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The Bible as seen through the eyes of . . .

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Scott Gray


Lots to think about here.

To start with, the dichotomy between fundamentalism and modernism is also real, in the same way that Adam and Eve are real. It’s the lived experience of many of the Christians you and I know, and if we’re to facilitate metanoia to an understanding that flies over the top of this dichotomy (which is why God put me here), we have to first meet people where they are. So these questions, while perhaps naïve, will continue to be important to people you and I know.

A bit of fisking [with non sequitor asides in brackets like this]. In the context of the dichotomy you mention, we can look at the text in several ways—

a. A chronicle-oriented telling of an event in reality, acted out by reality-based people. Handed down oral for generations until someone actually wrote it down.

b. A revelation from God, spoken to a human (Moses or whoever), in much the way that the book of Mormon was revealed on a sleepy little farm in up-state New York.

c. A history/interpretation, rooted at least marginally in reality-based events.

d. A myth, in which the author does not care if the reality-based events ever happened.

e. A work of fiction, in which the author knowingly wrote a story that is not rooted in reality-based events.

f. A forgery, in which the author wrote a work intending it to be taken as something it is not.
First, I would argue that (a) is the most sterile, and most empirical. And oddly enough, this sense of sterile empiricism is embraced by some fundamentalists. But I personally am not able to meet these folks where they are; I just can’t suspend my personal belief to accept this position as true or valuable. So I’ll dismiss this understanding of the text for now.

Second, I think that (b), (c), (d), (e), and (f) are rooted in the idea that the text is expressing and supporting theological principles that are important.

At this point, I’m going to dismiss (f), because I don’t know anyone, not even atheists, who treat this text as a forgery. [although some treat it as a deliberate lie].

I also know people who think (b) is true, in a reality sense, but I want to dismiss it as well, because I personally am not able to meet these folks where they are, either.

So my ability to meet others where they are and discourse and converse lie in (c), (d), and (e).
The acceptance of this text as history, as opposed to myth or fiction, resides, I think, on its correlation to a reality-based event. On a simple gradient, if such an event happened, the text is history. If not, it’s myth or fiction. That’s one of the questions these folks are asking. For them, the validity of the principles expressed in the story is strengthened if they are rooted in an event, and weakened if the event didn’t happen in reality. [You and I don’t bind the validity of the principles expressed in this way. Well, at least I don’t.]

Myth, in my opinion, gets shorted in the fundamentalist/modernist dichotomy by both parties. For the modernist, myth is unbound at all to reality; it is neither valued as truth or lie. To modernists, this makes it ‘bullshit.’ (I’m channeling Harry Frankfurt here). Not only is it considered bullshit, but it’s often considered disingenuous as well. For the fundamentalist, the truth/lie assessment is just as important, and so myths are sucked into their ‘based in reality’ column. For them, if the story isn’t rooted in a theistic reality (a combination of (a) and (b) above), it isn’t valuable.

Fiction is by definition untrue. I find fiction can be extremely good at expressing and supporting theological and social principles. So I don’t dismiss the value of fiction. Not at all.

But my value of fiction, if this story is fiction (meaning that the author knew it was untrue and wrote it to express and support theological principles, and never intended it to be considered reality-based history)) is not shared by very many of the players on the modernist/fundamentalist divide. So depending on your position across that divide, the story is truth, lie, or bullshit. And the value of the principles is applied accordingly. And I think that’s a shame. It’s a shame the principles are so tightly tied to the story. It makes the fundamentalists into modernists, and the modernists into fundamentalists. Metanoia is called for, I think, for both sides.

So when I think with my crowd about this story, I try to meet them where they are, and ask questions from there. Most of them are fundamentalists with modernist influences in their parsing they didn’t even know they had. And if I can decouple the value of the principles from the reality basis of the story, and do it so that the principles can be valued in their own right, I feel I’ve enriched things. Then the story as fiction, or as myth, or as history, is a delight in its own right, and not so tightly bound to the principles.

Which by the way, is what happened. Sort of. And I’ll tell you about their musings about the principles they thought were important in the story later, if you like. But for now, this comment is too long as it is.



Thanks, Scott, for the conversation.

We share an awareness that straight-up empiricism is sterile, but I sense an unwillingness on your part to give yourself to the biblical narrative, in this case, to read Gen 2-3 with second naivete.

In the university and in church, all too often people read the Bible according to the modernist / fundamentalist paradigm. So long as they do, I don't see how a text like Gen 2-3 can genuinely speak to them. But are you leading them out of the dead end of modernism / fundamentalism (two sides of the same coin)?

You construct a set of either/or's in order to set a course, but I don't think any of (a) through (f) fit Gen 2-3, any more than they fit Enuma Elish, Atrahasis, or the Gilgamesh Epic.

The direction you seem to prefer, that of decoupling myth from reality, has it exactly backwards. Myth is meant to translate an enormous critical mass of reality into an intelligible picture. Like all narrative, it finds data - an enormous pile of it - and emplots it and explains it.

Here is Wendy Doniger on myth:

On [the] continuum between the personal and the abstract, myth vibrates in the middle; of all the things made of words, myths span the widest range of human concerns, human paradoxes. .... Myth is the most interdisciplinary narrative.

Scott Gray


Eek! I disagree with your notion of what I've been up to. I have not, as you say, 'decoupled myth from reality.' If that's your assessment, then I've not explained something very well. What I've tried to do is decouple the value of the principles in the story from the reality-veracity of the specifically cited 'event.' I haven't even gotten to connections of the myth/reality stuff yet. That's next.

But before I do, let me ask you: if (a) thru (f) don't apply to Gen 2-3, what does (as a definer of some sort of writing involving writer's intent, message sent/received, and the like)?


Scott Gray

OK, now you must be out mowing your lawn, and I can’t wait.

In my last comment, I said I was trying to decouple the value of the principles from the reality of the specifically cited event.

[Post modernism loves to decouple, and it often has the reputation of decoupling=destruction. But we are wired, I think, in how we classify and in our heuristic mechanisms, to couple things together. So things decoupled don’t stay decoupled for long; they recombine with other things, and with the original coupling, because that’s what we do. Pomo has the reputation of taking a book and tearing the pages out and leaving them lying on the floor as if something significant has been rendered; but AKM Adams, a postmodern theologian I respect and admire, put it nicely this way: “postmodernism is about rubbing two texts together and seeing what sparks.” I love how pomo blesses decoupling to recouple. It’s only destructive by pomo fundamentalists.]

Once the story is decoupled from the principle, then we get to the first question: if Adam and Eve aren’t real (and you know by now what I mean by ‘real’), then what is original sin? My crowd had lots to say about this. Interestingly enough, most of it had to do with staying connected to God. And about human nature. A little bit about wanting to be like Gods. And nothing at all about disobedience.

So by decoupling the principles regarding original sin from the reality ties of the story itself, they got to stretch a bit about sin, and original sin.

I hauled out Kohlberg, and Fowler, and asked them about sin at each of the stages. Most of them articulated that their adherence to moral codes and frameworks came from motivations high up the scale. No one felt that morality was tied to fear of punishment from God, but they could remember times (and stories) in their childhood when that had been the case. But all of them felt that moral behavior was tied to God; they couldn’t imagine that people were moral without a relationship with God. (I waited. Sure enough, someone remember I was agnostic. So they think I’m really a closet Christian, I just don’t know it. Karl Rahner would be so proud.)

I would argue that if we had not decoupled the principles from the reality, we’d have been bogged in lower levels of moral and faith development. Not that they don’t function at higher levels, but that the story calls for obedience/punishment focus.

So they resonate with the story, and with the principles, but only to say, 30%. There are other stories they resonate with much, much more. But the disobedience didn’t cut it for them; they’re past this in their moral and faith development motivations.

Which leads me to myths. Here’s an understanding of ‘myth’ I think is useful:
(a) A myth is a story that resonates deeply, with a large number of people, across a long period of time.
(b) Myths resonate not because they are rooted in single discrete real-time events; most of them aren’t. Rather, they resonate because they are rooted in emic experiences. If the myth is about me and my experiences, especially highly emotional ones, and I know I’m not alone in my feelings and experience, then the story is about me in a rich, deep way. It has a high percentage of resonance.
(c) Myths resonate of their own accord.
(d) At their best, myths result in responses of positive social principles.

So this story is a myth. Its resonance varies with each person. Some deeply, some not at all. Which gets me to Paul.

I think this myth resonated deeply with him, both emically and philosophically. For Paul, it was about tying etiology and proto-narratives into his personal experiences and his philosophical framework. [I think Paul had four or five profound numinous experiences of God, and spent the rest of his life trying to explain them, make sense of them, and share them with others.]

But that need not be the only resonance. Although I think it resonates deeply with you in this way. And i think you would like it to resonate deeply with me this way. The best myths resonate deeply precisely because they aren’t about a singular type of experience, or a singular principle, of the crowd it works for.

So now I have to rant. When myths are viewed through a fundamentalism lens it’s about deep resonance on a singular principle. Things like ‘this is the principle the author meant,’ or ‘this is the message you must resonate with,’ that sort of thing. When these texts are treated as the ‘word of God’ in fundamentalism, it’s about demanding that these texts resonate with you 100%, in their entirety, or there’s something wrong with you that needs fixing. It’s about not letting these myths resonate of their own accord; rather it’s about forcing meaning, specific meaning, as ‘truth.’ It’s about demanding that if you don’t think the text is a real-time chronicle of a specific event, there’s something wrong with you that needs changing. I hate it when these texts are treated as the ‘word of God;’ it cripples the myths, it cripples the people who don’t resonate correctly or at all because their emic experiences are different, and it cripples the principles found in the text. If there is a God, and she cares about these texts, there is a hell where fundamentalists are forced to recontextualize each and every one of these myths. And read them out loud to modernists.

There. I’m better now.

More if you’re interested.



Very interesting, Scott. Here's a first question: since we are agreed (or I thought we were) that Adam and Eve are terribly real in the proper sense of a protological narrative, what is to be gained by taking as point of departure the modernist/ fundamentalist misunderstanding of a text like this?

In my view, instead of leading people out of a prison, you are chaining them to its walls.

Scott Gray


Sorry, I don't know what you mean.


You take as your point of departure the question:

"if Adam and Eve aren’t real (and you know by now what I mean by ‘real’), then what is original sin?"

The premise is false, except in the sense that modernists and fundamentalists alike take Adam and Eve to be (un)real.

If you think otherwise, please explain why.


Here is another way to put it.

In effect you say at the onset that modernists and fundamentalists and those who are neither are welcome not only to their own opinions but also their own facts. That is, you allow the m's and f's their starting point. You do not challenge it.

That's like not challenging the premise of birthers or truthers. I read somewhere that a third of Republicans are birthers (they think Obama was, more likely than not, born outside the US) and a third of Democrats are truthers (they think Bush and Cheney, more likely than not, conspired to make 9/11 occur). That's an awful lot of people, 1 in 3 perhaps, inclined to believe something for which there is no evidence.

An agnostic I would think has a moral obligation to counter ridiculous gnosticisms like the above. Since I am a theist, I can afford to be agnostic about very much else - agnostic in the militant sense of putting a pin to the balloons of vapid pseudo-knowledge all around.

With respect to original sin, the situation is symmetrical. The gnosticism which denies its existence is popular enough, but that doesn't make it right.

On the contrary, as Chesterton notes, there is a ton of evidence for original sin. It is the stuff not only of religion and ethics but of evolutionary psychology and genetics.

I don't have a brief against post-modernism; I am a post-modernist myself of a sort; but if pomoism is about bypassing the question of truth, I am uninterested.

If you wish to reply that by so doing you recover the truth of those who do not conceive of themselves as sinners, fair enough.

To which it is natural to reply by remembering the words of Jesus, "I came not to save the righteous, but sinners." As true now as it was then.

Scott Gray

so John--

faced with a group made up of of several people steeped in this f/m dichotomy, and with these texts in hand:

what questions would you expect them to ask?

what questions do you wish they would ask?

how would you facilitate/propel them to an understanding outside of their f/m dichotomy?



It is my experience that reading of ancient texts, the Bible included, requires more direction than one might wish.

I would ask the group to lay aside their pre-understandings for a moment and train them to read protological narrative.

One avenue to this end would be to work through two images of Guernica after its bombing during WWII, a modernist/ fundamentalist one (a photo), and a protological one (Picasso's painting). Never mind that even a photo is an interpretation; the goal here is throw the protological genre into relief.

I would try to help them see how Picasso's painting, precisely because it corresponds to reality in *indirect* ways, contains more truth, not less, than the photo. I would talk about the potency of symbols, sign and signified. Nothing fancy, just the basics.

Then I would set them loose on Genesis 2-3. Given the pre-understandings of which you spoke, I would warn them that they have no chance of understanding the text if they are unable to understand themselves as sinners.

We live in a feel-good society so that is not especially easy. One possible way of jogging their memory is to go through the text using Robert Crumb's comic book version. Crumb captures the experience of guilt with great dexterity on the faces of Adam and Eve.

From the experience of guilt it is possible to move to the reality of sin. From the reality of sin it is possible to move to the social dimensions of sin. In class at the university I introduce students to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. But that's just me.

From there I would develop the traditional Jewish interpretation of these chapters in terms of exile (galut). I find the emphases to be a powerful corrective to standard-issue Christian interpretation. I would develop the sequence of Adam and Avraham in the following sense: neither is like Ulysses, the one who is always trying to go home. There is no going home in the biblical tradition. No going back to Eden. No going back to one's native land and kin.

There is no going back to Adam either. More precisely, the only way back to Adam is through Christ. Once conscious of the overwhelming tragedy of life (not before), it is possible to introduce Augustine's paradoxical concept of felix culpa.

The genesis narrative is anti-nostalgic. We are propelled forward. At the end of the rainbow there is no Eden and certainly not a pot of gold. After plenty of difficult experiences, slavery, the wilderness, the emptiness of prosperity, set before us is a bustling city, a river of life, trees whose leaves are for healing.

Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore.

It is an eye-popping experience to see how Genesis 2-3 is a part of what Northrup Frye called the "Great Code." That is how the text has been read for millennia by Jews and Christians. That way of reading the text remains of the greatest interest today.


Here are some helpful quotes from Dorothy Sayers' Cloud of Witnesses (courtesy of Targuman):

Bunter: “She [Bunter's mother] always says, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you look them in the face hard enough they generally run away.”

Lord Peter: “Ah, well, as the old pagan said of the Gospels, after all, it was a long time ago, and we’ll hope it wasn’t true.”

Dialogue between Bunter and Lord Peter:

“Well-bred English people never have imagination Bunter.”
“Certainly not, my lord. I meant nothing disparaging.”


Hope you don't mind me interrupting the conversation....

John when you use the example of Guernica, you are using an example based on an historical event. There was a was bombed...people died.

How that event is portrayed, either realistically(photograph) or artistically/protologically(painting) is beside the point. It is still just a retelling of a literal event that happened in an actual location within a specific time.

I don't see how that is relevant to the Adam and Eve discussion unless you believe in the literal, actual, specific events of Genesis 2 and 3.

You mention Chesterton and the experience of guilt as an indicator of original sin. To play devil's advocate, isn't it possible to feel guilt for something even though one bears no true guilt? When Lewis and Chesterton appeal to Intuition and feelings as deep evidences of spiritual facts they seem to ignore the reality that many feelings and intuitions are wrong, or can be irrational.

If one doesn't believe in the literal events in Genesis 2-3 it is still quite possible to believe in original sin....though it might have to be called something else--innate human deficiency....realization of our limitations and selfishness...the battle of the spirit/mind over the biological impulse....etc.


Hi Terri,

Scott and I are more than happy to have other conversation partners.

You raise lots of interesting issues. With respect to Guernica and original sin, one salient difference which Picasso by way of his art immediately abolishes is the difference between a one-time event and a recurring event with paradigmatic repercussions. That is, Guernica was a one-time event which Picasso invests with a range of lateral and vertical cosmological connections.

An author of protological narrative starts elsewhere, with the deep structures of human life, and reshapes them into a narrative of origins in order to plumb their mystery as much as make sense of them. The events which form the starting point of a protological narrative, in the case of Genesis 2-3, are experiences of everything from a sense of paradise lost, lost innocence, temptation, disobedience of a norm, and gender complementation. No one doubts the existence of these things - though of course one can and one must make a distinction between true and false guilt (Paul Tournier). What a protological narrative does - these chapters, Atrahasis, and Gilgamesh are ancient examples - is to collapse these realities into a narrative of origins since that is the question of interest: what are the reasons - etiologies - for these things.

The idea that descriptions of things protological or eschatological are or should be literally true or not literally true is misleading. One can only sympathize with Picasso who, when asked, what does the bull mean, what does the horse mean, refused to answer. The bull is a bull, period, he would say. I am tempted to answer in the same way. The serpent is a serpent. Adam is Adam. Eve is Eve.

The author of Gen 2-3 knew first hand the experience of sin, the experience of God, temptation, the curse on the ground, etc. The author connects these experiences and seeks to identify reasons, reasons of the heart, reasons of the mind. It is one of the most powerful master-narratives ever written. Paul builds on it in a particular way, but he is also working within a tradition of interpretation which makes these two chapters resonate within a larger metanarrative encompassing all of scripture.

What anthropologists call myth, epic, and legend, it has long been recognized, relate to *more* literal events than one, and do so indirectly, like a Picasso painting. They have a richer and deeper connection with the real than a chronicle built out of meticulous historical research which is then narrativized. That being the case, it is no wonder that human beings continue to turn to multi-tiered narratives imbued with temporal overlays (sci-fi is the most widely consumed genre of this kind today) in order to make sense out of their existence.



I don't disagree with much of what you have said in your last comment. While you contend in your post that history is "made up" in the same way that proto-logical narrative is, can we at least agree that history is made up of already existing elements rather than being called into being ex nihilo?

I understand Scott's questions and I think that the people he refers to in his comments do too. While you may think that people taking Genesis in literal fashion, such as modernists and fundamentalists do, are simply naive and ignorant about context, for ill or good that is the way that Genesis has been presented to the masses.

If Genesis is a story meant to relate the human condition, and is understood as such without the feeling that it is a "literal" story, it creates a very different mindset in those relating to it. The themes still work. The power is still there....but the need to make everything "fit" neatly and tidily suddenly disappears. There is freedom in recognizing that.

The need to defend a literal Adam and Eve eventually sets parameters that are constantly under pressure for the average person. It boxes people in and makes them feel as if there must be a choice between the protological narrative and reality as they currently see it.

I think Scott's point about original sin no longer being about disobedience is a good one. If evolution is true and man evolved over time, either with or without God's help, then our human, biological impulses are not the results of a great offense, they are not the consequences of willfully trying to defy God...they are the limitations of animals asserting themselves in those who are trying be more than animals in some sense.

The results of an idea like that has the possibility of recasting a great many things.



You're right of course: history is not made up ex nihilo. But neither is protological narrative.

On the contrary, protological narrative is a prismatic genre (Doniger calls it the most interdisciplinary narrative) through which far more data is refracted than in a researched history built up out of data points taken from a very finite number of primary sources.

Does that sound right to you? As you put it, protological narrative is meant to relate the human condition. I would add: it probes its deep structure; the metaphysical conflict the human condition instantiates.

As for protological narrative "fitting neatly," I would say it does so in its own way. Does a Van Gogh or a Chagall fit neatly? They fit wonderfully, better than any photograph, but they do not fit the subject in the same way. They reveal things a photograph never could.

With protological narrative, a Chagall, a van Gogh, all the details matter; none should be put aside as primitive or unimportant. All the details are there for a reason.

In the m/f dichotomy, it is all about defending a non-literal/literal Adam and Eve. Both are defense mechanisms. The modernist reflex is an obvious attempt to shield contemporaries from the truth-claims of the text. The fundamentalist reflex accomplishes the same despite the pious intentions.

I understand the impulse to eliminate categories such as "disobedience" and "sin" from our self-understanding. However, it is a misunderstanding of the truth-claims of evolution to think that said theory renders such categories suspect or superfluous. Science has no access to the subject matters at hand. The more consistent and strict among scientists (they are rare) insist on this. Go here:

As for your specific metaphysical claim, that biological impulses are not the result of a great offense, that might be the case, or it might not be the case. How would we know? Purely biological impulses do not exist in nature; the impulses we have are always and everywhere a product of biological givens as well as biological and cultural variables in the environment, inherited or otherwise acquired. They are also (so Judaism and Christianity teach; there is no scientific evidence for it) the results of choices of a self, a moral agent. In so far as biological and cultural factors determine our behavior (and they do, immensely, as science teaches above all), original as opposed to purely spontaneous sin is a formidable reality.

God in warning that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the third and fourth generations was being optimistic if modern genetics are any guide.

The social dimensions of sin are enormous, and that dimension has cross-generational force. Surely these truths are not the stuff of great novels and biblical literature alone.

Biologists, not just theologians, think of biology and culture and behavior as elements in a continuous feedback loop. It would be nicer if instead we were all created equal. But the "created equal" truth is a "should be the case" truth, not an "is the truth" truth.

And that is exactly what Gen 2-3 teaches. We are not what we should be.

Again, there is enormous cultural pressure at the moment to abolish any remnants of a felt difference between who and what we are and who and what we should be. Is this pressure to be accommodated, or challenged? Unless you think the world is not in need of becoming a better place, it will be the latter.

In short, you are exactly right. If realities like original sin, guilt, and disobedience are best bracketed out of our moral equations, then there is the possibility of recasting a great many things. If you think you should or must, good luck. It has been tried many times before. Greek philosophy is strewn with thought experiments of this kind, with corresponding lifestyles that went with them.


On another thread Steve Pable linked to an article that is relevant here:

"From dust you came, to dust you shall return" is a koan if you will with healing power because of its embedment in the biblical story of salvation.



FIrst I would like to say that I am speaking in hypotheticals, not in settled claims which I have appropriated fro my self. So, I am not saying that there is no such things as sin, or that everything that humans do is OK because it's all a part of our biological nature anyway.

I feel as if you are arguing with me as if I have spoken with settled certainty about the matter. I have not. I am speaking from a place of trying to understand what the implications are, or might be, for theology and belief and finding a position that is satisfying in the material realm/world and in the "spiritual" realm/world....though I am near to a materialist in many ways.

We are not what we should be. I agree. Or maybe I would rephrase it as we are not what we most long to be.

The question is why are we not what we should be? Is it because someone ate some fruit they shouldn't have in a garden at some point in time? If evolution is accepted then I'm not sure a person could answer, "Yes," to that question.

Thinking of Adam and Eve and The Fall as representations, rather than actual people, naturally leads to questions about what the nature of sin is....what makes us have this sense, or feeling, as if we should be more than we are?

After all, I am assuming that chimpanzees don't spend their days feeling guilty about past behavior, or wondering if they should be doing something grand and noble with their lives, or pondering what the purpose of existing is.

So then...the difference between us and other animals would be that we do spend our days thinking of such things, searching for reasons for every question and aspect of our lives.

In many ways The Fall is a perfect metaphor for our experience of being self-conscious and experiencing life as "other" and the realization that we are somehow separate from the natural world while also being a part of it.

That "knowledge" carries blessings and curses as one perceives oneself as being part of, and simultaneously separate from, the reality in which the natural world operates.

Yes....great meaning is still to be found in Genesis...but that is very different than reading the story as Divine disfavor visited upon humanity for all time.

Again....I haven't yet come up with a great idea or a grand theory and wouldn't compare myself to Greek philosophers.


Typos are my character flaw. Please ignore them.



You offer so many thoughtful leads to pursue, it is hard to know where to begin.

To start things off, I emphasize again that protological narrative is interdisciplinary narrative par excellence. For that very reason, it is a container, or intends to be a container, of a critical mass of truth. A protological narrative would never be about eating an apple in a garden in defiance of an arbitrary command. Gen 3 comes across to a modern reader in that way only because we have forgotten the art of reading things like myth, epic, and legend.

I know that you are thinking out loud, not making settled claims. The attraction of materialism is strong, until you realize that Pinker's list of imponderables, to which science has no access, are precisely the things we think and care about because we are human.

Things like the concept of the self, moral agency, and an aesthetics one can argue for, not simply assert - these things cannot be adjudicated from a materialist point of view. It is not even clear how they can be explained except as so many examples of hypertrophy within an evolutionary framework. But if hypertrophy can explain any thing, it explains nothing. It names a mystery.

My goal so far has been to suggest that one of the things that Genesis 2-3 is about is moral agency. Moral agency is about deontology, shoulds as opposed to wants. I'm sure you want (that word again) for your doctor to have a deontology, a code of ethics, not just things he wants or does not want to do with you. It's the same in Gen 2-3. Still, you are on the right track in my view. Gen 2-3 is at the crossroads of ethics and aesthetics on many levels, and this has often been overlooked in Jewish and Christian tradition.

Furthermore - and this is clear already in Gen 4, the sequel to Gen 3, the fact of original sin does not mitigate the almost obsessive emphasis in the Hebrew Bible on personal responsibility. Put another way, it can be argued that the Bible has a holistic take on moral agency, not least of all because of the strong version of monotheism it upholds.

Perhaps it's helpful to make a comparison with a different culture, a different religion, and another book of scripture. The most widely read example of Hindu scripture is the Bhagavad Gita, an epic / legend/ myth. In its most famous passage, the god Khrishna tells the hero Arjuna,

"You have control only over your actions, never over the fruit of your actions. You should never act for the sake of reward, nor should you succumb to inaction."

I would make just a point or two. First of all, this passage contains truth of great critical mass. If people followed Krishna's advice, the world would be full of bold altruistic moral agents and the world would be a far better place than it actually is. Secondly, it would be the most foolish thing in the world to think of the dialogue between Arjuna and his God as un-real or in-actual or non-literal.

I take the point of the Gita to be true in the deepest of ways, and I think of the epic form in which it is expressed as the perfect vehicle for the purpose.

I can affirm all of that without being Hindu. Which is interesting, because I am aware that I can affirm much of Genesis 2-3 without being a Jew or a Christian.

The truths expressed are that universal. Perhaps it would be helpful to identify the most universal of truths that Gen 2-3 expresses before tackling the more particular truths it conveys.


Here's another way to approach Gen 2-3, and any text: according to the functions of language according to SFL. The following summary is borrowed from the appropriate wikipedia article.

Michael Halliday (1973) outlined seven functions of language with regard to the grammar used by children:

(1) The instrumental function serves to manipulate the environment, to cause certain events to happen
(2) The regulatory function of language is the control of events
(3) The representational function is the use of language to make statements, convey facts and knowledge, explain, or report to represent reality as the speaker/writer sees it
(4) The interactional function of language serves to ensure social maintenance
(5) The personal function is to express emotions, personality, and “gut-level” reactions
(6) The heuristic function used to acquire knowledge, to learn about the environment
(7) The imaginative function serves to create imaginary systems or ideas

I find the taxonomy helpful though phrases like "control" and "social maintenance" prejudge matters.

It is a blast for example to think through the ways the speech of Yhwh, the serpent, Eve, and Adam control or seek to control events. It is also instructive to kick the analysis up a level, and think of the ways in which the author wishes to control events through the narrative he authors; and the ways in which we wish to control events through our spoken responses to the narrative.

To return to a theme of comments so far, what both modernists and fundamentalists struggle with is the extent to which protological narrative fuses functions (3) and (7).

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