Naturally, I have read and heard Genesis on countless occasions, and indeed am making a very thorough study of this book (as part of my studies) this term. When I was hearing of some of the Kass treatment, I had an odd thought. In the first creation account in Genesis, Adam is rather like a small child - silent, and totally innocent - where, in the second, he and Eve have the knowledge of good and evil. I'm sure all Christians have learnt to dwell on 'the fall' (and redemption through the cross, millennia later) since childhood. Yet it struck me that humanity would not have had much of a life had we remained as Adam was in the first account - we may as well have spent our lives in carry cots! Yes, felix culpa! :) (Forgive me - I am aware that Judaism does not have a concept of the 'fall' in the way that Christians do.) Knowledge of good and evil (for both are part of this life) is what is involved in maturity, discretion, the use of reason and will that allows us to respond to God, and to love one another.
Augustine, who perhaps was the most prolific theologian (in history, but especially about the fall), always was pining for Eden, and the use of reason and will, the intuitive inclination to embrace the divine, which we would have had without falling from grace. But what capacity would there be for wisdom, love, discretion, and so forth without mature knowledge?
Some time soon, I just may expand my site to include not only the mediaeval but other reflections - and, when I do so, I'm fairly certain there will be some essays on the Pentateuch, because this Christian is shouting "Eureka!" at many points in her study of the Jewish commentaries on Torah. For today, I wanted to share a few of the notes I scribbled as I was engrossed in Ellen von Wolde's "Stories of the Beginning."
Ellen van Wolde underlines what is fundamental in the Hebrew scriptures: The key is not how humans deal with God, but how God deals with humanity. The speaking and acting God, not the human perspective, is central in Genesis.
- Humans alone are made (not after their own kind, but) "in our image." The human point of reference, therefore, is God, not themselves. We are "as" in God’s image – but God has no image. The passages offer no concrete information about God.
- Hebrew Tselemen – Image: This term is never used for a concrete, visual representation, but for Sign. (As the ark is the symbol for Yahweh’s footstool on earth.)
- Genesis 1 – the transcendence of God is evident. The only continuity between God and creation is God’s Word and the emerging creation: these point to God.
- Human is created to be God’s image in a world where the transcendent creator cannot be present.
- Unlike beliefs of the neighbouring religions of the ancient Near East – God is not present in nature, or a nature god. Nor are humans created to serve gods, but to make God present in creation.
How about just a little more?
Genesis 2-3 is "a garden story with a distinctive framework. Its centre is the relationship of humans and the earth. It is beneficial for the earth, not for man, to be expelled from the garden."
- Tree of the knowledge of good and evil: Yada (knowledge) is based on experience. Good and bad are not ethical designations, but two poles of a totality of such knowledge.
- "Knowledge of good and bad (of everything) indicates a general capacity for discernment." The term is used in that sense in II Samuel 19:36, Deuteronomy 1:39, and in writings from Qumran.
- Adam and Eve "know that they are naked," that is, come to years of discretion.
- Ancient Near Eastern belief was that a snake (shedding its skin) symbolises a life that constantly renews itself.
- As a creation story in the Hebrew tradition – Nakedness and clothing are climactic, showing the beginning of culture.
Quite wonderful, is it not? Between reading this excellent work, and then James Alison's works on 'original sin through Easter eyes,' I think I'll be forgiven for just one tiny bit of covetousness - I should like to have just three or four insights of this quality before I'm laid to rest.