This is the second in a series – my response to the secular “reading through the Bible” and responding available at your local Barnes & Noble. Unless of course, it closed. and decided to tackle the impossible: read through and comment on the Bible. A chapter at a time, or maybe a whole book at a time, I’ve set out to read through and see what I see. Care to join me?
Before we get to the first crime of the Bible, the first acted-on violence, we have the first sin: Adam and Eve eat of the tree of knowledge even when they aren’t supposed to per God’s instructions.
What is sin? How we answer that question fully impacts our understanding of ourselves, God, and everything else we could read about in the Bible. In Genesis 2, God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because if he did, he would die; in Genesis 3, the serpent tempts the woman about the fruit and she adds “touching” to the prohibition.
But the serpent says that they won’t die (that it won’t cause their death) but they’ll become like God, knowing good and evil. In a way, the serpent is … right (Gasp!) Once they eat of it, they know they’ve done wrong, and they don’t die. But the not dying seems to be more about God’s grace than it has anything to do on the behalf of the man and woman once they’ve eaten. It’s not the knowledge of good and evil that could cause death but the repercussions of it.
Again, I don’t need to read this as historical fact to understand the point. Humanity made poor, self-interested, disobedient decisions, and crossed the lines of obedience and order God had created. But even as God booted them out of the Garden of Eden, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever'” (Genesis 3:21-22). God cared for the disobedient, sinful, expelled humans even while he justly knew they couldn’t continue as they were – they couldn’t stay in an eternal place as unholy, sinful people. It wasn’t mean to expel them; rather it was kind.
Things, unfortunately, get worse for humanity after that. Cain kills Abel because God favors Abel’s offering more; the thing is that Cain brought “some” of his crops and Abel brought the best portions of his flock. It’s not that God punished Cain because he didn’t offer up his best but rather that he couldn’t deal with his own shame, and so he took it out on his (oblivious?) brother. But Cain’s awareness of his own crime comes when he’s held responsible, when he’s called into account, when he’s called out for what he’s done. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve done some stupid, sinful, even evil things in my life — I sometimes need someone else to point them out to me. Still, when I can recognize what I’ve done, I feel regret, shame, even remorse.
Cain understands that. He mourns what he has done and what he has lost. So God puts the sort of reverse hex on him (my terms, not the Bible’s) where anyone who kills Cain will actually reap a fiery sort of whirlwind, seven times vengeance. And before Dion, we have the wanderer, the transition from landed (Adam and Eve) to gypsy (Cain).
The quick generational recap of Genesis 5 traces the Judeo-Christian foundation from Adam to Noah. It’s not really a third creation story but with its male centric overtones, it still doesn’t answer where all of their wives came from, or how, if we take the Genesis 2 story literally, where all of the wives came from. Honestly, as a teenager, it finally came to me that I should probably assume that Cain and Abel slept with their own siblings to end up married with wife and kids, if I was going to buy this as functional narrative. Seriously, that’s never been taught in my Sunday School class. #sticktothefigurative
But Genesis 6 is quick to point out that there’s plenty of wickedness, and God has had enough. But before we get to Noah, there’s some weirdness that Darren Aronofsky took advantage of with his depiction of the first sea boat captain: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterward when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (6:4). Whaaaaat? I’m reasonably convinced that the average Christian had blown right post this one on the way to the fuzzy little lion on the ark, next to the sheep, and never asked who these heroes of old were!
I can’t honestly say that I’ve got a solid lock on what the point is. It fills a lot more of the mythology to explain how there are people with crazy powers, or strong size, or, you know, Shaq and Yao Ming, if sons of God and daughters of men were conjugal back in the day. It’s a side effect of the pre-scientific nature of the Old Testament: we long to explain things we can’t understand and so we struggle to put words to them.
What’s your definition of sin? How do you understand these “Nephilim”?