The first sin and its punishment

The First Sin and Its Punishment

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ‘ 4 But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. [1]

The book of Genesis is one part in an anthology of materials that have been put together over a considerable period of time. Pertaining to be part of a diverse oral tradition, it does not, according to Burnette-Bletsch, have any singular authorship.[2] The book of Genesis is known as the primeval history, as it is believed to be expressive of a time before, there were any recorded histories. As a result, these histories were often recorded at much later stages[3] However, there are some parallels with Ancient near Eastern literature which contradict this statement. As a result, this debate will, in all probability remain sterile. Regardless of the debate, Genesis is deemed to be an historical book. However, not in the modern sense, it is history with a purpose. It is a collection of instructional, educational, and religious material. The very fact that this tradition had been passed down through the generations, may even have led to omissions of material, however, this should not be viewed by the modern academic as a setback.[4] One must also take into account the fact that many people will not all share the same viewpoint. In this respect Biblical narratives are often a complex mix of sources, genres and interpretation, both in their written and oral formats.[5]

Known as mosaic authorship the traditional Jewish and Christian belief denotes that the first five books of the Old Testament were Gods inspirational words which were written down by Moses. P J Wiseman somewhat supports this theory, however, he cites Moses as the redactor rather than its author. He also states that there are several clues within Genesis which reveal how it was written. He refers to the toledots or genealogies in Genesis and draws attention to the colophons, believing them to be a specific symbol of authorship. Thus, concluding that the people that are actually named, (Adam, Noah, Shem et al), were the ones who wrote on the clay tablets in cuneiform, therefore, making them the true authors. Moses, subsequently, as a result of his Egyptian influences, just brought together and edited this work from the tablets.[6]

However, more liberal theologians generally accept the Wellhausen theory, or ‘documentary hypothesis’ which asserts that Genesis and the remaining Pentateuch was written by a group of authors, from diverse locations throughout Palestine, over a substantial period of time. The theory is that these books were redacted or compiled from the texts of pre-existing documents. Within this theory there is also the belief that each author wrote with their own particular style. This effectively meant that the mosaic element contained many layers of material which overlapped in some places. These writers are also believed to have had both their own styles and narratives. For example the J writer, wrote with affection for the Hebrew name for God (YAHWH). The E writer alternatively favoured the divine name Elohim. Whilst the D and P documents were names for the Deuteronomic and Priestly writers.[7] The J, E and P authors are believed to overlap in the book of Genesis, which consequently gives both complementary and contrasting elements to the understanding of some of Genesis’s abstract concepts. However, it is with critical consensus that the J writer is believed to have edited Genesis 3:1-7.[8] In contrast Wenham cites Rendtorff, in that he has challenged the mosaic theory by stating “the heterogeneous nature of material in Genesis cannot be ascribed to J”.[9] Indeed, who and to what writer, wrote which parts, still remains a contentious issue within theological debates today

Some scholars, such as Freidman and Bloom, have also gone so far as to suggest and imply that the J writer was also a female. Bloom especially exploits the fact that she may have been someone who had access to royalty, perhaps the daughter of Solomon, Rehoboams sister. This would fit with the general consensus that J had royal connections and wrote during the tenth century BCE. However, Bloom argues that Rehoboam (922-915) was the king at that time, not David (1000-961), or Solomon. (961-922).[10] The importance of this is that the kingdom under Rehoboam was experiencing internal unrest and rebellion. This was a stark contrast to the kingdom under the reign of David and Solomon.[11]

Similarly another interesting point is made by Alicia Ostriker on Blooms feminist perspective. She compares the male characters in The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Gilgamesh with the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. In comparison she asserts that the biblical ancestors were family men who initiated negotiation and deflected potentially dangerous situations. Whereas, the characters in the above texts were warriors and fighters, this alone may make a case for the survival of a female perspective within the overwhelmingly male dominated traits contained within the Hebrew bible.[12]

The book of Genesis covers the largest time period than any of the other books. It covers the periods from creation, up to the time when the Israelites arrived in Egypt and grew into a nation. The literary structure of Genesis is built around eleven separate units. Beginning with the creation and the origins of the universe, through to the early history of the Israelites.[13] This proprietary text also gives and puts the biblical patriarchs into a creation framework. Originally written in Hebrew the title bereshit translates to ‘in the beginning’ and is a translation of the Hebrew word toledot. [14] As a result Genesis is a history of origins, births, genealogies, and generations.

The primary intent of Genesis one to eleven is focused around the ‘parables’. These cover the two creation stories, the Fall, Cain and Abel, The Flood and the Tower of Babel.[15] These myths centre upon deep philosophical meaning as opposed to fable or mere legend. They are also far removed from scientific theory. Indeed, the parables of Genesis with its poetic imagery and symbolism must be read, according to Richardson, as poetry and not as prose. In this context, Adam, Eve and the serpent should be viewed as poetical, religious figures, and not as real individuals.[16]

Genesis 3: 1-7 has been the subject of many theories and interpretations between scholars alike. It is taken by many as an explanation of ‘original sin’. However, the word sin never occurs. Disobedience and its consequences, however, do occur. Phyllis Trible sees Genesis chapter two and three as ‘A love story gone awry’. She identifies that the plot is simple and uncomplicated. However, she also believes it to be full of uncertainty and plurality. She identifies that some may interpret Adam as superior to Eve and be both dependant and worthy, of the description ‘troublemaker’. However, Trible also notes that Adam remained silent in this text, a sign of his passive weakness perhaps.[17] Schungel-Strauman believes that no gender can claim dominance over the other, as the author of Genesis clearly provided a male and a female, evident in Genesis 1:.26-28.[18]

Richardson expresses the view that the serpent within the text is a personification of temptation and should not be thought of as external to that of human nature. However, the J writer does not attempt to answer the philosophical question of where and how evil came into the world, he just tries to portray humanity. For example, the serpent may appeal to ones vanity and may suggest that Gods goodness can be emulated.[19]

The serpent appears to be impersonal towards God as he refers to him as God and not Lord God. This bold rhetoric may be a direct challenge on his divinity.[20]As a result this challenge introduces a sense of unease into the text and is possibly a preamble of manipulation and trickery, is thus, imposed upon the reader. However, in contrast the serpent asked Eve an inquisitive, innocent question. Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ This could imply that it was God himself speaking.[21] There is also the question of how did the serpent know firstly that God had spoken and secondly, what God had instructed. This could again imply that that the serpent was indeed manipulative and had an ultimate objective.

A common interpretation is that the serpent is identifiable as either Satan or the devil. However, the serpent in ancient times was a symbolic figure, prominent and adored around ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Palestine. There was also an opinion that the serpent was intrinsically wise. Indeed, they often guarded the doorways of Egyptian Tombs, which symbolically, represented the mansions of heaven. They were also kept in temples and in the tombs of Kings.[22] To some, the serpent was also seen as a religious emblem, phallic in nature, it was connected to life, especially everlasting, or continuing. This would fit with the theme of both lineage and fertility of beginnings, evident within the book of Genesis.

Next the focus appears to be on Eve the woman. Eve begins a dialogue with the serpent and explains both the instruction and consequence of disobeying Gods word. Eve uses the word God just as the serpent had, which possibly could indicate that she felt it was a somewhat harsh command.[23] The fact that the fruit could not be touched or eaten denotes that the action of disobedience would result in death. This could be taken literally, given the fact that both Adam and Eve had not previously touched these items. However, when the serpent answers you will not die and God knows what will happen, implies that God knew that they were going to both disobey and become enlightened in some way. Death therefore, may not have meant physical death but an ending of another sort. ‘Your eyes will be opened’, could be where ‘crafty’, the description of the serpent fits, or it could be where a bilateral view of good and evil in the world becomes evident to man. In so much as God had decreed a death sentence and the serpent had predicted increased knowledge.[24]

However, Eve choose to ignore Gods instruction and take those of a crafty serpent, lured by his promise of liberation, freedom and knowledge, rather than the consequences of death. Yet in her ignorance, disobedience and doubt become parallel processes in so much as, when we obey God we fail to assert ourselves. This failure can then cause doubt and consequently, disobedience. Thus, when the serpent suggests that God did not forbid the eating of the fruit, it may have signified Gods divinity or his concern for humanity. Comparatively, human assertion may have highlighted the need for them to be the central figures, and not God. As a result, this rebellion may have signified human pride, which in turn led to sin, and equated to them wanting a parallel and equality with God.[25]

Eve again is the central figure in Genesis 3: 6 and rather than be under the guidance of God, she possibly tries to assert her independence. One interpretation comes from Clare Amos, who believes that this verse is a metaphor for the maturity of both society and human beings. She suggests that Paul in (Rom7.7-12) also supports this theory. She further highlights the idea by explaining that the use of the adjectives, pleasing and desirable draw upon the idea of sexual maturity .Indeed, under the guidance of the serpent, a phallic symbol, the body’s senses became more obvious. When the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Amos, attributes this as a representation of them leaving an immature state of mind and thus, conforming to the constraints of society.[26] As in non biblical primeval narratives, clothing was a mark of civilisation.[27]

In conclusion, Genesis 3 is the prologue to mans salvation, resulting from man disobedience towards God, However, it should not be read literally, but in context to ones own understanding. It serves as a theoretical text for the universal question of disobedience. However, it culminates in God not destroying man, but preserving his life. This redemption consequently sets him on a path towards salvation.[28] The book of Genesis is that path as it portrays a concept of human conduct, which both illustrates and illuminates our choices. It offers both subtle guidance and regulations and deals effectively and metaphorically with the possible consequences of noncompliance. Regulation is the backbone of any society, it cannot exist effectively without some controls. As a result the book of Genesis served as an interactive narrative that highlighted these issues and that in turn united the ancient societies.

[1] Coogan, Michael, D, (ed), The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha 3rd Edition NRSV, (Oxford, 2007).pp.14-15

[2] Burnette- Bletsch, Rhonda, Studying The Old Testament, (Abingdon Press, U.S, 2007).p.8

[3] Ibid, p.125

[4] Vawter, Bruce, A Path Through Genesis, (London, 1957).p.21

[5] Edward L. Greenstein, ‘The Formation of the Biblical Narrative Corpus’ AJS Review, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1990), p.162


[7] Vawter, Bruce, A Path Through Genesis, (London, 1957).p.23

[8] Speiser,E,A, The Anchor Bible Series, Genesis, (New York, 1964). p. XXVII

[9] Wenham, Gordon, J, World Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, (Nelson word Pub Group, 1987). p.xxix

[10] Phyllis Trible ‘The Bible in Bloom’ The Iowa Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall, 1991), pp.21-22

[11]Hill, A, & Walton J, H, A Survey Of The Old Testament 2nd Ed, (Grand Rapids Zondervan, 2000). p.157

[12] Alicia Ostriker, ‘The Book of J’ The Iowa Review, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall, 1991), p.16

[13] Speiser, The Anchor Bible Series, Genesis, p. LV

[14] Burnette- Bletsch, Studying The Old Testament, p.25

[15] Richardson, Genesis 1-11, p.27

[16] Ibid, p.30

[17] Trible, Phyllis, God And The Rhetoric Of Sexuality, (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1978). p 72

[18] Brenner, Athalya, (ed), A Feminist Companion To Genesis, (Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).p.75

[19] Richardson, Alan, Genesis 1-11, (Torch Bible series, London, 1953).p.71

[20] Burnette- Bletsch, Studying The Old Testament, p.30

[21] Wenham, World Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, p.88

[22] W. G. Moorehead, ‘Universality of Serpent-Worship’, The Old Testament Student, Vol. 4, No. 5 (Jan., 1885), p.207

[23] Wenham, World Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, p.88

[24] Burnette- Bletsch, Studying The Old Testament, p.30

[25] Richardson, Genesis 1-11, p72

[26] Amos, Clare, The Book Of Genesis, (Peterborough, Epworth Press, 2004).p.23

[27] Coogan, Michael, D, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, p15

[28] Richardson, Alan, Genesis 1-11, p.79

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