Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
After God rests on the seventh day, we move on to yet another creation story - this one focusing on the creation of man (Adam) and his dwelling place, the garden in Eden. Here man is created separately and placed at the head of the earthly creation and given the job of caring for it. There are all kinds of trees, but in the middle of the garden are the tree of life, from which Adam may eat, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - from that tree Adam is told he may not eat, "for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die" (2:17).
After Adam is told this, God says, "'It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.' So from the soil Yahweh God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven" (2:19). Adam names them all, but none of them is found "suitable" as a helpmate. So Yahweh makes Adam sleep and while he sleeps, God takes a rib from the man and builds it into a woman - bone from Adam's bone, flesh from his flesh (2:23). "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body" (2:24). They are naked but feel no shame.
In chapter 3, the narrative's "conflict" will emerge, the conflict that will create the tension and drama from which the long, big-picture story will flow. There is a serpent in the garden who approaches the woman and asks her about the one thing God told them not to do. The serpent tries to convince the woman that God is really bluffing them, that there's no way they would die from eating the forbidden fruit. He's just trying to keep man from being His equal. The language the serpent uses is important: "'You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil'" (3:5). The woman, using the reasoning power God gave her, ponders all the good things the fruit seems to offer - its pleasing look (beauty), its good as a food (practical usefulness) and the desirability of the knowledge it promises (philosophical wisdom). So she disobeys God, trusts the promises of the serpent and eats the fruit. Her husband, who is with her throughout, also eats and the text tells us "the eyes of both of them were opened" (3:7). They see that they are naked, but of course they always saw that 0 it's just that now they feel differently about it. They feel shame.
Later, when God comes to talk to them, the shame they first experience in relation to each other now comes between God and them. God sees the change. When he confronts them, they try to obfuscate and conceal what they've done. The man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent. No one accepts responsibility. But God holds them responsible and all are punished. The offspring of the woman will struggle with evil - it will strike at our heels and "dog our steps" if you will. I will come back to exactly what is said to the serpent by God, for it is one of the most important scriptural lines in the Bible for Quakers and all Christians. But God also punishes the woman but multiplying her pains in childbirth and subjecting her to the authority of the man. And the man is punished by having the soil cursed and making it hard for him to cultivate. And he will suffer a degree of futility in his labors - he was created from the dust and to the dust he will return. The couple are cast out of the garden and an angel or cherubs with a "flaming" or "flashing" sword is posted "in front of the garden, . . . to guard the way to the tree of life" (3:24).
All right - there is a lot here. I think these chapters are perhaps the most important scripture for early Friends - fused with the New Testament passages from John and Paul that "opened" them to Fox and others. But we'll go slowly. Here are the key things I hope we will discuss over the next week or so:
1. What is the nature of the "death" that Adam and Eve suffer as a result of their disobedience?
2. What is the "fallen" nature of our lives on this earth, and do we continue to live in that fallen world/nature?
3. What did Christians and especially early Quakers make of the what you might call God's "Ur-Promise" [original/first promise made] in verse 3:15?
People have argued all kinds of things about these chapters - that this is why human beings die, that God never intended for man to be mortal but that mortality came as a result of this "original sin"; that this is why men dominate and will always dominate women; that women somehow deserve to be subservient because we were the weak ones and caused human kind to fall from grace, etc. I don't really see these things as necessary conclusions. What I think is most important to Friends is the last question and a sense they had that the Christian world had somehow not seen the importance of the promise made by God in these words. But this post is getting too long, so I will talk more about that tomorrow.
It was kind of surprising and disappointing to me that this post did not draw a little attention, but I don't think I filled it out well enough to reflect the incredible importance the words of Genesis 3:15 have for Quakers or have had for Quakers over the years. I have done a lot of thinking about this in recent weeks, partly because I am part of a Bible Study group at my local Catholic Church, and we were doing the Book of John all winter, and we were just finishing it up about a month ago. In one of those moments that is very mysterious as we were going over the last words of Jesus on the cross, I began to see something I really hadn't seen. Some things came together - some Quaker, some Catholic - a volatile mix. But it was an "opening" - I am sure. If you are interested in checking it out, I have posted it on my Catholic-Quaker blog: http://catholicquaker.blogspot.com/
I don't really think that Scripture is a collection of hidden "promises". (Maybe should develop this further for kwakerskripturestudy...)
but the basic "messages" look to me like: "God wants to be known, but people project all sorts of their personal Stuff into the interactions..." and "We've got to Talk!" God, that is, is not a Theologian (though it takes so little to make the Theologians happy that He'll sometimes throw them something to gnaw on...)