Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gen 1-2: In the Beginning...

And I'm off! I've read two chapters of the Bible, and have... um... 1198 or so to go. This is the feeling I have had after one block of the marathon, or when passing the Belmont Dairy Zupans on my bicycle trip to Bandon, the feeling of "oh man, this is going to be a lot of work."

I had heard about this before, maybe even studied it at some point: Genesis 1 is the story of the creation. Genesis 2 is also the story of the creation. But the two are extremely different in tone and emphasis, and even seem to contradict in some specifics. In Genesis 1, God creates plants on Day Three and humans on Day Six. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam at a point when no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up (2:5). Not that I intend this to be the "Michael Sharpshoots the Bible" blog, but it does appear to put early points on the board for those college Sophomores who say "the Bible is just, like, totally full of contradictions."

Fun fact: in Genesis 1, night and day predate the sun. Let there be light happens at 1:3, and the separation of light and dark into night and day happens immediately afterwards, starting the cycle of nights and days. Sun and moon get set up to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness (1:18) only on Day Four.

In Genesis 1, God proceeds day to day, creating everything in the world from whole cloth in a great series of categories. Plants, fish, birds, and domestic and wild animals -- all are created "according to their kinds," a phrase that is repeated at least nine times. Indeed, creation is so systematic in its execution that it's surprising, in retrospect, that it took Linnaeus so long to take advantage of the headstart. Having everything sorted "according to its kind" from the get-go certainly telegraphs an awfully tidy worldview; the Oxford Companion to the Bible (let's call it OCB) notes that authors of the entire rest of the Bible are going to "presuppose a comprehensive world order to which they summon men and women to conform." Uh-0h.

In Genesis 2, I've always been fascinated by the naming process. God brings all of the animals to Adam, who gets to name them. By this time, there have already been two explicit statements that humans are going to be the boss of the rest of the animals, but the symbolism of this episode really drives the point home. The one who makes up the names is usually the one in charge.

Curiously, the naming-of-the-animals incident is presented as part of an attempt by God to find a helper suitable for Adam. Like many dating services since, this one doesn't produce results for its client, and it is only after the last, newly-christened beast slouches off that God decides to make "a woman" from Adam's rib. She doesn't have a name at this point -- looking ahead, I see that she'll become Eve at 3:20. Guess who does the naming!

A few points on the key questions, and we'll call it a night:

1. Is God a Republican? Well, he sounds like a property-rights activist in 1:28: ...increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. 'Course, whole forests have been felled to print the debate over whether this injunction is a grant of dominion or a call to stewardship. I'm a stewardship man, myself.

2. Is God good? As the happy inhabitant of a world whose beauties can usually, on any given day, render me dizzy with happiness -- and as a member of the species who is basically given the keys to the whole shebang -- I've got no complaints so far.

3. An afterlife? Now, this is interesting. We've got the scheme of creation all laid out, but there is no mention of a heaven or a hell, and if one were going to get persnickity, no "place" literal or figurative for them to be. Hmmmm....

4. Family Values. OK, so God anaesthetizes Adam, extracts a rib, and forms it into a woman. Adam, groggy after his surgery, says "this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman' for she was taken out of man," this later clause apparently being a real knee-slapper pun in Hebrew.

For this reason, the text continues, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (2:23-24) Say what? "For this reason"? Either I am missing some kind of logical connection between cause and effect, or this is a distinctly alien form of reasoning. Not surprising, since this is a text written in a radically different culture from my own, but it's a point worth making at the outset: the logic of why a practice or custom follows from an initial cause in the Bible is not neccessarily a logic that we modern types will easily accept.

Having said that, it's hard not to see this one as a scriptural coup for the Marriage = One Man + One Woman set.

Coming Next: "The Fall of Man", or, One Bad Apple Spoils the Whole Party


chuckdaddy2000 said...

This is going to be interesting Michael, and I can relate to the beginnings of a long struggle (I've made it to Angola this summer while trying to do my international recipes.

I'm jumping ahead a bit, but when does everyone start living to 700 years old? And how in the world is that justified by bible literalists...

Sue said...

OK, when I get I gave the green light to this project I figured I'd be dragged into it. . . maybe the Bible as Literature class I never got to take in college. So I did read Genesis Ch. 1-6, and yes Charlie it's Ch. 5 with the jolly Methuseloid life spans. So far I'm kinda charmed by the breezily self-contradicting, accretive nature of it all.

The party line as I remember it from childhood at Southminister Presbyterian with regard to questions like "Did it really take God just seven days including naptime, and did people really live to be nine hundred and sixty-nine?" was something like, "Science tells HOW the world was created, but the Bible tells us WHY." Well, I certainly didn't get much WHY out of my rereading of Gen. 1-2, but maybe God will be more forthcoming in future conversations.

Here's the narrative run-down as I see it:

God's Dayplanner

Day 1 Add light to dark
Day 2 Build heaven
Day 3 Expose land, make plants
Day 4 Make sun, moon, stars
Day 5 Sea and air creatures
Day 6 am land creatures, pm man, 6:30 pm dominion ceremony

(I'm especially taken with the idea of heaven as firmament, a structural element separating "the waters from the waters")


Day 6 On Your own

(And then, inexplicably, the alternate version of events. . .)

God's To-do List

Earth and heavens
New guy
Garden & irrigation system
Show new guy around, tell him the one rule
Damn! Need Fit Helper for lonely new guy. Ideas: sea urchin, moose, bacteria, earthworm, penguin, tiger, pillbug, etc. If none of these work out, maybe try rib trick from last issue of Fine Worldbuilding?