I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis and on Wednesdays I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve been reading.
Cain’s great-great grandson, Lamech, is the first man in Genesis who has two wives, which might indicate the continuation of patriarchy. He brags to his wives that he has killed a man. He boasts that just as Cain would be avenged seven times, he would be avenged seventy times if someone killed him. YHWH intended to punish Cain for murdering his brother. Instead, Lamech is making Cain his inspiration. Did YHWH’s curse backfire?
However, at this stage a new thread is also introduced: Adam and Eve have another child called Seth. This time it is Eve who does the naming, and she says that Elohim has given her another child in Abel’s place. We’re told that Seth also has a son, and that at this time people began to call on the name of YHWH.
This looks to me like a comparison of two different lineages, headed in different directions.
I’ve been gradually reading through Genesis and each Wednesday I’ve been posting some reflections. I recently appreciated getting a question from my friend Nat:
‘What’s your take on the significance (i hope I’m remembering this properly) of there being no death in the garden? …ie, if it’s not literal truth’
When Nat asked me this I also wasn’t sure if I was remembering properly. I had a sense that I’d heard people say that there was no death before the humans ate the forbidden fruit. I wasn’t sure whether I’d read that in scripture or whether it was part of the folklore that’s attached to the story. So I thought I’d go back to the text and see if I could find anything suggesting that there was or wasn’t death in the garden.
In the first section of Genesis I couldn’t find anything saying that their was no death in the garden. What I did find was YHWH Elohim becoming concerned about what would happen if the humans ate from the tree of life (and became immortal) after having already eaten from the tree of knowledge.
I’m wondering if other people presumed, like me and Nat, that the story said people were immortal in the garden? If human beings are descibed as already having a limited lifespan in the garden, does that change our attitudes about death?
I’m also wondering if there may be something I’m missing? If you can see something in the text suggesting that humanity was immortal, we’d be keen to hear.
I’ve been gradually reading through Genesis, and writing about it on Wednesdays. One of my favorite parts of the Hebrew scripture is the mythic section of Genesis, which has been chopping into chunks that we now call chapters 1-11.
I’ve been keen to get on to writing about the story of Cain and Abel because it is one of the parts that I’ve found most interesting. But I thought I’d be jumping the gun a bit if I posted about that without posting about the forbidden fruit. So I’m going to post a link to a resource I worked on with Beth Barnett for use during Advent. Beth talks about the event as more of a twist than a fall, and I’ve sought to reflect that in my illustrations.
How does this story change if we think of it as more of a twist than a fall?
Last week I wrote a little bit about what I was reading in Genesis about the first person choosing a companion. As I read on afterwards one of the things I noticed was the emphasis on naming. (I don’t like using chapter and verse references if I don’t need to because I think they break up the flow of the text and because I’d prefer if folks go back and read the story rather than just looking at particular verses out of context. But in this post I’ve been looking at the first three chapters of Genesis.)
Genesis starts with an account of creation. In this account the creator is called Elohim – which actually looks like a plural word in Hebrew. It’s like having a deity called ‘Gods’. Anyway, as Elohim is creating things Elohim makes a point of naming some things but not others. Elohim separates darkness and light, naming them Day and Night. Elohim separates the primeval waters by making a firmament, a big bowl, which Elohim names Sky. Elohim separates the land from the water, naming them Earth and Seas. Elohim makes plants, but doesn’t name them. Elohim makes lights in the sky, but doesn’t name them. Elohim makes sea creatures and birds and sea monsters, but doesn’t name them. Elohim makes farm animals and creeping things and wild beasts, but doesn’t name them. Elohim makes people, but doesn’t name them.
After all this we have a different account of creation. Things happen in different order and in this account the creator is named differently: YHWH Elohim.
In this account the animals are named, but it is the first person who names all the animals, in the context of searching for a suitable companion.
When YHWH Elohim creates another person to be the first person’s companion, it seems like the first person tries to name the second person:
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’ (2:23. NRSV.)
So, what is going on with naming in these stories? My sense is that naming in these stories is an act of one exercising power over another. The one who names the other has the opportunity to define the other. Is the first person trying to define an dominate is companion even from the very beginning? Is this a foreshadowing of what is to come? Later on we are told that the man named his woman Eve…
I think this story reflects the patriarchal nature of the societies that birthed it, and that this may be why the man is portrayed as defining and dominating the woman. How different is our society though? Which people in our society have the power to name and define others?