Monday, January 19, 2015

Judaism on the Fall

I will comment on a post by Peter Enns:
i) This conversation took place in the early 1990s. Just because his classmate happens to be Jewish doesn't mean he has the inside track on Gen 3. Somebody who grew up Jewish in the second half of the 20C is far far removed from the culture in which Genesis was given. To say he's Jewish and Gen 3 is Jewish is quite equivocal. 
ii) It's even worse when Enns contrasts the "Jewish" reading of his classmate with St. Paul, as if his Jewish classmate's reading is more authentically Jewish that St. Paul's. 
Enns isn't "hearing Jewish voices talk about their Bible" when he listens to his friend. It's not like his classmate popped out of an ancient Near Eastern time capsule. 
Moreover, Enns is disregarding the Jewish voices of the NT talking about their Bible. 
iii) In addition, there are several NT references or allusions to Gen 3.
a) In addition to Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15, you also have 2 Cor 11:3,14–which implicitly identifies the "snake" as Satan–possibly mediated by Isa 14:12, with its fallen, numinous figure of starlight. 
Rom 16:20 is an allusion to cursing of the snake in Gen 3, which identifies the tempter as Satan.
b) Rev 12:9 & 20:2 identify the snake as Satan.
c) Jn 8:44 alludes to Satan as the tempter in Gen 3. He's the primordial liar and murderer because he dissembles about the death-threat attached to breaking the prohibition. 
d) 1 Jn 3:8 is another allusion to Gen 3, which identifies the tempter as Satan. 
e) In Lk 10:18, Satan's historic defeat at the hands of Jesus is cast in terms of a prehistoric fall from heaven, colored by Isa 14:12. The "war in heaven' motif, where the losers are ousted. 
So the tradition is quite broad-based. 
iv) Is it "just a serpent"? 
a) Keep in mind that Gen 3 was never meant to be understood in isolation to the rest of the Pentateuch. 
b) Although I'm not a Hebraist, it's my understanding that the word can mean "snake," "diviner," and "shining one." 
I expect the narrator chose that designation as a pun or double entendre (even triple entendre) to trigger various associations. 
In the ANE, snakes weren't "just snakes." They could function as emblems of pagan gods. 
v) It is a talking "snake" because it's a "story"? I assume by that his classmate meant it was a fictional story or fable. But is that how the original audience would view the story? Or is that a rationalistic and anachronistic reading of a modern Jewish student at Harvard Divinity School? 
vi) We also need to take into account Pentateuchal angelology, as well as traces of Pentateuchal demonology. These are necessary background elements. 
Jewish theology doesn’t depend on Augustine (or Paul), and so they read the story differently. Rather than being born in sin because of something Adam did, humanity has an “evil inclination,” meaning humans are, for whatever reason, prone to disobey God.
That’s why Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the first place (before there was a “fall”)

But that's not why they disobey God in the first place.  That's not "in" the story. There's no indication that, left to their own devices, they were inclined to disobey God.

That's why an external agent is needed to provide the stimulus. The fatal temptation comes from the outside, not the inside. Not because Adam and Eve were naturally prone to sin, but because they were incited to sin by a malevolent trickster. That's what's actually "in" the story.

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