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Murder in the Garden? The Envy of the Gods in Genesis 2 and 3 Paul DuffJoseph Hallman George Washington University University of St. Thomas According to Walter Brueggemann, "No text in Genesis (or likely in the entire Bible) has been more used, interpreted and misunderstood" than the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. "This applies to careless, popular theology as well as to the doctrine of the church"(41). Augustine attempted to explain the first few chapters of Genesis on no fewer than five different occasions throughout his career. Based on his reading ofPaul, Augustine and Western Christianity after him believed that the entire human race inherited the disobedience ofAdam and Eve. The story in Genesis 2-3 represents the beginning ofthe J narrative, the so-called Yahwist account of the creation which originated in the early years ofthe Israelite monarchy.8 Commentators have long acknowledged a variety ofelements in the Yahwist creation account which complicate its interpretation and defy any satisfactory explanation. Among the more puzzling elements in the story are, first, the implication in Gen. 3:22 of a plurality of divine beings, a fact which seems to contradict the rest ofthe narrative and which also flies in the face of Israelite monotheism. Second, according to Gen. 2:17, God threatens Adam with the punishment of 8 The Yahwist document, originally independent, was later combined with three other strands of ancient material to form the Pentateuch. For a recent study ofthe "Documentary Hypothesis," see Richard Friedman. 1 84Paul DuffandJoseph Hallman immediate death for transgressing the deity's prohibition (cf. 3:3, 3:4). God does not carry out the threatened punishment, however, nor does the text offer the reader an explanation for the deity's commutation ofthe sentence (Westermann 224-5). Third, the origin and nature ofthe serpent in the story is unclear. Where did he come from? The identification ofthis figure with Satan in the later tradition has no support in the text (Westermann 237-9). Finally, the prohibition not to eat ofthe single tree in the garden appears to be arbitrary. Hence the crime of Adam and Eve is obviously contrived. Despite the fact that the original sentence of death for their disobedience was not carried out, the curses invoked on Adam and Eve seem hardly warranted by the offense. Consequently, some sections ofthe text depict the deity as a petty tyrant, certainly a very different picture than that given by other scriptures ofthe Jewish and Christian traditions. We believe these difficulties can be overcome by approaching Genesis 2-3 from a Girardian perspective.9 We propose that this story has evolved10 in order to hide its original meaning. As a result—following Girard's understanding of the function and evolution of mythology—we will endeavor to "deconstruct" Genesis 2-3 in order to trace the evolution ofthis myth from its origin in a primal crime. This will enable us to explain the inconsistencies in the text as it stands and to appreciate the final revisions made by the biblical author(s). We will begin with a brief discussion of Girard's understanding ofmyth. Then we will turn to the problems ofthe Genesis text. Girard on myth According to Girard, myth is, quite simply, a narrative about a primal murder, rewritten from the vantage point ofthe killers (1977a, 64-7, 91-5; 1986, 24-44). As such, mythology covers up the role of the victimage mechanism as the basis ofculture. Myths which disguise or cover up such a crime can take many forms. For instance, the foundational murder of an 9 In his recent book on Paul, Robert Hamerton-Kelly presents a Girardian interpretation of this passage which is completely different from ours (92-7). Since Hamerton-Kelly appears to read the myth at face value without a sense of development, he, like most interpreters, ends with somewhat tortuous conclusions. 10It is virtually certain that the account found in Gen. 2 and 3 did not come into being as a free composition of the Yahwist. But, as Claus Westermann has pointed out in his history ofthe exegesis ofthis passage (186-91), despite the fact that most see it as a product of a long...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 183-200
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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