Friday, October 4, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 1: Genesis, Chapter 1 - 3

Introduction: I've always wanted to read the Bible, but... it's just so boring! Oh, I've read the Gospels, of course. And Genesis starts out great. But that doesn't last long,... so I didn't, either.

But maybe if I blog about it I'll have better luck. Or maybe not, I don't know. No guarantees.

Note that I'm not a Bible scholar, so this isn't going to be authoritative. I'll make no attempt to be either inclusive or conclusive. Check out the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, if you want that. I'm just going to comment on whatever comes to mind.

I'm not even going to read that annotated version of the Bible. Instead, I'll read the King James Version - because I like the language - in its 1769 revision, to get more modern spelling. If that's not accurate,... well, I'll let 'God' worry about that. :)

I won't read very fast, probably, since I'm commenting, too. But I might have a lot to say about some chapters, with little to say about others. I just don't know. The point is, what you get is what you get. Right now, I don't have a clue what to expect, myself.

Genesis, Chapter 1:
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Neat, isn't it? Very poetic. But how can anyone read Genesis without recognizing it as a 'just-so' story of primitive mythology?

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of ancient Greek and Roman mythology. I read Native American mythology, too, a bit. Genesis is just like that. So it's always been hard for me to understand why anyone in the 21st Century would believe that it was actually true.

Of course, most Christians don't believe that, not literally (which pretty much eliminates the whole point of Jesus Christ, but I'll get to that later), but many do. There's just a shocking number of fundamentalists in America these days. Have they never read any other mythology? I just don't get it.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
The sun, planets and angels and the firmament. Woodcut dated 1475.
- from Wikipedia

Primitive people didn't have a clue about modern cosmology (no surprise), so they invented a universe which made sense to them. (All cultures did this, not just the early Jews.) What made sense to them was a fixed ceiling, separating the waters above (from where the rain came) from the waters below.

The sun, the moon, and the stars were fixed in that firmament. (Note that rain came from above that!) Of course, since this clearly indicated that the Sun revolved around the Earth, rather than the other way around, later astronomers who discovered the truth were threatened with death for going against the Bible.

The church didn't even bother to look at Galileo's data, since he had to be wrong. After all, the Bible had to be true, right? So they threatened to burn him alive - as they'd done other heretics - until he recanted. Faith-based thinking.

Chapter 2:
4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

Suddenly, it's "the LORD God," not just "God." Starting in Chapter 2, Verse 4, we get a different (though similar) creation story, with even the name of the deity expressed differently.

Now, according to Jewish (and Christian) tradition, Moses wrote all of this (indeed, the entire Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament). But why would he suddenly switch how he referred to his own god?

Furthermore, the two stories contradict each other (for example, animals created before people in one account, afterwards in the other). This isn't just a creation myth like other creation myths, it's actually more than one myth combined into one.

Obviously, they're similar, because if they hadn't been similar, they wouldn't have been combined into one culture's holy text like this. But again, it just seems obvious that this is a primitive myth similar to what every other primitive culture invented. These were stories people told to each other, until they were eventually written down - and codified - into a more or less coherent belief system.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Oh, this is going to cause problems, isn't it? :)

But let me get this straight. God is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent, and he can put this "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" anywhere he wanted. So why put it in the Garden of Eden, especially since he knew (he's omniscient, remember) what was going to happen? Or didn't he get all-knowing until after this?

Furthermore, how did Adam and Eve know that disobeying God was wrong before they'd eaten the fruit? Before that, they didn't have any concept of right and wrong, so why blame them for something they had no control over? (If you get a puppy, do you punish him for piddling on the floor before you've even had a chance to teach him otherwise?)

Afterwards, they knew it was wrong. But not ahead of time. (Again, God should have known that, if he had a brain at all, let alone omniscience.)

Finally, I think it's interesting that God warns Adam not to eat the fruit, but this is before he has even created Eve. In the next chapter, Eve apparently knows about this rule, but did God tell her, or just Adam? After all, if she had any sense at all, she wouldn't have necessarily believed everything a man told her. :)

Chapter 3:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

The serpent was telling the truth, wasn't he? It was good food, not poison. (God lied about that, since they clearly didn't die the same day they ate the fruit.) And it did give Adam and Eve knowledge (knowledge that God was apparently keeping for himself). In effect, this made human beings into people, rather than just animals.

I think it's funny, because this is basically the Prometheus myth. But, as Wikipedia notes, Prometheus "is known for his intelligence and as a champion of mankind." Of course, many primitive creation stories have similar myths, but don't most of them think that knowledge is a good thing?
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Eve wanted to be wise. And she was right to want that, wasn't she? I wonder, is intelligence praised anywhere in the Bible? I'll have to look for that as I continue reading. Obedience is praised, yes, but obedience is for slaves. Free men and women should desire knowledge, should desire intelligence, should desire wisdom.
14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

Snakes had legs before this happened? I've heard Christians claim that this wasn't actually a talking snake, but just a mistranslation. Leaving aside the fact that the least an omniscient, omnipotent god could do is make sure his holy book was translated accurately, I'd say this passage makes it abundantly clear that it really was a snake, don't you?
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Why does Adam get to rule over Eve? Why blame her more than him? After all, God warned Adam about eating the fruit before Eve was even around. At the very least, they should be equally to blame. (Although, as I noted, it's hard to blame either of them when they were incapable of telling right from wrong. As a myth, this one not only teaches the wrong things, it makes God seem like a dick.)
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Speaking of acting like a dick, note how God doesn't want Adam and Eve to "become as one of us"? ("Us"? There is more than one god, then?)

They were just animals until they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but now, they're a threat, apparently. They threaten to become gods, themselves. If they ate of the tree of life, they would become gods, and 'God' apparently doesn't want the competition, so he drives them away.

Of course, he could have avoided all this if he'd just put those two trees somewhere else. That was remarkably stupid for the all-knowing creator of the universe, don't you think? And I'm still wondering about that "us." Who else was there?

But then, the people who imagined all this weren't monotheists, not as we'd define the term. They believed that multiple gods existed, but they just worshiped their own. That's why the Second Commandment says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." That wouldn't make sense if there were no other gods, would it?

All in all, Chapter 3 makes Adam and Eve look like real heroes, don't you think? God, as I've said, looks like a real dick. That's the kind of god you think is worth worshiping? I really don't get it.

One other thing: I don't see anything here about blaming Adam and Eve's descendants for any of this. Did I miss something?

As I've said, I don't think that even Adam and Eve were at fault, since they had no way of knowing that disobeying God was wrong. But God doesn't seem to indicate that this "original sin" (which phrase isn't used here, either) is going to affect their children (except for not growing up in the Garden of Eden, of course).

But maybe that's elsewhere in the Bible? With luck, we'll get there eventually. For now, I think this is long enough.

PS. This whole series - assuming that there will be one - can be found here.

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