Death and Deception in Genesis 2-3

George Athas gathas at
Wed Dec 1 21:22:16 EST 1999

> God did not say that on that day you will become mortal, or that
> 'eventually' you will die, he clearly states that they will die 'on that
> day'

We need to understand Hebrew idiom here. The expression _b:yom_ might literally mean 'on
the day that...', but the meaning is 'when' or 'then' or 'whenever'. It is an expression
signifying indefinite future time.

Think of the English expression "One day..." You might say, "One day, I'm going to save my
money, buy that car and drive it to the Holiday Coast." You don't literally mean that you
intend to do all those things in one 24-hour period. You're just talking about indefinite
future time. It's the same sort of principle at work here in Gen.

> This did not happen, it is only with later interpretation that this problem
> has been removed by considering the day to be one of Gods days,
> traditionally put at 1000 years, or as being some symbolic statement.

This is not an empirical statement, but a poetic image used in Ps 90. It's not meant to be
transferred to other references to 'one day' or the like. The poetic expression has
nothing to do with Gen 2.

> That Adam and Eve were Immortal at any time is not attested to anywhere in
> the text, the texts concerning the tree of life suggest to me that they were
> not.

That's not really a point that is answered in Gen. Death comes to Adam because of his sin
of disobedience. It's unknown whether he could have died due to another reason. The text
doesn't address this issue. The concept of immortality comes to the fore only after Adam
and Eve leave the garden when Yahweh says that if the man eats of the Tree of Life, then
he would live forever. So, it's hard to know whether the same was the case before 'The
Fall' (no, I don't mean the season after summer!).

> > In fact to Adam and Eve God must have seemed like the Liar, the prohibition
> may not have meant all that it has become to mean today, maybe they thought
> that the fruit was poison and would kill them there and then, this of course
> making it easier for Adam to eat as he saw that it had not killed Eve.

Maybe's have no real place in the discussion here. We have to consider only what the text
has in its own scope. Yahweh is certainly not a liar in the narrative because he says that
Adam would die and he did. Your understanding hinges on a rather literalistic
understanding of the word _b:yom_, rather than a more probable idiomatic understanding.
One has to ask what on earth Gen 2 is doing in the canon if it actually presented Yahweh
as the liar. This would go completely against the grain of Genesis and the entire canon.

> When God does get down to Adam and Eves punishment, he concentrates on Adams
> labors with the soil and Eve's pains of childbirth.  The idea of death here
> seems secondary.  Plus when you factor in the tree of life and Gods fear
> that they might eat of it then we move further away again from the idea that
> 2:17 must  not be read literally.

The theme of death here is not secondary - it is final. It strikes a decisive terminal
chord in the narrative. Since it's not mentioned first doesn't mean it's secondary. It is
the last note of a symphony that has crescendoed to a huge climax and then ended with a
single poingnant note. I don't know if you're familiar with 'A Day in the Life' by the
Beatles, but the last part of that song is a perfect analogy for the tone and structure of
the curses of God in Gen 3.

> That 2:17 and what transpired are in opposition to each other does cause
> problems, but it is only if you push a theology onto the text that you can
> resolve the conflict and even then there is no agreement as to what the
> theology is.

There is no opposition, conflict, discord or disagreement in the narrative of Gen 2-3.

> We are reading this text with the complex theological background that has
> enveloped it in the back of our minds, some of these interpretations are no
> doubt correct but lets be careful about investing the text with too much
> symbolism

some might be, but we're trying to read this and understand it as the ancients who heard
it did. They were familiar with their own language and its various ins and outs. When we
understand them, too, then we understand the text.

> I may be accused of being over simplistic, a charge that in many ways I also
> level at myself, but the claim that the Serpent deceived is certainly more
> than open to question

No labels or name-calling here. As long we stick to civil discussion, Noel, we're OK. No

Best regards,
George Athas
 Dept of Semitic Studies,
 University of Sydney
Tel Dan Inscription Website
< gathas@ >

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