16 May 2017

Two Trees


T
hinking about Eden again—the story of humankind’s beginnings as conceived by a bunch of babbling barbarians thousands of years ago (as the Reverend Mee puts it). You probably recall the main thrust of it—Yahweh plants a garden, creates the first man to take care of it, and forbids him to eat from a tree in the center. Yahweh makes him a wife, however, and a snake tempts her into eating the fruit; she gives some to her husband, Yahweh finds out, and all three—the man, his wife, and the snake, are punished and kicked out of the garden.
It sounds rather like one of those stories from North American or African tribesmen in the anthropology books, but is often treated with absurd solemnity even in today’s culture. There are a number of oddities, inconsistencies, and loose ends in the story. Consider:
·         The first man is forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge (2:27)—but he is not expelled from the Garden for this—rather he is expelled from the Garden to keep him from eating from the Tree of Life (3:22-24).
·         The first couple make clothing for themselves out of fig leaves (3:7) but in the next verse hide from Yahweh because, as the man explains, “I was naked, so I hid myself” (3:10). What happened to their fig-leaf clothing?
·         The woman is twice given a name, first by the man after her creation (2:23) and later by the man just before the expulsion from the Garden (3:20). In the first she was named woman because she was made out of man, and in the second she was named Eve because she was the mother of all living.
·         Also, right by the second account of naming the woman we find an alternate account of the first clothing—where the first couple had made clothes from fig leaves for themselves (3:7) that mysteriously disappeared earlier, now Yahweh makes them clothes out of skin (3:20).
·         The talking snake is an oddity in the narrative; even in the J narrative animals don’t generally talk.
·         All three main characters in the narrative are punished in ways that explain the world (just-so stories)—but two of them are distinctly odd. The man, who was created as an agriculturalist (2:15), is punished by being turned into an agriculturalist, and the snake is punished by being turned into a snake.
·         The First Couple are twice expelled from the Garden.
Two stories seem to be intermingled here; one involves the Tree of Knowledge, and the other the Tree of Life. Based solely on the functional criteria we have the following: (1) a story in which a god commands the first couple not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they disobey, and (because of that?) are expelled from the Garden; and (2) a story in which the first couple somehow acquire godlike knowledge and to keep them from achieving immortality by eating from the Tree of Life they are expelled from the Garden.
It has long been noticed that the two trees do not play well together; the story is poorly integrated, and all like that there. Notably, nowhere does Yahweh say anything about eating or not eating from the Tree of Life—but then the first couple are expelled from the Garden solely to keep that result from happening.
The Tree of Knowledge story is relatively easy to construct. Yahweh creates the First Man and places him in the Garden to live. He orders him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He creates the First Woman as a companion for him. She eats from the Tree of Knowledge and gets the First Man to eat from it as well. They then realize that they are naked and make clothing for themselves. This catches Yahweh’s attention and he expels them from the Garden as a punishment. Men are condemned to agriculture, and women to subjection to men and pain in childbirth.
The Tree of Life story seems to be more fragmentary, but it must have gone something like this: Yahweh creates the First Man as a gardener (it is not a punishment in this version). Somebody enlightens him and he realizes that he is naked, so he hides when hearing Yahweh wandering about in the Garden. Yahweh is alarmed when he realizes that the First Man has become like a god, and he takes counsel with the other gods. They decide to expel the First Man from the Garden so that he does not eat from the Tree of Life and complete the transition to godhead by becoming immortal. Yahweh then helps the First Man out by providing him with clothing made from animal skins and a companion named Eve.

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