Narrative as Law Week 3 Reading Guide

The Meaning of Life (Primordial Etiology)

The interpretation of Genesis 1–3 is always fun even without the themes of law and government. Still, I wouldn’t want it to go unnoted how the etiological narratives imply the most basic level of divinely ordained order to which human society should conform. In the first chapter we find legitimation of priestly laws including holy times and the sabbath in particular, the image of a God who separates things according to their proper place, along the same lines as the purity laws, and an ideal of an orderly cosmos. Genesis 2–3 (and interpretation) establishes the foundation of gender roles and a norm for sexuality. Recall that these things were not just customs but laws in Israel. The idea that the order of creation follows and indicates legal principles develops into “natural law.” We should not think it strange that a legal collection opens with a narrative that describes the foundational principles underlying the more conventionally legal material. Hammurabi had quite a prologue, and our own Constitution opens with non-legal narrative.

Genesis 1:1—4:1

Again, read with fresh eyes.

Collins, “The Primeval History,” pp. 41–48

Collins refers to some ancient Near Eastern materials. I want to give you a little more context.

The Creation Epic (Enuma Elish), tr. Speiser [bracketed notes Hanneken]

[Tiamat is a watery blob who is mother to all the gods. They make too much noise, so a troublemaker incites her to kill them. The gods get wind of this plan, and ask Marduk to protect them. He agrees to fight her on the condition that they make him king if he succeeds. Marduk does defeat her, splits her in two, and uses her corpse to create the waters above and below. The rest of creation, such as digging rivers (the way humans dig canals) is the work of the gods. Marduk has an idea, which he addresses to Ea, the god of wisdom.]

When Marduk hears the words of the gods,
His heart prompts (him) to fashion artful works.
Opening his mouth, he addresses Ea
To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart:
“Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.
Verily, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods
That they might be at ease!
The ways of the gods I will artfully alter.
Though alike revered, into two (groups) they shall be divided.”
Ea answered him, speaking a word to him,
Giving him another plan for the relief of the gods:
“Let but one of their brothers be handed over;
He alone shall perish that mankind may be fashioned.
Let the great gods be here in Assembly,
Let the guilty be handed over that they may endure.”
Marduk summoned the great gods to Assembly;
Presiding graciously, he issues instructions.
To his utterance the gods pay heed.
The king addresses a word to the Anunnaki [divine council]:
“If your former statement was true, [your pledge of allegiance to me if I defeat Tiamat]
Do (now) the truth on oath by me declare!
Who was it that contrived the uprising,
And made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle?
Let him be handed over who contrived the uprising.
His guilt I will make him bear. You shall dwell in peace!”
The Igigi, the great gods, replied to him,
To Lugaldimmerankia, counselor of the gods, their lord:
“It was Kingu who contrived the uprising,
And made Tiamat rebel, and joined battle.”
They bound him, holding him before Ea.
They imposed on him his guilt and severed his blood (vessels).
Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.
He [Ea] imposed the service and let free the gods.

What is the purpose of the creation of human beings?

What is their nature? (Literally, what are they made of?)

The Epic of Gilgamesh, tr. Speiser [bracketed notes Hanneken]

[Gilgamesh is half-god, half-human. He is king of the city of Uruk, but too much for his fully-human subjects to handle. They complain, so the gods create an equal for him, Enkidu. Enkidu is a wild man who roams with the wild beasts. However, he is too powerful and creates problems for the local hunters. The hunters complain to Gilgamesh, who has the idea to civilize this wild man by sending a prostitute to seduce him.]

The lass freed her breasts, bared her bosom,
And he possessed her ripeness.
She was not bashful as she welcomed his ardor.
She laid aside her cloth and he rested upon her.
She treated him, the savage, to a woman’s task,
As his love was drawn unto her.
For six days and seven nights Enkidu comes forth,
Mating with the lass.
After he had had (his) fill of her charms,
He set his face toward his wild beasts.
On seeing him, Enkidu, the gazelles ran off,
The wild beasts of the steppe drew away from his body.
Startled was Enkidu, as his body became taut,
His knees were motionless—for his wild beasts had gone.
Enkidu had to slacken his pace—it was not as before;
But he now had wisdom, broader understanding.
Returning, he sits at the feet of the harlot.
He looks up at the face of the harlot,
The harlot says to him, to Enkidu:
“Thou art wise, Enkidu, art become like a god!
Why with the wild creatures dost thou roam over the steppe?
Come, let me lead thee to ramparted Uruk,
To the holy temple, abode of Anu and Ishtar,
Where lives Gilgamesh, accomplished in strength,
And like a wild ox lords it over the fold.”
As she speaks to him, her words find favor,
His heart enlightened, he yearns for a friend.

This passage is often compared to Genesis 3, particularly for the phrase, “You are wise, have become like a god!” Both also reflect on sexuality and the themes of loss of innocence and becoming an adult, with all the good and bad entailed.

Plato, excerpt from Symposium, translated by William S. Cobb (1993) (PDF)

Besides the obvious parallels to Genesis 2, note the thematic parallels to the Flood and Tower of Babel, which can be interpreted as God destroying or weakening human beings because they are too troublesome or powerful (and can also be interpreted as parodies of that interpretation).

Philo of Alexandria, De Opificio Mundi (On the Creation of the World), 1–3, translated by Whitaker (1929)

We encountered Philo and the idea of natural law at the beginning of the course. Here is a summary of the pervasive idea in Philo that the Law of Moses is the supreme articulation of the law of nature, and therefore begins with the “law” (or narrative) of creation itself.

While among other lawgivers some have nakedly and without embellishment drawn up a code of the things held to be right among their people, and others, dressing up their ideas in much irrelevant and cumbersome matter, have befogged the masses and hidden the truth under their fictions, Moses, disdaining either course, the one as devoid of the philosopher’s painstaking effort to explore his subject thoroughly, the other as full of falsehood and imposture, introduced his laws with an admirable and most impressive exordium. He refrained, on the one hand, from stating abruptly what should be practiced or avoided, and on the other hand, in face of the necessity of preparing the minds of those who were to live under the laws for their reception, he refrained from inventing myths himself or acquiescing in those composed by others. His exordium, as I have said, is one that excites our admiration in the highest degree. It consists of an account of the creation of the world, implying that the world is in harmony with the Law, and the Law with the world, and that the man who observes the law is constituted thereby a loyal citizen of the world, regulating his doings by the purpose and will of Nature, in accordance with which the entire world itself also is administered.

Kugel, “Adam and Eve,” pp. 67–82 (also 85–87 on the conception of Cain)

Fun stuff, eh? This whole book is fun. Keep it around and check out the other parts when you have time in the future.

Jubilees 1:1—4:1

Use my notes and select comparison columns in the forthcoming Reader, pp. 7–16 (PDF)

Augustine, excerpts from City of God (PDF)

Recall that Augustine is very influential in western thought, especially theologically. The challenge may be not so much seeing Augustine’s perspective, but seeing how it could be seen any other way.

Among the many important themes, including original sin and concupiscence, pay attention to Augustine as a premodern interpreter. A modern might view the New Testament as a collection of different ideas, in this case interpretations of Genesis 3. Augustine will insist that the Bible is perfect and has no contradictions. How does he resolve the contradiction between the following two passages, which appear to differ in whether the sin is the fault of the man or the woman?

A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Further, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Timothy 2:11–15)
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned—for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12–14)

1 Corinthians 11:3–16 is another example of an interpretation of Eve in the New Testament.

Can you spot how Michelangelo’s depiction of Genesis 3 on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (below) follows Augustine’s interpretation contrary to the simple sense of Genesis?

Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (pp. 94–102) (PDF)

Trible is a prime example of rhetorical criticism. I think of rhetorical criticism as the study of what makes an Alfred Hitchcock movie different from a newspaper article about a crime. It’s not necessarily the case that the audience would have been consciously aware of the structure and tools Trible describes, but they are effective nevertheless.

This excerpt may not be enough to explain some puns in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word adam can mean “humanity” or “Adam.” It is similar to the word adamah, which means “dirt, earth”. Similarly, the word ish “man” is similar to isha “woman,” which can also mean “her man.” The prefix ha- means “the”.

One point may not be obvious on a first read. She defends her interpretation and argues against other interpretations of Genesis 2. What she does not mention is that some of those interpretations are found in the New Testament (Adam was formed first... woman was created for man, therefore women are subordinate to men... 1 Tim 2; 1 Cor 11). For some, this raises the question of whether an interpretation of the Old Testament is “final” if it is found in the New Testament.

Michelangelo's Painting of the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Detail of Fall