Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fall of Curses

The first three chapters of Genesis are dense with explanations of why and how, but they are not flushed out in much detail. I've found it to be challenging to withhold so many thought provoking questions that are generated each time I read them. I may eventually revisit them, but at this time I will stick to the major contrasts between tradition and Bible text so that we do not get bogged down.

Background
God creates Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God tells Adam in Genesis 2:16-17, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” NIV The majority of Christians believe what happens next is that Satan, disguised as a serpent, persuades Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Eve shares the fruit with Adam, and for that error God curses all of mankind and the world in what is most often referred to as “The Fall”. Most Christians are quick to explain all of the hardships and devastation of this world as due to the fact that we live in a Fallen World.


The Fall of Curses
The Fall of mankind is wrapped with many traditional assumptions that simply do not stand up under scrutiny of the text. Those assumptions permeate the modern Christian teachings and culture to the point that the assumptions are considered fact. The majority of believers think Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple, and Eve shared the apple with Adam. The funny thing is that nowhere does an apple show up in the story text, and that is just the start of the popular misconception of the story.

Starting from the beginning we read in Genesis 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made...” NIV Notice that the serpent is associated and compared with the wild animals God made. This association is the first hint that the serpent is just some animal God made as opposed to being Satan.

While a rebellious angel would certainly fit the bill of being more crafty than wild animals, such a comparison would not likely be made to describe the reported mastermind of all Evil because the scale is so different. That would be a comparison between a spiritual, sentient being capable of abstract and complex thoughts that has dwelt with God compared to Earthbound physical beings that are considerably more limited in their thought capacity and are assumed not to have souls. Or in simple words, like saying I am smarter than a room full of chipmunks. Duh.

From there, the serpent does convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Some may claim that the serpent's ability to talk to Eve gives evidence that it is Satan. This does seem a bit strange. However, when put in other Biblical context, it seems that God controls the gift of language, such as how He makes all the languages of the world in Genesis 11, and how He makes a donkey able to speak its mind in Numbers 22. So it is not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps man could communicate with the animals at that point in the story, or that God had blessed the serpent with the ability of speech.

Eve shares the fruit with Adam. Suddenly they realize they are naked, so they make clothes out of fig leaves. (This is in and of itself odd, but we'll leave that topic alone for now.) God walks through the garden and eventually finds Adam and Eve. God confronts them. Eve blames the mistake on the serpent. God then curses them all starting with the serpent, followed by Eve, followed by Adam.

The devil is in the details of the curse. Or actually, the devil is not in the details of the curse. Genesis 3:14-15:

So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And 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.” NIV

First, we see the association again of the serpent with the wild animals. Second, we see that the serpent will crawl on its belly all the days of its life. (OK class: What animal crawls on its belly? Follow up: What lord of Evil does not crawl on his belly?) Third, we see that the serpent's offspring will strike the heel of the woman's offspring, like a snake does because it crawls on the ground. Anyone that attempts to equate the serpent to Satan, who is supposedly free in this world attacking our hearts and minds (both of which are very far from our heels) to win our eternal souls, is really liberal in his or her interpretation of the Bible.

In Genesis 3:16, God cursed the Eve with painful childbirth, desire for her husband and a subservient position relative to her husband. In Genesis 3:17-19, God cursed Adam with a cursed ground that will cause him to have to painfully work the Earth to provide food, and the Earth will now have thorns and thistles.

There are a few things missing here. There is nothing that explicitly says that any of the curses are applicable to all of mankind with the exception of man attacking snakes and visa versa, and possibly the thorns and thistles growing in the land. There is no curse of disease or genetic mutations that cause debilitating or painful conditions yet do not cause death. There is no curse of hurricanes, droughts, bacterial infections, viruses, volcanic eruptions, or any other natural event that we know today that causes massive loss of human life. There is not even a hint or vague expression that could be used to extrapolate these things. The idea that these are part of curses of The Fall is completely fabricated as a defense of why bad things happen to good people.

After the curses, God kicks Adam and Eve our of the Garden of Eden so that they can't eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Adam goes on to live 930 years, which must have seemed like forever.

I'll close the study of The Fall with a final observation: God only told Adam that the punishment for eating the forbidden fruit was that he would die. However, after eating the fruit God ends up adding to that punishment by cursing Adam and Eve as well as kicking them out of the Garden. So it would appear that God is at liberty to add to punishments however He seems fit without fully disclosing them. This is odd when you consider that one of the cornerstones of justice is that both the crime and the punishment are explicitly defined.

8 comments:

  1. It's also interesting to note that many Christians believe 3:15 is a prophetic reference to Christ's triumph over Satan. Although, if the serpent is only a mere animal, then othere goes one Biblical prophecy out the window.

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  2. That's true. I actually did see Mel Gibson play Jesus, and I remember the dramatic scene where Mel crushes the snake's head symbolically fulfilling this "prophesy".

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  3. TWF:

    For what it's worth, this instance of claimed prophecy, as with the instance in Isaiah, seems to be regarded as having some prophetic import in the Pentateuchal targums, including the earlier Onkelos. If you'd like I could probably link or post some.

    May all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora

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  4. Hi Felix,

    Sure, it would be great if you could post a concise summary of the section in your own words or with a few select quotes, and include a link as a citation of your source, if you've got time to do so.

    Best wishes!
    -TWF

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  5. TWF:

    I think I was somewhat confused in my previous posting, that said, for consideration are the following:

    "And the woman said, The serpent led me astray, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent, Because thou hast done this, more accursed art thou than all cattle, and than all the beasts of the held; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and the dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and between the woman, and between thy son and her son. He will remember thee, what thou didst to him (at) from the beginning, and thou shalt be observant unto him at the end." (http://targum.info/onk/Gen1_6.htm)

    "And he said, The voice of Thy Word heard I in the garden, and I was afraid, because I am naked; and the commandment which Thou didst teach me, I have transgressed; therefore I hid myself from shame. And He said, Who showed thee that thou art naked? Unless thou hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded that thou shouldst not eat. And Adam said, The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the woman, What hast thou done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me with his subtilty, and deceived me with his wickedness, and I ate. And the Lord God brought the three unto judgment; and He said to the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou of all the cattle, and of all the beasts of the field: upon thy belly thou shalt go, and thy feet shall be cut off, and thy skin thou shalt cast away once in seven years; and the poison of death shall be in thy mouth, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between the seed of thy son, and the seed of her sons; and it shall be when the sons of the woman keep the commandments of the law, they will be prepared to smite thee upon thy head; but when they forsake the commandments of the law, thou wilt be ready to wound them in their heel. Nevertheless for them there shall be a medicine, but for thee there will be no medicine; and they shall make a remedy for the heel in the days of the King Meshiha." (http://targum.info/pj/pjgen1-6.htm)

    I was perhaps confounding it with something I read concerning the Targums' rendering of Geneses 4

    "And Adam knew Hava his wife, and she conceived, and gave birth to Kain; and she said I have acquired the man from before the Lord." (http://targum.info/onk/Gen1_6.htm)

    and more notably Jonathon's

    "And Adam knew Hava his wife, who had desired the Angel; and she conceived, and bare Kain; and she said, I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord" (http://targum.info/pj/pjgen1-6.htm)

    which related to a, I believe, somewhat obscure supporting argument for Genesis 3:15 being an early prophecy of Christ from reading Genesis 4:1 not as Eve saying she received a man from (i.e. with the help of) or by the LORD, but rather as she received a son from (the presence of) the LORD.

    Thank you for your time, and may all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora.

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  6. Hi Felix,

    Thanks for the information. I hadn't tracked down these "extended" versions of the passage. Generational talk aside, surely this is speaking of the physical characteristics of (poisonous) snakes, with the misunderstanding that snakes only shed their skin once in 7 years:

    "...upon thy belly thou shalt go, and thy feet shall be cut off, and thy skin thou shalt cast away once in seven years; and the poison of death shall be in thy mouth, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life."

    The reference to serpents striking people when they didn't obey falls right in line with what happened during the Exodus; the episode where God sent fiery serpents to attack the people for disobeying.

    And let's not forget that "messiah", in the root of its meaning, is nothing more than an anointed king or leader. Given that this was set before the Israelites had a king, (before there were even Israelites), "King Meshiha" could be referring to anyone from Saul or later. Or, if you don't hold that it must be a king (which you'd have to double check the source text to see if the translation allows, but it likely does), then even Moses and the precise episode noted above could be the fulfillment of this prophesy.

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  7. TWF:

    I think its safe to assume targumic references such as pseudo-Jonathon's it is safe to assume the term "king messiah" refers to the figure ruling during the messianic age in accordance with Jewish thought. For my point, if there is any, it would seem to be in the first of of four citations that I brought up as it replaces the heel-head phrase with the woman's son "remembering" what the serpent had done at "beginning" at "the end".

    May all be well with you,
    Felix Zamora

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  8. Hi Felix,

    Ha! That's what I get for trying to fire off an answer quickly as I was headed out the door and not checking source information. How embarrassing. Doh! :-p

    Yes, the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan certainly appears to be a late creation, as does the earlier Targum Onkelos. So, yes, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan is very likely to be Messianic in the latter-day sense of the word.

    Even still, while I can see some metaphorical flexibility to draw a line toward a Satanic reference, I still think that there is a stronger case that the actual intent was a Serpentes reference, such as suggested in the physical description I quoted above. Snakes represented a very real danger back then, well beyond what we are familiar with in our modern, urban living. Their stealthy profile and movement, and their toxic venom were a lethal and fearsome combination. We ourselves are not so far away from that history, such that in now-fading colloquial vernacular, a popular insult at one time was to call someone a "snake in the grass".

    So for the Targum Onkelos passage regarding remembering and:

    "and thou shalt be observant unto him at the end."

    I would offer an alternate explanation. This is a prediction/prophesy that one day the tides would turn. One day, people would not have to watch out for snakes, but rather snakes would have to watch out for people. The "at the end" is not so much a reference to the end times, but rather a reference to the ultimate state, as we use the similar expression today "in the end". The "remembering" aspect may even imply an active hunting of the snakes, such as the legend of St. Patrick.

    At least, that is my impression, for what it's worth.

    Thank you for sharing these intriguing targumic passages!

    Best wishes!

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