Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Fall

3 Now the serpent
i) The Tempter makes an abrupt appearance, without any preparation. That may be in part because the reader is supposed to pick up clues from other parts of the Pentateuch. That may also be because "snakes" had preexisting cultural connotations which the narrator could trade on. More on both momentarily.
ii) Although the Hebrew word is a common name for snakes, the word also has occultic overtones with pagan divination (Hamilton 1991). That's lost in translation, so the modern reader can be thrown off by the deceptively ordinary sense of the English word.
iii) In the ancient Near East, venomous snakes were objects of fear and veneration. In fact, fear gives rise to veneration. You try to placate what you fear. 
iv) Ophiolatry and ophiomancy were commonplace in the ancient Near East. "Snakes" often stood for numinous entities. The Tempter, with his sinister, preternatural abilities, is clearly associated with the symbolic universe of "snakes" in paganism. 
v) There are Pentateuchal examples of this. Take the confrontation with the Egyptian magicians in Exod 7:8-12. That's a direct affront to Egyptian religion. Pharaoh's crown contained an image of a spitting cobra. That was the royal emblem of an Egyptian snake-goddess. Likewise, the bronze serpent episode (Num 21:8-9) is a polemic against serpentine sympathetic magic (Currid 1997; Currid 2013).
So the Tempter is not an actual reptile, but a personification of a malevolent supernatural agent. The narrator uses serpentine symbolism to evoke familiar occultic connotations. 
vi) Gen 3 doesn't unmask the identity of what lies behind the emblematic serpentine imagery. That awaits further revelation. However, in addition to various "earthlings" like humans and animals, the Pentateuch also refers to angelic "extraterrestrials" (as it were). So there's another class of rational agents. Creatures which, unlike Gen 1-2, aren't composed of earthly elements. Even at this early stage of progressive revelation, it's a short step from the serpentine Tempter to fallen angels.  
vii) The narrative function of the Tempter is explain the origin of suffering and death in human affairs. Since the garden comes direct from God's hand, there's nothing in man's nature or man's environment to explain the downfall of Adam and Eve. Rather, the catalyst must come from an outside agent. From something or someone interjected into the garden. An alien influence.
That, of course, doesn't explain the ultimate origin of evil. It pushes that question back a step. But it's not the purpose of Gen 3 to explain the ultimate origin of evil. Gen 3 is focused on the fate of mankind.
 was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
The Hebrew syntax is ambiguous. Is this including the Tempter in the animal kingdom (comparative construction), or excluding the Tempter from the animal kingdom (partitive construction)? The context must decide. 
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 
Although this is the first time the Tempter has put in an appearance, notice that he's been eavesdropping on conversations between God and Adam in the garden. Invisible surveillance. Biding his time for an opportune moment. 
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
Eve is too unsuspecting to appreciate the danger of conversing with this deceptively innocuous stranger. She allows herself to be drawn into his net. She's no match for his fiendish sophistication. 
 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
A half-truth is more persuasive than a baldfaced lie. 
 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Sin makes them acutely self-conscious. When the devil makes an offer, there's always a catch. What he said was true–in a twisted sense. Consuming the fruit did make them wise–wise like the devil, rather than wise like God. God-like knowledge without God-like virtue. 
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
There's a question as to how to render the Hebrew. This might describe a stormy theophany of judgment: "The the man and his wife heard the thunder of the Lord God going back and forth in the garden in the wind of the storm" (Niehaus 1995; Sailhamer 2008). That would certainly fit the context. 
 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
God poses rhetorical questions to elicit a confession. 
 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
They shift blame. 
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,“Because you have done this,    cursed are you above all livestock    and above all beasts of the field;on your belly you shall go,    and dust you shall eat    all the days of your life.

i) Some Christians take this to mean the "snake" was originally bipedal. Since Exod 4 & 7 describe the metamorphosis of snakes, we can't rule out that interpretation. However, that interpretation makes assumptions about the identity of the "snake." Treating the "snake" as a natural animal. 

In addition, it reduces the curse to an etiological fable. How snakes lost their legs. 

ii) Another interpretation views this as a stock imprecation against venomous snakes (Walton 2001). That involves a contrast between a snake poised to strike, and a snake facedown. For instance, a cobra, with its short, backset fangs, raises itself to a vertical position to strike. Conversely, vipers, with their long retractable fangs, strike from a coiled position.

That interpretation also dovetails with the imagery of the next verse. Snakes usually bite the lower extremities. 

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,    and between your offspring and her offspring;he shall bruise your head,    and you shall bruise his heel.”

i) Once again, the narrator is using serpentine imagery to personify something or (especially) someone else. This is not an etiological fable about the origins of ophiophobia. For one thing, it's not as if venomous snakes are only hazardous to women. So there's no reason women would be singled out if that's what's in view.

ii) Traditional Jewish and Christian interpretation regards Gen 3:15 as a Messianic prophecy. Liberals scholars reject this, both because they deny predictive prophecy, and because they think the "seed" is collective rather than singular. But that's simplistic.

iii) The "seed" is both collective and singular. The oracle is diachronic. It forecasts a history of perennial conflict between two warring parties. Two representative groups. And this will come to a head in a climactic context between two individuals. 

iv) It's a mistake to interpret Gen 3:15 in a vacuum. There's a Messianic seed of promise motif in the Pentateuch (Alexander 2012; Sailhamer 2009). There's also a raging conflict between the people of God and their enemies. Between the faithful and the heathen. Between true believers and idolaters. That threads its way through the entire Pentateuch and beyond. 

v) Some commentators think a "bruised head" is mortal injury whereas a "bruised heel" is an irritant. But in context, the "bruised heel" represents envenomation. And this was long before the age of antivenin. Back then, a venomous snake-bite (unless it was a dry bite) was fatal. Keep Num 21 in mind when you read Gen 3:15. In the symbolism of the passage, these are two well-matched opponents. The outcome could go either way. Christians know how the story ends, but the original audience did not. So it's more suspenseful for them.  

16 To the woman he said,“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;    in pain you shall bring forth children.

i) This translation is somewhat misleading. For one thing, the Hebrew isn't confined to childbirth, but covers the whole period from conception to birth. 

ii) In addition, Scripture frequently uses labor pains metaphorically. To think the curse is mainly about birthpangs reduces it to an etiological fable. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I think this is a lead-in to chap 4. It anticipates the birth of Cain and Abel, the first murder (indeed, fratricide), and Cain's punitive banishment. Due to the fall, pregnancy is now a time of mixed emotions. Hope and apprehension. In a fallen world, you don't know how your kids will turn out. It may end in tragedy. Heartache and heartbreak. Had Adam and Eve stayed faithful, that would not be the case. 

Your desire shall be for your husband,    and he shall rule over you.”

This predicts for domestic strife, as husbands and wives try to domineer each other. We see examples of this play out in the patriarchal narratives. Spouses who undercut each the rather than supporting each other. 

17 And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife    and have eaten of the treeof which I commanded you,    ‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you;    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;    and you shall eat the plants of the field.

Some Christians think this refers to drastic ecological changes. But in context, this looks ahead to the expulsion from Eden. Life was easy in the garden. Conditions outside the garden are far less hospitable. 

19 By the sweat of your face    you shall eat bread,till you return to the ground,    for out of it you were taken;for you are dust,    and to dust you shall return.”

Death marks the reversal of Adam's creation. 

20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
This confirms the fact that Adam and Eve were the first human breeding pair. 
 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
This brief statement is provocative. What's the significance of God's action?
i) It might simply mean that, given their shame, God was putting them at ease. Judgment tempered by grace.
ii) It could be in preparation for the harsher conditions they would face after God banished them from the garden.
iii) The terminology is also used in the Mosaic cultus (e.g. Exod 28:39-41; Lev 7:8; 8:7,13), so it may foreshadow the tabernacle. 
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 
i) In a fallen world, death is both a blessing and a curse. Loss of loved ones and the indignities of old age are a curse. But immortality in a fallen world would also be a curse. That is graphically illustrated by the rest of the Pentateuchal history, with its litany of suffering and depravity. 
ii) Man was created mortal, but with the opportunity to become immortal. However, Adam and Eve took the tree of life for granted. By consuming what was not permitted (the tree of knowledge) rather than consuming what was permitted (the tree of life), they lost both at one stroke. They forfeited immortality for themselves as well as their posterity.
iii) Yet that was God's plan all along. In the long run, a redeemed world is greater than an unfallen world. Indeed, Gen 3:15 already provides a glimpse of better things to come. 
23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
i) The eastern orientation is another link to the tabernacle (Exod 27:13).
ii) The description suggests the garden was enclosed by natural barriers. Perhaps a narrow river valley, like a deep ravine or gorge. By the same token, the river might be subterranean before it surfaced in the garden. There'd only be one way out–downstream. So there'd only be one exit to guard.  
iii) Cherubim seem to be a class of warrior angels. Statuary cherubim symbolically guarded the ark of the covenant. So this is yet another prefiguration of the tabernacle. 
iv) The fiery whirling "sword" conjures up the image of a fire devil. That foreshadows the pillar of fire in the wilderness. 
Alexander, T. D. From Paradise to Promised Land (Baker, 3rd ed., 2012), chap. 9.

Currid, J. Against the Gods (Crossway 2013), chap. 9.

_____, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 1997), chaps. 5 & 8. 

Hamilton, V. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans 1991), 187.

Niehaus, J. God at Sinai (Zondervan 1995), 155-59.

Sailhammer, J. Genesis (Zondervan, rev. ed., 2008), 87-88.

_____, The Meaning of the Pentateuch (Eerdmans 2009), 321-323; 587-590.

Walton, J. Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 224.