This post is part of an ongoing series. For more information on why I’m writing it, and for a listing of all posts in the series in chronological order, see An Atheist Reading the Bible: Prologue.
Discussing: The book of Genesis; Chapters 3 – 5.
Chapters 3 – 5 of the book of Genesis are the stories of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman created by God, as well as their first sons Cain and Abel.1
In these stories we learn the Biblical perspective on why human beings are naughty, naughty kids, and for some reason we are to believe that it’s the fault of… a snake? I can’t lie: I was really amused at the notion that a snake was already well aware of the difference between good and evil, but silly little Adam and Eve had no idea. I have some pre-existing knowledge of Christianity that charges the snake with being Satan, of course – but I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I’m pretending I’ve never heard it. It makes one wonder, though, if the snake was supposed to be the Devil, why nobody felt the need to mention it here in the part of the book where it’s pertinent. If I didn’t know better I’d say that somebody completely different threw that part about Satan in as an afterthought.
We are also told the touching story of a man who murders his brother, and as punishment is given special protection by God. Still trying to get my head around that one.
Chapter 5 is essentially a genealogy of Adam’s kin, leading us into the generation of Noah, who will be the subject of my next post.
Knowledge of good and evil.
“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.” (Gene 3.1) A close second, I’m sure, was that irritating gray squirrel, but when it comes to ‘subtilty’ the serpent just managed to edge him out.
Listen, friends, this is clearly a mythological reference to animals having personalities. It doesn’t say, “Because the Devil was in him, the serpent was subtil.” So I’m reading about a talking serpent. Why would I ever believe this? This is a fable. It’s meant to teach you a lesson by personifying an animal.
The serpent convinces Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is to say that she had no idea there was such a thing as good and bad morals to that point. God had commanded her not to eat of it (Gene 3.3). Think about that. She was not aware of the difference between right and wrong – how could she have resisted the suggestion to eat the fruit? What reason did she have to think she shouldn’t? She was told not to, but what does disobedience matter to a person who doesn’t know it’s wrong? This whole thing – if it isn’t fiction – is a setup.
Eve eats the fruit, and shares it with Adam, and suddenly they know right from wrong. Their very first revelation? Being naked is wrong. (Gene 3.7) Seriously? But okay, if that’s the story then that’s the story. Suddenly they are ashamed of their nakedness and try to hide from God, whose voice they hear in the garden as he takes an afternoon stroll. Note, by the way, that in this part of Genesis, God is depicted as coming down in front of people and talking to them. This changes later, and I’m pretty sure it’s because the author of the book changes. I’ll explain that later. For now, just remember that “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gene 3.8), indicating a directly observable presence of God. There’s nothing vague about this: they heard him coming and hid.
God, of course, figures out what happened the way that Dad always knows you’ve been in the cookie jar, and then punishes them with a life of hard labor and kicks them out of Eden. Some things that caught my attention here include: Woman is sentenced to bear children in sorrow (Gene 3.16), which explains the roughness of labor for exactly one mammal on Earth. Gorillas, dogs, and kangaroos must have all committed their own sins. Also noteworthy: God says to himself, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Gene 3.22) Who, exactly, is us? I’m sure it will be explained later.
Now apparently there’s a tree in Eden (which is in Iraq, remember) that will allow human beings to live forever, and God doesn’t want that, so he’s got a flaming sword guarding it. (Gene 3.24) Doesn’t he realize that with the scarcity of flaming swords these days, that will only make it easier for us to find it?
I’m trying to be serious – I am. But the story of Adam and Eve is some of the silliest stuff I’ve ever heard. Why would anyone on Earth call Aesop’s fables imaginative fairy tales, but believe the book of Genesis literally happened as written? I am holding out for some huge moment – some sudden clicking into place of the puzzle piece that makes this stuff seem plausible. Millions upon millions of people believe this. What am I missing?
Humanity’s first plea bargain?
Of course it wasn’t long after seeing each other naked that Adam and Eve figured out the whole baby-making thing. Cain and Abel come along in Chapter 4, and theirs is one of many strange tales in Genesis.
Both brothers offer up a sacrifice to the Lord, and Cain’s is not accepted. (Gene 4.5) Cain seems a bit hot-headed, so I’m guessing the problem is that God doesn’t like his attitude?
Whatever the case, Cain murders his brother in the fields, and God catches him at it. As punishment, Cain is essentially sentenced to exile. Later in Genesis God is going to allow the eradication of whole cities full of men for lesser crimes than murdering one’s brother, but Cain must have had a damn good lawyer, because he basically walks away with probation.
“And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Gene 4.13) He’s a little worried that some jerk on the street might try to kill him, don’t you know, so he begs for mercy. And God puts a mark on Cain (Gene 4.15) that somehow communicates that anyone who kills Cain shall be avenged sevenfold (what does that even mean, he’s going to kill them seven times in return?).
So then what happens? Well… nothing. Cain goes out and gets a wife, has a few babies, and you hear virtually nothing more about him. Several generations later, his great-great-great grandson Lamech pays something of a tribute to him, boasting: “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” (Gene 4.24) The meaning of this is never really clear, except that Lamech killed someone and then bragged to his wives about it.
Eve, in the meantime, conceives a new son named Seth to replace Abel, and they all live happily ever after. Well, except for Abel.
The years were kinder back in the day.
Among the weirder claims in the book of Genesis is that original human beings lived for 800 to 900 years. Later on, God decides that’s not his best idea, and shortens our life spans to a much more manageable 120 years; we’ll get to that.
Chapter 5 is a line-item account of the lineage from Adam to Noah, describing the lives and firstborn of the generations between them. It frequently states that these men lived well into their 800′s. I want to know what explanation believers have for this. Do you really believe that men lived for centuries?
I have a hypothesis. Suppose you’re writing a history of your people (pre-internet, when people couldn’t fact-check and actually see that you’re full of shit), and in order for that history to work out for you, you have to explain why a finite number of people have existed in a region for a finite number of years that happens to be a few centuries longer than they actually could have lived there. One possible solution would be to say, “Oh, Adam was definitely there 3,000 years ago – see back in his day people lived to be 800. That’s why my lineage extends so far back in time with so few actual people.”
I have no evidence for this, I’m just saying.
The only thing that roused my interest here, other than the inexplicable lifespans, was what appears to be a very cryptic reference to a man named Enoch, whose life is listed as much shorter (a meager 365 years), and whose end isn’t necessarily death.
Most of the people listed in Chapter 5 are left off in this manner: “…and he died.” According to Gene 5.24, however, “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”
When I first saw this, I hardly suspected the detailed back story involved. I thought, “That’s weird, what’s up with Enoch?” I thought there would be a bunch of scholarly speculation about him, and there is, but I didn’t realize just how much.
Enoch, it turns out, wrote a book of his own, commonly called the book of Enoch or 1 Enoch.2 It contains quite a bit more of this mythology of God, including stories of Enoch rubbing elbows with him and with his ‘sons’ (more on that later) in Heaven. It is known to be the inspiration for numerous books of the Bible, but isn’t part of the Bible. I’m not yet clear on why. I do know that after looking it over, it paints imagery of this God and Heaven that isn’t part of what modern Christians are known for believing.
The full text of the book of Enoch is available online. I’ve linked to it in my Sources section below, if you’re as interested as I am.3
So now I’m curious: How many of you identify yourself as Christian, but don’t necessarily believe that the book of Genesis is literally true? It was never my understanding of religion that you could pick and choose what you believe. If you can, then you’re already a step closer to the truth than I credit you for. But seriously: A talking snake?
- International Bible Seminary (2011). SearchByVerse™ Holy Bible (KJV) [Kindle]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
- Wikipedia Contributors (2012). Book of Enoch. Wikipedia.com. Retrieved July 04, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Enoch
- Sacred Texts (2012). The Book of Enoch tr. by R. H. Charles . sacred-texts.com. Retrieved July 04, 2012, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/