I’ve mentioned before how my perceptions of some of the Bible’s stories are much longer, and more detailed, than the stories themselves. This is because the Bible’s stories are – despite the sola scriptura posturing of many protestant denominations – largely transmitted culturally rather than textually, and that means that details, associations, and references all get added and mixed in with the pure text versions (though, even here, the textual variations between manuscripts and, especially, between translations make things even more complicated).
The example of what I mean that most people would be familiar with is the harmonization of the New Testament gospel stories. When we build a nativity scene, we have a little crèche, three wise men, the shepherds, and a star overhead – but how many people know that the shepherds are only found in Luke and that the star and wise men are only found in Matthew? The fact that these are details of two separate stories has been entirely lost in the cultural tradition.
But what I wanted to talk about today specifically is a text called Genesis B or “The Later Genesis.” This text is found in the “Codex Junius 11,” spliced into an entirely different version of Genesis known as Genesis A, despite being very different in style and repeating some of the same story-lines. We don’t know why someone thought it would be a good idea to just stick the one into the middle of the other, but it makes for an interesting reflection of what happened with the Bible’s own two creation stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.
The version of the story that I will be quoting from is Charles W. Kennedy’s translation, found in Early English Christian Poetry Translated into Alliterative Verse (Hollis & Carter: London, 1952), but I found another translation online if you would like to read the whole thing for yourself.
In the Bible
To recap the Bible’s version of this story, Genesis 1 has God creating the heavens and the earth, including a blow-by-blow account of his daily To Do list, culminating in his handing over of the earth to Adam for “dominion.” Genesis 2 repeats the same portion of the story.
In Genesis 3, a serpent (not identified as Satan, Lucifer, or anything other than simply a snake) chats with Eve with convinces her to eat a piece of fruit from a special tree, and Eve then convinces Adam to do the same. The two humans suddenly realize that they are naked, are caught by God, punishments are dolled out, and the couple is expelled from Eden.
It’s a pretty bare bones version of the story that most people are familiar with. But, as you will see, much of what many who haven’t directly read the Genesis account (and even some who have!) think is part of the Biblical story is actually missing, but can be found in Genesis B.
In Genesis B
Genesis B picks up with a description of God’s favourite angel, whom he has made especially strong and “mighty of mind,” making him his right-hand and “next unto God.” But this angel was “ungrateful and bold”:
By his own strength only he thought to construct
A mightier throne and a higher heaven.
(Curious about the odd spacing? It’s called a Caesura.)
So the angel convinces a group of his fellow angels to join him and they rebel against God. Understandably, God is not pleased, and he banishes the rebel angels to Hell, changing them into “fiends” and giving the lead angel the name Satan.
Satan is upset and feels like he and his companions have been treated unfairly:
He has wrought us wrong,
In hurling us down to the fiery depths of hell,
Deprived of heaven. He has marked those heights
For man to settle. ‘Tis my greatest sorrow
That Adam, fashioned and formed of earth,
Should hold my high seat and abide in bliss
While we suffer this torture, this torment in hell.
So Satan concocts a plan to get revenge. He isn’t powerful enough to attack God directly, as his earlier rebellion showed, but he can attack God’s “thralls” – Adam and Eve:
Let us wrest heaven’s realm from the sons of men,
Make them forfeit His favour, break His command.
Then His rage will be kindled. He will cast them from grace;
They shall be banished to hell’s grim abyss.
We shall have them to serve us, the sons of men,
As slaves fast-bound in these fettering bonds.
As in the pagan Germanic war stories that Genesis B copies, Satan asks for volunteers from among his thanes to conduct an attack against God’s thanes.
When the two trees of the garden are introduced, Genesis B tells us that God had put them there so that the sons of men “might choose of good or evil, weal or woe.”
So Satan “put[s] on the form of the serpent” and approaches Adam. He tells Adam that he is a messenger, sent by God to tell Adam to eat the fruit. This, he claims, would increase Adam’s strength, attractiveness, and mental might as a reward for having obeyed God so well.
But Adam isn’t fooled. God had warned him not to be “beguiled / Or ever tempted” into eating from the “tree of death,” and Satan hasn’t brought a token of faith to prove that he was sent by God.
Satan then appeals to Eve and tells her that God will be so mad that they aren’t listening to His messenger. Not only can she spare her future children God’s wrath if she obeys, she’ll also get a few perks: “Over Adam thereafter you shall have sway.”
Eve, convinced, bites the fruit.
You’ll note that this account makes Eve’s culpability far more clear than the Biblical account (in which Eve may have been the one to succumb simply because she was the first to be approached). The added detail of a failed temptation involving Adam reflects the evolution of thought about Eve, and the desire to make her special guilt in the story absolutely clear.
To get her to agree to convince Adam to eat the apples as well, Satan changes Eve’s vision so that everything seems even more beautiful. Thinking the change comes from eating the fruit, Eve goes to Adam and tells him about her wonderful new powers of vision, arguing that such a cool power could only have come from God.
Eve is successful in seducing Adam on Satan’s behalf, and Adam eats the apple. Satan gloats, Adam and Eve are ashamed. Adam gets the last speech and uses it to yell at Eve.
The Fallen Angel
So where does all that stuff about Satan being a “Fallen Angel” come from? It certainly doesn’t come from Genesis 1-3, despite what our cultural instruction might tell us. In the canonical Bible, we have the following references:
Genesis 6:1-4 – In this passage, we’re told that the “sons of God” (assumed to refer to members of God’s heavenly court, i.e.: angels) descended to earth of their own accord in order to mate with human women.
Isaiah 14:1-17 – This is where we get a reference to someone nicknamed “the morning star” who has “fallen from heaven” (Isaiah 14:12). But within the context of the text, this refers to the king of Babylon, not to an angel and certainly not to Satan.
Revelation 12:3-14 – This is our closest match, in which a dragon with angels on his side fights against Michael and his angels. The dragon loses the fight and, therefore, his “place in heaven.” The dragon is called “ancient serpent,” “devil,” and “Satan.” The whole story of the battle is given in a single paragraph and lacks all detail as to the possible motives for the battle.
(There’s a bit more extra-canonical stuff, particularly Enoch 7-8, which expands on Genesis 6:1-4 story. Though in this case, the beings of God’s court are called “the Watchers.”)
And that’s it – such a well-known part of the Genesis story is not part of the biblical Genesis story at all. The fact that the Bible is a written text gives it the aura of unchangeability, but the fact is that the stories of the Bible are still part of a living tradition. The stories that children are taught in Sunday School, or that we use to construct our holiday decorations, or that we imagine when given prompts from the text are imbued with details and associations that are extra-biblical.
So when we talk about the immutability of the Words of God as set forth in the Scriptures (capitalisation conveys authority, didntcha know!), we’d do well to remember that they aren’t quite so immutable as we may think.
NOTE: The story of Genesis B may sound a little familiar to anyone who has read, heard of, or studied Milton’s Paradise Lost. Certainly, the general details of the story are eerily similar.
Franciscus Junius, who published the first edition of the manuscript containing Genesis B in 1655, was a contemporary of Milton’s and, apparently, the two seem to have been acquainted. This has led some to speculate that Milton drew at least some of his inspiration from the Genesis B text.