If there is a general theme of the early chapters, it is that no one’s plans work out. God’s plan for humanity (whatever it was) is foiled as are human ones. Nothing seems to work for anyone and God himself regrets the entire project of creating humans. It reminds of the quote from a Robert Burns poem that “the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry”, which is also the inspiration for one of my favourite books, Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck. But I digress.
So Genesis 2 starts with the famous story of the Garden of Eden which almost everyone knows and is frequently referenced in modern culture. Interestingly, it is claimed that the rivers Tigris and Euphrates flow out of Eden, implying that it is a real place, not a metaphorical story. God creates every animal and Adam names everyone of them (which surely must have taken a while). However, none of them are good enough of a helper, so God creates woman out of his rib (Genesis 2:19-22). So according to the Bible, women are literally created to serve men. This seems less like the “Good Book” and more like good old fashioned sexism.
Man and Woman can do whatever they want in the garden, except eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If they do so, they will die (but Adam lives to be 930 after eating it). But why would God forbid this? Isn’t it a good thing to be able to tell the difference between kindness and cruelty, good and evil? How can you blame someone for not obeying the rules if they can’t tell wrong from right? Anyway, the serpent was “crafty” and told the woman to eat from the tree (why did God create a crafty talking snake?). Not only does the Bible say that women are servants to men, but they are also usually blamed for a lot of what’s wrong with the world. It was woman’s fault that humanity was expelled from Eden, man merely followed her lead (Adam is punished for listening to his wife). As punishment for this, God commands that women will suffer in childbirth and the husband will “rule over” the wife (Genesis 3:16). So from the beginning, the Bible treats women like second class citizens.
Once they ate the fruit (although this is always depicted as an apple, the Bible only refers to a fruit) they “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden” (Genesis 3:8) (does God take a human form?). When God finds out what happened, he curses the snake condemning it to crawl on its belly (implying that before it could walk as well as talk). Then God said (Genesis 3:22)
“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”
God has them expelled from Eden. This raises a lot of issues. Who are the “us” God refers to? Other Gods? How does knowing right from wrong make you God like? Why would living forever be such a terrible thing to God?
So God expels Adam and Eve and places Cherubim and a flaming sword at the gate of Eden to keep humans out. (A Cherub (Cherubim is the plural) is the mixture of a lion, bull, eagle and human, and they are also some sort of angel.) However, a lot of the blame lies at God’s feet for this mess. After all, if someone doesn’t know right from wrong, you can’t blame them for doing something wrong. Furthermore, how could humans live without knowing the difference between good and evil? What sort of society would we have if we were unable to tell the difference between Gandhi and Hitler? If God didn’t want us to eat from the tree why did he create it? Why did he create an evil snake? Why did he create us so that we would be tempted? If I program a computer so that it has a flaw, that’s my fault not the computers.
Now I’m not sure how seriously religious people take the story of the Garden of Eden as it seems clearly to be just a story. However, it is the source of the concept of Original Sin, which is crucial to Christianity. Essentially, this is the idea that because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, all humans carry a curse as punishment. This is why Jesus died on the cross, his death removed the sin from humanity. But if the Garden of Eden isn’t real, then there was no need for Jesus to die and the central premise of Christianity becomes meaningless.
Anyways, Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel becomes a sheep herder and Cain a farmer of the land. They both make offerings to God, Abel giving him a lamb and Cain some fruit (again it doesn’t say what kind). For no particular reason, God rejects Cain and accepts Abel. In revenge Cain murders Abel, which God isn’t too happy about. God asks Cain where Abel is (wouldn’t God already know) and Cain gives the famous reply “Am I my brothers keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) God punishes Cain by putting a curse on him. However, Cain complains that people will kill him because of this (how, there are only 2 other people in existence) so God declares that anyone who kills Cain will be punished sevenfold. He also puts a “mark” on Cain, which racists later claimed was turning his skin black, which was used as a justification for slavery and racism. Why is God protecting Cain, what is seven times death and who is he protecting Cain from? Cain then finds a wife (where? The only other woman in existence is his mother Eve). Cain then runs away to a land East Of Eden.
Adam and Eve have another son, Seth who somehow has children himself (with who? His mother?). The Bible then recounts his descendants, most of whom live to be 900 years old (sure, why not?). Only the men are recorded, the women apparently aren’t worth mentioning. As humanity expands (through incest or some other unknown way) “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Genesis 6:2). Sorry, what? Apparently, Jesus isn’t the only son of God, there’s a whole load of them. What are they, angels? In response to this, God limits the human lifespan to 120 years (although a lot more people live past this limit). There are also giants on the Earth (Genesis 6:4). Now I would have thought that the Sons of God would be a good influence on humanity, that would purify us and bring us closer to God, but instead it seems that literally every person on Earth was evil.
“The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5).
I seriously doubt, that literally every single human was literally evil in every single thing they did. What about the children? Were the babies evil too? What I find strange is that God is angry that the people are evil, but he hasn’t given them any rules yet. He hasn’t forbidden anything yet or said what he finds evil. How can you blame people for not doing what you want if you haven’t told them what you want? What is also strange is that God does nothing about the evil. He doesn’t send a messenger or a prophet to the people. He doesn’t give them any warnings or guide them onto the right path. Considering some of these are his sons, it is inexplicable that he doesn’t even try and reason with them. God supposedly, made the Universe just for us, but then he gives up almost straight away. Instead he unleashes The Grapes of Wrath (if I’m going to be making Steinbeck references, I might as well go the full way).
However, there is a single good person, Noah, who God commands to build an Ark. Now I’ve already written a post on how it’s impossible for all the animals to fit on the ark and other flaws with that story, so I won’t repeat myself here. You probably know the story of the flood and how God exterminates every living creature, including animals (why did they have to die). It’s hard to read the story of this genocide and still think of God as a loving father.
So after the flood, Noah, his family and two of every animal are released. However, we have the exact same problem as with Adam and Eve, how can a species reproduce? This would require massive inbreeding which simply isn’t sustainable. Most species need a gene pool of at least 150 in order to survive, otherwise the inbreeding drives them sterile. Religious people criticise the theory of evolution, but the theory of massive incest is no alternative. What would the animals eat? All the grass and plants would have been destroyed and the Earth would be little more than a barren wasteland. Also, what about the animals who only eat meat? Surely by eating a single animal, they doom it (and themselves) to extinction? How did the animals return to Australia, the Amazon or the Arctic? Not only is Noah’s Ark one of the cruellest stories in the Bible it is also one of the most unbelievable.
After the flood, Noah builds a vineyard and one day (Genesis 9:21) gets drunk and naked (don’t we all). His son Ham, sees this and tells his brothers, who then cover Noah up. When Noah wakes up and finds out that Ham saw him naked, he puts a curse on him and his descendants (Genesis 9:25-7). This is bizarre, because it’s Noah’s fault he was naked and if he didn’t want others to see him, he should have kept his clothes on. It’s claimed (Genesis 10:6) that Ham’s descendants founded Egypt and Canaan, who the Israelites later went to war, so this story was probably added just as an excuse to curse them. Later scholars have wondered if perhaps Ham did more than just look at his naked father (maybe he had sex with Noah or his wife) and that this is the reason for the curse. Racists later claimed that part of the “Curse of Ham” was turning his skin black and this was used as a justification for slavery.
Generations past (the Bible has an annoying habit of naming every child everyone has and claiming these children were the founders of every tribe and nation in the Middle East) and all the people of the world had the one language, so they began to build the Tower of Babel. They aimed to build a tower so tall that it would reach Heaven, which for some reason God didn’t like (doesn’t he know that Heaven isn’t in the clouds?). So God said
“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7).
This is another strange story, because God is being cruel for no particular reason. What harm could come from humanity working together in co-operation? God creates needless division and confusion among humans, creating unnecessary strife and suspicion. As an Esperantist, I hear references to this story a lot, as Esperanto aims to be a universal language that reverses the curse of Babel.
So it seems that whether you are a God or a human, the best laid plan falls apart. Gods’ plans are ruined by humans and humans plans are ruined by God, which makes them seem more like enemies than allies. To be honest I don’t what the moral of these stories are, all I’m getting from them is random cruelty. Perhaps they were meant to explain to ancient Israelites why the world was the way it was, why the animals had their names, why people spoke different languages etc. They don’t tell us much about God, instead of the traditional view of a loving God, so far God has been on a path of destruction.