Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bible Study With Vache Folle Genesis 1-4

Where I grew up in the Bible Belt, a lot of folks believed that the Bible was actually WRITTEN BY GOD. A lot of them were also pretty sure that it was written in English in the King James Version, but I digress. They reckoned the Bible was the inerrant WORD OF GOD to be taken completely literally as much as possible. I have never believed this even when I was a credulous child. Believing this seems to me to be insane and, given much of the content of the Bible, dangerous.

Here begins a series on what I, a wretched Calvinist agnostic, think about the Bible. Let's start at the big inning (there's baseball in the Bible) with Genesis, chapter 1. What does this signify and how might it be useful to us today? Nothing and probably no way. This is the Creation Myth of some nomadic pastoralists, and it is interesting perhaps because it sheds light on how those pastoralists viewed the universe. It shows that Man was created in God's image, whatever that means and that, contrary to later developments, "every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you" was given, among all the others bounties of creation. What do I take from this? Frankly, very little. I agree that God created the universe, but my universe is much bigger than that of the authors of Genesis.

Chapter 2 contradicts chapter 1 in that it has Man being created after God rested. Also, no vegetation had come forth, and the female came a little later. This is also where God plants a garden in Eden as a habitat for his human specimens. Evidently, Man was created west of Eden. The critical part, for me, is that "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." This fits in with my belief that humanity's sin is sentience. When we were dumb animals, we were innocent and unashamed. But then, in chapter 3, our ancestors develop consciouness thanks to a talking snake who convinces them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When humans have that, God worries that they'll eat from the Tree of Life and live forever like gods or angels and throws them out of the garden to live miserable lives of toil and sorrow. The snake was just a snake, not Satan. Everything the snake said to Eve was true, if you accept the premise of the story. And how could Adam and Eve not eat that fruit once they understood that it would make them wise. That's original sin- wanting to be wise/sentient/aware/conscious.

Adam and Eve probably didn't eat enough of that fruit because we're not all that wise/sentient/aware/conscious. Anyway, the trees and the garden are obviously metaphorical. The story tells us what the nomads thought about their God back in the day, but it's not much help to me now. I don't reckon humans chose to become sentient. It happened in the course of our evolution and was presumably part of God's plan from the moment the universe was created. Besides, if you accept the premise of the story, if God was worried that humans would become godlike, why did he put those trees in the garden with the humans where the humans were bound to eat from them? Or was it what He had in mind all along? If so, why the curses? They seem pretty gratuitous. The nomads who wrote Genesis blamed God for a lot of evil in the world and considered their pains punishment.

Chapter 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, something which always troubled me. Why did God favor Abel over Cain, because Abel was a pastoralist and Cain a sedentary agriculturalist? And who lived in Cain's city in Nod? Why are we given this exposition of the descendants of Cain when, later, they're all killed in the Deluge?

Anyway, nothing in this speaks to me very much, and there's really no point in taking any of it as literal fact or to ascribe authorship to God. The God of the nomads appears to have walked around among people in those days and to have accepted offerings in person, so He is very different to the invisible, all encompassing God conceived of later. There didn't seem to be any law in those days. God dealt with things on an ad hoc basis. Kill your brother, get cursed but protected from harm. Make an offering? It had better be meat. All this tells me way more about the nomads than about God. In fact, the God of Genesis 1-4 is barely recognizable.

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