Biblical Beginnings 4: The Weird & The Wondrous

It isn’t my goal, with this article (or any article), to intentionally offend anyone. However, when I read Genesis 1–11, having removed my conservative evangelical lenses, it is pretty weird and yet wondrous. It compares, in many ways, with other ancient Near East stories about gods, creation, humanity, floods, etc.[1]

In Genesis 2, God puts his treasured creation in a garden that has everything they need and one thing they don’t need, and the latter was placed right at the very centre of the garden where, I presume, it could not be avoided. So, every day these humans would see that tree from they could not eat. Yet, according to the woman, it was “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (2:9; 3:6). That’s like putting your favourite dessert on the kitchen table every day and telling you that you can’t eat from it! If you do you will be kicked out of the house to live on your own. How could God not have known that temptation would be too great to bear?

Then in Genesis 3, we read about the most cunning animal in God’s creation, the snake. First of all, it’s a snake that talks! That’s not weird at all! And, contrary to Christian interpretation, there is no mention anywhere in the Hebrew Bible that equates that snake with Satan. Because, sometimes a snake is just a snake…even if it is a talking snake. Going back to the dessert on the kitchen table analogy, not only is your favourite dessert in full view every day, but sitting at the table is a neighbour who makes sure you take a long look at it and asks, “Did someone tell you that you can’t eat any of this dessert?” You reply, “I’m not even allowed to touch it or I will be kicked out of the house to live on my own.” Then the neighbour says, “You will not be kicked out of the house. You were commanded not to eat this dessert to keep you from knowing how amazingly good for you it really is and that just like the person who put it there you will know how amazingly delicious it is.” Really?

Then in Genesis 4 and 5 we read about Cain killing Abel, leaving only three humans on earth, if you take Genesis 1–3 literally. Yet when Cain is expelled, he finds someone to marry someone, has children and builds a city. Surely that requires that there were a whole bunch of humans on the earth. Add to that, they lived extraordinary long lives. Most people have heard about Methuselah who, the Bible says, lived 969 years!

If all that isn’t weird enough, we’ve got Genesis 6–9. Often many readers of the Bible don’t connect the first part of Genesis 6 to the flood story that follows, but in doing so, they miss the real reason for the flood. Here’s my translation of Gen 6:1–8…

  • (vv. 1–4) And then humanity began to increase on the face of the land and daughters were born to them. And the sons of God saw the daughters of humans that they were desirable, and they took to themselves women from all that they chose. And Yahweh said, “My breath will not remain with humanity forever for they are flesh, [but their] days will be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were in the land in those days and also afterward, when the sons of God went into the daughters of humans. And they gave birth to them.[2] They were the heroes who were from of old, the men of renown.
  • (vv. 5–8) And Yahweh saw that great was the wickedness of humanity on the land. And every intent of the thoughts of their heart was only wicked, every day! And Yahweh regretted that he made humanity on the earth and it hurt him to his heart. And Yahweh said, “I will obliterate[3] humanity whom I created from the face of the land, from humans to animals, creeping things, [and] birds of the skies, for I regret that I made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh.

According to Jewish interpretation of their scriptures, Genesis 3 is not the record of “the fall of humanity” but rather Genesis 6 is where evil entered God’s creation and spread throughout humanity.[4] These “sons of God went into the daughters of humans who bore them children” (literal and accurate translation). Most interpret the “sons of God” as angels. However, the term, בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙, (“benay Elohim”) is used in other places in the Old Testament and is indicative of lesser gods during Israel’s pre-monotheistic days. Other ancient cultures also have stories of gods and demi-gods having sex and bearing children with humans. The book of Enoch (from the Second Temple period) fills in what Genesis 6 lacks and calls the sons of God, “the Watchers.”[5] It was these Watchers and their giant offspring who introduce and spread evil throughout humanity.

So, how do we reconcile that an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, benevolent God regretted making humanity. Did God not know this is what would happen or, at least, could happen? And then as a result, could God not find any better options than to “obliterate” not only humanity but also all living creatures? And were Noah and his family really the only ones who were pleasing enough to God for him to save? The text says that “Noah found grace in the eyes of Yahweh,” imply that he was not perfect.[6] If you doubt this, read Genesis 9:18ff. Whatever lessons Noah and his family were supposed to learn by surviving the flood by God’s grace, they had little long-term impact.

And these are just a few of the weird and yet wondrous found in the tales of biblical beginnings. Many of the stories in Genesis 1–11 are very clearly based on stories told and written in other ancient Near Eastern cultures as well as tales about “the gods” preserved by the ancient Greeks. In fact, it is astounding how closely many of these much earlier stories are either mirrored or transformed by the later written Genesis account. I have no doubt that this was done consciously and purposefully by the biblical authors. “For what purpose?” you might ask? That is a question I will deal with in a future “Biblical Beginnings” post.  

  

This a great book. Worth the price and time to read.

[1] I’ll post about several of the other creation stories in a future post.

[2] To whom does the pronoun “them” refer? It seems like it is a reference to the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of humans.

[3] The Hebrew verb מָחָה (machah) should not be softened to “blot out” (NRSV). Rather this word means “to destroy, obliterate, wipe out, exterminate, abolish” etc.

[4] Brettler and Levine state, “NONE OF THESE early sources elaborating upon Genesis 2–3 contains any speculation about the fall of humanity or original sin. Little is said about Eve’s particular responsibility, and little is made of the snake. Such negative evidence suggests that these ideas may be original to the early Christ-believing community.” See, Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler. The Bible With and Without Jesus. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2020), 123 [Kindle Edition].

[5] I will post some articles about the book of Enoch at a later date.

[6] The Hebrew word חֵן (chen) is most often translated as “grace” or “favour.”

2 thoughts on “Biblical Beginnings 4: The Weird & The Wondrous

  1. Brian, I appreciate the highlighting of the sons of God / elohim. My understand is that God is an elohim, but all elohim are not God. The term generally refers to the spiritual beings in the heavenly realms while specifically referring to who we know as God from time to time. I’m also interested in Enoch and have done some work there. And finally, I think it’s valuable to point out there wasn’t one cause of sin in the world, i.e. the fall, and that there were other causes of sin that we have to deal with. I look forward to what you’ll be publishing.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andy. I would say about Elohim, is that up to that point in the first five chapters of Genesis אֱלֹהִים appears 60 times and every one of those sixty times it obviously only refers to the divine. Angels or other celestial beings had not even been brought up. Therefore, I think that it is best to translate אֱלֹהִים as God or to transliterate as I have, as Elohim, and let the reader decide. However, I’ve not checked out the other 750 times אֱלֹהִים occurs in the Pentateuch to see if there is any possibility that it is used by the authors in another way.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: