With regard to the first 11 chapters of Genesis, I’m inclined to agree with Professor John J. Collins of Yale Divinity School, that “more than most stories, these chapters have been overlaid with theological interpretations that have little basis in the Hebrew text”. (*) This certainly applies, in my view, to the concept of “original sin”, which continues to surface from time to time. The chief elaborator and advocate of this flawed hypothesis, in the 5th century CE, was the Christian ‘church father’ Augustine but, in fairness to him, this path had undergone previous preparation.
In the late 1st century CE, in the Jewish book, 4 Ezra, the writer asks, “Oh Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants”. Happily, and perhaps characteristically, there’s an entirely contradictory view in a contemporaneous Jewish book, 2 Baruch, in which the author tells us that, “Adam was responsible for himself only; each one of us is his own Adam”. Well said, that man !
In the Christian context, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 5, climbs onto the bandwagon when he writes, “one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all” and “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”. In his favour, however, Paul was almost certainly not the author of the even worse idea which is found in 1 Tim. 2:14. “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”. A precedent for this further obnoxious notion can be found in the early 2nd century BCE, in the Jewish book of Ben Sira, “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.” Now that’s a very heavy burden to so lightly lay on the world’s womenfolk.
I think it is quite certainly the case, that neither of these ideas appear, in the clear light of day, anywhere in the text of Genesis itself. They are interpretations which must presumably be sourced in the preconceptions, predispositions and predilections of their purveyors. Such interpretations constitute confirmations for minds that have already been made up. As ever, it’s easy, in the Bible, to discover whatever we wish to find.
The question remains, why is this concept of ‘original sin’ not only fallacious but pernicious? To do this justice, space, which is now running out, is needed, so I’ll take this up in my next post, but here are three quotations to be going on with :
Pope Pius X in a 1904 catechism – “Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory.” Well now, isn’t that a welcome relief ?!
The 18th-century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke – “Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.” Guilt also gives power to those who choose to exploit it for their own ends.
The late Bishop John Shelby Spong – “The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.” Hallelujah for Darwin (and Spong)!
To be continued …..
(*) Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. John J. Collins. Fortress Press. 2004.