In the last few years I’m finding out how much I really do enjoy the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible, that’s what Christians call the “Old Testament.” Testament is a Latin word meaning covenant, so the Hebrew Bible is the “old” covenant Yahweh made with the Jews. That covenant, of course, being abrogated by the “new” covenant; i.e., the one that Jesus brought to humanity with his life, message and ultimately his death, called by Christians the New Testament. Of course, an open-minded, scrupulously conducted, reading of the New Testament (NT) clearly reveals quite the opposite: Jesus brought no such message. There are, as I like to call them, some very unfortunate quotes from Jesus’ very lips that refute this claim in the NT. “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here today who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:27) seems fairly straightforward to me. Of course, with religion we can always come up with an alternative explanation that supports whatever position it is you’re looking to advance.
However, that being what it is, I’d like to review some of my favorite passages and events from the Hebrew Bible, some quite tantalizing. For instance, there are some very interesting events that occur during the Creation story in Genesis which I believe warrant further scrutiny. One of my very favorites concerns the creation of man. In a most peculiar verse, Yahweh (actually “EL” in this case since the passage is from the “E” author of the Torah) announces, seemingly to no one since there shouldn’t have been anyone else with him:
Genesis 26 “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Excerpt From NIV, Holy Bible, Red Letter Edition Zondervan) So the obvious question is “To whom is Yahweh speaking?” Are we to believe that, after billions of years (or, more to keeping with the myth, thousands of years,) of life alone, Yahweh (YHWH) is simply talking to himself? And even more curiously, in the first person plural? Who is “us?” Seems very unlikely that the god of Israel spent his time wandering around the universe talking to himself in such a way.
However, delving into the archeological record of the ancient “Holy Land” (way before it was known as such) a little further – say 500 to 1000 years or so – and new, lesser-known events present themselves as possible answers to YHWH’s enigmatic words. YHWH, as it turns out, was the god of Canaan long before he ever heard of Abram/Abraham. And he wasn’t alone; there were many lesser gods and goddesses not the least of which was his consort, Asherah. Could these be the entities to whom YHWH was speaking while he created man? It seems likely since, according to Genesis, there simply wasn’t anyone else there to witness creation. One may assert that YHWH was speaking to the animals “Dr. Doolittle-style” however that doesn’ explain the “let us make them in our own image” phrasing. What other explanation can there be for this seemingly cryptic phraseology? But let’s delve further into this most mysterious chapter.
For now we’ll overlook the “doublets,” or the secondary story of the creation of man and woman however I highly recommend their study and further inquiry. My favorite on this topic is Richard Elliott Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” Published by Summit Books, New York. Friedman’s translation of the Hebrew Bible is nothing short of groundbreaking and I am thankful to have had it to reference. Furthermore you will learn that the real story of the writing of the Hebrew Bible is even more incredible than one could ever imagine, even if Moses had somehow written it himself! It is simply too much to take on at this moment however I will turn our attention to it at sometime in the near future as it is, I believe, something everyone should understand as it puts much of the mystery of the Bible into a more human dimension.
For now, I’d like to go back to the story of creation and where we left off. YHWH was talking to “something” (“someone?”) and, as it turns out, this dialogue continues in the creation story. However, something even more curious happens: Adam and Eve meet the serpent.
It seems YHWH took “the human,” (singular) into the Garden of Eden to “work it and watch over it” and, at some point, decides that adam, which, in this case refers to “human,” not to gender, since there was no other gender at this time, (the word man was not used until after the creation of Eve thus, according to Friedman, it may have some connection to this monotheistic “male” aspect of the Hebrew god. Much more on this to come in later posts.) At this point, YHWH instructs the human not to eat of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad” under any circumstances or “you’ll die!” Here we enter one of the most mysterious and enigmatic chapters of the creation story: the introduction of the most humanistic of all features of the god of Israel.
As with most people (who’ve read the Bible that is,) I’ve read this story a hundred times and it never occurred to me to be one of the most incredible passages of the book had just passed before my eyes without my recognizing it. But I diverge…..
At this point something quite inconceivable occurs; the snake engages the new couple in the garden. “Has God indeed said you may not eat from any tree of the garden?” To which Eve responds “We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden. But from the fruit of the tree that is within the garden God has said, “You shall not eat from it, and you shall not touch it, or else you will die.” As a parent, this seems pretty clear to me: we can eat from the trees of the garden however from the tree (singular) that is within the garden, we can’t even touch it, or we’re goners. Got it.
But that isn’t how this story turns out, is it? No. It isn’t. As it turns out, it’s the snake that informs both newly formed humans (who, apparently, were formulated in adult form, amazingly, but we’ll let that go for now) the “real” story. The snake says to Eve “You won’t die! Because God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God – knowing good and bad!” No, in fact, as it turns out, after they inevitably eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, something quite different happens. First, of course, Eve shares it with “her man with her as well and he ate.” So the entire time Adam was right there with Eve listening to the snake and hearing his explanation and going right along with her but somehow Eve takes the brunt of the fall for their joint actions and Adam walks. Gee, go figure.
Here it starts to get really weird, especially for an omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful god. The newlyweds hear YHWH “walking in the garden in the winds of the day” and what do they do? They hide. One might think this most unusual; hiding from the all-knowing god of the universe however Adam and Eve decide to give it a go and they almost pull it off. Believe it or not, YHWH calls out or them (or, more accurately, to “him,” since, for some reason, YHWH doesn’t even think to call out to both of them or to Eve, but only Adam. Again, go figure.) Most curiously YHWH calls out to him: “Where are you?” Hmm. Interesting. YHWH calls out to him “Where are you?” It seems that YHWH, the all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent deity can’t figure out where his newest creation is. I can’t tell you how many times I read this as a young adult before I recognized the unusual nature of this passage. And it goes on as Adam admits that he heard YHWH’s sound in the garden and “was afraid because he was naked, and I hid.” (Gen 3:10) To which YHWH inexplicably replies “Who told you that you were naked?” Again, YHWH seemingly does not know from whom or how his newest creations found out they were naked. He continues to query them and ultimately discovers that Eve offered the fruit to Adam after being told by the snake that they will not die, as YHWH had claimed after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
So, interestingly, it is YHWH that is actually lying to Adam and Eve and it is the snake that tells them the truth: they will not die from eating the fruit, they will actually become “like us,” as YHWH states earlier to the unknown audience he apparently has with him in the garden and again, YHWH returns to his soliloquy thus: “Here, the human has become like one of us, to know good and bad. And now, in case he’ll put out his hand and take from the tree of life as well, and eat and live forever;” And YHWH God put him out of the garden of Eden, to work the ground from which he was taken.” (Gen 3:22-23) Oddly, YHWH seems only to direct his anger at Adam, he never really includes Eve (she/her) in his dialogue or punishment, though she is eventually punished with painful childbirth and domination be her man, Adam. But the point remains that YHWH seems to be talking to some other witness or witnesses to these events in real time. Who are these witnesses?
[More to come….stay tuned!]