Saturday, October 31, 2009

Genesis Rabbah I.I: The Pre-Existent Torah

Here is the text, my translation, and a discussion of the second half of Genesis Rabbah I.I (first half here). Finally, we’ll find out what ‘amon means and what Proverbs 8 has to do with Genesis 1:1!

ד׳א] אמון אומן התורה אומרת אני הייתי כלי אומנתו שלהקב״ה, בנוהג שבעולם מלך בשר ודם בונה פלטין ואינו בונה אותה מדעת עצמו אלא מדעת אומן, והאומן אינו בונה אות מדעתו אלא דיפטראות ופינקסות יש לו לידע היאך הוא עושה חדרים ופשפשים, כך היה הקב״ה מביט בתורה ובורא העולם, והתורה א׳ בראשית ברא אלהים ואין ראשית אלא תורה היך מה דאת אמר י״י קנני ראשית דרכו וגו׳׃


Another interpretation: ‘amon means artisan (‘uman – Jastrow 27). The Torah says, “ I was the skilled tool of the Holy One, blessed be He” (Aramaic paraphrase of Prov 8:30). In the way of the world, [when] a king of flesh and blood builds a palace (Jastrow 1180, Gk loan word), he does not build it from his own knowledge but from the expertise of an artisan. And the artisan himself builds it not from his expertise alone but through plans (“documents” Jastrow 304, Gk loan word under alt. spelling)  and  descriptions (“tablets” Jastrow 1165-66, Gk loan word) in order that he might know how to make the rooms and doorways (“wickets” Jastrow 1248). Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, looked in the Torah and created the world, for the Torah says, “In the beginning, God created” (Gen 1:1a), and there is no “beginning” except the Torah, as it is written, “The Lord made me, the beginning of his way, etc.” (Prov. 8:22).

The discussion of the potential meaning of ‘amon continues in the same vein – trying out words that have a similar consonant pattern. There is an entry for ‘umannu in Aramaic in Jastrow, so I think Brooke’s (Anumma) comment on this earlier post about the potential Akkadian connection is possible. Based on the only other biblical occurrence of this word in Jer 52:15, I think “master-workman”, “artisan”, or “architect” give the best sense for ‘amon which fits nicely with the meaning the rabbis want to give Prov 8:30. However, the sense seems odd in the context of Prov 8:30: “I was beside him like a master workman, and I was his delight daily, rejoicing in his presence all the time.”

The importance of Proverbs 8 is that the speaker is Wisdom personified. She seems to be simultaneously depicted as a pre-existent co-creator of the world AND a little child playing in the sand while Yahweh does the heavy lifting. When I used to teach this passage to undergrads for Intro to Judaism, some of them had a hard time wrapping their minds around the rabbinic logic.

Here are the steps (or leaps, if you will):

1. Prov 8:22 and Gen 1:1 both use the same word for “beginning” ראשית.

2. Wisdom = beginning in Prov 8.

3. Therefore, beginning = wisdom in Gen 1. (i.e., With Wisdom, God created . . . )

4. Wisdom = Torah. I’m not sure if there’s a precise trigger for this connection. Perhaps it was intuitive. Perhaps Ps. 119 helped facilitate the connection by applying some of the ideals of Proverbs to the study of Torah. Ps 119:77 could create that connection - “Your Torah is my delight” – using the same word for “delight” as Prov 8:30. Key words are important connectors in midrashic exegesis, especially a relatively rare word like שעשעים that occurs only 9 times in the Hebrew Bible (5x in Ps 119 and 2x here in Prov 8:30-31). The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced of the role Ps 119 must have in making this equation, even though it isn’t explicitly cited in this passage.

5. Therefore, “With the Torah, God created.”

What’s really amazing is how these connections are assumed and expected to be understood. This type of intertextual reading of the Torah seems almost intuitive to the rabbis. This is definitely an “insider” text – written by elites for other elites. Complete knowledge of the Torah and the oral tradition is safely assumed.

From the moment Prov 8:30 was invoked by R. Hoshea, the end goal of the exegesis was this one unified point: God created the world using the Torah. What seemed at first glance to be an odd way to begin exegesis of Gen 1:1 flowed back into a main point that underscored the rabbis’ own authority and connected it to the creation of the world. Saying that God used the Torah to create puts God in the role of the ultimate Torah sage. In some way (though I doubt they would explicitly say this), God is subject to the terms of the Torah and must abide by the rules of interpretation. This is significant because the rabbis were establishing themselves as the final arbiters of the interpretation of Torah. They controlled access to the divine now.

The story of the oven of Aknai underscores this tension between divine revelation and human interpretation. “The Torah is not in heaven” (Deut 30:12). But that’s a story for another time . . .

P.S. If you think this rabbinic logic is too easy, try to wrap your mind around the way the Zohar (a medieval kabbalah text) reads Gen 1:1 as a depiction of the emanation of the Sefirot (symbols of divine energy) from heaven to earth. “With Hokhmah (wisdom, the 2nd sefirah), Ein Sof (the ineffable unnameable, utterly transcendent divine source) created Elohim (the 3rd sefirah). Fun stuff.

P.P.S. Prov 8 also plays into Christian interpretations of a pre-existent Christ. Wisdom = the Logos = Christ (cf. John 1). It gets more complicated, but this post was about Genesis Rabbah.

P.P.P.S. Hebrew text is from J. Theodor and Ch. Albeck, 1965, Midrash Bereshit Rabba: Critical Edition with Notes and Commentary, Jerusalem: Wahrmann. Scribal errors are possible. I caught one instance of parablepsis myself. Scribal errors are much easier to understand once you’ve caught yourself caught yourself making them.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Archaeology and Exodus in the News

Zahi Hawass, Egyptian director of antiquities (or some such), has an article discussing a tomb and its potential connections to Hebrew history, which of course means “The Exodus.”

The discovery of this tomb which took place almost 20 years ago remains an important archaeological event. The reason for this is that the person buried in the tomb was known as "Aper-al" and this is an Egyptianized form of a Hebrew name. Aper-al was the vizier for King Amenhotep III, and later for his son King Akhenaten. Pharaoh Akhenaten was the first ruler to institute monotheism represented by the worship of the sun which he called Aten.

Excavations of this tomb continued for almost 10 years, beginning in 1980 and ending in late 1989. Amongst the artefacts discovered here were several portraits entitled "spiritual father of Aten" as well as "the Priest" and "the first servant of Aten." This means that Aper-al served as the chief priest of Aten in the Memphis region during the reign of King Akhenaten.

First, it’s unclear to me how this story intersects with Israelite history at all, much less the Exodus narrative. Everyone who knows biblical history knows that the pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II, not III, and certainly not IV. The Exodus happened roughly 100 years before Akhnaten (aka Amenhotep IV) in precisely 1446 BC.

Actually, it’s a point of some contention whether the Exodus (if it happened at all) happened under Amenhotep II in the mid-fifteenth century BC OR under Rameses II in the early thirteenth century BC. Either way, Akhnaten falls squarely in the middle between the two.

Second, what biblical figure should we connect this “Aper-al” to? The Bible gives Joseph a vizier-like position but by the Bible’s chronology, he would have to predate the Exodus by 430 years, not 60. What about Moses? Well, the Bible gives no such indication that Moses had a position like that. He certainly wouldn’t have been buried in Egypt, fully assimilated to Egyptian culture. I have heard it claimed that Moses got his monotheistic ideas from Amarna Egypt (or was it that Akhnaten got his monotheistic ideas from the Hebrews?).

So, at best, we have some unknown assimilated Hebrew who may or may not have influenced or been influenced by Aten worship. Not a very compelling biblical connection, so I must conclude that the “Exodus” connection is merely thrown into this story to gain more readers. What a surprise!! Near Eastern archaeologists using tenuous biblical connections for publicity purposes.

Incidentally, the claim that Akhnaten was a monotheist at all is rather far-fetched. Egyptian religion is consistently henotheistic, and Akhnaten was no exception (that means, you get all worked up about your god being the most supreme over all the other gods – not monotheistic where you claim the others don’t even exist. That’s a relatively late development to the religious landscape).

Via Agade

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prov 8:30 in the Versions

Genesis Rabbah begins with a discussion of the unusual Hebrew word ‘amon in Prov 8:30. A commenter on my previous post was curious about what this verse looked like in Syriac. Did the translator use a word meaning “guardian”? Well, I had to look it up, and what I found was interesting, so here it is.

Basically, the Peshitta avoids the word altogether. The Targum, however, does support reading something like “guardian” here, using the Aramaic cognate root that also means “to believe, trust.” This is striking because the Peshitta of Proverbs often looks like someone just transcribed the Targum wholesale into Syriac script. Not so in Prov 8:30.

To round it out, I looked at the Septuagint. The translator there also wasn’t sure what to do with ‘amon. I think “fitting” or “suitable” likely reflects a similar reading of the Hebrew root. Amen. It’s appropriate.


ܥܡܗ ܡܬܩܢܐ ܗܘܝܬ܂ ܒܝ ܚܕܐ ܗܘܐ ܟܠ ܝܘܡ܂ ܘܒܟܠܙܒܢ ܩܕܡܘܗܝ ܚܕܝܐ ܗܘܝܬ

With him, I was established/created. In me, he rejoiced every day. And continually, I rejoiced before him.


והוית צידוי 1 מהימנותא 2 מהימנתא בי אחדי הוה כל יומא ויומא וחדיא אנא קדמוי בכל זמן׃

And I was beside him, a trusted one. In me, he rejoiced every day, and I was rejoicing beside him continually.


ἤμην παρ᾽ αὐτῷ ἁρμόζουσα ἐγὼ ἤμην ᾗ προσέχαιρεν καθ᾽ ἡμέραν δὲ εὐφραινόμην ἐν προσώπῳ αὐτοῦ ἐν παντὶ καιρῷ

And I was beside him, suitable. I was that in which he rejoiced daily, and I was rejoicing beside him continually.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Creation in Rabbinic Literature

In an attempt to explore what rabbinic literature has to say about Creation, I've begun reading Genesis Rabbah, a midrashic commentary on Genesis likely composed between 200-500 CE. I'll be posting text, translation, and analysis as I work through the text.

Genesis Rabbah I.I.1

בראשית ברא אלהים וגו׳. ר׳ אושיא פתח ואהיה אצלו אמון ואהיה שׁעשׁעים

אמון פידגוג[1], אמון מכוסה[2], אמון מוצנע[3], אית דא׳ אמון רבתה[4], אמון פידגוג

היך מה דאת אמר[5] כאשר ישא האומן[6] את היונק, אמון מכוסה היך מה דאת אמר

האמונים עלי תולע, אמון מוצנע היך מה דאת אמר ויהי אומן את הדסה,

אמון רבתה היך מה דאת אמר התיטבי מנא אמון ומתרגמינן האת טבא

מאלכסנדריא רבתא דיתבא ביני נהרותא.

Translation: “In the beginning, God created, etc.” R. Hoshea opened [the discourse by quoting]: “And I was beside him – an ‘amon, and I was a delight” (Prov 8:30). ‘Amon means tutor; ‘amon means covering; ‘amon means hidden; some say ‘amon means great. ‘Amon means tutor: [This is] like what you read – “just as a guardian (‘omen) carries the nursing child” (Num 11:12). ‘Amon means covering: as in the verse that says “those who were brought up (ha’emunim) on purple” (Lam 4:5). ‘Amon means hidden as in the verse that says “and he was bringing up (‘omen) Hadassah” (Esth 2:7). ‘Amon means great as in the verse that says “are you better than No-Amon?” (Nah 3:8) which is translated “are you better than Alexandria the Great situated between the rivers?”

You can almost hear the inner monologue of the sage:

Amon, amon . . . what’s an amon? Hmm . . . we don’t know this word. This is both a problem and an opportunity. It’s a problem because, well, we don’t really know what the text says. It’s an opportunity because we can interpret according to what we want the text to say. Where to begin? Words that use the same consonant pattern-aleph, mem, nun? Well, we have omen, emunim, and No-Amon. Those could work.

The problem is that in biblical Hebrew the word in these contexts is all the same word. It is used in the sense of legal guardianship or of child-rearing. The word doesn’t denote “covering” in Lam 4:5 or “hiding” in Esth 2:7. However, it is a good example of the method used to determine the semantic range of a word when you don’t have a lexicon—look at other cases of how the word is used. The fact that these words are imbued with unusual meanings is significant because it highlights the esoteric nature of the discourse. The sages are about to reveal secret and hidden things encoded in the Torah. This section is just the teaser building up to the preferred meaning attributed to ‘amon in the next paragraph.

At first glance, it appears to be a rather oblique way to get at interpreting Gen 1:1a by immediately embarking on a discussion of the meaning of a rare word in Proverbs 8. A master plan seems to be at work shaping the interpretation with a singular purpose. The context of Prov 8 is essential to interpretation because nowhere does the writer of Genesis Rabbah make the connection explicit. The reader is expected to know who is speaking in Prov 8 and why that’s significant for understanding Gen 1:1.

To be continued . . .

Hebrew text is from J. Theodor and Ch. Albeck, 1965, Midrash Bereshit Rabba: Critical Edition with Notes and Commentary, Jerusalem: Wahrmann.

[1] “pedagogue, tutor” (Jastrow 1136)

[2] “covering” (BDB 491-2)

[3] “hidden” (Jastrow 1292)

[4] “capital, great city” (Jastrow 1446) or “chief, great” (Jastrow 1438).

[5] היך מה דאת אמר: “even as you read in the Scriptures” (Jastrow 345). Lit: “like that which you say/read.”

[6] “nurse, guardian; foster-father or foster-mother” – see Isa 49:23, 2 Kgs 10:1, 5.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The OT Law Today

Many Christians aren't quite sure what to make of the Old Testament, having been taught that the laws of the OT are not applicable to them (based largely on Romans 6:14). Which parts apply and which parts don't?

I find it mildly humorous that some conservative (better: fundamentalist) criticisms of cultural practices find their supposed biblical basis in OT laws that would most certainly be abrogated by Rom 6:14.

Let's take, for example, the fundamentalist aversion to tattoos because, well, tattoos are just unbiblical. There might be plenty of perfectly rational reasons to NOT get a tattoo (will you like it in 30 years, what if you break up, etc.), but "because the Bible says it's wrong" isn't one of them.

The biblical injunction against tattoos is found in Leviticus 19 (one of my personal favorites for devotional reading).

Leviticus 19:28 (ESV):  You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.

That seems straightforward enough. "You shall not tattoo yourselves." But wait, what's all this "cuts on your body for the dead" stuff about? I have a great idea . . . let's look at the context.

Leviticus 19:26-28 (ESV): "You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. [27] You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. [28] You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.

Wow . . . reading verses 27-28 together is really paradoxical for fundamentalists. First, don't cut your hair or beard (i.e., look like a hippy - anathema to a fundamentalist who must be clean-shaven with short hair). Second, don't tattoo yourselves. Long hair is good; tattoos are bad. Mind bending, isn't it?

It's funny that some OT laws are invoked to explain cultural preferences, but most are ignored as no longer applicable. For example, when's the last time you checked your garments to avoid a cotton/polyester blend?

Leviticus 19:19 (ESV): "You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.

Work for a bank? Is it ethical to be charging interest, especially to members of your own religious community?

Deut. 23:19 (ESV): "You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.

The fact that these laws are no longer relevant today (at least for most Christian communities) doesn't mean that they shouldn't be read. They can still teach us something about how to read our Bibles and about what issues were important to the biblical writers.

It's important for our passage on tattoos to notice what the biblical writer was really concerned with. It wasn't tattooing per se. Let's go back to the "cuts for the dead" issue. It seems like the writer of Lev 19:26-28 was concerned with magic and idol worship. I think it's safe to assume that eating flesh with the blood, interpreting omens, telling fortunes, cutting hair, cutting the body for the dead, and tattooing were all practices associated with necromancers, witches, mediums and wizards. In fact, I'd say that Lev 19:29-31 continues with a concern for practices associated with idol worship and magic (based on the explicit return of that topic in Lev 19:31).

Anyone with some experience reading ANE ritual texts care to back me up? Are those ritual or cultic practices described in Lev 19:26-31?

So if you're a tattooed Christian, it's ok. God forgives you.

An unexpected benefit of the academic minor leagues …

I'm presently working on a dissertation, but since my kids need to eat and my spouse and I need to pay bills, I find myself in the time-honored role of faculty adjunct. It's just the way of the system, and I think that the requirement to demonstrate one's development as a scholar do make a lot of sense. If I somehow navigate the pitfalls of the teetering education industry and I'm able to grow into a tenured position, I think that I'd like the role.

The paycheck aspect of tenure would be great, but the support for personal development is the part that looks really cool. You actually get time, funding, and office space to keep working on your development. The only drawback is that you can get tethered to a particular environment.

Biblical Studies are a bit quirky in that the history of interaction with the Bible is marked by the conflicting claims of ownership of the Bible by various communities (including the community of critical scholarship). Part of tenure usually involves the implicit identification with a particular interpretive community. While such communal identification can be effective in getting a job, it does come at the potential cost of blindness to certain aspects of the Bible.

Having been an adjunct at both a state school and now at a confessional school, I find that both environments have been helpful to me in spotting the remainder of the text that is left unaddressed in any particular interpretive approach to the Bible. For me, the push and pull of teaching and interacting with students of diverse heritage and commitments has been deeply helpful, and I don't think that I could have received that benefit in a simple thought experiment. I've found that I have to be a part of a certain community for a while to see the strengths inherent to that community's interpretive approach.

I started this whole education odyssey because I wanted to learn how to read the Bible better. Adjunct teaching in various environments has been helping me do that. If I ever do make the big leagues and get tenure someplace, I think I might miss some things about adjunct work.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thoughts on Intertextuality

I love intertextuality. It's fundamental to how we interpret life. It shows up when we weave dialogue from TV and movies or song lyrics into our everyday speech. Our perception of the world around us and all our interactions with others are affected by it. Every experience with language, spoken or written, every encounter with visual media informs our understanding of and reaction to new experiences or new texts.

When we immerse ourselves in a particular text, we effortlessly make connections between that text and a new text. Those connections can be linguistic or conceptual. Certain phrases stick with us, and we make an instant connection every time we hear it. [For me, it's the word "honestly." It calls up the line from Austin Powers every time: "Who throws a shoe?! Honestly!!"]

In the arena of biblical interpretation, it surfaces in some way nearly every time we read a text that somehow evokes ideas or phrases from texts we've read before. For example, I became very familiar with the text of Job going through it for text class in one semester. Over a year later when we hit Isaiah 35 in class, I heard echoes of Job frequently (cp. Job 4:3-4 and Isa. 35:3).

Intertextuality can be a fruitful phenomenon to apply to biblical interpretation despite its inherent subjectivity and often idiosyncratic results. Methodological controls are necessary to produce replicable results. Textual dependence, especially at the level of meaningful allusion instead of evocative echo, is notoriously difficult to demonstrate.

If our interest is intertextuality and biblical interpretation, the best place to start is with the masters of biblical intertextuality -- the rabbis of the exegetical midrashim (see Boyarin, 1990). If you want to know what biblical passages are relevant to the topic of creation (as I do), you might benefit from a look at Genesis Rabbah.

Tonight I read through Genesis Rabbah Parashah 1 in English. Sadly, the only copy left at our library was Neusner's deplorable translation (1985; I have it on good authority that all of Neusner's translations of rabbinic texts are deplorable. I mean, what can you expect when one man thinks he can speed-translate the entire corpus of rabbinic literature in his lifetime?)

I also have the standard Hebrew edition by Theodor and Albeck (1965). I plan to work through some passages in detail in Hebrew. From what I've read thus far though, the writers made very effective use of intertextuality to support their highly sophisticated theological exegesis.

More will be coming soon.


Boyarin, Daniel. 1990. Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Neusner, J. 1985. Genesis Rabbah. Vol. 1. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press.

Theodor, J. and Ch. Albeck. 1965. Midrash Bereshit Rabba: Critical Edition with Notes and Commentary. Jerusalem: Wahrmann.

Friday, October 16, 2009

If I'd Only Known . . .

Too bad I didn't know about this before I invested time and money into years of graduate school studying the Bible in the original languages.

Biblical Language Library, 4 Volumes
Hendrickson Publishers / Hardcover

Product Description

If you're serious about studying Scripture in its original language, then this is the resource you need! Four classic references are coded to Strong's numbering system, so you don't have to know Hebrew or Greek. All you need is yourStrong's Concordance. Set includes The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, The Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, The Englishman's Greek Concordance, and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon. Hardcovers, from Hendrickson.
All you need is BDB, Thayer's, and Strong's Concordance! Wow! If I'd only known . . .
This reminds me of another question that I've been musing about this week.
Who makes a better interpreter of the Bible? The scholar who's invested years in formal education in biblical studies or the good-intentioned average layperson with no formal training, a set of the Biblical Language Library, and the "illumination" of the Holy Spirit every time they crack open the Word?
Hmm . . . that's a tougher question than I thought. Does the illumination of the Spirit trump formal education? Those of you lacking in formal education will say yes. Those of us with the training will say no. "Illumination" strikes me as a form of special pleading where those in a community of faith can exempt their interpretations from the scrutiny of those who don't share them. It could also be used to claim authority and privilege interpretations that are otherwise not acceptable in academic circles.
Amateurs acting like they're experts or arguing with experts. That's just one of my pet peeves.
"Self-taught, no lessons. Thank you very much, Pop." (from The Wedding Singer)
Update: My honest question pet peeve makes me an elitist according to Nick. -Sigh-

In the Beginning

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

For those of you who don't read Hebrew, that's the text of Genesis 1:1. I've just installed the Tyndale Unicode Font Kit, and I just typed the first thing in Hebrew that came to mind.

This is my first attempt using the Cardo font and Unicode to try to post Hebrew text. I'm planning to embark soon on a series of posts exploring inner-biblical and post-biblical interpretations of creation and God as the Creator (which may explain why Gen 1:1 was the first thing that came to mind). I thought it might be useful for that series to be able to post Hebrew examples. More soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Levinson on Gen 3

Last week’s post on Gen 3 was made up of random musings gleaned from a cursory casual reading of the text, so I was gratified to see that others have made similar observations about the narrative based on their sophisticated and thoughtful close readings of the text.

One such close reading that I want to bring to your attention is titled “The Seductions of the Garden and the Genesis of Hermeneutics as Critique” by Bernard M. Levinson (pp. 40-47 in Levinson, The Right Chorale, Mohr-Siebeck, 2008). Prof. Levinson was kind enough to forward his essay to me. I read it through twice now, and I am amazed at how well it highlights (in my mind, at least) the distinction between the simplistic results of a surface reading of the text with the weighty implications pulled out from a deep reading and analysis. Much of what we think we “know” about the Bible falls in that first category – simplistic reading that more often than not is plain misreading. Levinson attempts to combat typical misreadings of Gen 3 by focusing on the paradoxical and complex relationship between humanity’s lack of knowledge and their freedom to choose to obey or disobey God’s command. There’s another curious thing about this text that I hadn’t thought of. If Adam and Eve lacked knowledge to discern between good and evil, how could they understand what it meant to obey? How would “death” hold any power as a deterrent if they didn’t know what it meant to die?

Here are a few excerpts from the essay. I recommend reading all of it for any of you working on Genesis interpretation and how it characterizes God and his methods for disseminating knowledge. Check the library or I can send you a PDF. Better yet, buy the book for yourself! (kidding – you’d have to fast for a month to afford a Mohr Siebeck book).

Despite the linear form of the text, the structure of its thought is, from the beginning, paradoxical. Consciousness is everywhere presupposed—there is no single point in time in which there is a fall, understood as a loss of immediacy. The serpent’s question is the agent of reflection about God, about truth, about history, about the conditions for life in the world: “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (Gen 3:1). As soon as Eve, upon being addressed, begins to respond, she has already begun to reflect upon the conditions of her life, her relation to God, her relation to Adam, and her freedom of choice. [43]

. . . 

[H]ow could Adam properly understand the instruction in any meaningful way as a command if he had no knowledge, the very thing from which he is to abstain? Absent the forbidden fruit of knowledge, Adam could not distinguish between the instruction as a command requiring his obedience and the instruction as merely describing an inevitable law of nature. No more could he distinguish between death as punishment for infraction and death as the natural result of eating a poisonous fruit. If the command were meant to test his obedience, surely his knowing it as a command—and thus his possession of that which is forbidden him—is essential to that test? . . .  Although presented in narrative time prior to the fruit’s having been eaten, the command can only make sense as a command if it is breached. [44]

. . .

In creating man and woman in his image, capable of independent action to the point of disobeying him, God has in fact created them as autonomous persons. The literary form of the biblical narrative in effect provides a philosophical defense of freedom and agency as the essential ground of human existence. [45]

I always enjoy the realization that the story’s much more complex than I originally thought. I hope you enjoy it, too. Any comments on this new development? If they lacked knowledge, how could they know what it meant to obey"?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Biblical Studies Carnival XLVI

The latest biblical studies carnival has been posted at Hebrew and Greek Reader. This blog was mentioned a few times. Thanks for a great carnival, Daniel and Tonya!