Death and Deception in Genesis 2-3

George Athas gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Sat Dec 4 00:37:33 EST 1999


> George, I wonder if you are trying to push the idiom B:YOM too far in
> order to protect God from the charge of deception.

No - I'm just looking at the development of the death theme in the narrative itself. I'm
not making a theodicy.

> After all, one
> might naively argue, either God or the snake was right, and if the
> snake was not the deceiver, perhaps God was? On the other hand, we see
> many cases throughout the canon where God predicts that he will send
> death and disaster but afterwards relents - do we take his mercy as
> deceit? See for example Exodus 32:10, Numbers 14:12, Jonah 3:4 - all
> God's unfulfilled intentions of bringing death. The same idea occurs
> in Genesis 6:7-8, 18:16-33. So in the biblical narratives, although
> God of course not a liar, he is one who relents of bringing disasters
> which he has predicted.
>
> So I would prefer to take it that God relented in his mercy (which
> possibly the snake had foreseen, as later Jonah did, 4:2), rather than
> stretch B:YOM (which means "at the time", not "at an indefinite time
> later"!) to 900 years or take the death as somehow spiritual only.

Since there is no mention of relenting in the narrative, or God changing his mind, I doubt
we can take the view that God relented or rescinded on his death-threat. God threatens
death and death comes about. It is quite clear from prophetic texts that the expression
_b:yom_ or _b:yom hahu'_ is indicative of indefinite future time. There is no real
timeframe for Yahweh's death-threat unless you take _b:yom_ quite literally (and
unnaturally so, I perceive). Since death is addressed in the curses which come as a direct
result of Adam and Eve's sin, Yahweh is seen to carry out his death-threat. You might
interpret it as mercy that it didn't happen for another thousand years, but that's a
theological issue. In terms of the literature, death is dished out right there in the
garden. It doesn't take effect for Adam for another thousand or so years, but it does
happen. I'm not talking about any spiritual death as that's another theological import.
But, death is there. Adam does die. Cain kills Abel. Death is there.

Best regards,
George Athas
 Dept of Semitic Studies,
 University of Sydney
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