Guilt and Interrogation

I apologize for only providing notes.

Verse 8: “In the cool of the day” = “in the breath / wind of the day.” I wonder whether this has any connection to God breathing the breath of life into Man: he has breathed life into Man, now coming in the breath of the day, God will condemn Man to death.

Hearing the voice of the Lord is used throughout the Pentateuch to mean “obeying God.” Its use here is surely ironic: having disobeyed, they hear the voice of God.

The term translated “walking” is used in other places in reference to God’s presence in the Tabernacle: Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 23:14; 2 Samuel 7:6.

Verse 9: Those involved are questioned in the opposite order in which they took part: the order of the temptation is snake, woman, man; here the order is man, woman, snake; when the consequences are pronounced it will be snake, woman, man again.

God asks Man rhetorically “Where are you?” but Man responds as if he’d been asked “Why are you hiding?” God’s question has traditionally been read as a reproof: “Do you know where you’ve put yourself in relation to me?” Note that in these verses, from 8 through 13, God only asks questions.

Thou is singular, but since adam can refer to the man and the woman as a couple, as in Genesis 1:26, I assume that might also be the case here.

Verse 10: Man acknowledges that he knows he is naked, but says nothing about how he came to that knowledge.

Verse 12: Man blames Woman and, indirectly God. As Ephrem the Syrian says, “Instead of confessing what he had done . . . he related what had been done to him.”

Traditionally, beginning with Paul (1 Timothy 2:14), the interpretation has been that Man’s sin was not as great as Woman’s because he was not deceived by the serpent.

Verse 13: God doesn’t challenge Man’s accusation of Woman—nor of himself. He asks Woman what / why she has done. She, too, shifts blame: the serpent tricked / deceived me.

Since I’m a Walter Brueggemann fan, let me end with something I found in his book on Genesis:

The situation moves from the forming by God (2:7, 22) to the driving out by God (3:23–24). Between there is the hiding of humankind (3:8–10) and the walking of God (3:8). The human creatures, in or out of the garden, still finally must live on God’s terms.

     The story is not explained. It is simply left there with the listening community free to take what can be heard. There is, of course, talk here of sin and evil and death. But it is understated talk. The stakes are too high for reduction to propositions. The story does not want to aid our theologizing. It wants, rather, to catch us in our living. It will permit no escape into theology.

(Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 50 [Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982])

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5 Responses to Guilt and Interrogation

  1. Candice says:

    These comments on breath are interesting. If Adam’s creation is an inhalation, we could understand this as an exhalation. In some meditative practices, exhalation is understood as a symbol of death. Mindful exhalation can be used to accept that mortality is real and should be faced to live fully. It is as if Adam and Eve, God, and perhaps the earth itself (in the wind :) ) all sigh with acceptance and maybe even some relief at this moment. They accept Adam’s coming parting from God’s presence, that Adam and Eve are asserting themselves as agents independent from God, and that they have chosen to become mortal beings.

    It’s fascinating that accusation and self-defense spring up so early in Adam and Eve’s words, even when it is not provoked. Adam defends his actions even before they are questioned, as Jim points out.

  2. Candice, wonderful thoughts on breath. I love thinking about exhalation as a mindful acceptance of death.

    Jim, that Brueggemann quote is perfect, though it leaves me a bit leery of saying anything. I agree that the leanness of the story wants to shut down interpretation. My drive to interpret is strong however, so I won’t let that stop me. :)

    In these verses there’s a sensory transition in the imagery: whereas in the transgression episode there was a strong emphasis on spectation and looking, now the emphasis is on the auditory, on hearing and listening without seeing or being seen.

    It’s interesting that when the humans hide from the Lord, they appear to do so at the very site of their transgression, “in the midst of the trees of the garden” — the very language used to describe the location of the ToKoGaE. Perhaps this is related to the localism, the “there-ness” of the tale: all knowledge, experience, and story is deeply positioned, deeply located. No free-floating theologizing allowed (even though I just did it).

    It’s interesting that the man appears to be more ashamed of being naked (even though that’s how Yahweh created him) than of having eaten the fruit — at least, that’s the reason he cites for hiding. Could this be read as a way in which technologies (used broadly, as all human efforts to manipulate and use the environment, in this case sewing to create the leaf loincloths) can alienate us from the real meaning and source of sin? Or is there a better reading?

    What do we make of the Lord’s questions? Does he genuinely not know the answers, or is he using the questions rhetorically/socratically to bring the man and woman to self-knowledge? Do we understand the Yahweh of this tale to be omniscient or radically limited in his knowledge? I’m drawn to the notion that he really doesn’t know, that his unexplained absence has caused actual gaps in his understanding. It’s interesting that the Lord never directs a question at the serpent. What would Bakhtin say: can authority engage in meaningful dialogue with heteroglossia? But for that matter, is this Lord still authoritative, given his absence and the apparent gaps in his knowledge?

    That’s all for now.

  3. juliemariesmith says:

    Thanks, all.

    I’m intrigued by the hiding. Does the hiding teach us anything about what it means to “fall”? How is the hiding related to having knowledge of good and evil?

    I read somewhere that the word translated as “beguile” can mean “‘to lend on interest or to be a creditor.’” (Maybe Ben can comment on the (in)accuracy of this.) I wonder if that meaning could work here.

  4. Adam Miller says:

    Great notes, Jim. Terse but so rich. Some thoughts:

    1. Great point that God neither accuses nor endorses any of the accusations flying around in response to his questions. God asks questions, but we offer accusations rather than answers. “Satan” is the “Accuser.”

    2. Exhalation: nice. It’s the evening breeze, right?

    3. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking about . . . ” What does this sound like? Can you hear it? (Great note, Rosalynde, about the general shift from the specular to the auditory.)

    4. “I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid.” Interesting knot, here, of fear/nakedness/hiding.

    5. In v. 11, God asks two questions in a row without waiting for any response: (1) Who told you that you were naked? and (2) Have you eaten from the forbidden tree? Which is Adam answering? Both? Neither? Can God move on from the first to the second without any answer because the questions really function more like statements but questions? If so, is this characteristic? Do all God’s statements sound like questions?

  5. Jim F. says:

    “Do all God’s statements sound like questions?” I think that the answer is, ultimately, yes, Man’s first response to God has already shown that he isn’t listening carefully. Perhaps God asks him questions without waiting for an answer because he doesn’t need answers, but Man does need God’s question’s.

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