Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Mythical creatures


Mythical creatures, or On the nature of human beings.

The early chapters of Genesis are myths, that is to say, stories that are not so much concerned with describing what was as with making sense of what is. Myths stand the test of time precisely by retelling in different contexts, by remapping. Not every element of the story finds a neat correlation in every retelling; and every retelling carries within itself the earlier tellings. Myths are living stories.

It seems to me that the First telling of Genesis 1-3, not (by a long way) in terms of chronology but in terms of importance, sets the story (very late) in the Babylonian captivity, where:

Adam represents Nebuchadnezzer II, king of the neo-Babylonian empire;

Eve represents his marriage alliance to the Medes;

the walled garden in Eden represents Babylon;

the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the centre of the garden, from which Adam and Eve are prohibited to eat, represents the population of Jerusalem transplanted into Babylon by their God, Yahweh;

the tree of life represents Yahweh, sustaining the life of the city into which he has sent his people in exile;

the serpent represents the dragon Mushussu, symbolic animal and servant of Marduk, patron god of Babylon;

the offspring of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head is Cyrus the Persian, ‘Yahweh’s chosen instrument,’ who captured Babylon, claimed triumph over its god Bel—a conflation of Marduk, Mushussu, and other gods, by this time worshipped as Bel the dragon—and allowed the captives to return to Jerusalem;

and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden represents the fall of the neo-Babylonian empire to the Persian empire.

In this reading, the people whom the story primarily addresses—the people who worship Yahweh—bear both good and evil fruit in their lives, by their very nature.

In this reading, human mortality and human capacity for wickedness are not consequences of a fall from grace, from a primordial state of innocence, but, rather, are fundamental to human creatureliness: both our mortality, and our capacity for both good and evil, tell us of our dependency on God, to live at all, and to live in such a way that life may flourish.

This reading does not in any way deny the need for divine judgement, or deliverance.

It does, however, problematise both an anthropology that sees humans as fundamentally evil, and an anthropology that sees humans as fundamentally good.


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