Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday Sermonette: In the beginning, all over again

So, if you are one of those who claims that the Bible is the literally true inerrant word of God, you already have a problem. You've read the first page, which says that a good part of the energy God expended on creation went to building a "vault of heaven" (King James makes it a "firmament"), which divides waters above from waters below, and on which the sun, moon and stars are hung. Unequivocally, there is no such structure. On a clear day, one has the illusion of living under a dome, but we now know that is because of the scattering of sunlight by the oxygen in the atmosphere. We've gone up there and looked down on the earth from the moon, which isn't hanging on anything, and there isn't any water up there beyond some widely scattered dirty balls of ice.

So let's move on. As I mentioned before, the divisions into chapters and verses were made by medieval monks. It is obvious that the scribe who created the book of genesis took two creation stories from different sources, but the monk put the division in the wrong place. Here's Genesis 2. As you can see, the first three verses actually belong with the previous story:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested.
The second creation story

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This is what we call a major "continuity error." In the first story, God makes the plants on the third day, and then gets around to making humans -- male and female --  on the sixth. Here he makes a man, then he makes the plants, then he makes a woman.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
We have a problem here, obviously. The Tigris and the Euphrates do have headwaters fairly close to each other in the Anatolian mountains; but they do not have a common source. "Cush" in the Bible refers to lands south of Egypt, which would have to make the Gihon the Nile, but obviously the Nile originates in central Africa and flows north. Nobody has been able to figure out where Havilah is or what the Pishon might refer to.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Not clear why God doesn't want the man to know good from evil, but in any case, as we shall see, Adam does eat from the tree and he does not die when he eats from it. In fact, he lives for another 930 years.

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
Adam has quite a task, making up names for millions of species of metazoans.  Because of this story about the rib, people literally believed -- and it is sometimes said today -- that men have one less rib than women. It isn't true, we have the same number of ribs.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
 I would like to be able to say that this is all very interesting and meaningful as allegory and metaphor, but I really don't think so. These were stories that nomadic goatherders used to tell around the campfire. They probably didn't really believe any of this, it was just fun to tell stories, and indeed, they told at least two different ones that happened to get written down here. There were probably several others that didn't, and of course innumerable versions of the ones that did.

However, I will agree that the symbolism of the stories does get a bit more interesting. We'll see what Chapter 3 is all about next week.

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