Genesis 3

Here of course we have the famous ‘fall’ of humankind; in modern parlance I suppose we might call this chapter an ‘origins story’. It lays the groundwork (a pun there – a bad one, I know – on verse seventeen’s “Cursed be the ground because of you; /By toil you shall eat of it /All the days of your life:”) for the situation in which the Genesis audience would have found themselves; not too unlike our own today: childbearing is still incredibly difficult (although better), we yet work for our food (in one way or another), we die and then ‘we’ (post-awareness, absent a sense of self) return to lifeless matter, however we may term such (dust, soil, ashes, etc.). The conditions of strife and conflict which we know so well; little wonder John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952) is such an evocative title, referencing as it does the banishment from the garden and the cherubim guard positioned to its east to prevent any return (verse twenty-four).

The various Gnostic groups, who flourished in the first through fourth centuries CE, made much of this narrative, finding in it an ‘origin story’ of an entirely different sort, one wherein the Creator was an evil deity who worked to imprison the divine spark within each human being inside the dead flesh of our bodies. To them the ultimate spiritual goal was to achieve release from one’s physicality and attain to the higher deity far above the Creator, and towards this end the material writ large was highly denigrated. (For an excellent collection of Gnostic writings see: Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer (eds.), The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, Shambhala Publications, 2009.) Such ideas became the root of all sorts of later conceptions, and the notion of an ‘internal light’ or ‘flame’ or ‘essence’ might easily be traced through dozens of thinkers in dozens of traditions both religious and academic. That pursuit, however, I’ll leave to the interested reader, and instead take us back to our text.

What I appreciate about this account is the utter nearness of the somewhat reduced (rather: approachable) God/“God” that is displayed here (akin to our ongoing attempts at finding a ‘weak’ ideational framework). In verse eight it is stated to be “moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day”, and in the next verse God/“God” calls out to Adam, seeking to find him and apparently not knowing where he is; this could be a remarkable metaphor if we are prepared to allow ourselves to contemplate it: God/“God” searching for us, wishing to spend time together, to commune, to ‘hang out’; yet we have to present ourselves. How very heartening to think; and via that thought the entire emotional tenor of the chapter may easily change as we continue reading and note the development (the flow) of our ‘conscious of’ moments (phenomenological self-observation, description, analysis). Naturally there is the declared punishment – the explanation for the thuses of our everydays – but note what then immediately follows: God/“God” makes clothes for Adam and Eve, whose own attempts at covering themselves (the “sewed together fig leaves” of verse seven) must have been quite poor. Ostensibly this is a chapter of rebellion and consequences, of things gone terribly wrong, but I think that recognizing this as a relic of heartfelt ancient storytelling enables us to note the beauty and kindness that is being offered as the divine’s attitude towards humanity. Surely this is a challenge to emulate: Unwanted results in this world of cause and effect are unavoidable, but thereafter acts of charity might always be done.

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