Overview of Genesis 2-3, Part 1

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 9.21.58 PMHoliday illness behind me (though it may have affected my sense of humor), I’m happy to kick off this Seminar with a quick overview/review of the chapters in question. If you’re not familiar with the Mormon Theology Seminar, see here for a fuller explanation and previous publications.

Although I have studied the text in detail in Hebrew (and to a lesser extend in Aramaic and Greek translation), what follows is not a translation or even a paraphrase. I acknowledge up front that what lies below can be picked apart fairly easily or accused of distortion or expansion and whatnot. Think of it as an oral impressionistic campfire retelling of Gen 2-3, meant to kick off discussion and pull out a few details we rarely notice. I’m experimenting here, coming at it from a very different angle than I usually do. Before the end of the week I’ll reflect on the experience, and offer some other general perspectives.

When the curtains reopen in Genesis 2:4ff, we lack the expected full set dressing put in place in the previous chapters. Instead, we behold a rocky barren place. Nothing grows naturally there, nor are there any human-cultivated plants, as there is no human to do any planting.  Although there is no rain, arid, it is not. Some kind of water (stream? mist? flood?) regularly comes up from below to water the surface. Into this setting comes Yahweh-Elohim, to form a human from the humus, an earthling from the earth. Once formed, the dull earthing becomes animated by the breath of life.

Poor guy shows up before there’s anything to see, though. God plants a garden, eastward in a land called Eden (so-called for its abundance of water) and places the human there. He causes all kinds of trees to grow in the garden, pleasant both to the eye and tongue. Two are singled out, the Tree of Boundless Life and Tree of Knowing-Good-and-Evil.

As for the land of Eden itself, a river runs through it into the garden, and then divides into the headwaters of the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and another.

As we were saying about the man, Yahweh-Elohim put him in the garden, and assigned him to take care of it. He was allowed to eat from all the trees but the Tree of Knowing-Good-and-Evil, on pain of death.

Yahweh-Elohim noticed the man was alone. Not good, he said. So Yahweh-Elohim formed from the ground all the animals and brought them to the human to see what he’d call them. But among all of those he named, there was none to fittingly complement him (I may regret that wording later…)

So Yahweh-Elohim put him into an unnaturally deep sleep, took one of his sides, and closed him up again. Yahweh-Elohim then built that side into a woman and brought her to the human. He was delighted, “THIS time, finally, my kind of thing! We’ll call her Woman because she was taken out of Man.” (BTW, that’s why a man leaves his family behind, to cling to his woman, and they really become one.)

Both of them were naked, but it didn’t bother them. Now a snake, sharper than any other animals Yahweh-Elohim had made, said to the woman, “so… you eat from all the trees in the garden?”

She says back, “Yep. Except the one in the middle of the garden. We’re not even supposed to touch that one, let alone eat it, on pain of death.”

“What!” says the snake. ” You’re not going to die. God knows it will change you; You’ll know good and evil, like They do.” Now, to be honest, the woman had noticed that that tree seemed edible, and was really pretty to boot. She picked some fruit, ate it, and handed some to her husband who was with her, who followed suit.

Then, they Knew.

“Um, hello, where are my pants? What are pants, anyway? We can’t…”  “No we really mustn’t…” “I can’t walk around like this in public…” So they sewed themselves some really uncomfortable but completely local, organic, biodegradable underwear.  About that time, they heard Yahweh-Elohim coming back through the garden, so they hid, there in the middle of the garden. Yahweh-Elohim called out to the human, “where are you?”

Still in hiding, he replied, “well I’m mostly naked, so I hid.”

“Who told you that? Wait, did you eat from that tree, the one I specifically told you not to eat from?”

“It was the woman You gave me! She gave me some, so I ate it.”

Yahweh-Elohim says to the woman, “what have you to say?”

“…I blame the snake.”

So Yahweh-Elohim says to the snake, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You shall be worse off than all other animals, living and eating in the dust. I will drive a wedge between you and them. You’ll snap at their heel, but they’ll crush your head.”

Turning to the women, he says, “As for you, though your pregnancies will be unpleasant,  you’ll still turn to your man for more. He’ll lord it over you.”

Turning to the human, he says, “as for you, since you participated too in eating from the tree, things will be unpleasant for you too. No more just plucking things off whenever you feel, you’re going to have to work for it, every single day of your life! Thorns, weeds, you’ll encounter all kinds of nasty sweaty unpleasantness in working the ground for your food, until you return to the earth! You *are* earth, earthling! Dust, and to dust shall you return.”

Then the human named his woman Hawwa, Mother of All Life.

Yahweh-Elohim made them some decent clothes of comfortable deer skin, and dressed them.

And as he left them, he sighed, and said, “they Know, as We do. At least, one day they will. They cannot be permitted to continue eating from the Tree of Boundless Life. We will… ” So he drove them out of the garden into the thorny land and assigned sphinx-guardians to the entrance to cut off their access to the Tree of Boundless Life. So they remain, ever watchful over the way into the garden.


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7 Responses to Overview of Genesis 2-3, Part 1

  1. Julie Smith says:

    I want to comment on many elements of your retelling here, but suspect it would be better to wait to discuss specific items as we cover them. One thing I can’t resist: “mostly naked.” 3:10 says naked, but 3:7 said they were wearing fig leaves. In what sense, then, are they “naked” per v10? I hadn’t noticed that before.

    And I want to hear your rationale for “sphinx-guardians.”

    More generally: there are a lot of “big questions” that we might think about as we begin to engage this text:

    –What kind of a text is this? How literally is it meant to be understood?
    –What is the point of this text? Is it to explain “why things are the way they are”? If so, what does it explain?
    –As LDS, we have additional tellings of this story, including in the Pearl of Great Price and some parts of the temple. How should we understand the relationships between these texts, particularly where they differ? What do we do with the differences? (One approach: “The fact that the Genesis account differs from the temple account does not necessarily suggest that one is correct and the other incorrect. Indeed, this may simply be evidence that each account has a different symbolic message to convey to different audiences.” –Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Savior & The Serpent: Unlocking the Doctrine of the Fall, page 153.)

    And a few things I pulled from my notes:

    (1) “As a result of many readings and rereadings of Genesis, I am increasingly impressed by the leanness of the text and the lacunae [i.e., gaps] in the stories. Little of what we readers might like to know about an event or a character is told to us. Much of what we are told admits of a wide variety of interpretations. . . . our need to continue grappling with the abiding ambiguities of the text teaches us . . . another timeless truth about ourselves: the truth of our own ignorance and the impossibility of ever resting comfortably with what we think we have understood. The open form of the text and its recalcitrance to final and indubitable interpretation are absolutely perfect instruments for cultivating the openness, thoughtfulness, and modesty about one’s own understanding that is the hallmark of the pursuit of wisdom.”
    –Leon Kass: The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, pages 18-19.

    (2) A whole bunch of possible ways of understanding the structure of the text:

    (a) Ten Genealogies
    Note that all sections begin with the same wording (“these are the generations”)
    1:1-2:3 Prologue
    2:4-4:46 History of heaven and earth
    5:1-6:8 Family history of Adam
    6:9-9:29 Family history of Noah
    10:1-11:9 Family history of Noah’s sons
    11:10-26 Family history of Shem
    11:27-25:11 Family history of Terah
    25:12-18 Family history of Ishmael
    25:19-35:29 Family history of Isaac
    36:1-37:1 Family history of Esau
    37:2-50:26 Family history of Jacob
    Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis, 1:xxii.

    If Wenham is right here, then do we read this story differently if we take it as the “family history” of heaven and earth?

    (b) Narrative/Poem/Epilogue

    “Sailhamer argues plausibly that the alternating structure of narrative, followed by a poem and an epilogue in this account suggest the compositional strategy for Genesis 1-11, Genesis as a whole, and even the Penteteuch. The creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 is drawn to conclusion with Adam’s poem about his wife (2:23) followed by an epilogue (2:24). The account of the Fall concludes with a poem (3:14-19) and an epilogue (3:20-24). The story about Cain concludes with Lamech’s poem (4:23-24) and an epilogue (4:25-26). The third account, essentially the story of the flood (6:9-9:23), is drawn to conclusion with Noah’s prophetic poem (9:24-27) also followed by an epilogue (9:25). . . . Finally, he notes that these poems are linked in their content, including their royal focus for the last days. One might say that they point indirectly to the Messiah. The Lord’s poem points to the saving seed of the woman (3:15), Lamech’s to the one who will bring comfort from the curse on the earth (5:29), Noah’s to the blessed line of Shem (9:26), Jacob’s to Judah (29:8-12). . .”
    –Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, page 83.

    (c) Alternating Structure

    Bruce J. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, pages 19-21.

    The Primeval History: Alternating Structure
    A Creation story: first beginning, divine blessings (1:1-2:3)
    B Sin of Adam: seeing nakedness, curse (2:4-3:24)
    C No descendents of younger, righteous son Abel (4:1-16)
    D Descendents of sinful son Cain (4:17-26)
    E Descendents of chosen son in 10 generations (5:1-32)
    F Downfall—unlawful union (6:1-4)
    G Brief introduction to Noah (6:5-8)
    A’ Flood story: reverse creation, new beginning, divine blessings (6:9-9:19)
    B’ Sin of Noah: seeing nakedness, curse (9:20-29)
    C’ Descendents of younger, righteous son (10:1-5)
    D’ Descendents of sinful son Ham (10:6-20)
    E’ Descendents of chosen son in 10 generations (10:21-32)
    F’ Downfall—rebellious union (11:1-9)
    G’ Brief introduction to Abraham (11:27-32)

    (d) Diptychs

    from Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, pages 18-19.

    SCENE ONE Creation—from God (1:1-2:4) Creation—for humanity (2:4-24)
    Sin (2:25-ch3) Sin (4:1-16)
    Genealogy (4:17-26) Genealogy (ch 5)
    SCENE TWO Flood rises (ch 6-7) Flood abates (8:1-9:17)
    Noah and sons (9:18-29) Noah’s sons (ch 10)
    Building fails (11:1-9) Culminating genealogy (11:10-32)

    “In each of the four [acts], the role of women is particularly noticeable in the opening diptychs: the woman/Eve; Sarai (and Hagar); Rebekah; and Tamar (and Potiphar’s wife). This does not exclude women from later roles, but it is a striking feature.”
    –Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue, page 20.

    (3) A Comparison of Genesis 1 and 2-3
    Chapter 1 Chapters 2-3
    Focus is on . . . Heavens and earth Earth only
    Beginning is . . . Watery Dry
    Man is mentioned . . . At the end At the beginning
    Human-animal relationship Humans rule animals Animals are possible companions
    to humans
    Human-life relationship Humans are masters of life on earth Humans are servants of life on
    Human-plant relationship Plants are given to humans for food Humans are to serve and keep
    the plants
    Male-female creation Created at the same time Male created first
    Humans are created . . . In the image of God Of dust, of a rib
    Creation is described as being . . . Good (no description, but male’s aloneness is “not good”)
    God is called . . . Elohim Yahweh Elohim
    Commandment Multiply and replenish the earth
    (permission) Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil
    Naming is done by . . . God Adam
    Adapted from Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, page 55.

    (4) Chiasmus in Genesis 2:4-4:1
    A “These are the generations” 2:4
    B No agriculture: “no one to till the ground” 2:5-6
    C Humans given life and put into Garden 2:7-17
    D Animal companionship inadequate for humans 2:18-22
    E Man calls her “Woman” 2:23
    F Explanation: “Therefore a man leaves his parents . . .” 2:24
    G Couple naked and unashamed 2:25
    H Serpent promises “eyes will be opened” 3:1-5
    I Transgression 3:6
    H’ The couple’s eyes are opened 3:7a
    G’ Couple experiences shame 3:7b-10
    F’ Explanation: “For you are dust . . .” 3:19b
    E’ Man calls her “Eve” 3:20
    D’ Humans wear skins of beasts 3:21
    C’ Humans denied immortality (for now) and expelled from Garden (3:22-24)
    B’ Agriculture begins 3:23b
    A’ Birth of child completes the generation 4:1
    Adapted from The HarperCollins Study Bible: NRSV, page 4.

    Sorry for wonky formatting on these.

    Anyway, looking forward to the discussion. Thanks for getting us started, Ben!

  2. rosalyndewelch says:

    Ben, I offer you a virtual s’more, made with nutella, naturally, as thanks for your enjoyable campfire re-telling of the story. It’s always useful for me to be jolted out of my customary responses by new images, details, mood, and tone. You helped me think about the initial barrenness of the setting, with no plants yet to clothe the naked ground. The ground is naked at first, just as Adam is naked: is the ground innocent of its nakedness, too? Imagining the exposure of the ground at the beginning sensitized my thoughts to the idea of “ground” throughout the tale. Certainly it is not a new insight, but once again the thematic importance of the GROUND jumped out at me. Not even so much rich notions of “earth” or “natural world,” but just the plain old ground, what we walk on and where things fall, the solid surface beneath our feet that the story never lets us ignore. That’s where Adam was made, that’s where the trees grew, that’s where the serpent lives. And of course every time we drop a penny we’re reminded: that’s where we’re headed, too. The ground wants us back.

    Thinking about the ground and down-ness highlighted for me how absent heaven and up-ness is in this tale. We’re looking down, down, down for the first half, and then as Eden is planted eastward and Eve is taken from Adam’s side and the rivers mark out the boundaries of the world, we begin looking from side to side. But is there ever reason to look up? To see the fruit in the tree, perhaps. But maybe this is a tale that has no transcendent, no sublime, no height. Its absolute is a ground, not a firmament. Hebraists: is this a Yahweh/Elohim distinction at work. Yahweh being an earth god and Elohim a sky god? Once again I think: how very very odd (and, perhaps, how very unfortunate) that this tale was imported as a narrative spine for the temple ceremony. It seems so unfit for the ascending mood and structure of the temple.

  3. Adam Miller says:

    Thanks, Ben and Julie and Rosalynde. Julie’s round up of key points pulled from her notes is especially helpful. A couple of items that struck me in the above comments/post:

    1. The “leanness” of the text, as Kass points out, really leapt out at me as I re-read the text (and Alter’s various introductions to The Five Books of Moses). I love this leanness and I want to pay really close attention to the compact character of the text as we work through it. (And I may have been primed for this especially by the fact that I’ve read little other than Cormac McCarthy for the past six weeks – talk about biblical!)

    2. I think Rosalynde is also already keyed into an important feature of the text when she notes the profoundly “horizontal” character of these chapters. We’ll have to decide what to make of this, perhaps especially in relation to the very top-down, vertical flavor of the Genesis 1 creation account.

    3. Julie’s question, “What kind of a text is this? How literally is it meant to be understood?” is a really important one. I think that one of the most notable things about this seminar for those eventually attending its conference, reading its papers, etc, will be the extent to which we generally, as a group, take contemporary biblical scholarship, the documentary hypothesis, etc. for granted as a kind of starting point in our investigation. Committed Mormons undertaking a word by word reading of Genesis 2-3 that takes for granted this backdrop is a bit of an aberration! Hopefully our work will encourage an openness to this scholarship that neither runs in fear from it nor accepts it uncritically at face value. I wrote a little about this a few months ago in relation to Blake Ostler’s third volume in Mormon theology.

    I’m out of time for the moment, but I’ll come back with a few additional thoughts later today.

  4. Adam Miller says:

    Okay. A couple of additional overview-type thoughts. I’ve included below a list of what seemed to me to be some of the most promising questions to reflect on during the seminar as we work through this text. I would happily welcome and additional suggestions or emendations:

    1. The events of Genesis 3 are commonly referred to as “the fall.” But this language is never used in the text itself. Limiting ourselves to language suggested by the text, how might we re-label these events?

    2. Genesis 2 offers a second, different account of the creation. What role does this second account play in re/shaping our understanding of what happens in Genesis 3?

    3. What are we to make of the fact that the Old Testament rarely, if ever again refers to Adam or Eve or the events of Genesis 2-3, and the New Testament only twice, by Paul? Do any features of the text itself suggest any answers?

    4. What is dust? What is the breath of life?

    5. Why are the creation of Adam and Eve’s bodies described as so different from each other? What does this say about gender?

    6. What does Genesis 2-3 suggest about the nature of suffering? What relation does suffering bear to knowledge?

    7. In the context of Genesis 2-3, is the snake good, bad, ugly, none of the above?

    What other questions would you like to add?

    Which four would you vote to foreground in our summary report?

  5. Candice says:

    Ben, thanks for this delightful retelling. It alienates us a bit from the story with its fantastical and ancient images and draws us closer with is humorous and modern elements. A couple thoughts:

    1. I’m also struck by how much this story concerns emptiness, hunger, and nakedness. We could say the story is all about Adam and Eve’s gradual realization that they are naked, hungry, and living on an empty earth. It’s a process to awakening to this– learning to hunger and eat, learning to want to be clothed, learning to want relationships and intimacy. Learning to long for a greater experiences and greater joy, without really an inkling of an idea of what these things will be like.

    2. Perhaps the need for Adam to awake to his own nakedness and hunger is precisely why he must be born in essence at the same time as the naked earth and watch it grow and be covered with life. Was it better for him to learn to engage and enjoy one part of the physical world one step at a time? Being present at creation might have been like a gradual experience of revelation, with each new detail preparing him for the next. Once he knew what the world was like without these beings, could he love them and name them better because he did not have them at first? I think Adam’s need to learn the potential joys of earth might be part of why the story is just so earth centered (thanks Rosalynde and Adam). The heavens are still blank and incomprehensible– maybe Adam will get there someday.

    3. I’ve never recognized that Eve’s consequence concerns sexual longing, love, and intimacy. This is fascinating. I think we tend to avoid thinking about this part of Eve and women in Latter-day Saint culture and we shouldn’t. Eve is a sexual being who needs intimacy, just as much as Adam. Eve desires, and is willing, to choose closeness to Adam, even when it causes her great pain. The “fruit of the womb” here that she longs for parallels the fruit and food that Adam is now responsible to grow– both will make them stress, sweat, and hurt. But both are things they are increasingly going to hunger after. And not just one for one– Adam will hunger for children, Eve is going to get really hungry.

    4. “He’ll lord it over you.” Wow. I like this, not only because it’s humorous, but because it implies that the male dominance foretold is not justifiable to God, but just a painful facet of mortality for women. As if the Lord is saying (actually in a caring way), I know it’s not fair, but I’m going to ask you to deal with this particular issue– taking it as patiently as you take morning sickness– as something rather inevitable in this growing world.

  6. Adam Miller says:

    Candice says: “Perhaps the need for Adam to awake to his own nakedness and hunger is precisely why he must be born in essence at the same time as the naked earth and watch it grow and be covered with life. Was it better for him to learn to engage and enjoy one part of the physical world one step at a time? Being present at creation might have been like a gradual experience of revelation, with each new detail preparing him for the next. Once he knew what the world was like without these beings, could he love them and name them better because he did not have them at first? I think Adam’s need to learn the potential joys of earth might be part of why the story is just so earth centered (thanks Rosalynde and Adam). The heavens are still blank and incomprehensible– maybe Adam will get there someday.”

    I really like this. Dovetailing with Rosalynde’s earlier point, its bound to heavily influence my approach to the text these next few months: the Human, like the earth, naked and lonely and hungry. This is a story about addressing that trinity and the costs of doing so.

  7. Pingback: Genesis 3:6-7, The Moment (part 1) | Genesis 2-3

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