Saturday, February 8, 2014

IN THE BEGINNING Genesis 2/4-6

"These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground" Genesis 2:4-6 ESV

Some new details in the origin story emerge here. Some say so much change occurs it's apparent this is a different writing, from different authors, attached at one point in antiquity to Genesis 1. Others believe it's the same author throughout (traditionally Moses), but he's now digging into the details of creation since the overarching narrative of chapter 1 is complete.

I lean toward it being a once different oral tradition, finally written down and added to the account. Different author. Different take. Same heart. There's a few reasons I feel this way, though I'm not one to say I've got the truth cornered on all this:

*Genesis 1 is poetic, grand and climactic. Genesis 2 is folkish, plain.
*Genesis 1 has an order. Genesis 2 is not only not concerned with order, it's a different order than 1.
*Plant life occurs on Day 3 in chapter 1. Plant life hasn't yet taken off until Adam arrives, according to chapter 2.
*Genesis 1 has man and woman made, by God speaking, simultaneously. Genesis 2, as you'll see, depicts man from clay, then woman from man's side.
*Genesis 1 depicts Elohim. Genesis 2 introduces us to God's name, the Tetragrammaton, YHWH ("Yahweh", "Jehovah"...the pronunciation is unknown) translated in our modern english as "LORD God" (YHWH Elohim).
* To begin digging into the hypothesis that there are different authors and sources throughout Genesis, grab a shovel and start here.

An interesting side note is the use of the word "day" in Genesis to speak of the entirety of the Creative process. "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens'. It's often argued that "yom" primarily means a 24-hour day in hebrew. Especially when numbered as it is in chapter 1 and "night and day" are used in conjunction. Here we have however, a chapter later, the same hebrew word yom used to describe the whole period of creation, earth and heaven, referred to as a "day". This should give us more than a bit of latitude as we discuss the age of things, and how long it took to make them.

My real interest in today's passage has to do with the culture it originally spoke to. Notice the challenge presented as the text sets the stage for Adam's existence. The necessary gears for successful agriculture aren't yet in place. No rain, and no workers. Just a mist watering the ground, which we can assume meant there were some plants, but the "good ones" weren't present yet. Or, the mist just kept the plantless mud wet. The issue presented isn't just that there were no humans yet. 

The fields were bare, and there was no such thing as farming to make them otherwise.

If you're reading this blog, chances are you don't live an agrarian life. The vast, vast minority of us have anything to do with the production of food, crops or livestock. Gardens and pets not withstanding, most of us don't have an understanding of the world Genesis came from and was originally intended for. That's not to say we in modern times can't benefit from it unless we milked something other than a carton today. It's simply to remind us that we are so far removed from the context that we have to work very hard to get to the heart of what's being told to us.

I have this conversation with people a lot. They can't understand - or they disagree with - something they find in the scriptures. Naïveté. Narrowness. Violence. Moral bankruptcy. I don't feel compelled to defend the Bible like I used to. I often just ask if the person believes they would feel the same way if, rather than being at the top of society as most of us in the US are (at least relative to the whole of history) looking down and back at the scriptures, they were at the bottom, looking up and forward. What if what you are reading came from oppression, hardship, poverty and having to work in order to not die? What if the narrative assumes you need hope in a comparatively hopeless situation, some comfort and a reminder that your life, however scorned and abused by the upper echelons of society, is deeply sacred. Sacred enough to be hand-designed in the Beginning by YHWH Elohim. Suddenly the severity of some of the violence, if still not justifiable, becomes understandable. The simplicity of the people and their views on keeping a nomadic, off-grid way of life together becomes coherent and respectable. God's severity with other stronger nations on behalf of Israel becomes a little easier to digest. The sense of the underdogs' needing powerful Advocacy resonates, and seems truer to human history than our current ability as a privileged people to implicitly judge god as morally beneath us.

The story starts really, really simple. And, if we're ranking; really really low. A relatively unsophisticated people celebrated that God, the LORD God of the Universe, created all things and then stooped low enough to care for basic needs. Beauty, agriculture, life, rest, food, and knowing you're as much a part of a sacred story as anyone else.

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