relationships which he has erected to protect himself is fundamentally without substance. In the end it will crumble and he will be compelled to face the fact which he had always tried to deny--that he is man and not God. Man's disordered relationships and his fear of death are inextricably bound up together, the consequence of his alienation from God.
20. In view of the fact that nowhere in his narrative does J record the naming of man, it is unlikely that this verse is from his hand. In any case it would not belong here, between the sentence passed upon the man and its execution, and before the woman had become the mother of anything living. It is, however, scarcely a casual gloss, for the name "Hawwah" (Eve) seems to be traditional; it is therefore probably an insertion from the Eden saga which thus (cf. also vss. 21, 22, and 24 in part) appears to have remained extant for some time after J had produced his revision of it.
The fact that the verse was intruded here, rather than after the notice of man's expulsion from the garden, would seem to suggest that in this earlier recension of the myth children had been born to the man and his wife while they were still in Eden. If this is so, then the awareness which J reveals of the distortion in human nature, reaching down to its very depths and manifesting itself in all man's relationships, owes little to the original myth. It derives from Yahwism, the religion which Israel had brought from the desert and which threw light upon the religion of Canaan, discerning its values and rejecting its errors, and in the process relating itself to the peasant culture into which Israel had entered.
21. This verse also, scarcely necessary though not impossible after vs. 7, is probably from the Eden story. If, as has been suggested, that recension regarded sex consciousness as a natural attribute of man, the notice in its original context will have followed immediately upon the account of the making of the man and the woman. If the verse is not from J it is not necessary to emend Adam to "the man."
22. The reasons for supposing that this verse is an intrusion from the Eden myth upon which J based his story of the garden have already been stated and need not be repeated here. It was presumably inserted in part to supply some reference to the tree of life which J had chosen to ignore, in part because he regarded as intolerable and morally dangerous the implication that immortality could be attained apart from, not to say in spite of, God; and also because he could not permit the suggestion that the disorder in human relationships, springing from man's alienation from God and giving rise to the fear of death, could be healed by external means. But the very fact that the addition was made suggests that J had been more drastic in his revision of the original myth than popular acceptance would allow--a significant, interesting indication of the extent to which he, writing to maintain and strengthen the unity of Israel, was limited in his treatment of non-Yahwist material.
While the verse obscures the thought of J, it is far from being without value. For in its total biblical context it affirms that man, for all his fantastic self-deception, cannot make himself the equal of God; that not knowing good and evil but knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (cf. John 17:3) is eternal life; and that the love of God is so great that man cannot make permanent and irremediable the tragic frustration which he has brought upon himself.
But the Eden saga was drawn upon not only to supply the missing reference to the tree of life. The other insertions from this recension (vss. 20, 21, together with 2:24) seem to reveal a certain uneasiness concerning J's tendency noted above (see Exeg. on these verses) to regard the sexual relationship as the focal point of evil. It was to correct this that these verses were inserted by one who had been reflecting upon the great story lying before him, who recognized in its tragic verdict on sex a certain validity but who nevertheless could not accept it without qualification. This was provided, to a slight degree, by vss. 20-21 which by implication reaffirmed the older representation that sex consciousness was a natural human attribute; and, more clearly, by the affirmation of the naturalness and sanctity of the marriage act in 2:24.
Finally, it should be noted that in the creation narrative as a whole (chs. 1-3) the melancholy pessimism of J2 as regards sex is qualified by the relatively optimistic attitude of P: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. ... And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (1:27-28a, 31a). And it is the narrative as a whole which has the finality of the Word of God.
23. With the excision of vss. 20-22 this verse is left as the immediate and original continuation of vs. 19. The initial therefore must accordingly be rendered "and," no change being involved in the Hebrew. Of Eden is redactional linking with the Eden fragments which have been inserted into the story.
This verse concludes the original J story. It is a story written to account for man's tragic experience of alienation from God, and neither the fact that it is based upon and is a drastic revision of an older myth, nor the fact that it is one-sided in its judgment as to the meaning of sex, nor the fact that it regards the necessity of work as a result of disobedience should be permitted to obscure this truth. It is not a historical account of "the Fall," nor is the doctrine of original sin based upon it. Indeed, it may be said that without the experience of alienation from God, of which that doctrine is the metaphysical explanation, the story would never have been written. Starting from that experience, the author voices his conviction--a conviction rooted in his knowledge of God--that man's sense of alienation from God springs from his own act, that it is not natural, that it would never have arisen had man been obedient.
24. This verse has suffered in transmission and must be restored, with the LXX, "And he drove out the man, and caused him to dwell to the east of the garden of Eden; and he stationed the cherubim and a flaming sword [lit., in Hebrew, "the flame of the sword"], which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life." The reference to Eden and to the tree of life indicates that the verse is another insertion from the Eden saga--the garden of being redactional harmonization--made at the same time as vs. 22 to explain why it was that the man, being banished, could never get back to the tree of life. The role of the cherubim here is that of guardians of a holy place, as it is in Exod. 37:7-9 and I Kings 6:23-27 (cf. "covering cherub" in Ezek. 28:16; also Exod. 26:31; I Kings 6:29, 32). In II Sam. 6:2; Ps. 18:10; Ezek. 1:1, they are represented as the supporters of Yahweh's throne. They were winged beings with two faces (cf. Ezek. 41:18-19)--of a man and of a lion--or with four (cf. Ezek. 1:10)--of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (cf. Rev. 4:7). With them may be compared the sphinx in Egypt and the hybrid figures stationed before Assyrian temples and palaces. "The flame of the sword"--it can scarcely have been conceived as in the hand of one of the cherubim--is an independent symbol, a representation of lightning (Skinner, Genesis, p. 89). It is possible that originally this only was mentioned and that the cherubim, and is a gloss (cf. Gunkel, Genesis, pp. 24-25, who, however, derives the cherubim and the flame from parallel sources).
In its present context the verse makes explicit what had been implicit in vs. 23--that man could never redeem himself. Redemption would be possible only when God by his own act once again opened the way to the tree of life.

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