Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Judaism and the Mystical Christ, Ch. 6: Creation

Note: This is part of an ongoing series entitled "Judaism and the Mystical Christ".  I have created a blog entry containing the table of contents linking to each article which may be accessed here:

Table of Contents


Breaking the Shackles of Literalism
I grew up believing not only that the earth was 10,000 years old and was created ex nihilo in an instant from the spoken word of God, but also that the creation accounts of Genesis supported this view.  Not only that, but that this was the only way to read the Genesis accounts.  I quite deliberately say accounts here, because there are two separate accounts between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and if you pay attention to their differences, you'll note that some of these differences really don't mesh well.  Of course, growing up, I would not have acknowledged that there were differences with these accounts.

I've told people recently that - surprisingly enough - changing my mind about evolution and accepting it as scientifically proven actually didn't happen for me until I'd changed my mind on a lot of far more controversial subjects - and afterwards, it seemed kind of silly to me that it took so long for me to accept Evolution.  Evolution hasn't been controversial for a large majority of Christianity for many years - the "Big Bang Theory" was actually thought up by a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaître, after all.  The fact that there is so much angst that accepting evolution will result in atheism is a demonstration of the cultish naivete and propagandistic fear that is so much a part of the culture of fundamentalism.

The ancient three-tiered universe of the Bible
Not only does a so-called "literalist" reading of Genesis demonstrate an almost willful ignorance of science (note how often Ken Ham - whose name was on a "textbook" used for my own schooling - completely ignored points brought up by Bill Nye in the "Ham on Nye Debate"), but it also demonstrates an ignorance of what the Biblical accounts actually imply if we take them as scientific cosmological models.  If we really wanted to take the Bible literally and build a cosmological model off of what it says, we'd go back to believing in a three-tiered universe.

Fundamentalism glosses right over Genesis 1:6-7, where God is said to have used a dome to separate "the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome."  This dome is also spoken of as "the firmament" in Ps. 19:1, and Ps. 104:2-3 speaks not only of God "stretch[ing] out the heavens like a tent", but also speaks of the beams holding up the earth in the waters, which were also referred to in the Bible as the "foundation of the earth" (see Job 38:4-6, Prov. 8:29, Jer. 31:37) - as seen in the image on the right.  We see here an image of the earth as a flat plane with the heavens as a tent pitched above (see also Ps. 19:4-6, Ps. 104:2).  Isaiah 40:22 not only repeats this image, but also speaks of the earth as a flat circle (see also Prov. 8:27-29, Job 26:10-11 noting in the latter the "pillars of heaven").

Creationists have attempted to make sense of this "firmament" by claiming that it was a thick watery haze in the atmosphere - but the problem with this is that not only does the Hebrew word for "firmament" (raqia) literally mean "that which has been beaten out (it comes from the root verb raqa, which means to beat or spread out a solid material of some sort), but Job 37:18 uses the root word raqa to describe this "firmament" in more detail:

Can you, like him, spread out/beat out (raqa) the skies, hard as a molten mirror?
The idea of the "firmament" being a dome over the earth was even represented in the Jewish Haggadah - traditions that have grown up around the Biblical narrative.  Rabbi Louis Ginzberg put together a collection of translations of these traditions called "The Legends of the Jews".  In the description of the creation within this work, we find the following:
The firmament is not the same as the heavens of the first day. It is the crystal stretched forth over the heads of the Hayyot, from which the heavens derive their light, as the earth derives its light from the sun. This firmament saves the earth from being engulfed by the waters of the heavens; it forms the partition between the waters above and the waters below.

In the ancient Biblical cosmology the earth was immovable - three times the Bible says that "the world is firmly established; it shall never be moved" (I Chr. 16:30, Ps. 93:1, Ps. 96:10).  This is, after all, the only way it would have been possible for the sun to have stopped in Joshua 10:13.  To claim that the ancient writers meant this poetically is to gloss over the battle that Galileo Galilei underwent when he was accused of heresy for his heliocentrism, forced to recant, and put under house arrest for the rest of his life.  Also recall once more the literalism of Martin Luther regarding this last passage when he stated:
People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.
One might also ask - if it is alright to take some of this as metaphorical (such as the flat earth, the heavens as a dome holding out the waters above, the earth being immovable), why can't we take all of it as metaphorical and accept Evolution as true?  (Answer: because Ken Ham's career depends on it.)

The temptation, once one moves past this resistance to science and reason, is to "throw out" the Genesis accounts as if they were no good any more.  But I want to suggest that these accounts are about a lot more than cosmology - this much has been suggested by many others before me (both recent and ancient), including Peter Enns in "The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins":

The Old Testament is not a treatise on Israel’s history for the sake of history, but a document of self-definition and spiritual encouragement: “Do not forget where we have been. Do not forget who we are - the people of God.”

The creation stories are to be understood within this larger framework, as part of a larger theologically driven collection of writings that answers ancient questions of self-definition, not contemporary ones of scientific interest.  ...Christians today misread Genesis when they try to engage it, even minimally, in the scientific arena. Rather, they must follow the trajectory of the postexilic Israelites and ask their own questions of self-definition as the people of God: In view of who and where we are, what do these ancient texts say to us about being the people of God today?
Moving Beyond Literalism
At this point, I'd like to examine some of the various diverse ways Jews and Christians have interpreted the Genesis accounts throughout History.  I do not intend to endorse every interpretation here - though I find all of these to be interesting.  But seeing the freedom to interpret applied throughout history can have the effect of freeing us today from the shackles of literalism.

Chaos and the Spirit of God Hovering 
The various ways Rabbis and Christians have interpreted the Genesis accounts over the centuries are both creative and diverse, and after being exposed to some of them, I feel that the literalism of Ken Ham and other "Young Earth Creationists" is really selling the beautiful metaphors within these passages short, and leaving them devoid of meaning.

In "The Lost World of Genesis One", Dr. John H. Walton does an exhaustive study of the language of the creation accounts.  One of the main conclusions of his excellent book is that the beginning state of Genesis 1 (according to this passage) was not nonexistence (as so-called "literalists" like Ken Ham believe), but is a state of being without function.  One of the main reasons (among many other reasons he provides) that he makes this conclusion is the original language behind the phrase "formless and void" in verse 2.  The original wording was "tohu wa-bohu" - with "tohu" being translated "formless" and "bohu" being translated "void".  The difficulty with the latter term - "bohu" - is that it only ever appears next to "tohu".  But "tohu" appears many other times throughout the Old Testament, and if we take these usages into account, a better translation of this word is "without function", or "unproductive" - as linguist David Tsumura translates this term.  

A few examples here will suffice - Deut. 32:10 uses the term "tohu" to describe a wilderness, and since a wilderness obviously exists and thus cannot be described very adequately without confusion as "formless", the translation often involves describing the wilderness as a "waste".  "Tohu" also appears in I Sam. 12:21, where idols are described as uselessJob 12:21 has an appearance of "tohu" translated as "waste" as well.  Isaiah 24:10 uses "tohu" to describe a city as desolate in some translations (such as the NIV) and chaotic in other translations (such as NRSV and NASB).

So the words we translate as "formless and void" - Walton argues - have more to do with futility and being without function than with matter and a state of non-existence.

Additionally, we might note that the passage - in the original language - does not have a definite article before "deep", and thus almost uses it like a name
(thus: "darkness was over the surface of Deep").  This playfully alludes to the ancient myths of the personified sea that is so often represented by a god of chaos - such as the Mesopotamian goddess of chaos and the ocean, Tiamat.  In the Mesopotamian creation myth, the heavens and earth are formed when the storm god Marduk splits her body in two - a clear parallel to the splitting of the water in the Genesis creation story (see Gen. 1:6: "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.").  Note also that the Jewish temple had a bronze sea - yam is the Hebrew word for "bronze", and in the Ugaritic Baal story, Yam was the god of chaos.  Understanding that the sea represents chaos can clarify Rev. 21:1 for us - without understanding that the sea is a symbol for chaos, it might not make sense that in the New Earth, there is no longer any sea.

The sea represented chaos in ancient mythology.
So this language - "tohu wa-bohu" - is talking about a state of chaos and confusion.  In this state of chaos and confusion, the ruach of God - a word meaning "breath" or "wind" which also doubled in the Hebrew language as "spirit" - hovers over, and brings peace.  This pattern of chaotic waters, spirit of God hovering, and then peace is a motif that is repeated throughout the Bible.  For example, in Matthew 14:22-33, the disciples are caught in a terrible and chaotic storm at sea, and Jesus walks on the water - hovering over it - to bring peace.  A mystical understanding of this motif could involve an allegory of the state of consciousness we are in before unconditional love creates unity in our lives.  And when unconditional love enters our lives, it frees us to enter into Being and Creation - as in the story of Genesis.  

Note also that splitting the waters of chaos in an action of creation is also a repeated motif.  This motif came to signal not just new creation but also to show that the one who initiated this act was a prophet with whom the Spirit of the Lord rested.  One of the first repetitions of this motif is when the nation of Israel emerges from the split waters of the Red Sea.  Bernard Batto writes that yam sûp (translated "Red Sea") "literally means the sea of end / extinction", and thus the "Dead Sea" may be more accurate.  In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero stands before the "waters of death" and the "Isle of the Blessed" is supposed to be beyond these waters.  In the Sumero-Babylonian texts, there is a similar myth regarding Ishtar - when she arrives at the gates of Hades, she demands that the keeper of the waters open the gate.  Thus, the crossing of the "Dead Sea" signifies a death and resurrection.  In the mythology of the Egyptians, transcending death and entering afterlife is limited to the Pharaoh - hence, the Hebrews' Exodus story where the Israelites transcend death and Pharaoh does not functions as a politically subversive retelling of this mythical theme (lending further credence to this idea is the fact that there is an Egyptian story where enemies of Ra were destroyed in a marshy sea of reeds and covered by red water - so the Hebrew writer was probably reversing Egypt's myths against them).  There is a deeply spiritual truth present in this sign - out of the most chaotic and painful times (even out of death itself), spiritual formation seems to occur when one presses through to the other side and emerges as a new creation. 

Employing the Jewish symbology of parting waters, it also signifies that they thought of Moses as a prophet on whom the Spirit of God rested - and this sign of split waters is repeated whenever a new prophet emerges.  It first reappears when Joshua - Moses' successor - splits the Jordan river (Josh. 3).  Elijah also splits the Jordan before he ascends to heaven and leaves Elisha to be the next prophet.  But before Elijah ascends, Elisha asks for a "double portion" of the Spirit.  Elijah says that if Elisha sees him ascending, he will have it - this does not have to be read as a literal sight, but could be meant in a spiritual, second-sight sense.  Elisha sees, and then the presence of the Spirit is confirmed when he also splits the Jordan (see 2 Kings 2).  The motif is made complete when the Gospel of Mark has the heavens themselves split apart at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river (Mk. 1:9-10 - read: the waters above the dome split, as this is how ancient minds would have worked) - it is as if Mark is saying that the Spirit was with Jesus in such a powerful way that the splitting of the Jordan was not a big enough sign.

It is interesting to note, in conjunction with this discussion of the symbology of parting the sea, that the Exodus Rabba says:

Through their faith the Israelites on the Red Sea became possessed of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, it is well understood that this parting of the waters and crossing through is a sign of one being filled with the Spirit.

In Dr. Walton's book, he draws many more connections to the mythology of other cultures that the Genesis 1 account seems to draw from quite often (see this comparison between Genesis 1 and the Babylonian "Enuma Elish" account, for example), and in the end Walton concludes that this account is meant to be a cosmic temple inauguration text.  You see, almost every ancient creation mythology from this period seems to end in the people of the god building a temple for this god to dwell in.  So, with all the parallels to these myths in Genesis 1, one must ask: where is the temple?  It is creation itself - and is this not a theme that is expanded upon in the New Testament when we are told that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit?  (e.g. I Cor. 6:19-20)

I feel it is important to note that symbolic interpretations of Genesis 1 are not alien to Christianity, either.  Augustine wrote a book attacking literalistic interpretations of this passage, and spoke of the embarrassment Christianity faces when a literalistic Christian gives non-Christians the impression that all Christians think this way:
Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
Throughout his mini-book, he asks questions such as: 
How did God say, "Let there be light?" Was this in time or in the eternity of His Word? If this was spoken in time, it was certainly subject to change. How then could we conceive of God saying it except by means of a creature? For He Himself is unchangeable. Now if it was by means of a creature that God said, "Let there be light," how is light the first creature, if there was already a creature through which God spoke these words?
Later on he asks:
What is the light itself which was created? Is it something spiritual or material? If it is spiritual, it may be the first work of creation, now made perfect by this utterance, and previously called heaven in the words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” In this supposition, we must understand that when God said, ”Let there be light,” and light was made, the creature, called by its Creator to Himself, underwent a conversion and illumination.
Origen of Alexandria also took an allegorical approach to this passage, and wrote in "De Principiis IV":
For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
There are many other examples of early Christians taking allegorical approaches to the Creation accounts - so one must wonder why and how literalism in this area became a litmus test, and if things really need to be this way.

The God Who Gets Dirty
In the second creation account - Genesis 2 and 3 - there are plenty of cases of "lost in translation" as well.  While Genesis 1 is believed to have been written by a priestly class, Genesis 2 seems to have more "folk" elements - rather than commanding things to happen from his throne in the sky, God actually gets down into the earth, stooping down in the mud and fashioning man from it (something an agrarian culture would find appealing).  Additionally, this account is full of Hebrew puns - something I wrote about in my blog series on ha satan.  Additionally, while the Genesis 1 account seems to have drawn heavily from the Bablylonian "Enuma Elish", the Genesis 2 account seems to have drawn from the Akadian Atrahasis epic (see this article from Peter Enns).

On the puns present in this tale - we must keep in mind the fact I pointed out in the last section of this series: ancient Hebrew contained no vowels (these were added later by the Masoretes in the Middle Ages, and this addition limited the possibility of meanings one could find in the text).  Scholars Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas A. Knight write in "The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us":
By adding vowels to the consonantal text, the Masoretes limited the meanings of words. Without the vowels, the text opened up numerous possible meanings, especially puns, although for the most part those who were literate were able to determine meaning from context. Already in the Garden of Eden story the pun is present, thus questioning what sort of paradise it is. The snake is described as arum, a Hebrew term usually translated “crafty” (Gen. 3:1). The human couple are described as arumim (plural), translated “naked” (3:7, 10, 11). The consonants are the same. The connection between the snake and the people is thus a visual and aural one, and it is fully lost in the English translation.

The Eden story contains a number of other puns in which words having the same root meaning serve different functions. Genesis 2:7 reads, “Then YHWH God formed man from the dust of the ground.” Missing in this dry and dusty description is a glorious Hebrew pun. The term for “man” in Hebrew is adam (hence the name Adam), and the term for “ground” is adamah, or arable soil. The better translation would be “formed a human from the dust of the humus,” or, depending on one’s opinion of Adam, who is standing next to his wife when she has that conversation with the serpent, “formed a clod from the dust of the clods.”
Once again, as in the Genesis 1 account, if we miss the parallels between the Genesis 2 account and the parallel accounts of its surrounding cultures, we can miss some powerful statements.  There is a paradox present in the way the 2nd creation story is told that is most often missed, quite unfortunately.  This paradox is only seen when we compare this story to the stories of the surrounding cultures which influenced this tale - in some of the stories, the final act of the god’s creation is this god’s masterpiece, and is thus the ruler of the rest of creation.  In other stories, for one being to have come from another indicates ruler-ship, in that the original being is superior.  The story of Genesis 2 combines both images, thus indicating that Eve is superior to Adam who is superior to Eve...or in other words, they are effectively equals.

This view of Adam and Eve being equals is masked by the mistranslation of the Hebrew tzela as "rib", when a better translation would be "side" (think "side of beef" - I find it interesting to note in conjunction with this that human females have "xx" chromosomes, while males have "xy" chromosomes).  Once more I go to Levine and Knight who write in "The Meaning of the Bible":
The Hebrew term tzela is better translated “side”; in its forty-nine other biblical appearances “side” is the preferred translation.
Adam and Eve joined at the spine
There was actually a popular view where Adam and Eve - before being split - were basically Siamese twins, joined at the back.  The stories of this being speak of the first human being so great in stature that Adam Ha-Rishon (ha-rishon is literally "the first") reached from the earth to the heavens and stood with one foot on each end of the earth, being able to see with immeasurable knowledge.  The Midrash Rabbah speaks of God separating this being at the spine - and this is offered as an explanation for the bumps on our backs:
When the Holy One created Adam [Ha-Rishon], it was androgynous. God created Adam Ha-Rishon double faced, and split him/her so there were two backs, one on this side and one on the other.
According to this mythology, when man ate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve became greatly reduced in size.  The meaning this interpretation is playing at is this: when male and female live together in perfect unity (which is not possible in the hierarchy of patriarchy), mankind is capable of incredible feats.  But the separation that occurs when we enter into dualistic thought patterns and begin to create hierarchies severely limits our capabilities (more on this interpretation here).

Levine and Knight write (in "The Meaning of the Bible") of the equality that the language of "helper partner" (Gen. 2:18) communicates:
To reduce the role of the “helper partner” to a baby machine ignores the role of human companionship, devalues infertile women, and denies the claim that women as well as men are in the divine image and likeness. With a sheep or a goat, poodle or pig, a person can still be “alone”; most people require another person to love and to be loved by, who challenges and inspires, to transcend the solitary life.
Rabbi Eliezer wondered what kind of work man had to do in the garden?  It was commonly believed, in his time, that the vegetation in the Garden grew by themselves (toil is a result of the curse).  So Rabbi Eliezer - playing off of the wording of Deut. 20:19 (which could be translated "man is a tree of the field") - supposes that Man himself is the tree which must be tended, and "the garden" refers to Eve, because Song of Solomon 4:12 says "an enclosed garden is my sister, my bride". Rabbi Eliezer also writes:
The Tree of Life signifies only the Torah; for it says in Proverbs (3:18), 'She is a tree of life to those that hold her, and happy are those that hold her tightly.'
Another interpretation offers that because Eve’s very name means "life", and the serpent represents a fracturing force, physical life would not have even been possible if the serpent had not tempted Eve, as life would have remained unified within one life-force.  This interpretation offers that the phrase "you will be like God" (Gen. 3:5) refers to Eve creating life.  And this points to the forbidden fruit representing sexuality, as Adam also ate the fruit and became like God (creating life).  This is an interpretation that is also stated in the Zohar - the foundational work of the mystical form of Judaism known as Kabbalah.  When you realize that there are two creation stories in Genesis, and that the command within the first is to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28) you might realize that this prudish medieval view of sexuality doesn't quite make sense - however, it is interesting within the context of examining the many diverse ways these passages have been interpreted.  As Levine and Knight point out (in "The Meaning of the Bible") regarding the "curses" of Gen. 3:
Genesis 3:16 is not, however, as we note in our chapter on Creation, a pronouncement of the way things need to be. It, rather, is the way things were and, in many settings, still are. The wife’s subjugation to the husband was not God’s original intention. The pronouncement concerning the woman is not a curse— the term is not used— but an etiology. To insist, as some literalists do, that a woman in labor should not receive analgesics because to do so is to deny the role given her in Genesis is to misread the text. Just as farmers have always sought ways to help the land yield its crops, despite the fact that the ground is “cursed” (3:17), so too humanity should find the means to ease women from the burden of the “second shift.”
The comments to the woman end with a sexual notice: “Your desire shall be for your husband [...]” [...] The etiology can be regarded as a continuation of Genesis 1: not only should humans be fruitful and multiply; they should enjoy the process. Bluntly put, ancient Israelite women did not have to lie back and think of Torah.
One question that is raised from a careful reading of the second creation account is this: God clearly states that if Man eats of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen. 2:17) - so why didn't Adam and Eve die the day they ate the fruit?  Kabbalists offer that the Garden of Eden represents non-physical reality, and thus this statement from God represents the inevitability of death which results when physical life is created.  Rabbi Cooper explains in "God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism":
God asks of Adam and Eve, "Where are you!" This is not a question. It is rhetorical: "Look at where you are! You are in bodies, you are physical beings. I told you this would be the result. Now you will surely die." Then what happens? God gives Adam and Eve clothing made of skin. That is to say, now they have a sense of separation. This was the "punishment" of discriminating thought. Things became separate; they see themselves as separate beings. Prior to the serpent, the sense of nakedness did not exist. It only comes when one has an identity, a sense of individuality.
Adam as Israel
One of the problems of reconciling the story of Adam and Eve with evolution is the fact that, as biologist Dennis Venema of Trinity Western University (an Evangelical University) said in August of 2011, "there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple."  There is simply too much variations in our genes to have come from one human couple.

This may be discouraging, because there is beauty in the idea that all human beings came from the same parents.  As the Talmud puts it (Sanh. viii. 4-9):
Why was only a single specimen of man created first? To teach us that he who destroys a single soul destroys a whole world and that he who saves a single soul saves a whole world; furthermore, in order that no race or class may claim a nobler ancestry, saying, 'Our father was born first'; and, finally, to give testimony to the greatness of the Lord, who caused the wonderful diversity of mankind to emanate from one type. And why was Adam created last of all beings? To teach him humility; for if he be overbearing, let him remember that the little fly preceded him in the order of creation.

I do not believe that accepting evolution means we have to disregard this idea.  However, we are left with the problem of interpreting the character of Adam.

Peter Enns points out that there is a parallel structure between the story of Israel as a nation and the story of Adam.  Enns outlines Israel's story in this way:

  • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);
  • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;
  • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;
  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

And for Adam, Enns provides this outline:
  • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;
  • Adam is placed in a lush garden;
  • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;
  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.
One way of looking at this parallel and its meaning is to see Adam as the "proto-Israel" - as Enns puts it:
Maybe Israel’s history happened first, and the Adam story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Adam story is really an Israel story placed in primeval time. It is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins.
There is an interesting parallel between this view and a statement from the Genesis Rabbah where it notes five appearances of the word "light" in the creation story, and declares that each statement is meant to represent a book of the Pentateuch - thus, it states:
'God said let there be light' refers to the book of Genesis, which enlightens us as to how creation was carried out. The words 'And there was light' bear reference to the book of Exodus, which contains the history of the transition of Israel from darkness to light.
Another way of looking at Adam is to see him as the archetypal everyman - a mythic story that presents a pattern that every human being seems to live out in some way in their life.  Levine and Knight expand on this idea in "The Meaning of the Bible":
Thus, far from being fictional, these myths are true in a fundamental, essential manner. The question is not: Did Adam and Eve really exist? Rather, it is: How are we like Adam, and in what ways does Eve represent us? What in their story explains us to ourselves in a way that a story set in our own real time cannot do as effectively? Focusing on a literal interpretation of these stories, as if there were a real Adam and Eve or Noah’s flood really covered the earth, diverts us from plumbing the depths of the meanings the narratives convey. The originators of myths remain elusive; what is significant is not that the texts stem from some identifiable author, but that they articulate “truths” about reality as experienced by that culture.
(For more ideas on how the story of Adam and Eve can be applied in this way, see my post titled "Serpent = Satan?"

Next Chapter: Beginning

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