Sunday, December 23, 2012

Adam, Eve and Tom Wright

Elder Daughter raised a very interesting point about the fall narrative in Genesis 3. The NRSV (and the NIV) have "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate."  Does ", who was with her," mean that Adam was present while Eve was being tempted by the Serpent? If so it puts a rather different complexion on events?

First I guess we need to discuss why this even might matter. Doesn't pretty much everyone agree that Adam and Eve were not historical figures?  Well yes - though clearly there must have been some humans who were the first who were morally conscious and that's what the terms Adam and Eve denote. But this part of the Bible is giving us an understanding of the fundamental relationships between God and Humanity and so it's well worth trying to understand what it is saying.

The first point is that ", who was with her," is going much too far. The text is " she gave it to her husband with her and he did eat" (וַתִּתֵּ֧ן גַּם־לְאִישָׁ֛הּ עִמָּ֖הּ וַיֹּאכַֽל׃) so the commas and the who was are an interpretation but not the only one.  The word used ( עִמָּ֖ה ) seems to be the ordinary word for "with her" and although it often occurs in the context of lying with her (Gen 30:16, 39:10, Deut 22:23,25,28,29, 1 Sam 1:24, 11:4, 12:24) it often doesn't (Ex 18:6, Judges 13:9, Ruth 1:7,22, 1 Kings 3:17, 17:20, Esther 2:13, Proverbs 10:22). In the context it seems unlikely (in Middle Eastern culture you wouldn't expect the husband to allow a stranger to address his wife and her to answer without at least some comment) but it seems a possible interpretation, though not in my view very probable.

Amazingly this morning we saw Tom Wright in church (who was visiting relatives) so we were able to ask him. He says that Hebrew is very relational and multi-valent, right-to-left right-brain thinking, and the whole idea of trying to pin down a single interpretation when the text allows many viewpoints, like a great work of art, is misconceived. So maybe we're meant to think  Adam was with her when the serpent was talking, maybe only that he was with her when he ate the fruit. Fascinating. And how wonderful that he was there just when needed - I've never seen him in our church before!

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