Two things Genesis 2/3 doesn’t say …

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The 2nd section of Genesis runs from 2:4b to 3:24. The God who appears here is very different from the 1st section’s remote ‘voice’ which utters commands from afar and, after surveying the results from on high, expresses entire satisfaction with what has thus been achieved. The 2nd section’s God comes down into the thick of things, to make a man out clay. He also seems to make things up by trial and error. It hadn’t occurred to him that the man might need a suitable companion, but he now starts to create every bird of the sky and beast of the field, and brings each to the man to ask him if it will do. Only at long last does the idea of a female version of the man enter his thoughts. This is entertaining stuff, which also includes the ‘dumbing down’ of the serpent and the retributory removal of its legs, while at the same time purportedly addressing vital matters of life and death. There are many commentators who tell us what this section of Genesis is saying but, to be different, in 2 posts, I’m writing about 4 things I think it’s not saying. Here’s the 1st two.

1. That woman was made from a spare rib.

Many English translations of Genesis 3:21 tell us that God took one of Adam’s ribs and built it into a woman. The Hebrew word in question is צֵלָע (tsela), but it never carries the meaning ‘rib’ elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. It means ‘side’, and is used for the sides of hills and buildings etc. The translation ‘rib’ is an attempt to come up with a ‘suitable’ word to fit the context, but it seems to me that the word ‘side’ is eminently suitable, and I’m glad to see that the the up-to-date New English Translation, the NET Bible, (which is freely available on the internet at netbible.org) shares this view. It’s translation is, “the Lord God .. took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man”

The literal meaning of the Hebrew is, “he took one from his sides“, which could well be translated as “he took one side of him“. In other words, one half of the man was refashioned to become a woman, making her an entirely equal and complementary counterpart. An entire “side” of the man, rather than just one “rib”, makes better sense of the woman being called “flesh of my flesh” as well as “bone of my bones(in the plural, not singular as of a rib). It also make better sense of the idea that God “closed up the place with flesh“. Stitches could have dealt with the removal of a rib, but a complete ‘side‘ would need some serious plastic surgery! My point is that there’s nothing in this verse to support any idea of the superiority of the male over the female. Quite the reverse.

2. That the serpent was the Devil in disguise.

The Garden of Eden story is clearly a picturesque and entertaining myth. Although the serpent that appears in it has legs (to begin with at any rate) and a humanlike voice, that doesn’t automatically make it a manifestation of some demonic being, and there’s no indication of that in the text. The serpent is said to be עָרוּם (arum), meaning “shrewd”, but not wicked. It actually tells the truth when it says that if Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they won’t die! As one of the players contributing to the unfolding of the ‘on-stage’ action, it’s a colourful creation of the human imagination. 

The idea of the serpent being the devil first appears in a 1st century BCE Jewish book, written in Greek, called ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’, which says that death entered the world ‘by the envy of the devil‘. Other than that, only in the last book in the New Testament, ‘Revelation’, do we hear about, “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world“. In the Hebrew Bible Book of Job, “the satan”, (which is a title, not a name), appears in the heavenly company of the divine council of the “sons of God”. Perhaps the best description of the original function of ‘the satan’ is our modern ‘devil’s advocate’. His job is to argue the case for the opposite, so that its refutation or ‘the way things actually turn out’, will demonstrate that God was in the right. That’s what the Book of Job purportedly shows us, though some of us are not entirely, if at all, convinced. 

In any event, the name ‘Satan’, as applied to a supernatural, sworn enemy of God, is a much later arrival on the religious scene, and is very much a Christian creation. What can definitely be said is that Satan, His Highness the Devil, makes no serpentine appearance in Eden – as if he would ever ‘stoop’, leglessly, to that !

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