Monday, July 12, 2010

In the beginning...

I think everyone is familiar with the creation story in the Bible. What may surprise people, however, is that there are actually two distinct creation stories that don’t particularly agree with one another. We generally just mesh these two together and overlook the inconsistencies. But when you are trying to read the Bible straight through in the context of it being a literal document, then problems start to pop up.
The first creation story is the one that sets out the six days timeframe with man being one of the last creations on the sixth day. Up until that point, God seems to be creating things on a grand scale - all the plants one day, all the animals the next, and so on. It is not spelled out very clearly, but it seems that on the sixth day God creates a whole bunch of men and women all at once and tells them to go forth and multiply and rein over the animals of the earth.
But then when we come to Chapter 2 it’s like we hit rewind and start over. Now suddenly we are back to a barren earth with no plants and no water. And this time one of the first things God does is to make Adam out of the dust.
I’ve always thought it was interesting in the way that the creation of Adam is described, especially in light of the fundamentalist views of abortion opponents that life begins at conception. That is because God waits until after he has formed Adam’s body out of the mud and dirt before he breathes life into him. So Adam is not “alive” until after his body has been fully formed. Likewise with Eve who is made using one of Adam’s ribs. God does not breathe life into the dirt and then make Adam. Nor does he breathe life into the rib before making Eve. So, based on a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, one might assume that life begins at birth, when a child takes its first breath, and not at conception.
But back to the second creation story, we next have God placing Adam in the Garden of Eden which is then described in some detail including a whole paragraph on four rivers that converge in Eden. Then God gives Adam the tour of the garden along with the dire warning that he is NOT to eat from the tree of knowledge on pain of death. Interestingly enough, Eve is not even around at this point to hear the warning. Because the next thing that happens is God determining that Adam needs a helper to work with him while tending the garden. Here the story gets a little strange because then God goes and starts showing Adam all the animals as potential companions. It is not entirely clear to me whether God is creating the animals at this point (which would be inconsistent with the first creation story in Chapter 1) or if they were created earlier. But only after all of these animals are rejected by Adam does God decide to take a more serious step - putting Adam to sleep and then performing some kind of holy surgery to remove a rib bone which he then uses to fashion Eve.
Of course, we all know what happens next. Eve is tempted by the snake to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge and then she gets Adam to do the same. The newly knowledgable Adam and Eve are immediately shamed by their nakedness and seek to hide when God comes back to the garden looking for them. (Where did God go? Isn’t he supposed to be omnicient and all-knowing?)
Once God learns that his children have disobeyed him the accusations start to fly - Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake and then everyone suffers harsh, eternal punishments. The snake and all of its future progeny is forced to go legless and crawl in the dirt. Eve is cursed with painful child births. And Adam now has to toil the land and struggle to get good crops whereas before it was apparently quite easy. And they are all banished from the Garden of Eden and cast out into the rest of the world.
OK, so a few questions. If God made the world and determined that it was good, why is it considered punishment for Adam and Eve to have to go out into it?
Didn’t the snake tell the truth in that Eve would not die if she ate from the tree of knowledge? And, consequently, did God tell a lie?
Furthermore, doesn’t God share some of the responsibility for “the fall of man,” since he seems to have set the whole situation up with the forbidden fruit in the center of the garden and then by creating the crafty snake to provide the temptation? Was it a test? And why does all mankind have to suffer and not just Adam and Eve? It hardly seems fair.
But this won’t be the first time that things don’t seem to be fair in the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

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