[asa] Re: Nakedness and the Fall of Man

From: <philtill@aol.com>
Date: Tue Mar 10 2009 - 23:18:00 EDT


I took my time to reply because I wanted to think it through.  Thanks for the criticisms, which I find helpful.  I think the criticisms aren't as strong as they first seem, though.

I think we agree that the Genesis account is not a literal description of the origin of mankind, and yet God oversaw the development of the text to teach true theology.  I don't know your opinion of mythology, but I have very high respect for it as a literary genre.  I am struck by the sense that most people today have very little sense for the normal tightness of mythological narrative and how structurally different it is from modern narrative.  A mythological narrative does not introduce little side-stories for color or for character development.  Every element of the story is essential to its main purpose.  But because the church has always read Genesis as though it were literal history, as though it were modern narrative, we have not adequately noticed the tightness of the story and how every element is crafted to work together in teaching a very small set of essential and connected themes.  My intention is to draw out the tightness of the text, to notice how the author wasted nothing, and how this might possibly bring out a few theological points that we have missed (possibly related to our modern understanding of origins, since God oversaw the text and taught us truth in it).  The alternative is to continue to treat Genesis 2-4 as a modern narra
tive and see no theological value in portions of the story such as the emphasis on nakedness, or God's effort to change their clothing, or the parallel that exists between that and the sacrifices in the very next paragraph.  This is to see the text as a grab-bag of trivia of variable importance.

My working assumptions are these:

1.  The text probably drew upon earlier Mesopotamian literature

2.  Ancient people evolved their orally-transmitted epic tales over hundreds and thousands of years and this process was effective at introducing and refining deep symbolism and structure into the stories.  I have a strong appreciation for this as I spent a couple of years studying Mesopotamian and Greek mythology.

3.  The redactor (Moses?) probably drew upon this deep Mesopotamian/Hebrew oral storytelling and/or written literature when he recorded the text under God's inspiration.

4.  The story is thus not a bunch of random trivia thrown together within a single generation, but rather it is a tightly woven and deeply meaningful work that won't disappoint when read carefully

Indeed, there are very strong evidences of the tightness of the text, some of which I've already pointed out.  What you've offered as an alternative is that the text may contain random trivia thrown together without much meaning.

For example:  You say that God took off their fig leaves and replaced them with
animal skins because fig leaves might not be rugged enough as practical clothing (!!!),=2
0or something like that. But this idea has no meaningful connection to anything in the text.  If the text were concerned with trivia about adequate clothing, then why not include God creating shoes and houses and giving mankind fire?  I pointed out that OTOH the immediate context does indeed introduce animal death as a theological symbol (Abel's sacrifice) so I am not introducing this ad hoc.  Animal death as a symbol appears in the very next breath with Adam still present, so you can't ask for much better connection to context than this.

Furthermore, it's easy for us moderns to forget that animal skins are related to butchering animals, since that happens in factories where we can't see it, and since much of our "fur" clothing is synthetic.  For ancient people OTOH, animal husbandry and butchery were a part of their everyday life.  They would immediately mark the implication of spilled blood introduced into the peaceful garden.

So why does the text make a specific point to say that God took off their leaves and replaced them with animal skins?  The first audience, expecting the normally tight connectedness of mythological stories, would have known that this was the exact question they were supposed to ask.  The author knew this too, and he intended to answer the question within the tale itself, and we can see that he does answer it.  This is unlike the question about Cain's20wife, who is mentioned only incidentally to state that Cain had a son, and she is othe
rwise ignored and not even named, and therefore would not induce questions from the original audience.  Indeed, they would understand that mythological stories are not required to answer all such questions as "where did Cain get his wife" (as a modern narrative would, hence our misplaced obsession with it).  In contrast to this, the first audience would have marked the importance given to the change of clothes in that it would have been gratuitous and thus out of place if it did not have meaning.  The next story with Cain continues to build upon the theme of the clothing when the same direct contrast is made between crop offerings and the animal sacrifice.  Again, this is not an incidental reference:  it was purposely introduced when it need not have been.

It's true that vegetation
sacrifices were a part of OT practice, but they were never primary;
animal sacrifices were.  Animal sacrifices were prominent in all the
major stories where sacrifice occurred:  the story of Abraham and
Isaac, Elijah and the Baal prophets, etc, all the main stories.  The
major holidays (Yom Kippur and Passover, e.g., others?) were centered
around animal sacrifices, not crop offerings.  The major passages of
life (e.g., sacrifice at the birth of a child) incorporated an animal
sacrifice if any sacrifice at all.  The Jewish religion was
characterized by animal sacri
fice, whereas crop sacrifice was
comparatively a footnote.  Nobody based their relationship with YHWH on
crop sacrifices.  Nobody
offered crop sacrifices unless they were a
person who also offered animal sacrifices as the primary sacrament and
essential symbol of restored relationship with YHWH.  Crop sacrifices
don't carry the same symbolism and meaning of animal sacrifices, so my
argument still stands:  Cain's sacrifice of crops and its symbolic
value may have been (and IMO actually was) the fulcrum of the story. 

There is nothing in the story that names Cain's bad attitude as his
problem.  Of course we can't imagine a character like Cain except as a
person with a bad attitude.  So I can't disagree that he was a
character with a bad attitude.  Yet the author focused on the mode of
his sacrifice, not his attitude leading to the sacrifice.  Cain's attitude became one of anger
only after God had no regard for his sacrifice.  We know this is  true
because (1) it was named as anger, an inherently reactionary attitude,
not half-heartedness or lack of faith or something like that, and
because (2) the author placed it after God's rejection of the
sacrifice, not before, and implied that it was a reaction, and because (3) the verb "fall" (his countenance fell) indicates that it was something that happened after the sacrifice.  There is
absolutely nothing in the story about his attitude before the
sacrifice.  I therefore see no evidence that this story is merely a
morality play devoid of theological symbolism, in which case the moral
causes of Cain's failure would have been emphasized up
front as the
essential point of the story.  A friend of mine offered a different
argument that this is a morality play.  He brought up the argument that
Abel's sacrifice was stated to be the "first fruits" of his flocks,
indicating Abel's whole-heartedness in contrast to Cain's (implied)
half-heartedness since no such adjective was applied to his sacrifice. 
But this is not a valid argument because "first fruits" of the womb was
the ordinary OT prescription for flock sacrifices (it was easy to tell
if an animal was having its first child), but nothing like that was the
ordinary prescription for crop sacrifices.  On the other hand, there
were lots of ways the author could have chosen to tell us about Cain's
half-heartedness, but did not.  This silence and the way the story is
structured to contrast the different modes of sacrifice indicate that
he was really talking about the modes and expected the reader to take
notice.  Indeed, I doubt any Jew of the OT era would fail to note that
Cain didn't offer blood, which was the most essential and symbolically
loaded element of OT ceremonies.

The first audience would not fail to see the parallelism between the animal clothes preferred by God and the animal sacrifice also preferred by God.  They wouldn't say, "Well, gee, maybe God was just concerned that their clothes weren't adequately rugged, and maybe the author introduced two different kinds of sacrifice just to provide some narrative interest and background color to the story."
 It is a tightly woven mythological tale.  Everything mentioned is important to the theological theme.  As the story proceeds, the original audience comes to understand the theme.

The theme culminates in the Flood. We have two kinds of clothing (one rejected, the other accepted).  Then two kinds of offerings (one rejected, the other accepted), then we have two genealogies (one rejected in the Flood and the other accepted through the Ark).  The original audience would have seen this and understood that this is what the story is all about.  It's not about trivia like the ruggedness of clothing, or why people hate snakes, or live in houses, or wear shoes.  What ties it all together?  It seems to me to be about trusting in God's provision rather than making our own provision.  This is a major theme of the OT, which we find from the very earliest pages.  All through the OT we are taught to rely on God's means of salvation rather than trusting in chariots, or our conniving abilities (like Jacob), or our ability to speak clearly (like Moses), etc. I don't expect the first audience would apprehend the Christology in this, but they would understand the idea that God provides salvation (clothes, animals to sacrifice as a substitute, and a savior Noah to bring us rest).  God oversaw the development of Hebrew theology to put the latent Christology into it.

So my first critique is that your arguments offer no unified understanding of the story and would have=2
0us believe that there are random factoids popped together without purpose.  The mythological/symbolic interpretation I've tried to draw out, OTOH, shows us that the text is very tightly woven with very strong parallelism in both symbols and themes, teaching one of the major OT messages.  The consistency of this picture argues a posteriori that this is the correct picture.  That is in addition to the a priori argument that myths ought to be interpreted this way.

Second, your point about Hebrew abhorrence of public nudity is well taken, but it doesn't contradict the theological value of nakedness as a symbol.  In fact, it enhances it.  If the Hebrews felt strongly that nakedness is something to hide, and that we are therefore publicly "inadequate" without clothing, that we need to add something to ourselves to make us presentable and unashamed, then this makes it a perfect choice for the symbol and explains why the author would focus on that in the text (rather than focusing on something else like man's possession of fire, or his ability to write, or his use of tools).  It shows that we as humans are unique among the animals because we need something added to our natural estate, and it is something that God could supply, and this hints at Christology.  Likewise, the Hebrews had a strong predilection for eating food almost every day, too, but this doesn't negate ingestion (as eating in the fruit of the two trees) as a good symbol.  The symbols were chosen because they a
lready had these strong connections to daily life.

Furthermore, I try to be careful not to let chronological snobbery sneak into my thinking.  Since you and I, in the busy-ness of our modern lives, still find time to reflect on the meaning of mankind's need to be clothed and what this might say about us as persons who ultimately need God, then how much more would an ancient person sitting by a flock of sheep all day find the time to think about it.  They were just as smart as we are, and the author of the text was being guided by God when he wrote it down, too.  So I think they would have noticed the strange fact that man is ashamed of his natural estate, and would have noted the strongly symbolic aspect of this.

My third concern is what motivates me to better understand this text.  In the traditional view we seem to make too little of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" (TKGE) and we end up introducing incognruities into the story as a result of that.  If the story is about the first "sin", then we have to wonder how could man sin when he didn't even know the difference between good and evil.  How could anything Adam or any other animal do be a "sin"?  So we try to read Adam as already a moral agent before the Fall so that his choice t
o do what God said not to do was actually a moral sin.  This demotes the TKGE and makes it hard to understand what it actually did to mankind.  Rather than making man=2
0into a moral agent, we want to believe that somehow it intrinsically corrupted us so that we "knew" sin experientially rather than through faith, or some such idea as that, utterly unsupported by the text itself.  (Remember that God affirmed that we became "like" him in knowing good from evil, so whatever it was, it wasn't the experiential knowledge of evil.)  As I explained before, since the text focuses on nakedness and our recognition of it as the visual imagery, the symbol, demonstrating how we were changed by the TKGE, then we should allow that visual imagery to dictate our theology.  I think the theology comes out differently than it does when we interpret the TKGE as inherently corrupting us as its primary result.

I've already made this message far too long and I apologize for that, but I want to give on more perspective on this.  I want to argue why the author was developing this particular set of literary themes. 

Consider that the author intended to re-interpret the famous Mesopotamian flood myths for the followers of YHWH, to tell corrected theology.  In the Mesopotamian versions, the gods send the flood because the humans (field workers) were too "noisy".  The author of the biblical version says that this is not correct.  Instead, YHWH sent the flood because humans were sinners.  He wants to draw that out and explain what it means to be sinners.  So he takes the Seth geneology (which might have been based on an historical document, mistran
slated numbers notwithstanding) and changes the names to craft a parallel Cain geneology that paints the contrast he wanted to teach about sin.  So for example "Mahalalel" (praise of God) in the Seth geneology is changed into "Mehujael" (cursed of God) in the Cain genealogy, and so on.  I won't repeat it all here.  Lamech in Seth's geneology explicitely states the theological message:  YHWH's followers are patiently waiting for the promised savior, Noah (= "Rest" in Hebrew).  God's people wait for God.  That's what it is all about.  But for contrast, Lamech in Cain's geneology boasts how he is taking vengence into his own hands, thus illustrating man in his violence and ambition, not resting upon God's provision as the other Lamech was doing.  Cain's geneology also says a lot about man's accomplishments.  Cain builds a city -- in the Bible civilization is attributed to the ungodly, not to YHWH's people (but this if of questionable value since later God would reject that city in the Flood).  Lamech's sons are the fathers of metallurgy and some other things as you know.  They were apparently being presented as the movers and shakers in the world.  Even the name "Cain" seems to imply this theme, because it can carry the meaning "smith" (like a20metallurgist) through the idea of its literal translation "spear" as something made by a metallurgist.  A smith is somebody who makes things.  This meaning of "Cain" comes out again in the name of the metallurgist "Tubal-
Cain" (= World-Smith, the Tubal="world" part added simply to rhyme with Jabal and Jubal, the "Cain" part being the reference to metallurgy).  It may be significant that Cain was given his name in this story (derived from Kenan in Seth's geneology) because it implies someone who makes things.  He makes a city -- he is a "Cain" and the story is interested in his works as what he does to redeem himself.  God cursed his works after Cain killed Abel, but we find him still working as he builds cities, and so do his descendants right up until God rejected it all in the Flood.  Man was busy working out his own redemption through violence and cultural achievement, but God blessed the ones who waited for the Noah-Savior.

Interestingly, there are three connections to Cain in this geneology.  (1) Cain kicks it all off with the archetypical bad behavior by killing Abel.  (2) Lamech refers to Cain.  (3) The last of the three sons of Lamech is Tubal-Cain, so the geneology both begins and ends with a Cain.  This brings the Flood account right back to the Abel/Cain account as the archetypical event that set its trajectory.  By killing the one who brought a blood sacrifice, picturing trust in God who provides salvation through substitution, Cain refu
sed to repent of his reliance upon vegetable sacrifice, something that he grew with his own sweat and work.  The original audience, being more attuned to the tightness of mythological accounts, would see this connection.

But it goes back even further.  The flood (and God's rejection of man's works to redeem himself, as opposed to the patient waiting of his people) is not only connected to the Abel/Cain account, it is also connected to the garden account through the repetition of the symbols.  The author didn't randomly repeat the rejected vegetable / accepted sacrifice them by accident.  He was interpreting why mankind became the "Cain" that kills Abel leading up to the flood.  And the interpretation is precisely this:  man uses vegetation, representing "works" or "self-reliance" to cover his nakedness.  But God requires that we use blood sacrifice, representing reliance on God's provisions to save us, like resting while we wait for Noah instead of acting as a "Cain" and his descendents to save ourselves.  Rather than clothing our nakedness with the symbol of self-reliance, we should clothe ourselves with the symbol of God's provision.

Now you and I, and I believe the Apostle Paul (in his comments), can see the clear Christology in this.  But these themes were not new to the NT.  They were the main theme of this passage leading right up to the Flood, and all through the remainder of the OT afterward. 

I hope you will agree that this provides a unified and therefore simpler understanding of the text.  It explains why the author put every detail into the text as he did.  Without a unifying explanation like this, we are faced with a text that is just a grab b
ag of unimportant details, which the author put in seemingly for no reason.

George, do you know of any theological attempts to draw out some symbolic meaning from the nakedness in this account?

God's blessings!


-----Original Message-----

From: George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>

To: asa@calvin.edu; philtill@aol.com

Sent: Fri, 27 Feb 2009 3:10 pm

Subject: Re: Nakedness and the Fall of Man

Others have weighed in on this
topic since I responded briefly a few days ago, but since Phil asked especially
for my views on the topic, here they are.


I think that Phil’s suggestion
can provide some helpful illustrations of the significance of Christ, &
especially of Paul’s image of “putting on” Christ.  It could be used effectively in sermon
illustrations, e.g.  But it’s quite
another matter to say that this naked/clothed concept is primary in Gen.3, that
it can be connected with the Cain-Abel conflict in Gen.4, & especially that
Paul had this in mind when he spoke of putting on Christ.  Below I elaborate briefly.


For the Hebrews the idea of
displaying one’s nakedness publicly was abhorrent.  That shows up in a number of passages
where it’s very hard, even from the standpoint of the NT, to see any connection
with the presence or absence of Christ – e.g., Ex.20:26.  The story of the drunkenne
ss of Noah is
maybe the best example.  But it
would be possible to envision a condition in which nakedness was not shameful,
& that’s what Gen.2:25 is about. 
But when the man & woman had disobeyed God & “their eyes were
opened,” it was shameful.  Why –
because they knew that they were without Christ?  Of course there is no hint of that in
the text itself.  It is simpler,
& far more likely, to say that it’s because they were in the condition that
the biblical writer & his audience were in, in which nakedness was shameful.


The fact that the word sin is not
used in Gen.3 doesn’t mean that that’s not what it’s about.  Disobeying God is sin, &
that’s what God refers to in 3:17.


The idea that the “garments of
skins” of 3:21 prefigure the
sacrifice of Christ is an old one but there is nothing either here or in the NT
to suggest that any sacrificial concept at all is involved.  It doesn’t even say that God  killed any animals to get them – maybe
he just made them ex nihilo for all we can tell.  Asking where the skins came from is like
asking where Cain got his wife – a popular exercise but one that apparently
didn’t concern the biblical writer at all. 
(& why did God replace their fig leaf garments with skins?  The former aren’t too practical,=2
clothing made of animal skins goes way back in human history.)


There are prescriptions for
offerings of vegetation in torah so those aren’t intrinsically bad.  & again there’s no indication in the
text that Abel’s sacrifice was superior in content to Cain’s.  4:6-7 suggests that Cain’s attitude was
the problem, something that is quite consistent with the broader biblical view
of sacrifice – cf. Is.66:3 & other prophetic denunciations of the idea that
the offering of material sacrifices in itself is automatically something
acceptable to God.


Did Paul have the nakedness of
Adam & Eve in mind when he spoke of being clothed with Christ in Rom.13
& Gal.3?  When Paul gives an
allegorical interpretation of an OT text, it’s clear what he’s allegorizing (in
I Cor.5:6-8, 9:8-10, 10:1-11, Gal.4:21-31).  It’s not impossible that he thought the
reference to Gen.3 was obvious in the 2 passages Phil mentions, or that it was
so obvious to him that he didn’t even think to mention it, but “not
impossible” doesn’t rise to the level of  “Surely Paul had the garden of Eden in
mind ...”.





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Received on Tue Mar 10 23:18:27 2009

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