2 Chronicles 29-31: Dedicated and Dedicating

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Sorry for the lateness! But at least my tardiness is thematically relevant! 

We now move into Hezekiah, who is one of the greats. He gets a lot of page space, too, with three chapters in 2 Kgs 18-20 and four chapters in 2 Chron. 29-32. But for all that, the breadth is really missing. Essentially, Hezekiah whips up a religious revival, but, like so many of his predecessors, he fell short at the very end.

We begin with Hezekiah’s record entry: He was 25 years old when his reign began, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother’s name was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah.

On the first day of the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah decided to purify the Temple. This needs a bit of unpacking, because while it’s certainly possible that it truly refers to the first day of Hezekiah’s reign, it seems like rather incredible timing in light of 2 Chron. 30:1, where Hezekiah postpones the Passover celebration for a month. Passover is normally held in Nissan, the first month, meaning that Hezekiah would have had to just happen to start his first day on our equivalent of January 1. This seems lie rather too unlikely, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the author means that Hezekiah started his focus on the Temple on the first day of his first full year.

Which gives us a new question: Why would Hezekiah wait before turning his attention to the Temple – especially when it will mean not being ready in time for Passover and having to delay the celebration. One possibility is that the new year, as a new beginning, was just too symbolically resonant to pass up even if it meant delaying the Passover. Another has to do with the Chronicler’s own motives. I’ll discuss this in more detail later, but there may be a theme of lateness in Chronicles that, perhaps, relates to the rebuilding of the cultic structure.

In any case, Hezekiah reopened the Temple and began purging it of inappropriate cultic items on the first day of the first year of his reign – whatever that happens to mean.

Not to get too nitpicky, but the detail about reopening the doors of the Temple is in line with 2 Chron. 28:24, where Ahaz closed the Temple’s doors, but does not align with 2 Kgs 16:10-16, where it’s apparent that Ahaz continued the use of the Temple for worship. The New Bible Commentary harmonizes this by arguing that the author would not have considered the worship of foreign gods as real worship (p.391), making the closing of the doors a symbolic description (or perhaps it was the inner sanctuary doors that were literally closed).

Hezekiah then gathered up the priests and Levites and, in keeping with the idea of a fresh start, told them all to sanctify first themselves, then the Temple. He gives his reasoning for this in a speech about how their parents had forsaken God, and this is why their fathers have fallen to swords and their sons, daughters, and wives have been taken into captivity.

If this sounds a bit like a post-exilic formula to you, I would agree. That said, 2 Chron. 28 does feature an awful lot of warfare and taking into captivity.

The priests and Levites got to work under the leadership of:

  • Kohathites: Mahath son of Amasai, and Joel son of Azariah;
  • Merarites: Kish son of Abdi, and Azariah son of Jehallelel;
  • Gershonites: Joah son of Zimmah, and Eden son of Joah;
  • Of the sons of Elizaphan: Shimri and Jeuel;
  • Of the sons of Asaph: Zechariah and Mattaniah;
  • Of the sons of Heman: Jehuel and Shimei;
  • Of the sons of Jeduthun: Shemaiah and Uzziel.

Together, on the 8th day of the month, they brought all the uncleanness that had gathered in the Temple, though the Chronicler doesn’t mention Moses’s Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). All the refuse is brought out to the brook of Kidron – Kidron being the favoured place for idol disposal (as we saw in places like 1 Kgs 15:13, 2 Kgs 23:4-6, and 2 Chron. 15:16).

The sanctification process takes eight days, ending on the 16th of the month. When they tell Hezekiah that they are done, he gathers up the Jerusalem city officials to make a big sacrifice and splash lots of blood around. Hezekiah then stations Levitical musicians in the Temple to sing the words of David and of Asaph the seer.

The Passover Celebration

It took a while to get the Temple (and its officiants) up to snuff, so Hezekiah conferred with the “princes” (likely meaning the people of his court with social clout, rather than his own sons) and they decided to postpone the Passover until the second month. The measure was necessary because the priests still hadn’t finished sanctifying themselves, and the people hadn’t had a chance to make it to Jerusalem.

Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, points out that the idea of celebrating a belated Passover when either travelling or purity requirements can’t be met on time can find precedent in Num. 9:9-11.

In discussing the possibility that Hezekia’s Passover might be a fabrication, James Bradford Pate brings up the idea that the Chronicler wouldn’t invent such a messy, chaotic, and delayed celebration. However, Pate cites 2 Chron. 24:5-6 as another example of delay, and proposes that perhaps there is a purposeful theme to be found. Specifically, Pate ties it to the post-exilic “lateness”, both forgiving the lateness itself and “exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball.” Sort of a “better late than never” message.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

The reason that the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover is that it isn’t found in 2 Kings, and Josiah’s proclamation in 2 Kgs 23:21-23 certainly seems to indicate that, if there had been a grand Passover in Hezekiah’s time, Josiah wasn’t aware of it. Turning back to Pate, he presents the argument that the author of Kings was trying to be literary – he wanted to highlight Josiah, and mentioning a similar Passover in the context of Hezekiah would have diluted that story. So the absence of the Passover in 2 Kings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hezekiah’s Passover is a fabrication.

At this point the story is a bit muddled, and there may be some time-skipping. There could have been multiple sacrifice events, but I’m picking a chronology and sticking with it. However, I am noting that the text isn’t nearly as clear.

Hezekiah sends invitations out to all of Judah, as well as all of Israel, encouraging everyone “from Beer-sheba to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5) to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The language here mimics the language of the unified nation – both pre-monarchy and unified. The use of the phrase “from Beer-sheba to Dan” serves to underscore the point, as it’s a phrase we’ve seen quite a bit before when referring to the nation as a whole (see, for example, Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, 2 Sam. 3:10, 2 Sam. 17:11, 1 Kgs 4:25). My Study Bible calls Hezekiah’s invitation a “prophetic hope of the return of the northern tribes to their former loyalty to Jerusalem”, and compares it to Ezek. 37:15-23.

The invitation explains that the Passover hasn’t been properly kept, and the people need to do better. But if they come now and are good, then their children and brethren’s captors will show compassion, and perhaps allow them to return home.

It really is hard not to see some post-exilic sentiments creeping in here.

Incidentally, John Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that there is “a famous letter from Elephantine in Egypt in the late fifth century B.C.E. regarding the observance of the Passover, but letters are anachronistic in the time of Hezekiah, some 300 years earlier” (p.233).

Unfortunately, most of the people just laughed at Hezekiah’s couriers. Only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came out to Jerusalem. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we have some anti-Samarianism cropping in here. But also, my New Bible Commentary points out that the fact that “Hezekiah’s messengers went only as far as Zebulun suggests that in the far north of Galilee the Israelite elements had already disappeared” (p.392). Turning back to Collins, he notes that the “fact that emissaries are sent to Ephraim and Manasseh presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel is no more. Yet, amazingly, the Chronicler has not even mentioned the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.233).

Even so, the assembly in Jerusalem was quite impressive, and perhaps it was a good thing that so few Samarians showed up because the priests couldn’t keep up with all the sacrifices. Eventually, the Levites had to step in to fill the gaps, “for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves” (2 Chron. 29:34).

Many commentaries note the dig at non-Levitical priests, but more interesting is the idea that the priests are the ones doing all the slaughtering, causing the backlog problem. The New Bible Commentary, for example, notes that it should normally be the worshiper’s job to slaughter the offerings, so the issue shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place (p.392). I’m seeing verses like Ex. 12:3-6, Deut. 16:5-6, and Lev. 1:1-6 in support of this, though I personally found all those verses to be rather ambiguous.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the congregation (specifically many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun) had failed to properly cleanse themselves, yet ate the Passover offerings anyway. Hezekiah addressed them in prayer, saying that God pardons all who seek them out, even if they aren’t doing it by the rules – sort of an Old Timey equivalent of “it’s the thought that counts” – a sentiment that quite surprised me but, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense in the post-exilic context, when the Chronicler must be absolutely frantic about just  getting the Israelites back “to the old ways,” even if they aren’t quite perfect about it.

Also worthy of note is, as Victor Matthews points out in Manners  Customs of the Bible, the way in which the king’s involvement in cultic practices has been diminishing as we make our way down the line:

While David was credited with establishing the temple priesthood (1 Chr 15:1-24), and Solomon was recognized as significantly reorganizing it (1 Kgs 2:35), the Levitical priesthood eventually disputed the idea of the king as both political and religious leader. Over time, the Levites gained more complete control of the sacrificial rituals; and the king, while still an advocate for the people with God, took a secondary role. For example, whereas Solomon functions in a priestly role by offering sacrifices, prayers, and blessings at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8), generations later, Hezekiah offers only a brief prayer on behalf of the people, as the priests and Levites offer sacrifices during the reinstatement of the Passover (2 Chr 30:13-27). (p.130)

Still, Hezekiah’s prayer is seen as pivotal, and it is when God hears it that he heals the people (though, of course, it’s unclear what is actually meant by that – were there miraculous physical healings, or were the people spiritually healed?).

The feast of the unleavened bread lasted for seven days. At the end of this time, the people rushed out into all the cities of Judah and broke up the pillars, Asherim, high places, and altars they could find in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, destroying them all before heading home.

Administration

The Passover over, Hezekiah turns his attention to appointing the divisions of the priests and Levites. The priests may have been taking control over the religious side of ancient Israelite life, but it’s clear that there was still a strong interplay between the secular and religious powers.

Hezekiah also provided the priests with regular offerings to make, and commanded the people living in Jerusalem to give the priests the portions they were due, “that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:4) – which I interpreted to mean that the people of Jerusalem are to support the Temple so that the priests can focus their energies on God, rather than on subsistence.

It’s interesting that Hezekiah only tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to give to the priests, whereas elsewhere the rules have been universal.

In any case, the people of Israel give abundantly anyway. So abundantly that special chambers had to be prepared in the Temple to store it all, and the person in charge of these donations was Conaniah the Levite (with his brother, Shimei, as his second-in-command). Conaniah was also assisted by Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who had all been appointed by Hezekiah and the Temple’s chief officer, Azariah.

Kore son of Imnah, a Levite, was keeper of the east gate and was in charge of freewill offerings, as well as apportioning the contribution reserved for God. He was assisted by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, who distributed the donations out to the priests in their cities, according to their divisions.

2 Kings 18-19: God Versus Assyria

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It seems that despite Hoshea’s removal from power and the destruction of Israel as a nation, Hoshea’s son Elah managed to succeed his father. It seems that the political situation in Israel/Samaria is a little more complex than the text has so far indicated.

The narrative turns back toward Judah where, in the third year of Israel’s Elah, Hezekiah came to power. He was 25 years old when he took the crown, and ruled for a total of 29 years. When compared to 2 Kings 16:2 and run a little math, we find that Jezekiah must have been born when his father, Ahaz, was only 11 years old. Hezekiah’s mother was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah.

Hezekiah gets, by far, the best review of all the kings we’ve seen so far (including David since, despite our current author’s nostalgic view, he did not get such a great review while he was the star of the story). God just adored Jezekiah.

What did he do to merit such credit? He finally destroyed those pesky high places, broke pillars, and cut down the Asherah. He also broke Moses’ bronze serpent (made in Numbers 21:6-9) because people had been burning incense to it and calling it Nehushtan.

The position of our author seems rather clear: that the object belonged to Moses and was later worshipped as a symbol (or perhaps an actual deity) in itself. This is rather interesting given that the serpent appears to have been one of the symbols of Baal, and likely a part of the pre-Israelite Canaanite religion. So it seems that this pre-Israelite symbol survived the evolution of the YHWH cult, its pagan associations erased as it is given a compatible origin story, up until this point. Suggesting that perhaps its non-Israelite origins were still known at this point in our narrative, despite the co-existing association to Moses.

He also rebelled against Assyria, and killed many Philistines.

Assyria Ascending

There is a brief nod to the events in Israel, mostly repeating 2 Kings 17:5-6. In the fourth year of Hezekiah and the seventh year of Hoshea, Shalmaneser besieged Samaria, taking it three years later. The Israelites were deported because they had failed to obey God.

This seems to have been included to serve as a contrast as we begin the narrative of Assyria’s attack on Judah, juxtaposing the non-god-fearing Israelites to the (now) god-fearing Judahites under Hezekiah’s leadership.

A decade later, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, Assyria comes after Judah. This time, however, it is led by King Sennacherib. The Assyrians seem to have made quite a bit of headway through Judah, conquering “all fortified cities of Judah” (2 Kgs 18:13) – Jerusalem is not explicitly excluded from this description. Hezekiah tells Sennacherib to withdraw, to which Sennacherib responds with a price: 300 talents of silver and 300 talents of gold.

Despite his big talk, Hezekiah is willing to pay, though it means stripping the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple.

Incidentally, it seems that Sennacherib’s own records confirm this interaction (at least in its broad strokes): “He [Sennacherib] claims to have laid siege to 46 walled cities and many villages, to have taken 200,150 people, and to have shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem ‘as a bird in a cage’. His figure, ‘300 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, plus many other items’, is in close agreement” (New Bible Commentary, p.362).

From here, the narrative dives straight into what appears to be a description of an active siege on Jerusalem (which, spoilers, ends with Assyria’s retreat). Given that the rest of this narrative is unnecessary if Hezekiah successfully met Sennacherib’s demands, it has been argued that there are actually two conflict events being described: One in which Assyria is paid off, and one in which they are forced to abandon their campaign for reasons that we will discuss later on. There doesn’t appear to be any direct evidence for this “two campaign” theory, but the narrative hardly makes sense otherwise.

My personal feeling here is that Hezekiah paid tribute to Assyria after the initial show of force, but perhaps refused to pay a later tribute, much as Hoshea did in 2 Kings 17. As in Israel’s case, this would have led to Assyria’s retaliation.

Proceeding with this assumption, I will discuss the remainder of the narrative as though it refers to a separate incident.

Assyria’s Return

Assyria’s army is encamped at Lachish (as it was in 2 Kings 18:14, during the “first invasion”). They send three representatives to Jerusalem, here identified as the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh (according to the New Bible Commentary, these are the Akkadian terms for ‘second in command,’ a high military official, and probably a civil official, respectively, p.363). From this point onward, the titles are used as if they were given names.

King Hezekiah, artist unknown, 17th cent, located in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden

King Hezekiah, artist unknown, 17th cent, located in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden

The representatives call out for Hezekiah, but Judah’s king sends three representatives of his own instead: Eliakim son of Hilkiah (who is described as being “over the household,” which I took to mean he was the steward), Shebnah (the secretary), and Joah son of Asaph (the recorder).

The Rabshakeh seems to assume that Judah is relying on Egypt to protect them (again, this is very reminiscent of Hoshea’s rebellion in 2 Kings 17:4). He then asks if Judah would rely on their god when Hezekiah himself has been destroying so many of God’s shrines? It’s hard to determine if this is meant to be a joke about Assyria’s lack of understanding of the Hebrew religion, or if it’s further evidence that the local shrines were very much still an important part of the folk religion. Likely a bit of both.

The Rabshakeh ends with a baiting wager: Assyria will give Judah 2,000 horses if they can produce enough riders for them. The intention of this bait is made clear as Rabshakeh asks how Judah expects to fight off Assyria’s captains when they rely on Egypt for their chariots and cavalry?

These interactions certainly indicate that there was far more to Judah and Israel’s relationship with Egypt than we see explained in our text.

Rabshakeh’s final insult reads more like editorializing, as he declares that it is on behalf of Judah’s own God that they have come – reiterating the punitive nature of Judah’s troubles. It seems unlikely that the Assyrian would have taken this position.

Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah ask Rabshakeh to speak to them in Aramaic rather than “the language of Judah,” so that the people on the walls – who are apparently within earshot – would not understand. Rabshakeh refuses, saying that his master has sent him to speak to them all, as they are all doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine. He does seem like a lovely fellow, no? In any case, this seems like a refusal to acknowledge Hezekiah’s representatives as a special diplomatic class. Rabshakeh is addressing Judah as a whole, he is not there to negotiate.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

There appear to be two separate versions of what happens next:

In the first, Rabshakeh calls out loudly in the language of Judah, telling the Judahites not to be deceived by Hezekiah’s claims that God can save them from Assyria. Assyria has defeated all other gods, and it would be better for the people of Judah to simply surrender now. The words have little effect, however, as the people keep their silence as per Hezekiah’s orders.

Hezekiah rends his clothes and wears sackcloth, and goes into the temple. He also sends Eliakim, Shebna, and the senior priests – all also wearing sackcloth – to seem the prophet Isaiah (yes, that one) to ask him to encourage God to defend his honour after he has been insulted by the Assyrians.

Isaiah reassures Hezekiah’s representatives that they need not fear the Assyrians because God “will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:7).

In the second version, we get a strange detail of Rabshekah hearing that his king has left Lachish to fight against Libnah. When the Assyrian king hears about Tirhakah, the king of Ethiopia, he sends messengers to Hezekiah warning him not to think that God will be able to preserve Judah when all other gods have fallen before Assyria. (The threat is clearly the same one Rabshekah gave earlier).

There’s no explanation of why Sennacherib is fighting Libnah, or what any of this has to do with Tirhakah. It’s all made even more confusing by the fact that, according to my study Bible, Tirhakah was not even the king of Egypt yet (though he was apparently a general first, and that this could be a reference to him in that position instead).

Hezekiah brings the letters to the temple and prays that God would pay attention to Judah’s plight: “Incline thy ear, O Lord, and hear; open thy eyes, O Lord, and see” (2 Kings 19:16). He acknowledges that the Assyrians have defeated the local gods of every other nation they have conquered, but those, insists Hezekiah, were man-made gods, made of wood and stone. They were not like YHWH.

Enter Isaiah, who confirms that God has heard Hezekiah’s prayer. What follows is a lengthy poem that I found rather inaccessible. However, there is a bit about how current events were long planned as a punishment. God ends by giving a sign: The Judahites will eat only what grows of itself this year and the next, but will resume farming in the third year. Those who survive will then “again take root downward, and bear fruit upward” (2 Kings 19:30). This seems to indicate that perhaps there will not be the security to farm, due to attacks and raids, over the next two years.

However, says God via Isaiah, the King of Assyria will never enter Jerusalem, nor shoot arrows into it, nor lay siege to it. Instead, he will be routed because God protects Jerusalem for David’s sake. According to the New Bible Commentary, this part of the prophecy is in conflict with Sennacherib’s own version of the campaign. In it, he mentions a rampart, which would indicate a siege (p.363).

That night, the angel of the lord killed 185,000 people in the Assyrian camp, so that the rest of the soldiers woke in the morning to find the bodies. Because of this, Sennacherib retreated back to Nineveh. At some point after that (the text implies a connection, though it seems that many years had passed), Sennacherib was worshipping in the temple of Nisroch when two of his sons, Adramelech and Sharezer, murdered him and escaped to Ararat. A third son, Esarhaddon, then took the crown.

Brant Clements notes that the Assyrian records make no mention of the loss of 185,000 soldiers, though of course this isn’t exactly proof that it didn’t happen.

However, it is clear that something caused the Assyrians to turn back from Jerusalem. Some interpreters, trusting in the biblical account of the mysterious deaths, suggest a plague in the Assyrian camp. Others point to Sennacherib’s troubled end, suggesting that civil unrest at home forced him to abandon the campaign. Certain among the faithful credit God – as does the text. These aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive explanations.

Eden Cup

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Genesis-3-soccer-translation

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

People just don’t appreciate fruit anymore

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Klondike Bar

(h/t: Cheezburger)

Rules, rules rules…

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SMBC_Eden

(From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. If you aren’t already following the comic, you really ought.)

More on Eden

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I’ve been mulling over the last chapter and have found myself engaged in a little thought-experiment. In the study of literature, we have the term hortus conclusus, meaning a walled garden. When reading novels, it’s one of those symbols that gets used again and again, so it’s something that I generally try to keep an eye out for.

In a general, non-gendered context, a walled garden is a safe place. It generally appears when there is a break in the action of a story, when things are calm and peaceful, either prior to the start of the conflict or as a respite (The Picture of Dorian Grey begins in a garden, reflecting the safeguarded purity of the titular character). In some instances, it can be a symbol of power – a garden is the human immitation of nature. Our ability to keep a garden, separating it from the weeds and thorns of the wilds, displays our power over nature (in Robinson Crusoe, one of the things that the main character does is cultivate a proper English garden on the island).

From a gendered perspective, and perhaps somewhat because of its association with the Virgin Mary, the walled garden is to woman what a cage is to birds. If women are associated with nature, the walled garden is nature that has been captured, cultivated, and arranged for aesthetic pleasure.

The image of the garden is quite a common theme in mythology. In The World of Myth, David Leeming groups the garden, the grove, and the cave together as sacred places associated with the archetypal Mother Goddess. They are the ordered universe amidst the chaos, the place of birth (whether physical birth or enlightment). Interestingly, he notes that the garden is often described as having a special tree in its centre, which symbolises the union of the male and the female (confused? It’s ’cause trees kinda look like penises!). Note that Eve, in telling the serpent what God had commanded regarding the tree, says “you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3).

I find it interesting to look at the whole Eden episode in terms of gender. Certainly, through the whole Fall passage, Adam is a passive ragdoll who is given (Gen. 3:6) the fruit and then gets punished (Gen. 3:17-19). Other than being a tattle-tale, he doesn’t really do anything. Eve is the principle actor – so I find it interesting that she is acting in a garden (woman) in relation to a serpent and a tree (man – both look like penises). Her punishment is that she is separated from the garden (Leeming’s Mother Goddess stand-in). In other words, her “fall” separates her from archetypal woman-ness.

I’m definitely reaching here, but perhaps Eve’s crime was actually the touching of penises – the communion with a penis other than her husband’s (the serpent) and then the taking for herself of a third penis (the tree). Is her crime, symbolically, that she was expressing sexual power? It puts a suspicious perspective on her punishments, which all have to do with sex and reproduction. Following this line, woman becomes understood only in terms of sex; her moral alignment is measured by her level of sexual submission.

Genesis 3: The Fall

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When we left Adam and his wife (so far still named “woman”), they had just met and, determining that she made a better companion than cattle, beasts of the field, and birds of the air, Adam decided to tie the knot. The scene closed with the two of them naked and unashamed. In Chapter 3, we get to find out why Adam starts to think that maybe he should have made do with the cattle…

Paradise by Hieronymus Bosch c.1485-1490

Paradise by Hieronymus Bosch c.1485-1490

We jump right into the action with the serpent, who is “more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). It may seem trivial to note, but it’s explicit here that God created the serpent – presumably in nature as well as in form. It’s been pointed out many times, but it bears repeating that God created two people who cannot yet tell right from wrong, who have no idea what death (or anything less than an Edenic existence is like), then gave them a tree and told them that they can’t eat from it on pain of death (once more, these two people have no concept of what that is), and then unleashed a “subtle” trickster into their environment. How can Adam and Eve, who at this point are little more than moral infants, be held responsible for anything that follows as a result of these conditions?

Moving on…

The Temptation

In a story that shows some resemblance to the Sumerian tale of Inanna and the Huluppu tree, the serpent begins by asking Eve if God has said anything about not eating from trees. Eve, who was not alive yet when God gave his commandment, is able to spout it off nearly verbatim, including the warning that “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17). No, says the serpent. “You will not die” (Gen. 3:4). In fact, he goes on, God only said that because he “knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).*

I want to draw attention to the fact that it’s God who is shown to be the liar here, not the serpent. When Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they do not die (not that day, nor the day after, nor the day after that). Just as the serpent tells them, they live and they acquire knowledge of good and evil. Furthermore, the serpent’s explanations for God’s motive is not all that far-fetched – God lied to them because he doesn’t want them to be his equals.

On my other blog, I recently wrote a post about the emphasis in certain religious sects on parental authority, and the dom/sub relationship between parents and children. And here I am, reading about a situation that looks eerily familiar. God is that parent, the one who wants submissive, well-behaved, ignorant children who never question his authority. He does not want children who are capable adults, who are able to reach moral conclusions on their own without being given explicit instruction from their parent. He doesn’t want children who grow up.

But Eve does what I wish all children from such families would do – she refuses to go along with an expectation of blind obedience and she grows up. Better than that, she takes her poor docile sibling/husband Adam along with her. It’s hard to see her as anything but a hero!

Reasons

Eve gives three reasons for eating the fruit (Gen. 3:6):

  • It’s “good for food” – Yum yum!
  • It’s “a delight to the eyes;”
  • And, it’s “to be desired to make one wise.”

It’s hard to see what humanity’s great crime, our “original sin,” is. Was it just disobedience, the placing of a toy near an infant for the purpose of tempting them so that a lesson can be taught (as the Pearls advise in To Train Up A Child)? Was the sin to aspire to be more like God (even though we were supposedly created in his image, as we read back in Chapter 1)? Or was it the pursuit of wisdom and moral knowledge?

And I must state again that, whatever humanity’s sin, it was committed prior to our having any capability of moral reasoning. It makes the whole idea of punishing humans reprehensible! In our society, we understand that a person cannot be held responsible for crimes unless they knew they were doing something wrong – that’s why our justice system includes protection for minors and the mentally disabled.

We’re Naked?!

Now that Adam and Eve have tasted the fruit, they realize that they are naked at suddenly feel ashamed, so they sew aprons for themselves out of fig leaves. But then they hear God walking around in the garden and hid themselves.

“Where are you?” calls out God to the man (Gen. 3:9). God, apparently, hasn’t yet developed omnipotence.

Adam, the eternal tattle-tale, immediately fesses up that he and Eve were hiding because they didn’t want God to see them naked.

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” asks God (Gen. 3:11). Once again, God does not know what’s happened (and he might never have found out if it weren’t for Blabbermouth Adam).

Adam, being a gentleman, immediately squeals on his sister/wife. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3: 12). To be fair to Adam, Eve then promptly squeals on the serpent. Apparently, having knowledge of good and evil doesn’t necessarily mean that one takes responsibility for one’s own actions.

In Which Punishments Are Dolled

The next long bit is a list of punishments that God gives out to the various parties involved.

  • The serpent is cursed “above” all other cattle and wild animals. “Upon your belly you shall go” (Gen. 3:14). Not really a punishment for a snake…
  • The second part of the serpent’s curse is that he will be in “enmity” with humans, so that “he shall bruise your head,/and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). I’ll have to let Ray know about this…
  • For the woman, God will “greatly multiply your pain in childbearing” (Gen. 3:16). Conscious as always of reading too much into the wording of a translation, the use of the word “multiply” seems to suggest that woman would have had pain in childbearing even in Eden, and it’s only getting increased because of the fall. This puts an interesting perspective on God’s creative direction.
  • Woman’s second curse is that “in pain you shall bring forth children,/yet your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16). In other words, women won’t be able to stop having sex with men, even knowing the consequences. Also, ancient Hebrew men seem to be flattering themselves.
  • And the third part of woman’s curse is that her husband “shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Not much of a difference there. Adam got to name woman, displaying his ownership, and she was created as his helper rather than his equal. So where’s the change?
  • Adam is punished “because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (Gen. 3:17). I would like to see Christian feminists try to explain this one away.
  • Serpents and women are cursed because of their part, but when it comes to Adam – “cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). Men are just too special. They may have to suffer the consequences of the earth now being cursed, but they themselves are not cursed for their actions even though their part was just as grievous as that of the woman and the serpent.
  • In any case, the cursed ground means that earth will bring forth “thorns and thistles” and having food to eat will now require “toil” (Gen. 3:17).
  • Adam’s final punishment is that he gets to eat bread “till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:19). The punishment here is a bit ambiguous since this is directed towards Adam and not towards Eve. Since women also “return to the ground,” the only possibility I can see is that Adam is glucose intolerant and the actual punishment here is that he’s got to eat bread. Could have been made clearer, especially since we’ve had a couple millennia of terribly mistaken theologians thinking that the punishment is the mortality portion, but at least we know the real answer now. Better late than never!

Only now does the woman finally get a name – not content with having displayed his ownership by naming her once, Adam now does so again by naming her Eve (Gen. 3:20).

Sent Forth

“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22).

God makes some clothes for Adam and his wife to wear, and then, “lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (Gen. 3:22), God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden.

This lends some support to the idea that humanity’s true sin is becoming too much like God, becoming too powerful, and coming close to being able to address him as an equal. The wisdom that Eve gave to humanity made us God’s intellectual equal and he now fears that we might become his full equal if we achieve immortality. When seen like this, it’s hard to view God in any kind of positive light. He’s the parent who does everything he can to keep his children down, stunting their growth so that he can extend his own personal power trip. This is not the mark of a good father.

In any case, he places the cherubim and a flaming sword to the east of the garden to guard the way to the tree of life.

* * * *

*I’ve heard apologists say that Adam and Eve really did die on that day, in that they ceased to be immortal and began that slow march towards the inevitable. I’m inclined to literalism, and since none of this is actually stated in the text, it’s hard for me to see it as anything other than post hoc excuse making. Maybe they are right, maybe that’s the original intention of the passage, but I see little (other than wishful thinking) to suggest it.

EDIT: James McGrath has an interesting thought-jiggle post about the two trees:

This one highlights the fact that young-earth creationists say there was no death in God’s original creation, prior to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Yet there was supposedly a tree of life eating from which would allow humans to live forever. And there was no need for such a tree in a world in which death did not exist.

Genesis 2: Creation Continued

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Thus the heavens and the earth were finished. (Gen. 2:1)

Garden of Eden by Jacob de Backer

Garden of Eden by Jacob de Backer

Last week, we read about the first six days of creation and how God created the various attributes of the world during those days (I’m sure he fit the rest of the universe in somewhere, probably after tea time on Day 4 or something). Today, we open with God resting. And resting. And resting. He pauses for a moment to bless the day on which he gets to rest (perfectly understandable – I do the same). Then he goes back to resting. And resting. Oh ancient Hebrew poetry – why must you be so repetitive?

But then we shift gears a bit and we get into a second creation story!

Genesis 2 Creation

This version is a little different. For one thing, the daily breakdown motif is completely removed. While the narrative flow is far more pleasant, this version may prove problematic for the Christian reader  it directly contradicts the Genesis 1 story right from the first verse.

We are told specifically that, before there are any plants or herbs, God causes a mist or flood to rise from the earth to water “the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). He then creates man out of dust and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). So we go from man being created last to man being created first (in both cases, this creation takes place on a pre-existing world that God is merely shaping to his preferences).

So while Adam is standing around on completely barren ground, God created all the trees that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). All other trees need not apply. Only the Gen 2 story refers to the creation as a “garden.” This garden is a heavenly paradise, and the name “Eden” means “delight.”

Note: Some apologists will claim that the Gen 2 creation account really is the story of the creation of the garden, and not of the rest of the world (which is what is described in Gen 1). In other words, Gen 2 is a flashback to describe how humans are created on Day 6. This is not the scholarly consensus (which instead believes that we have two religious traditions that have been collected into a single book), but it is a common apologetic view.

Features of the Garden

In addition to all the other pleasing and tasty trees, God also creates the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The former is believed to confer eternal life while the latter confers wisdom.

We are also told in Gen. 2:10-14 that God creates a nameless river that flows out of Eden (“to water the garden”), and then splits into four rivers: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. These four rivers each flow into the various lands that were known to the ancient Hebrews. Someone reading this passage from Ottawa, ON (for example) may be confused as to the Biblical source for our Rideau river. Perhaps God gets to that later on so that the descendants of Adam and Eve have somewhere to conquer when they get bored of just hanging around in the Old World.

Adam was apparently created to be God’s landscaper. Like many landscapers today, Adam isn’t even offered minimum wage, but is instead allowed to “freely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16). There’s an exception, of course. Adam is not allowed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17).

Adam’s Helper

God then realizes that Adam is looking pretty lonely, so he decides to “make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). What kind of helper is he going to make? Well, he tries beasts, birds, and cattle and brings them to Adam to name (which expresses Adam’s dominion over them – the knowing of the name being equivalent to the controlling of the named is a classic theme in mythology, consider the story of Rumpelstiltskin).

But none of these animals are good enough for Adam. Out of all of them, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:20). Adam apparently isn’t into the kind of kinky stuff God is trying to push on him.

So God gives up with the whole bestiality thing and instead “caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man” (Gen. 2:21). While Adam is sleeping, God takes one of his ribs and uses it to create a woman, whom he presents to Adam. Adam then promptly names her “Woman,” forever asserting men’s dominion over women.

So as Genesis 2 draws to a close, we are left with a note that Adam and “the woman” are both naked and “were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

EDIT: I was skimming through David Leeming’s anthology The World of Myth, and he notes that the story told in Genesis 2 is probably quite a bit older than the Genesis 1 story. The dates he gives are “probably as late as the fifth century B.C.E.” for Genesis 1, and “a much earlier text, perhaps as early as 950 B.C.E.” for Genesis 2.