Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Adam & Eve, Or Why No One Would Be Shocked If We Could Read From Left to Right

Adam and Eve weren't real people.


The Bible tells us so.

Let me back up.

Recently published by NPR, this article discusses the Evangelical trend of late in "not believing" Adam and Eve were real people. Evidence cited relies heavily on science (mapping the human genome and evolution) to which the rest of the world (non-literalist, non-Evangelicals) says, "Duh."

I too say, "duh," but I don't need to be a scientist or take a biology class or even read scientific articles or to know that.

All I have to do is read left to right.

And so do you.

Which means that anyone completing, I don't know, how about the second grade, should be able to tell biblical literalists that Adam and Eve aren't read people. Because "the Bible tells me so."

Here's why. Get out your Bible.

Genesis Chapter One starts off with a void and then we get some order and God makes a bunch of stuff in a fairly systematic way, it's even ordered systematically: Day One... light... it was good. Day Two... sky... it was good. Day Three... seas and plants... it was good. Etc. You get the picture. And the pictures of Days 1-6 were probably hanging up all over your Sunday School classroom as a kid. Super.

Fast forward (Day Four: sun & stars, Day Five: animals & birds) to Day Six when God creates humanity. I'll go ahead and cite this directly instead of just summarizing so we're all on the same page...

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Okay, Day six, God created humanity (italics mine): male and female it says (i.e. both genders) at the same time. Hmm. Cool. Day Six: humanity. And while we don't know how many men and how many women, humanity is definitely plural. And just to make sure we get it, the text says, "Men and Women God created them."

(P.S. This will be an general overview of Genesis 1-4 for the purposes stated above; if you're wondering about stuff like "let us make humankind in our image" that will require another blog. Or hire me to come speak, teach or lecture on the topic of Creation or Genesis at your church, school, or convention!)

Day 7: God takes a nap (that's a Pittman paraphrase).

Then Genesis 2:1 says, "Thus the heaven's and the earth were finished..." and the reader recognizes the story drawing to a close. God takes a breather (It's exhausting being that powerful - have you seen Harry Potter?!). And it's a good - pardon me - very good story.

But then in Genesis 2:4 we read, "These are the generations of the heaven and earth when they were created." Okay, I know, the reader thinks. I just read that.

But then a new story starts. Or starts over maybe.

And all of the sudden we're back at the beginning when nothing existed and we find ourself reading, yep, you guessed it, a second creation story.

Again, to let you read the text directly...

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So we appear to have started over. And the chronology of this creation story doesn't match the first one. Remember the first one? Really organized, right? (Day One: light, Day Two: sky, Day Three: vegetation, Day Four: celestial beings, Day Five: living creatures, Day Six: humanity). Well this second creation account tells the story a little differently. If we had to ascribe an order (though the text doesn't lend itself well to that) it might be: 1. Water (Streams & Rivers) 2. A Man 3. Trees and then here's the rest of the text

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LordGod caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

So we add 4. Animals 5. A Woman to our list.

Wow. That sounds nothing like the first creation story we just read. I mean there are some similarities; God is in both stories, trees and animals are in both stories, people are in both stories, but that's about where the similarities end.

And my two lists... Day 1-6 (From Genesis 1:1-2:4) and Events 1-5 (From Genesis 2:4-22) are neither in the same order, or (based on what God says) created for the same reasons.

How do I know this? Because I can read from left to right.

Please note that I have thrown in nothing that the average 2nd grade reader could not tell you.

I haven't mentioned that the word for "God" used all the way through Genesis 1:1-2:4 is "Elohim" or that in Genesis 2:5 the word for God changes to "Yahweh" which is used for the remainder of the chapter and several of the following chapters. Neither have I told you that the groups of Israelites who used these separate words for God lived hundreds of years apart. Neither have I mentioned that the group of people who called God "Elohim" were priests who loved order and systematized theology and probably would have read the first Genesis account in worship kind of like you recite the Lord's Prayer or the Apostle's Creed. Neither have I told you that the people group who called God "Yahweh" lived during the exile when all the things God promised them like a land and a people and a Temple (remember Abraham and those promises a little later in Genesis?) are all gone and they have to find God somewhere else. Lo and behold, they find God in their hearts! God was with them all along! God is not in a land or living in a Temple, God is with us - hallelujah! So in the creation story they write, God is with Adam and Eve on the earth. God walks. God talks. God makes a mud pie. God is "immanent." God is with the people.

I didn't tell you all the things I would have told you if I was teaching a class on Genesis 1-2. All you had to do was read the Bible yourself, from left to right. TWO STORIES. And any literate second grader could have told you that.

So what does it mean then when NPR reports that Evangelicals can "no longer believe the Genesis account?" "No longer believe it?" I want to ask. "Why not?" If the people who put the book of Genesis together (And no, Moses didn't write the Torah i.e. Genesis thru Deuteronomy. That'd be pretty miraculous considering he dies in Deuteronomy. Again, please put two and two together by reading left to right) intentionally put two creation stories right next to each other, then maybe the point of the story(ies) is not the literal how (order of creation, how long it took, etc.) the world was created.

And if that's not the point then we need to ask some new questions.

Like, "What do the creation stories teach me about God?" "What do they teach me about God's relationship with men and women? What do they teach me about how I should treat the world God created? What do they teach me about the purpose of existence?" In which case, based on what you answer these questions with, the statement "no longer believe the Genesis account" takes on new meaning. Do I "believe" what the Genesis creation stories teach me about God? Well, they teach me that God was so powerful that merely speaking a word made life come into existence (1st creation story), they teach me that God loves me so much that God got down in the dirt and created me with His own hands (2nd creation story)! They teach me that God is sovereign, powerful, and kind of freaking awesome (1st creation story) but not so cool that God can't come on down here to earth and be with me and talk through things with me (2nd creation story). Do I believe Adam and Eve were real people? No. Do I believe the Genesis accounts? Yes.

But maybe you don't. Okay, so let's keep going. I call this section "Further Proof That Adam & Eve Don't Exist Thanks to My Ability to Read From Right to Left."

So according to the second creation story which keeps going (it's several chapters long), Adam and Eve get pregnant and have a son. Aw... so sweet. And then they have another son. And we begin to read about the first nuclear family. Super. I just love it when people get married and have babies and live happily ever after.

Except this family doesn't. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head even in a family who's parents got to freakin' walk and talk with God Herself in the God (except God is described as male in Genesis 2, but I like to be inclusive). These two kids, Cain and Able are like PKs on steroids. And one thing leads to another and Cain murders his brother, Able.

And tries to pretend like it doesn't happen.

I'll let you read it for yourself...

Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

God, being God, knows exactly what happened, but here in this story God tries to give Cain a little grace and let him fess up to what he did. He doesn't. So God calls him out on it. And then, realizing that you can't hide from God, Cain starts to freak out. "My punishment is more than I can bear! I'll be a vagrant, I'll be like those men who stand with a cardboard sign underneath I35. It'll be awful. And anyone who meets me may kill me!" Yes, this is a very flawed world we live in where eye for an eye is still the preferred road toward reconciliation. But that's not the point. The point is, anyone who meets me might kill me... anyone who meets me... anyone. Anyone? If we take this creation story by itself (i.e. skip Genesis One) and if we read it literally, then anyone is only Cain's parents, right? A literalist has to say that anyone would be only Mom and Dad, Eve and Adam. But that's obviously not who Cain is referring to. He speaks of being exiled and being afraid that his past, his story, will follow him and people won't want a murderer living among them. His life is in danger from other people in the world.


And here's the second major setback for literalists. If they can find someway to get past two creation stories, now they have to get past Four people becoming three people becoming lots of people populating other cities.

And a second grader could tell you either the author didn't know what she was writing, or there's some other point to the story.

Again, I didn't point out that the early Israelites were shepherds and in a battle between shepherds and farmers (if you are the shepherd and you're telling the story) who would you say God would favor (i.e. who's offering would God like the most). Neither did I point out that the first few chapters of Genesis reflect lots of similar etiological explanations (Why don't snakes have legs? Why is childbirth painful? Why do we raise sheep? Why do people speak lots of different languages? Where did the rainbow come from? Etc.) Neither did I mention that there are several other very similar creation stories pre-dating the second creation story with slight variances. And I didn't mention that the slight variances the Israelites probably put on those stories - and retelling them as their own - have major theological significance (ex: in the Babylonian creation myth, humanity was created to be servants to the gods - the Israelites re-tell the story claiming humanity was created at the climax of God's creative genius and God called us very good). I didn't do any cultural exegesis of the text or delve into the Hebrew language or anything. I just read from left to right. And that's all anyone has to do to understand that the people who put the Bible together (inspired by God) didn't mean for Adam and Eve to be read as real people. They didn't put these stories next to each other for us to choose to triumph one over the other. And they didn't mean for them to be scientific evidence of the creation of the world.

Are you with me?

So when NPR quotes Fuzale Rana as saying "I think this is going to be a pivotal point in Church history because what rests at the very heart of this debate is whether or not key ideas within Christianity are ultimately true or not," I'd have to ask, what do you mean by true? Because the truth I ascertain from these two creation accounts and their subsequent stories is not how the world was literally created. That truth isn't even offered. Unless of course you're referring to how the world was created in a different way... i.e.... how it was created in love, in tenderness, in a very colorful, creative way. And if that's what you mean by truth, then NO, I don't think science is a threat to key ideas within Christianity. Because it isn't science's job to interpret events, only we can do that. And through storytelling and imagination, the early religious leaders put together the stories their people had collected about the beginning of the world and beyond, and finally in written form, these stories were passed on and on and on and eventually to us.

So let's do these ancient texts the service of reading them. From left to right. And over and over again. And let's stop talking about whether or not the earth was created in 6 days and whether or not Adam and Eve were real people. Their stories are real in our hearts and our minds as we do our best to walk with God here and now.

And that, indeed is very good.


R Paynter said...

Brilliant Ann....scholarship w/ a cherry on top! very sad it is when people limit their definitions of absurd when Al Mohler says that if A & E weren't literal people, then the work of Christ is null & void...and this guy is the President of a SEMINARY for God's sake?....and how even sadder when I know that he got his Ph.D. under outstanding teachers and he knows and understands exactly the kind of thing you just taught us and for his own political gain, chooses to live a lie & on top of it all, to tell them to the nation every time some reporter flicks on a camera.......good job...uh, VERY good job :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent!! Great read! :)

Knox McCoy said...

I LOVED this. Thanks for writing it and for being so vigilant and thoughtful with the information. Very well done.

M Acuff said...

Could God have written Gen 1-2:3?
Could Adam have written Gen 2:4-5:1?
Don't believe everything you hear or read from NPR!

Ann said...

Dear M Acuff, No scholar that I've read, literalist or otherwise offers the interpretation you just gave. But it's an interesting thought. Also, I didn't "believe" the article I read on NPR because it wasn't an opinion article. In other words, the article was expository in nature. It was a news report. Fact: more evangelicals are abandoning the belief that Adam and Eve were real people. There's nothing for me the reader to believe if they're just giving a report... except maybe believing them that they've done their research. And I think they have. The article presented examples of not only information about those who no longer think Adam and Eve are literal people and information on those who still do. In summary: your admonition to "not believe everything [I] hear on NPR" is irrelevant since this wasn't an persuasive or opinion article.