Genesis Overview: The Paradise and Fall Narratives

In spite of irregularities, Chapters 2-3 are to be understood as a whole with a consistent train of thought in a complex unity, as a narrative, a travelled road that cannot be traversed again. “...a factual report is meant to be given about facts which everyone knows and whose reality no-one can question" (p75). It primarily raises questions and denies the stability most commentators have given to it.

2.4b-7: In contrast with P which goes from chaos to the cosmos, this account is of man, starting with desert in contrast to the sown; creation takes place around man; water is a friend not an enemy. In this anthropocentric account, whereas "In Chapter 1 man is the pinnacle of a pyramid, in Chapter 2 the centre of a circle" (Jacob) (p77). Man is created by God's breath in a locus classicus of OT anthropology, distinguishing not body and soul but body and life. "... the undertone of melancholy is unmistakable, a faint anticipation of the state of post Adamic man!" (p77). Eden is not a vegetable garden but a park, redolent of kings.

2.9: The tree of life is startling in a non-mythological context and only occurs elsewhere in Proverbs 11.30, 13.12 15.4; the tree of knowledge is mentioned nowhere else. The two trees represent the fusing of two traditions; the latter is central, the former disappears except for 3.24.

2.10-14: An extraneous interpolation. Impossible to identify the first two rivers. The passage suggests paradise in "God's mountain in the North", perhaps Armenia. All the world's water flows through paradise.

2.15: Man is to work the garden and preserve it from damage; sober, much less than the commonly held fantastic view of paradise. Man was dedicated to service. God intended no moral purpose in forbidding one tree; before 3.1 man was at God's complete command, to think otherwise is to lapse into rationalist anachronism. The fruit was bad for man but paradise was an arena of God's command, a place of pleasure and freedom from suffering, not a place for testing obedience. But does man know about the tree before the devil speaks? "Good and evil" is much wider than the moral sense but refers to omniscience.

2.18: Solitude is defined as helplessness; "... the wife receives quite an unromantic valuation that the Old Testament never forsakes, even in its most beautiful praises of a woman as wife (Prov. 31.1). ... the verse speaks in the first place only of an assistant, of one who is to be for man the embodiment of inner and outer encouragement." (p83). The point of naming is the affirmation of language as creative, not merely communicative but bringing conceptual order, acting in sovereignty.

2.21-23: Man names woman; the incident is elemental and knows nothing of marriage.

2.24-25: The story reaches its primary point, it is etiological, intended to explain the sex drive; they were originally one flesh before the woman was taken from his body and become one flesh again in the child. "The recognition of this narrative as etiological is theologically important. Its point of departure, the thing to be explained, is for the narrator something in existence, present, not something 'paradisiacal' and thus lost: (p85). In fact the breaking from parents only takes place for the woman. 2.24 is a definite ending.

3.1a: The serpent, as one of God's created animals, is neither a demon nor the Satan. The narrator anxious to focus on man's responsibility. The serpent puts Eve into the situation of believing that she knows God better from a freely assumed standpoint than from a position of obedience. "Wherever man attacks the concrete Word of God with the weapon of a principle or an idea of God, there he has become the Lord of God" (Bonhoeffer) (p88). The serpent's offer is not so much an extension of knowledge as the capacity for independence, so that man leaves God's protection. Autonomy is a burden yet unimagined, the step looks so small and yet offers an extension of human existence beyond God's limits. The temptation is hubris, not a plunge into moral evil; the serpent does not hector nor command, but shifts subtly, neither telling the truth nor lying. Again, the evil is not external.

3.6: Silence; the serpent withdraws. The woman stands before the tree, pondering obedience and autocracy. The decision is made, the author is almost serene. We know nothing of fruit but perhaps malus (bad) was confused in Western Christianity with malum (apple).

3.7: "Their eyes were opened". They only enjoyed the illusion for a matter of minutes; they now experience disruption and shame.

3.8-13: "The deed becomes sin through the encounter with God"; God's step dispels titanism. "If shame was the sign more of a disturbance in man's relation to other men, then fear before God was the sign of a disorder in his relation to his Creator. Fear and shame are henceforth the incurable stigmata of the Fall in man." (p91). Man tries to place the guilt with God: "... the woman whom thou gavest to be with me" but it also violates human solidarity, replaced by the solidarity of sin they do not recognise. The trial of the serpent is missing.

3.14-15: The penalties are to be understood etiologically: the serpent is not just the animal enemy but comes to embody evil; there is no hope of victory but doom. The Church's understanding of Messianic hope not justified by the passage where "seed" is not personal but refers to posterity.

3.16: The couple are not cursed but afflictions fall on the woman: "... hardships of pregnancy, pains at birth, and ... yet a profound desire for the man in whom she ... still does not find fulfilment and rest ... but rather humiliating domination" (p93).

3.17-19: The man's hardship concerned with livelihood; just as the woman's punishment strikes at her womanhood so his strikes at his manhood: 3.17c, 19a, 19b refer to the peasant; 3.18, 19c refer to the Bedouin; the misery of both primary forms of life in Palestine is etiologically established. It is not work that is a punishment, it is that there is a dissonance in creation, a disproportionality of effort and result; it does not fathom the mystery but simply establishes the fact. The passage is ambiguous about death in terms of salvation (man came from dust before the 'fall') but it has a terrible ring.

3.20: This verse is from a completely different, possibly older tradition, associating Eve with life, which is blessed even though it must end in death; one of the most complex ideas, combining pain, love and defiance.

3.21: God morphs from creator to preserver, protecting his creatures from their own shame.

3.22: The tree of life is strange to 3.1-19; "the man has become like one of us" is not ironic yet he has chosen autonomy and will over dependence and obedience, ceasing to understand himself as a creature. The deprivation of the tree seals death; but what would have been a blessing before 'the fall' would now be a curse.

3.23-24: 3.23 belongs to 3.17,19a; the cherubim were winged, half man, half beast, charged with protecting sacred places.

Although there is no known direct pagan connection, the two chapters of J, alluded to in Ezekiel 28.11-19, must be considered in that context. J, writing in the time of Solomon, or shortly afterwards: "... was the last one to pass on a myth with archaic piety. Actually, the didactic, clearly transparent manner which goes along so discreetly and far from all abstruse wonderfulness, has very little in common with a real myth ... (J) psychologically penetrates the events so incomparably." (p98).

Matters to consider:

VR concludes, in part: "... any attempt to separate the individual traditions available to the present narrator quickly becomes hypothetical. ... It is a constant source of astonishment that the narrator succeeded in making a new entity from earlier material. ... The creation narrative on the one hand and the story of the garden on the other, which originally had a one-sided etiological purpose, have become more complete simply by their combination with each other. The narrator's only concern is no longer the etiologies of chs. 2.24 and 3.14 ff., and one must generally guard against thinking that a story of such inner complexity can have only one meaning." (p101). In losing logic it has gained breadth. Although Chapters 2-3 are "conspicuously" isolated in the NT, yet they are linked to the covenant as J draws us forward.

There are some issues which VR does not properly consider:

KC V/14

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