Saturday, August 24, 2013

East of Eden

These are the generationsof the heavens and the earth when they were created,in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

i) Some commentators think the chronology of Gen 2 contradicts the chronology of Gen 1. Even if that were the case, it would simply mean the narrator arranges the events in a topical sequence in one or both accounts.
ii) However, Gen 2 doesn't directly track Gen 1. Gen 1 is a global creation account whereas Gen 2 is a local creation account. Gen 1 is more cosmological whereas Gen 2 is more anthropological. Gen 2 takes Gen 1 for granted, but narrows the focus to the divine preparations for man's ancestral homeland. 
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 
Scholars puzzle over the water source in v6, but in context I think we should construe vv5-6 in reference to vv10-14. River water supplies a natural source of irrigation for wild plants bordering a narrow strip along the river banks. What biologists call a riparian zone. 

"Edenic" is  a popular adjective. Many folks have a preconception of paradise. For some, "Edenic" is a tropical island. But what was Eden really like?

Landmarks change over the millennia. Place-names may change, or be forgotten. Rivers may change course, or dry up. 

However, to judge by the text, and what geographical correlations we are able to make at this distance, Eden was not a lush tropical paradise. Rather, it seems to be hot and dry, situated somewhere in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. Vegetation would crowd along the river banks, but quickly thin out from there. 

Or perhaps we should envision a marsh extending from the river banks. Marshy ground is potentially arable, but it requires cultivation. Drainage (Tsumura 1989).

I once lived in the San Luis Rey river valley. It had verdant growth along the river banks, but the surrounding countryside was rocky and dusty, except when it rained. After a heavy rain, barren patches of land would suddenly burst forth with vegetation. I expect Eden was less like a tropical paradise and more like stretches of the Rio Grande river valley. The ancient Jordan river valley supplies a biblical counterpart–as does the Nile river valley (Gen 13:10).

Its situation in a river valley insulates the garden from the vicissitudes of seasonal rainfall, ensuring a measure of stability. It's a good location, but there's room for improvement. It allows the human inhabitants to further cultivate the area beyond the indigenous green zone skirting the river banks. 

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
i) Many scholars regard "Adam" as a pun. The Hebrew word, both as a generic name for mankind as well as a proper name for the first man, puns the Hebrew word for soil. But I don't see how that's a play on words, any more that Leonardo da Vinci's surname puns a town in Tuscany. Yes, his proper-name derives from a place-name, because his birthplace was near the town. It's just a conventional way of connecting him to his place of origin. That's historical. Indeed, my own surname (Hays) is derives from a place-name in Normandy (La Haye-du-Puits). Likewise, the fact that Adam is named after the soil, from which he was constituted, doesn't make his name a pun–as if this is a literary device or etiology with no factual basis. 
ii) Many commentators, including conservatives, consider the depiction of God in Gen 2:7 to be anthropomorphic. No doubt Scripture contains many anthropomorphic depictions of God. But is 2:7 anthropomorphic? For one thing, if God actually made Adam and Eve by an act of special creation, how else would the narrator express that idea except by using idiomatic verbs normally employed in human manufacture? That’s the vocabulary he has at his disposal.

In addition, the depictions of God in Gen 2-3 dovetail with Pentateuchal angelology. The Pentateuch contains many angelic apparitions, including the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is a theanthropic angelophany. Indeed, it’s arguably a Christophany (although the point I’m making in this post doesn’t turn on that identification).

I classify the depictions of God in Gen 2-3, not as anthropomorphisms, but angelophanies. The Angel of the Lord (a theanthropic angelophany). 

In the Pentateuch, angels do rub shoulders with men. Occupy time and space. Interact with their physical surroundings. 

iii) Finally, it’s instructive to compare Genesis with the Gospels:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Gen 2:7). 

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man (Gen 2:21-22).

And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue (Mk 7:33).

And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” (Mk 8:23).

Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud (Jn 9:6).

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).

Seems to me that Jesus has a modus operandi that’s very reminiscent of God in Gen 2. Jesus isn’t afraid to get dirt under his fingernails. If Jesus doesn’t mind getting grubby, up-close-and-personal, when he performs a miracle, why assume God’s method is different in Gen 2?

 and the man became a living creature. 
The traditional rendering ("living soul") is misleading because the "soul" in Christian theological usag, connotes the incorporeal mind or consciousness of humans which survives death, whereas the usage here is physical. This doesn't mean humans are simply brains in bodies. Rather, it merely means that at this nascent stage of human history and progressive revelation, questions regarding the afterlife and the intermediate state, which give rise to reflections on the immortal "soul," haven't yet arrived. The perspective of chapter 2 is prelapsarian. At this juncture, death is still hypothetical. 
8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
God provides the first humans with an instant orchard to supply their immediate nutritional needs.  
 The tree of life was in the midst of the garden,
i) This doesn't mean the tree of life had inherent rejuvenative properties. It's a concrete symbol. God assigns a consequence to eating the fruit. 
ii) In addition, the tree of life prefigures the menorah. 
 and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
What is meant by "the knowledge of good and evil"? Perhaps we're asking the wrong question. Perhaps what matters is not what kind of knowledge the tree objectively represents, if any, but what kind of knowledge Adam and Eve imagine it represents. The tree is a cipher. That's what makes it a test. What it signifies to them. What they project onto the tree.
10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
i) The garden wasn't a mythical or legendary utopia like Shangri-La, El Dorado, or the Garden of the Hesperides–but a real place. It was situated somewhere in Mesopotamia. The Tigris and Euphrates are still extant, although their courses have changed over the millennia. Modern archeology has tentatively identified the other two rivers (Hill 2000). 
Although the reference to precious gems and metals might make it sound like a fabled paradise, these, too, refer to real places renown for goldmines and lapis lazuli. 
ii) In addition, the reference to precious gems and metals foreshadows the tabernacle furnishings and priestly vestments. 
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 
"To work it and keep it" are double entendres. On the one hand, they connote farming techniques. On the other hand, they connote priestly service in the tabernacle. The garden was a natural tabernacle (cf. Num 24:5-6). 
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
i) Because Adam and Eve were brought into being as mature adults, God endows them with innate knowledge and language. 
ii) Some readers are puzzled by why God didn't strike Adam dead on the day he sinned. Of course, the narrator would be aware of that. But "in the day" is an idiomatic synonym for "when." Adam will die, not as soon as he eats the forbidden fruit, but sometime thereafter. 
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. 
In context, Adam isn't naming every kind of creature on earth, but every kind of creature that frequents the garden. 
But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Why was Eve made from Adam’s side?

i) The general reason is to stress the unity of man and woman. They were made for each other because they were made from each other. Like two halves a whole. That much is clear from the account itself, which stresses the fittingness of Eve, in contrast to the animals, to be the man’s companion and counterpart. The “one flesh,” “bone-of-my-bones” bond. Men and women have a natural, built-in rapport.

ii) But over and above the general reason may be a more subtle and specific reason for the choice of Adam’s side rather than some other part of his anatomy. As one scholar notes:

As we have already observed, the language of the garden scene is found in the tabernacle description; the term sela, here rendered “ribs,” appears frequently in the construction setting of the tabernacle, there translated “side.” (Mathews 1996).

So the narrator may be comparing the woman to a living tabernacle.

 23 Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones    and flesh of my flesh;she shall be called Woman,    because she was taken out of Man.”24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Gen 2 makes women central to the life of men. That's in striking contrast to pagan literature (e.g. the Iliad, the Epic of Gilgamesh), where a man's chief companions are other men. 
Excursus 1: Special Creation
The account of how Adam (v7) and Eve (vv21-22) were made is the locus classicus for the special creation of man, in contrast to the theory of macroevolution by common descent. And that's fine as far as it goes.
However, it's not as if the case for special creation comes down to three brief verses in Gen 2. Rather, the entire outlook of Gen 2 (as well as Gen 1) is at odds with evolution, whether naturalistic or theistic. In evolution, developments occur through a series of mechanical causes. If there is a God, he lies behind the automated system. He operates through natural processes.
In Gen 2, by contrast, the perspective is irreducibly supernatural. Personal agency rather than mechanical causation drives the action. God pops in at strategic turning-points to make things happen. And this isn't confined to Gen 2. It pervades the Pentateuch. Theophanies and angelophanies. 
Of course, the Pentateuch also has a doctrine of ordinary providence. Many things naturally occur. To some degree the natural order is like a machine. But the manual override is often used by God and other spiritual agents.  
To make room for evolution, you can't just reinterpret Gen 2:7 or 2:21-22. You have to reinterpret the entire chapter. Indeed, you have to reinterpret the Pentateuch. You must treat the way in which the Pentateuch depicts interaction between men and spirits as systematically fictitious or mythological. And, of course, it doesn't stop with the Pentateuch, or the OT. You have the same situation in the Gospels and Acts.
There are, of course, some radical theologians who are prepared to go that far. However, this is no longer a question of exegesis. Not a question of what it meant to the narrator or the target audience. Rather, this involves imposing an outlook onto the text that's fundamentally alien to the text. Accommodating evolution involves wholesale replacement of the narrator's perspective with an essentially secular perspective. 
Excursus 2: Animals and Man
Recently, an increasing number of professing believers has decided to jettison the historical Adam. The clincher has been the degree of similarity between humans and chimpanzees.

Now, the specific comparisons have been challenged by Intelligent-design theorists. However, it’s still the case that humans are more like chimps than salamanders.

According to evolution, we account for the similarity based on common ancestry. As a rule, similarity reflects affinity. Degrees of similarity mirror degrees of kinship. Organisms that are more alike are more closely related while organisms that are less alike are more distantly related. By “related,” I mean in terms of common ancestry.

Is there an alternative explanation consistent with special creation? Take the principle of plenitude. According to Christian thinkers like Leibniz, Aquinas, and Augustine, God made a world with maximal diversity. God made a world which would combine as many variations as possible.

(In addition, Aquinas thinks organisms have a hierarchical arrangement–from highest to lowest.)

Although that’s theological, there are secular versions of the principle, viz. the multiverse and the modal realism of David Lewis.

And on the face of it, the natural world does look like just about every conceivable strategy is represented. So this isn’t just an abstract postulate.

Now, assuming that organisms range along a continuum (i.e. degrees of similarity or dissimilarity), it’s inevitable that humans will be more like some animals, and less like others. And if that’s the case, then there may well be one animal that humans are more like than other animals.

That isn’t due to common ancestry, but graded diversity. If God made a full-spectrum world, then humans will resemble some creatures more than others–for the world was designed to exhibit a wide range of biological similarities and dissimilarities. Every feasible or compossible permutation will be represented.

Incidentally, when I speak of a scale (spectrum, continuum) of diversity, I don’t mean that in strictly linear terms. That’s an incidental connotation of the spatial metaphors. I don’t think all organisms can be arranged according to a single principle of continuity and discontinuity. In comparing two organisms, they may be alike in one or more respects, but unalike in other respects. My argument doesn’t require linearity.

To take a comparison, consider all the different styles of chess sets. Some chess sets are more alike, while others are less alike. That’s because humans value artistic diversity. And the world we inhabit seems to reflect God’s artistic diversity.

Another example is musical variation. Classical composers would demonstrate their ingenuity by ringing the changes on a particular theme. Notable examples include Pachelbel’s Canon, Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

I’m reminded of Paul’s statement about “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…” (Eph 3:9-10).

As Hoehner says, this carries the connotation of “most varied.”

This is not an ad hoc alternative. It’s a comprehensive explanation, based on one overarching principle. That’s economical. It antedates the creation/evolution debate, so it’s not a stopgap that was pressed into service to stave off the Darwinians. And there’s no presumption that God wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or didn’t design a world with maximal variation.


Hill, C., "The Garden of Eden: A Modern Landscape," Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 52 (2000), 31-46.

Mathews, K. Genesis 1–11:26 (Broadman 1996), 216.

Tsumura, D. The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2 (JSOTS 1989), 119-21.