Lent 2011–Day 6

A gorgeous cold day here in Lanesville: a frost fell last night, but not so severely that buds and emerging stalks of flowers were harmed.

I’m still thinking about the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, and want to offer some observations about the story.

First of all, and this may come as a surprise: it is never, anywhere, in the Bible spoken of as the Fall. What happens is “consequences.” And that word is never used either. Both are terms we map onto the text–it’s a mysterious story. The generally accepted interpretation is that the ability to do some thing other than what God commands is simply built in to being human. It’s a precondition of freedom, and actually a precondition of moral agency. The serpent is not Satan, in this story, but a creature that has the capacity to use a hermeneutic of suspicion in recieving God’s instructions. Another built in human trait.

Second the idea that this breach was an account of the origin of sin comes much later, too, not in the Hebrew bible at all, but a Pauline interpretation of it. In the Etz Hayim Commentary on the Torah, the authors write: “Neither here nor anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible is their act characterized as sin, let alone the Original Sin. There is no indication that this represents a permanent rupture of the divine-human relationship.” (p.18 Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, New York: 2001, The Rabbincal Assembly).

The term “Original sin” doesn’t appear in the bible; it’s a doctrine that was formed much later, over time, and many discussions, and interpretations, grafted into Christianity from questionable roots; nowhere is it biblical. So, it’s a historical concept, and that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily helpful or correct. You could spend years reading about this, but a good resource is here. If you have time, check into the concept even on Wikipedia–you’ll be surprsied at the complextity, and the overall historicity of the idea.

Third, one sermon, I heard second hand via my daughter, places this story in the context of family dynamics. And that pastor pointed out, as a family therapist, that you could see all the complexity of human interactions in this tale. The relationship of the couple, the relationship of the couple to God, to the serpent, to nature, their capacity for reasoning, and their ability to survive.

Perhaps the most poignant moment, comes late in the story, as Adam and Eve are preparing to leave the garden. God sews clothes for them, carefully stitching garments to protect them as they wend their way “hand in hand” said Milton, down the mountain of innocence into the complexity of human moral deliberation.

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