Adam and Eve tempted by the Ring of Sauron

Adam and eve tempted by the ring of sauron

So many people misunderstand the Two Trees in the Genesis account that I thought I would give it some mythological reworking, Lord of the Rings style, to illustrate the nature of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil more clearly for people who know movies well, but bibles not so much.

For the fruit of the first tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, is not the key to all knowledge. It is only the key to knowing good and evil. And when you consider that prior to this Adam and Eve only knew good, well, there is only one half of the equation that they lack.

Mythologically this fruit functions much the same as the Ring of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings. It is the embodiment of self centred will. A tempation that is best left alone, as did the true companions of the ring bearer.

 

How complete is Biblical cosmology?

Can we understand the structure of the universe simply from reading scripture? I would say, no, scripture leaves this question wide open.

Exploring these issues in Cosmology and New Testament Theology, Jonathan Pennington observes, “Old Testament writers are not really interested in cosmology for its own sake; one might say that the kind of cosmological reflection we find in the Old Testament is more theological cosmology.” In other words, the Prophets were profoundly interested in the significance of life, the universe and everything, but took the structure of it more or less for granted.

From surveying the New Testament as a whole Pennington concludes that, “There is, then, no discernible, fixed background against which the NT sets forth theories about the physical universe. Instead, the texts appear to draw upon a variety of resources and images to articulate fundamentally theological points. If we focus on the theological orientations of the text, real growth in understanding can be made. If the authors are loath to tell us what they think of the precession of the equinoxes, or the number of primal elements, they are not at all shy about setting their theological concerns on the canvas of the cosmos.”

Therefore, before reading Genesis 1, or indeed John 1, from our side of twenty first century science, we should observe what the Prophets intended to elaborate on and what they did not.

Imagining the dark days of Noah

Noah Releasing the Dove by Marc Chagall 2

“Noah Releasing the Dove” by Marc Chagall

For those not familiar with the Old Testament, this painting is based on Genesis 8:6-12:

“After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.”

This incident is paralleled in the New Testament, at the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9-10:

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Is sin sexy?

Original-sin

Is this how you imaging Eve? In researching Christian art I frequently come across highly sexualized interpretations of the temptation of Eve, with artists playing up the possibility that original sin was related to sexual knowledge.

Often this atmosphere is eccentuated by having the snake draped over Eve in ways not normally witnessed outside of exotic nightclubs.

However, given that God instituted marriage in Genesis 2, before sin emerged in Genesis 3, it is clear that this view is seriously unscriptural; that sex was originally sacred, not sinful; that God, not Satan, sexed Eve and Adam up for one another. If sin is related to sex, it is only in the way sin distorted sex.

Sacred is sex without self-centredness.

 

Rock Music as Original Sin?

Eve's temptation - unknown artist

I have not been able to track down the artist who painted this image of Eve’s temptation, but it is clear that considerable artistic licence has been taken. This picture features Gene Simmon of KISS as the snake and a rock guitar as the apple.

Amusing on one level, but it uncomfortably reminds me of the Satanic Panics of the 80s, which put me on the opposite side of the fence to many evangelicals of the time.

 

The four elements in the Temple veil

Four-Elements-logoFor some time I’ve been interested in the symbolic function of the Temple in Jerusalem and hints that the Temple functioned as a microcosm, that is, as the sacred cosmos in miniature. To date my interest has been in the implications for the interpretation of Genesis 1, the climax of the Gospel of Mark, and the book of Revelation.

From this discription by Josephus however, it strikes me that there are further implications for engaging with the esoteric world. Josephus says, “before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.” (Wars 5.5.4)

Let the reader understand.

What does Genesis 1 say?

What is the message of Genesis 1?

   Every human is beautiful

Elsewhere you may hear a more elitist message. “He looks like a god.” “She looks like a goddess.” They stand apart. In ancient times, emperors were acclaimed this way. In these times it is models and entertainers. But counter to this, Genesis says, “Every one of you is God-like.” You slaves, you exiles, you oppressed. There is no one who is not.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the ultimate beholder is God. Genesis 1 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1 says, you are beautiful.

Dinosaurs before the fall

Yesterday my son was rapt with a new book on dinosaurs. It was nice and thick and full of obscure dinosaur names that even I find difficult to pronounce. Takes me back to when I was a young boy. But because of that, I know questions about dinosaurs and God aren’t too far away. Sooner or later he’s going to twig to the fact that the popular interpretation of Genesis and the popular interpretation of evolution don’t gel too well. So, what’s my take on it?

Quite simple. I think the popular interpretation of Genesis and evolution are both deficient, at least in some respects.

Firstly, evolution. I think the theory of evolution by mutation and natural selection has enormous explanatory power. But I think it’s misguided to think we have a completed theory. I think it’s misguided to conclude everything can be explained by reductionism. I think it’s misguided to conclude evolution rules out an open universe, and hence, God. Indeed, I think that convergent evolution (seen, for instance, in the similar body design of ichthyosaurs, dolphins and sharks) suggests external constraints have as much a part to play as internal coding, that reductionism needs to be balanced out with contextualism. In short, however powerful the theory of evolution may be, evolution is contextual.

Secondly, Genesis. I think the Bible is authoritative, but I’m not convinced our theology is so God breathed. Theologies, like our scientific theories, are contextual, incomplete and sometimes just plain wrong. Of particular relevance here are theologies of the fall. Most popular theologies focus on “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, virtually ignoring “the tree of life”. When I was younger, wrestling over the dinosaur question, I asked myself, “How could dinosaurs have become extinct before humans arrived in the world if death did not exist in the world before the fall?” It eventually dawned to me to ask, “Why the heck is the tree of life in the story?” If humanity was not subject to death, why the second tree? Why a tree of life?

In a flash I realised life the trees were symbolizing two mutually exclusive choises! The more I read the more it hit me that there was nothing in the text to suggest eternity was something humanity already had, it was more like an option we were being offered. Thus, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, while popularly interpreted as the introduction of death into the world, could just as easily be interpreted as the loss of the opportunity to live forever. It was not an opt-out situation for humanity, it was an opt-in one. Indeed, when I thought about it, if the eating of plants can be seen as a type of death, death was already in the world. Thus the resolution: an interpretation that takes the tree of life as a lost opportunity is not incompatable with pre-fall dinosaur extinctions.

For me this raise all sorts of interesting questions about entropy. Is entropy of the creation or of the fall? If entropy is of the creation, how can we say it is evil without going Gnostic? If entropy is of the fall, how did time exist before the fall? From this exploration I’m inclined to say: entropy is of the creation, it is therefore not evil in and of itself, it is just not the highest good, it is not where God wants to leave us. Having been made in the image of God, we were offered a challenge: what does it mean to be God-like? We failed. We chose self-centredness. But Jesus overcame where we did not. He chose other-centredness. The cross of death is the tree of life offered once again.