Facepalm. Words. They fail.
I am fascinated with the creation stories. I have mentioned before that it was the habit of ancient Hebrews to meditate by holding two thoughts which seem opposed together in your head at once. I may have also mentioned that I have both a very high regard for scripture and I value science as a tool for understanding how God’s other testimony – creation – works. Which right there creates a conflict which many people think they can make go away by picking the side that makes sense to them and hanging out there. But I always figured that if God made the world (which I believe he did) and scripture is true (which I believe it is – in all sorts of surprising ways) and science was saying something different, God had an answer. And not like, “well I only made the earth look billions of years old in order to see if you would trust me enough to think it’s really 6000 years old.” A real answer. Two true things cannot contradict one another. If they are in conflict, it doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. It means we don’t understand them well enough yet.
So with this as my mindset, I set out holding these two ideas – biblical creation and the evidence of science – in my head at the same time and meditating on them. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but it was a curious thing. Whenever I was found a good explanation for something other than a literal understanding of some aspect of the story, the story didn’t just stand – it started to make more sense. Looking at it literally – and even spending time arguing over whether this aspect or that aspect should be taken literally – is a distraction and totally missing the point. After spending more than a decade thinking, praying and reading about the whole thing, I think the closer we get to understanding of these stories, the more everything else makes sense. The stories contain puzzles worth of great minds. Unfortunately, many great minds have been chased off by those who insist that the biblical creation stories must be forced to fit into a historical framework. If only it wasn’t such a terrible fit, it might have worked.
One of the first clues that we’ve been looking at the creation stories the wrong way is the text itself. Creationists say that they are being faithful to scriptures by taking them literally. So far as they can. Which is almost as hard to do for the creation stories as it is for another famous dream-like sequence found in scriptures – Song of Songs. As always, the more literal minded among us have attempted to re-create a linear account from the text of Song of Songs. There are also people who handle snakes under the thrall of the Holy Spirit in Appalachia. I don’t remember if people have died, but I know people get bit. Probably only when they’ve been really bad. I was going to make a joke here about masturbation. But it’s way to complicated. Anyways. I personally kind of think that if a linear account of events for historical records was what God was going for, he might have done it himself – or found someone else who would.
It is entirely consistent with the actual text of the biblical creation stories to see the story as dream-like rather than literal account. There’s the vagueness, the mysterious “we” and “waters” and the fact that it starts over again part way through. Adam looking for an animal he’d like to boff and not finding one. You know, stuff like that. At any rate, the text makes much more sense when allowed to be what it is rather than trying to force it to be a historical account.
There is also abundant evidence for poetic license. There are rhymes and puns and rhythm. There are the clear references and refutations of other creation narratives common in the Ancient Near East. The bible’s creation story makes no sense as a historical or even mytho-historical bit of writing. Yet it starts to make perfect sense as a poetic, dream story meant to convey basic and complex ideas together. It carries truths and symbols that I think we can only start to make sense of now in light of what science is teaching us. The best argument that creationists can give for a literal reading of the text is that Jesus and Paul both refer to Adam and/or Eve as if they were real people. Well, besides that fact that they had no reason to think otherwise given human knowledge at that point, I refer to Adam and Eve as real people. It means nothing.
So, Adam and Eve. If I say that I’m not sure they were real people, then what are they? Well, the first clue is the homonym in the middle of the room. Adam is not only a name – it’s a noun which means man or mankind. I majored in literature and I know an allegory when I see it. Apparently it wasn’t just invented with Pilgrim’s Progress and poor little Christian, whose name is Christian, but who in no way should be understood to represent Christians in general who are making some sort of journey or something. Clearly God always dreamed about naming his first child Adam just like Gwenyth Paltrow dreamt of naming her first daughter Apple. Makes sense, see? Um, yeah. How about I just sweep away the whole problem and go with the obvious: Adam is an allegorical figure representing mankind. Crazy, I know! (Actually, if I am not much mistaken, kabbalists teach this as well.)
OK, so now that we have that all straightened out, let’s take another look. If Adam is really humanity, then the obvious problem of having one man and one woman show up in the vicinity of one another to become the first man and woman through anything resembling a natural process goes away. Mankind was a bunch of people. And maybe not even homo sapien people – Neanderthals are shockingly human. So at whatever point, some thresh hold was crossed and we became Adam. (My theory is that at the point where our brains had formed the structures needed for us to receive “nasham” or God’s breath. Whatever that is or means.)
Homonyms aren’t the only literary technique those crafty ancient Hebrews used; they were apparently familiar with alliteration as well. Adam is a word play. It sounds like the word for earth in Hebrew (adamah). If you read the text of Genesis 1 in Hebrew, the distinction gets really blurred. Physically, Adam doesn’t come from anywhere but the earth. He is a genuine creature of the earth. I think remembering this close connection puts being given dominion over the earth a whole different feel. This isn’t just his home; its what he’s made from.
So, the dominion thing. In the Genesis story, God has Adam name all the animals and in doing so, discover that there is no mate for him. This has always been a really bizarre detail to me. What – had it not occured to God that Adam didn’t spawn clones of himself like a flatworm? Was he going to mate with his pet iguana? I know – God was tired of making stuff and wanted Adam to check and see if there wasn’t a orangutan that tickled his fancy before he had to break down and do one more blessed thing? Ah, yeah – no. I think what is really happening here is that God is having Adam go through the process of seeing animals as other than himself. It could also point to the leap – whether by evolution or by choice – of only mating with other Homo sapiens. (There is evidence of humans mating with other hominids – Neanderthals and homo erectus have been identified so far – in our DNA and in fossils found in Turkey.)
I have now written nearly 1200 words and have 5 loads of laundry waiting to be folded on my couch and many more waiting to be de-filthed. Which is why this is a part 1. The next time I get around to writing more about this – I’ll deal with the creation of Eve. And then why Adam and Eve’s perfection may probably wasn’t what we assume next. And wait until you get me started on that whole fall thing. One day I may even get to my theory on that whole crucifixion thing. You know you wanna know. Of course if you can get me a publishing contract with a decent advance, I could hire a nanny and a housekeeper and pound out a 1st draft in a few weeks. Otherwise, I’ll get to it when I can. Now, if you will excuse me, this descendant of apes has some laundry to take care of.
BTW, I have not cited sources for some of the claims I make, which I know is just proof to anyone who disagrees with me that I’m making things up on flimsy evidence. To help dispel that notion, allow me to share the sort article I have read by the hundreds over the last 10 years: Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Stories of Creation and Flood: An Introduction Part I. And here’s the tab I kept open for reference while writing this. If someone wants to know how I know all these things, I’ll tell them what I tell my own kids. There’s this cool thing called google. Learn to run good searches. Same goes if you don’t know the bible stories and references well enough to keep up. www.bible.cc. Look it up. That’s all! 🙂