Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exploring the Garden

I don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis. I just cannot get past the talking snake. They don't even have the proper anatomy to make human speech sounds. Virgin birth? I can work with that. Talking snake? Not so much. I know there are many Christians who view the snake as a symbol for Satan's temptation or deception, but that's as far outside the box of literal interpretation as some people are willing to explore. To many, Adam and Eve were very real people and their story is a factual telling of how sin entered the world.
"The story epitomizes a psychodynamic in which progressive growth, with separation and individuation, of the young is experienced as perilous—not only to them, but also correspondingly to their procreators. In the myth, the increasing psychic and physical maturation of Adam and Eve produced a crisis. Not only was divine authority flouted, but also apprehensions were aroused that God might be humbled or diminished. This threatened him, evoking his wrath and leading to the punishment by abandonment of his youthful wards." (Marvin P. Osman)
I have to tell you, I find this myth to be one of the most exciting stories in the bible. I love to read it again and again and find new interpretations for it. It fuels something deep within. I can't understand why some people are so afraid to view the garden story as myth -as if that dismisses it as just another piece of fiction. Myths are so much more than that; they are powerful narratives meant to articulate very real, very deep truths. Creation stories are the most common form of myth found throughout history and culture.
“There is actually a historical explanation based on the coming of the Hebrew into Canaan and their subjugation of the people of Canaan. The principal divinity of the people of Canaan was the Goddess, and associated with the Goddess is the serpent. The serpent is the symbol of the mystery of life. The male-god-oriented group rejected it. In other words, there is a historical rejection of the Mother Goddess implied in the story of the Garden of Eden.” (Joseph Campbell)
In June a fellow blogger shared some of her thoughts on the subject and I've been hungry for more discussion ever since. I mean, even from the perspective of the most common Christian interpretation, it's still a very confusing story. For starters, I have to ask: didn't the snake tell the truth and God lie? God said Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit whereas the snake told them their eyes would be opened and they would be like God, knowing good and evil. I've had it explained to me that before the forbidden fruit was eaten  physical death was not a part of the human experience, but this explanation doesn't hold up when you consider God's words in verse 22: "Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!" So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden. They had not yet partaken of that fruit -they were destined for death even before eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
It seems to me that God never intended for Adam and Eve to live forever, and yet, that is exactly what He set out to accomplish by sending Jesus to us. Wouldn't it have been much easier to just let them eat the fruit? Or going back even further, create humans as eternal beings? And like my blogger friend said, why did He put the trees there in the first place if He didn't want them to eat the fruit? These are the problems I get into when I try to interpret the Bible as the inerrant or literal word of God. I'm much more inclined to receive the Bible as a collection of stories, historical and allegorical in which man tries to explain his  spiritual experiences. As a result of these stories, we are able to follow the evolution of man's relationship with God.
"And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally." (Origin of Alexandria)
According to tradition Moses wrote Genesis. I wonder how he learned of the stories in Genesis that occurred long before his birth. Was it oral tradition handed down or did he receive the teachings as prophecy? I also wonder if the doctrine of the Fall of Man and original sin were always a part of Jewish teachings or if they are uniquely Christian. It's a fascinating topic I plan to continue researching.


Sandra said...

The creation story is one of my favorite bible stories as well. And a personal thorn in my mind as well. It is supposed to be the story of Original Sin, the hinge upon which the whole rest of orthodox Western Christian doctrine swings. I just couldn't every accept that God condemned me for no fault of my own, before I was even conceived, but that my salvation is up to me.

Before I could even consider calling myself Christian again, I had to come to some sort of reconciliation with Original Sin and I did a fair bit of research into it. The evangelical preachers I consulted (family members) insisted that it was a long-held Jewish doctrine, as proved by proof-texting a verse or two from Psalms and Isaiah(?), so I looked up Jewish interpretations of Original Sin. Lo and behold, there don't seem to be any! I found a lovely interpretation of the Garden of Eden/Fall of Man from a rabbi that revolutionized my thinking on the whole thing. I'll see if I can find the link to the article and send it to you.

Oh, and the Moses as Scribe thing, it was taught to me that basically God dictated all the history to him up there on the mountain. Uh-huh, but modern day channeling is all from Satan.

Sandra said...

here is the first of several posts where I discuss my own conclusions from my research.

here's the rabbi's take on the Fall of Man

Michelle said...

Hey, hey! Thanks so much Sandra. I am going to take a peek at these before heading to bed. I probably won't get a chance to form a reply until later tomorrow but I'm really excited (downright giddy) to dig deeper into this subject so thanks for the material!

Brianmpei said...

Good stuff. There's lots of discussion around this topic over at Scot McKnight's "Jesus Creed". Here's just one link:

There are lots of other perspectives discussed there as well but you'll find many "evangelical" believers there who no longer feel the need to take Genesis 1-11 literally in order for the authors point to teach us truth.

As for Moses as scribe - well that's just conjecture. There's nothing in the text that teaches "divine dictation" of Genesis. Realistically Genesis represents a collection of oral traditions that were very specific - ISRAEL - defining their place in the world and their relationship to their God. It's a constant funnel from the general to the specific in order to advance the story of how Israel came to be. I'm not suggesting it is "fiction", just that it was written with a specific end in mind but it's power is in it's honesty and how raw it is - our "heroes" were rarely heroic and nearly always had feet of clay.

"Original Sin" as defined by Catholicism is theology - men thinking things through - rather than straight from the text. The text clearly teaches we're all infected but it took religion to turn that into something to feel guilty about.

And you are very right, the text make sit clear that we weren't made to last other than our continued connection to God that restores our life.

There's lots of "myth" about Genesis 1-11 that isn't just text but what we've made up about the text and called 'orthodox'.

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing your input Brian, I'm checking out the link to McKnight's blog. Wow, that is some meaty stuff. The post is interesting but the comments that follow are just as interesting.

"The text clearly teaches we're all infected but it took religion to turn that into something to feel guilty about." That made me think of this line from the link Sandra shared in which a Rabbi explains the Fall from a Jewish perspective:

"Mortality was not a punishment for eating the fruit, but rather the natural consequence."

Ok, back to Jesus Creed...

Steve said...

I'm not Eastern Orthodox, but I found this article thought-provoking...

"Ancestral Sin vs. Original Sin," by Fr. Antony Hughes

Michelle said...

Thanks Steve, thought-provoking indeed! Another link for the Bookmarks!

Pippi said...

This is interesting. I guess the story never bothered me, because I never thought of a literal snake; I just figured Satan had a physical form just as God did and came to tempt Eve with a hypnotic serpent-like behavior. The way snakes charm their prey. The Bible does tell us that Eve was deceived, but Adam was not. As for literal fruit, I don't know; that never bothered me either because so much of what God had created back then seemed symbolic. The first time I met a truly insane person, I felt that I understood what the Knowledge of Good and Evil really encompassed, and why it was so deadly. It wasn't a physical death, it was a spiritual death. Maybe not a permanent one through the mercy of God, but I don't think our human minds were created to comprehend that knowledge; and its discovery has permanently injured us. I believe there is a part of us that died with that knowledge and cannot be revived as long as we are in this physical form. But that is merely my opinion. And the Tree of Life I always took to be complete spiritual enlightenment, something that would render us - at least in our own minds - free of the need for a God or a respect for the Creator.

Food for thought, certainly. Thankyou.

Michelle said...

"And the Tree of Life I always took to be complete spiritual enlightenment, something that would render us - at least in our own minds - free of the need for a God or a respect for the Creator." I've thought through various interpretations for symbols like the snake, the fruit, etc., but never really thought about the Tree of Life. This is interesting.

Good food for thought Pippi, thanks for your input.

Blue Shoe Farm said...

Michelle, this is an enjoyable and thoughtful blog, thanks for sending it out into the world.

Old Pete said...

Michelle, I've just found your blog.

I've been outside the walls of traditional Christianity for some 40 years and I seem to have a bit of a reputation for asking the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers.

I sense you might be interested in some of my questions - maybe starting with "The Story of Life - possible scenarios" -

We seem to have quite a bit of common ground

Michelle said...

Hi Pete, nice to meet you! I've found it doesn't take long to develop a reputation for asking awkward question... at least it didn't for me!

Thanks for the link. I'm interested in checking out your story :)