Who knew?

July 11, 2010

Banished from the eternal play-place that is the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did the only conceivable thing two humans in their predicament would do to entertain themselves: sex. Wow, the first thing to result from the fall of mankind is recreational copulation. I hear being the last man on Earth doesn’t guarantee any purchase in your sex life, but apparently being the first man has its perks. To be honest, I can’t say Adam and Eve just hooked up out of boredom, but it makes more sense considering the last thing I’d want after being banished to a foreign land is a kid or two. Unfortunately, the Bible isn’t even as descriptive as I am in telling of the carnal escapades of Adam and Eve.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” (Gen 4:1)

This is a potent time in the history of mankind. Apparently just knowing someone can get you pregnant. Fortunately that’s not the case now. I’ve known a lot of women in my life but I guess I never really knew them…

Adam and Eve learn a little bit about each other and the result is two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain, the oldest, is a farmer while Abel raises sheep.

“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock…” (Gen 4:3-4)

Several aspects of this passage drew my attention. The relationship between Cain, Abel and God seems very primitive. Offerings to a god or gods have always been portrayed by history and the media as the acts of a savage culture. Although I have never heard such a portrayal from a religious representative, I feel their sentiments would be similar in regards to offerings to deities. Also, no special mention is given to the fact that the sons of Adam and Eve are giving offerings to the God that banished their parents. If, back in the time of Genesis, kids were brought up in any way like they are now, then Cain and Abel would have heard plenty of rants and raves about God over the dinner table. Eve would try to explain for the “like millionth” time how a snake talked her into things, then Adam would start mumbling his regret at having listened to mom in the first place. Eventually, dad would go on about how they apologized and God just totally over reacted…or something like that. Regardless, coming out of their parent’s house, Cain and Abel probably wouldn’t have the highest esteem for God. Why then do they feel compelled to give God an offering? I surmise, as does Oxford, albeit subtly, that the brothers do it to gain their own acceptance from God. A logical idea if God didn’t take out his anger for Adam and Eve on their kids.

“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry,” (Gen 4:4-5)

No kidding! Of course Cain was very angry. The guy just toiled for a season to give God this offering and He doesn’t even say two words to Cain about it. Oxford pointedly remarks, “[n]o reason is given for the acceptance of Abel’s offering”. I’m glad I’m not the only one to read this passage this way. God gives no reason for his acceptance of Abel’s offering, but it also means there is no reason why God does not accept Cain’s offering. Adding insult to injury, God goes and plays dumb:

“the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?’” (Gen 4:6)

I’ll tell you why his countenance has fallen. You cut him real deep God.

After pretending like He did nothing wrong, God either plays with Cain’s mind or reveals an element of his powerlessness. If we assume God to be the ultimate judgment in the universe then He would be the one to accept or not accept offerings. So by phrasing this fact as a question to Cain, God confuses the poor guy and subtly states Cain didn’t “do well”. Either that or God doesn’t have the power to determine if Cain has done “well”. Whoever does have that power, the Bible gives me no hints.

Jealous and frustrated, Cain lures his brother out into a field where he kills him. When God comes calling after his favorite grandson, Cain doles out an awesome retort:

“’Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Gen 4:9)

I would phrase Cain’s comment as the snide, “It wasn’t my turn to look after him” remark of today’s cynical youth. My mom would call this “giving lip” or “back talking” and who knew it’s practice goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind? Now I haven’t known Cain very long, but I consider him a reasonable man despite being prone to over-reacting from time to time. Cain asks God a question they both know the answer to, just like God did to Cain earlier. The spiteful remark towards God leads me to believe Cain knows He was giving him a load of crock earlier about doing “well”.

As a punishment for Cain’s actions, God puts a curse on Cain and his ability to harvest from the Earth. Cain decides he can’t live a farm-less life and chooses exile in hopes that someone someday will end his torture via death. But God doesn’t want Cain to have the easy escape from his punishment should someone kill him, so He puts a mark on Cain to remind everyone of Cain’s actions. Should anyone kill Cain heedless of the mark, then the punishment on the killer would be “sevenfold” (Gen 4:15).  Seven? Really? Okay, seems like a random number, but I’ll go with it.

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Gen 4:16)

I didn’t mention the following in the previous posts about the creation of man and Adam and Eve, because I didn’t find it that interesting at the time. The Bible says there are four rivers that flow out of Eden, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euprhates. The latter two rivers should sound familiar as the two waterways surrounding the prehistoric Mesopotamia, a land archeologically revered for its abundant natural resources. The ancient area of Mesopotamia has since been replaced by many cities, most recognizable of which is Baghdad, Iraq. Although I don’t know anything about the Gihon and Pishon rivers mentioned in the Bible, I can’t imagine a better place to have the fabled Garden of Eden than Mesopotamia. The water that must have been far more abundant in ancient times would have made the Iraq area a haven in the middle of the desert. If Eden did exist somewhere around Iraq, then I can guess Cain settled near what is today Iran. As an aside, I wonder how deeply Catholic people feel about the potential of Eden being in the Middle East…

“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch;” (Gen 4:17)

Woah. Where did this chick come from? If this is the Bible’s way of being nonchalant, then I am not impressed. I was under the impression Adam, Eve, Cain and the late Abel were the only people on Earth. There has been no mention of extra people having been made and placed on Earth by God unless it has been done in a supremely subtle fashion uncharacteristic of anything I’ve read so far. I think it is only reasonable to expect in the beginning of mankind that the narrative would account for everyone and everything. The very literal appearance of Cain’s wife doesn’t serve to increase my faith in the text. With the woman’s arrival, a pattern begins to emerge in the book; a pattern of shoddy writing that will only lead to more unsupported and unreasonable events down the road. I don’t expect the Bible to iron out every little aspect, but when it comes to the origins of the human race, I expect the argument (if not considered outright “fact”) to be a little more foolproof.

After all, this fool can get through it.

Be you religious or not, odds are you have heard the story of Adam and Eve in some form or another. I know I had heard it many times before reading it for myself. There’s a tree with some fruit that you’re not supposed to eat, Adam and Eve eat said fruit, God gets pissed, Adam and Eve are banished, the end. That is the story I was familiar with and I’m sure many of my peers are familiar with still to this moment. I was delighted to find out that the story in itself has a few more nuances to keep me engaged…if only to question it…

So Man was left alone hanging out with all the creatures on an unpopulated Earth. Since none of the creatures were a good enough fit for man, God decided to create him a “helper”.

“but for the man there was not a helper fit for him…and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman.”(Gen 2:20-22)

I’m sorry ladies but I feel this is the first in a long line of events that are about to unfold where you get the short end of the stick. From the get-go woman was only a helper to man. Some radicals might go as far as to say slave, but fortunately this Bible doesn’t go that far. The most I can gather about this excerpt is, at the moment of female conception, God, and subsequently man, did not consider woman his or His equal. Instead, woman is just a “helper” to man; lower, but still better than the creatures and creeping things.

Soon after the creation of woman we are introduce to the fabled serpent. As far as I can tell from my text, the serpent is never labeled as Satan or a satanic figure. The only information I am given to separate the serpent from the other creatures is that it is “more subtle than any other creature.” (Gen 3:1) The story of Adam and Eve I was always told painted the snake as a definitive embodiment of the devil. I can see how the metaphorical jump can be easily made, but I find it interesting that the devilishness is not explicitly mentioned in the holy text itself.

No special mention is given to the fact the serpent intelligently communicates with the woman. Even taking into account the evolution of cultures over the millennia I feel ancient peoples would still consider talking creatures strange. Nonetheless, the serpent convinces the woman to eat the fruit from the tree of wisdom/good and evil. When she does, she shares with her husband and they get caught by God. What follows is a tri-fecta of curses:

“cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go…all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:14)

I interpret this passage to say the snake becomes the least considered creature of them all. I think it’s interesting God condemns the snake to travel on its stomach as if before the snake did not slither in the way we are most familiar with. I like to think it was a dragon or Trogdor-like creature before its transformation.

“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire will be for you husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)

As suggested in a previous post, Genesis most likely serves to explain why many things in the world are the way they are. God’s curse on the woman explains why childbirth is so painful to women. God seems to suggest that childbirth was no big deal before this fruit conundrum. Now, I have never given birth and I don’t want to challenge God’s judgment, but I can’t imagine a world where passing a cantaloupe wouldn’t be painful.

“And to Adam he said;” (Gen 3:17)

Before I go on to describe the final punishment for mankind, I want to point out that this is the first time a name has been given to the male character. Until this point our characters have just been referred to as the man and the woman, like a deleted scene from “The Road”. Anyway:

“cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life:” (Gen 3:17)

Here the text provides yet another explanation for the reasons behind why things are the way they are. Apparently mankind cannot partake in foliage as a source of food per the damnation that God has put on men and women. I find this punishment clever on behalf of God; you eat His plant and He’ll make it so you can’t eat plants anymore.

The most startling piece of information comes at the conclusion of Adam and Eve’s story when God says:

“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22)

Not only does God again mention the mysterious “us”, but He recognizes man as similar to Himself. God shows a concern that man will also eat from a “tree of life” to become immortal and therefore godly. It was always my impression there was only one tree in the fall of mankind. The word “also” tips me off to the fact there are two trees in this story: one tree of knowledge between good and evil and another tree of life. It seems all people have to do is eat the fruit of said trees to become like God. I can see now why God wouldn’t want people eating his trees. He doesn’t like to share. I can’t help wondering: if God is so awesomely powerful then why did he put the trees in the Garden of Eden in the first place? It couldn’t be to tempt Adam and Eve, because I was under the impression temptation was Satan’s job. Perhaps God is compelled to put the trees there by an even higher power, dare I say. The presence of these questions leads me to wonder if good and evil, morality, and immortality exist outside of God.

Having a tree that bestows the knowledge of good and evil suggests there is a definitive line between the two. If physics has taught me anything it’s that there are few things that can be considered absolute. The story of the fall of man seems to insinuate good and evil are two of those absolutes. Banished from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are forced to make their way in the world outside passing their ill-gotten knowledge on to their descendants. At this time I cannot say that humans still possess this knowledge over good and evil. If humans supposedly had this knowledge, why are there so many debates over ethics and morals today? At the expense of sounding cheesy and emotionally optimistic I will say humans have the knowledge of good and evil if only we can find it in ourselves (what a cuddly thought).

Although Genesis explains why things are the way they are I am upset that humanity has to endure the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions a long time ago. Since when has the actions of one’s ancestors been reason to punish a new generation? So Adam and Eve screwed up. Punish them. If you asked me not to eat your fruit I wouldn’t eat your fruit, even if a snake started talking me into it. Especially if a snake started talking me into it. Perhaps it is my bestowed knowledge between good and evil and right and wrong that allows me to decide not to eat the fruit. Either way I would have appreciated some say in this decision.

At the end of the day, towards Adam and Eve, I am indifferent. Thanks for the knowledge. No thanks for the damnation.