Fun with the Bible: Adam and Eve’s Crotch-Covering Leaves

jay-with-adam-leaf

This is me in Kuala Lumpur holding a giant leaf that I found, and which made me think of Adam in the Garden of Eden. After the serpent tricks Adam and Eve, we can read in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

Now, this is no fig leaf and it certainly couldn’t get turned into a loincloth, but I couldn’t help but think that if they’d had such leaves it would have been a lot easier for them to diaper-wrap these than anything else. After all, where did they learn to sow and with what implements were they sowing anyways?

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? What do you think of this verse in the Bible?

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Fun with the Bible: The Harmony of God’s Creation in Genesis 1

Common Misconceptions about the Creation Story

When you ask most people what God created on each of the six days of creation (remember, the seventh day was for chillin’ like a villain), they will generally answer incorrectly. Test this out. Don’t ask your local biblical scholar, of course, just someone who is aware of his or her religion, goes to church or synagogue occasionally and might have something to say. Day by day, his/her answer may go a little something like this:

1. The universe

2. Land and water

3. Sun and Moon

4. Plants

5. Animals

6. Adam and Eve

Now, that wouldn’t be a terrible guess, mind you. In some fashion or another those things were created, the order is not terrible, and they managed to fill six days. Of course, my made up answer might be a little biased since I know what really happened. They may skip one or two, wind up with Adam and Eve on day 4 and then have to backtrack and think about what happened in those last few days. “Uh, pot and beer, dude? Hehehe.”

The Beautiful Symmetry of Creation

In any case, I’d like to take a moment to show you what God created on which days (not that you couldn’t read it for yourself), just so that you can see the inherent harmony in the plan and in the mind of the author of Genesis 1.

1. Night and Day                          4. Sun, Moon and Stars

2. Sky and Water                          5. Birds and Fish

3. Dry land and Vegetation           6. Animals and Humankind

Now isn’t that special? Do you notice anything?

The way I laid it out should give away the beautiful symmetry of creation, how everything created in the first three days is complemented by what is designed for it specifically in the latter three days. The Sun, Moon and Stars make Night and Day a reality. The birds and fish populate the sky and water and then animals and mankind (or mammals, if you will) populate the dry land and utilize the vegetation. Beautiful!

One thing you might notice is that there’s no Adam and Eve. That’s right, in Genesis 1, the creation of humankind is the simultaneous existence of man and woman and what’s more, they look like God because they were created “in His image.” That means what it says. Notice also how humanity is the culmination of creation.

Some Differences in the Creation Story of Genesis 2

If you look at Genesis 2, which happens to be an entirely different creation story – that is, a competing story, not a complementary one – you will notice that initially some stuff is around and so is God and then God makes man and the rest of creation comes from man. All the animals and finally the woman (eventually Eve) come from man’s existence. Moreover, that story is “sloppier” in the sense that it does not provide us with the distance, majesty and order of the first creation story. In Genesis 2-3 God “forms” man and breathes life into his nostrils. Very physical and image oriented. In Genesis 1 how does God create everything? With his words: “God said.” Very different ideas of God who create different things for different reasons. Fascinating stuff.

Imagine the Cosmos

Also, what do the cosmos look like before God began creating in Genesis 1? Can you envision it? If you want to know what the cosmology of the author (or original teller of this tale) was, try to visual what’s happening in the first 10 verses.

First, there is basically nothing but water. God makes light and separates it from dark but how does he create where we end up? Starting with Genesis 1:6 imagine a snowglobe being inserted into the water – this is the “separation of the waters from the waters.” Why would ancient people think that water was above and only a dome kept us from it? Think about lying in an empty field at night: looks like a dome, huh? Plus, during the day the sky is blue and when it rains, water comes from it – like the water dome is leaking. This was the vision, and after the snowglobe separates the waters, God can make land in the bottom water for us to hang out on.

Summary

What do you think about all that I’ve just said? Is there anything else you’d like to point out for us? Does anything not make sense that you’d like to discuss further?

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Fun with the Bible: The Theme of the Second Son in Genesis and How God Does What He Wants

The Nifty Theme of Anti-Primogeniture

One interesting theme to note in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is how it’s all about God changing the way that the natural order plays out. One primary example of the way this happens is who the inheritance goes to in the line of the Israelites ancestors. In each instance, it is the older son that tradition and convention and ‘nature’ tell us should get the inheritance – known as primogeniture – but the second son who actually receives it because that is God’s will.

Abraham’s inheritance should actually go to Ishmael as his first born male son. However, it is actually Isaac who receives Abraham’s inheritance. Similarly, Isaac had two twin sons, Esau, who came out first, and Jacob, who came out second. Esau was meant to get his father’s blessing and inheritance, but it was Jacob who received it.

Why Can’t I Have Babies?

This theme presents itself in the case of the matriarchs as well. In each case, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are all barren and unable to provide children for their husbands, but God reverses the natural order and allows them all to have children because he will affect the way this line goes.

Applying This to the Torah at Large

This notion sits behind the entire experience of the Israelites as they are given the land of Cana’an by God, and is the point that the Five Books of Moses are making (in the story part, not the laws). God, at creation, has partitioned the land of the earth accordingly, but because it was His land, He was entitled to change His mind later on – something He did – and give certain parts to other people. The Torah is the story of him opting to give an already alloted piece of land to the descendants of Abraham.

In a cynical sense, the Torah is, in essence, an Israelite justification for why they had the right to dispossess the local people and take the land for themselves and live there. Their book says, because God told us it was ours when He changed his mind about the people here! The Torah is an old-ass piece of political propaganda, if you look at it this way.

Disclaimers

A. the Torah is A WHOLE lot more than this.

B. this is a cynical view though something to consider

C. Though the attitude may have modern ramifications this understanding is not meant to be applied – nor should it be applied – to the modern circumstances in the state of Israel. That would be foolish and lack consideration for myriad other factors like factual historical circumstances and other purposes of the Torah.

Wrap Up

What do you think of these ideas? What do you find noteworthy around these stories in the book of Genesis?

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Quran Day: The Cow 47-59 Recounts Exodus and God’s Relationship with the Israelites

Though there are an endless number of things to say about these verses, I’m going to go with two in particular: the first is the events recounted in Exodus and recalled here and the second is this notion of remembering.

What Comes from Exodus

Verse 49 begins a list of things that happened to the Israelites in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the one that begins with the Israelites’ enslavement. God recounts how He saved the children of Israel from Egypt, parted the sea to aid their escape, communed with Moses, and how the Israelites made a calf, how God gave Moses the Book and Discernment (which I believe means the Bible and Prophecy, though instead of prophecy perhaps wisdom and [juris]prudence), how God sent manna and quails, etc.

Another hot topic in these sections is the Israelites’ disobedience (and they were so unruly between Egypt and Canaan that it’s a wonder they got anything – worse than bratty children in the backseat of a car!), and God’s continual mercy as he forgave them and still allowed them to go forward.

The Actual Bible in the Bible…and Then in the Quran

I would like to point out three things though. First, how it says that God gave Moses the Book. As I take this to mean the Bible, I must say that according to the Five Books of Moses, this didn’t happen. God didn’t give Moses a book (to read about Moses’ biblical authorship and the specifics of Deuteronomy’s mention of this, click HERE). Now, of course, this isn’t too important because the inherited tradition is that God did give Moses the Bible (or at least the beginning of it) so we’ll move on.

My Trouble with Verse 58

The second thing is verse 58, the one part of the events recounted (which admittedly seem to extend outside of Exodus), that I don’t understand or at least can’t match up to anything in the Bible. I don’t remember God ever saying that or anything like it to the Israelites, but perhaps it’s the Quran’s way of saying that God gave the Israelites every chance to go to Heaven (this great city?) and that they just had to do it a certain way and as the following verses showed, they just kept sinning and perverting God’s word.

It is fascinating that God tells the Israelites to repent in these verses because repentance and forgiveness by God were concepts entirely absent from ancient Israelite religion (that is, the religion reflected in Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy). I believe that forgiveness and repentance are very important concepts in Islam and so it’s interesting that in recounting ancient Israelite history, the Quran has God emphasizing the importance of repentance to the Israelites, though the concept was never there and doesn’t exist in that part of the Bible, beyond basic apologizing after the Golden Calf incident, but certainly not as a theological emphasis or doctrinal necessity.

Finally, though a quick summary, I would like to say that for the most part this section captures the gist of the Old Testament. God did the Israelites a lot of favors from Egypt forward, the Israelites treated God poorly and were totally ungrateful, and then throughout the Prophets the Israelites are accused, like verse 59 here, of perverting the word of God and being sinners. Thus, retribution was sent, ultimately for the Jews in the form of the Babylonian Exile.

Remembrance

The last thing I want to mention is the way many of these verses start, emphasizing “Remember.” This makes me think of the Passover holiday celebrated by Jews that is designed to make Jews remember the many things that God did for them. Jews recount the events so that they never forget what they owe God. That feeling, though obviously in brief, seems echoed here based on the interweaving of God’s great actions, mercy and forgiveness.

What do these verses make you think about? What can you add to our understanding of these verses? Is there any part of the summary of ancient Israelite history that you have trouble placing as a biblically recounted event?

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The Cow 47-59

47. Remember, O Children of Israel, the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 48. Take heed of the day when no man will be useful to man in the least, when no intercession matter nor ransom avail, nor help reach them. 49. Remember, We saved you from the Pharaoh’s people who wronged and oppressed you and slew your sons but spared your women: In this was a great favor from your Lord. 50. Remember, We parted the sea and saved you, and drowned the men of Pharaoh before your very eyes. 51. Yet, remember, as We communed with Moses for forty nights you took the calf in his absence (and worshiped it), and you did wrong. 52. Even so, We pardoned you that you may be grateful. 53. Remember, We gave Moses the Book and Discernment of falsehood and truth, that you may be guided. 54. Remember, Moses said: “My people, by taking this calf you have done yourselves harm, so now turn to your Creator in repentance, and kill your pride, which is better with your Lord.” And (the Lord) softened towards you, for He is all-forgiving and merciful. 55. Remember, when you said to Moses: “We shall not believe in you until we see God face to face,” lightening struck you as you looked. 56. Even then We revived you after you had become senseless that you might give thanks; 57. And made the cloud spread shade over you, and sent for you manna and quails that you may eat of the good things We have made for you. No harm was done to Us, they only harmed themselves. 58. And remember, We said to you: “Enter this city, eat wherever you like, as much as you please, but pass through the gates in humility and say: ‘May our sins be forgiven.'” We shall forgive your trespasses and give those who do good abundance. 59. But the wicked changed and perverted the word We had spoken to a word distorted, and We sent from heaven retribution on the wicked, for they disobeyed.

Quran Day: The Story of Adam and the Angels in The Cow 30-39

The Quran and the Bible – Influence, Harmony and History

I loved reading this section, but as many of you are probably figuring out, I love to talk about the Quran’s relationship to the Bible.

On a basic level, reading Genesis 2-3 alongside these verses provides a great comparison of two texts telling the same (but a different) story. Next, you get to extrapolate to a comparison of Judaism and Christianity v. Islam based on their respective texts, all the while wondering to what degree the Quran is influenced by the actual biblical story or by the people who believe in the biblical story (i.e. Christians and Jews). And then you have to wonder what stage of their religious development those Christians and Jews were at; what I mean is that Christians and Jews didn’t just believe the biblical story as is (by the first to sixth centuries CE) but had all sorts of theological interpretations and alternate understandings by the rise of Islam – some which are more visible and some less in the Quranic text. So where are the influences coming from and how!?

That I find this ridiculously fun is like lifting up my dress to reveal my nerdiness, but I think that religious interplay and influence between peoples and their texts is the bees’ knees – one of the coolest and most fascinating things to study.

So what do I have to say about these verses then…

I wonder why the angels are such a large part of the story of the creation of man. Admittedly, it adds a fascinating element if one knows enough about “angelology.” The angels here reflect a common theme whereby angels are jealous of men, because men sin and don’t worship God constantly as angels do yet are still given so much by way of paradise (Garden) and forgiveness/mercy and access to Heaven. These knowledgeless angels are not unexpected – Angels always seem to be simple peons of God who do what they’re supposed to not because they should but because it would never occur to them to do otherwise.

Some interesting contrasts with the biblical story are that no particular tree is mentioned at this point in the Quran (is it later?). Plus, there’s only one tree. The Garden of Eden in the Bible had two forbidden trees (Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve ate from, and the Tree of Life, which gave immortality). It stands to reason that God would not want Adam and Eve to eat from those trees (all-knowing and immortal people could be problematic – though in the Quran God gives knowledge of reality and all things before the tree scene!) but in the Quran we have no reason for this tree being a no-no. It’s simply an injunction that Adam cannot eat from a certain tree. Why? What does this teach more pointedly that the Bible does not? Obedience?

Also, the biblical story doesn’t have Satan as the tempter. Sure, Christians will tell you that the snake was Satan, but as you may have learned with me on Fun with the Bible day, we must believe the Bible for what it says and not what we want it to say. There is no Satan in the biblical story of creation – only a snake and the original author intended that this be a snake. I imagine that the story, by the composition of the Quran, was long since one with Satan and not a snake and that is why we have what we have here.

I also find this element of male-female antagonism fascinating. Is this etiological (that is, a story about history meant to explain the present)? Why do men and women not get along? As a punishment from God when they ate from the wrong tree and were kicked out of the Garden, of course. Fortunately, God only gives this punishment for a specific time period, a luxury the biblical reader was not privy to.

Really fascinating things here and so much I just can’t get to!

Questions and Other Posts

What did you notice in these verses? What did I leave out when comparing this passage to the Bible? What do you think of the theological elements in these verses? Please feel free to answer the other questions I’ve posed above.

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The Cow 30-39

30. Remember, when your Lord said to the angels: “I have to place a trustee on the earth,” they said: “Will You place one there who would create disorder and shed blood, while we intone Your litanies and sanctify Your name?” And God said: “I know what you do not know.” 31. Then He gave Adam knowledge of the nature and reality of all things and every thing, and set them before the angels and said: “Tell Me the names of these if you are truthful.” 32. And they said: “Glory to You (O Lord), knowledge we have none except what You have given us, for You are all-knowing and all-wise.” 33. Then He said to Adam: “Convey to them their names.” And when he had told them, God said: “Did I not tell you that I know the unknown of the heavens and the earth, and I know what you disclose and know what you hide?” 34. Remember, when We asked the angels to bow in homage to Adam, they all bowed but Iblis, who disdained and turned insolent, and so became a disbeliever. 35. And We said to Adam: “Both you and your spouse live in the Garden, eat freely to your fill wherever you like, but approach not this tree or you will become transgressors. 36. But Satan tempted them and had them banished from the (happy) state they were in. And We said: “Go, one the antagonist of the other and live on the earth for a time ordained and fend for yourselves.” 37. Then his Lord sent commands to Adam and turned towards him: Indeed He is compassionate and kind. 38. And We said to them: “Go, all of you. When I send guidance, whoever follows it will neither have fear nor regret; 39. But those who deny and reject Our signs will belong to Hell, and there abide unchanged.”

Fun with the Bible: Abraham’s Trip to See Sigmund Freud

The Situation

Everybody knows about Father Abraham right? That patriarch of all monotheistic people who everyone likes to trace his or her roots to? You remember: God spoke to him, gave him descendants and Canaan and all that jazz?

Do you remember the story where he goes to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test from God (Genesis 22) but before he can do it God stops him? It’s a great story. Rather popular, and boy is there a lot to say about it. But do you know the story of Abraham and his other son, Ishmael?

Well, in Genesis 21, (yes, the chapter immediately before he tries to off Isaac), Abraham sends his other son (and his mother) out into the wilderness to, presumably, die. Why? Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is getting testy about Ishmael, the son of a slave woman, playing with her son. Jealousy? Maybe. But no matter the reason, we have two back to back stories of Abraham doing things that will kill his sons.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like this, I start thinking of everyone’s favorite mother fucker, Sigmund Freud. Now, there’s no real indication that Isaac or Ishmael was trying to sleep with either of their mothers or subsequently tried to murder their father, Abraham. But perhaps this was a preemptive strike on Abraham’s part while his sons were still young.

The Approach

There’s little that annoys me as much in scholarship as a reductionist approach. That is, the attempt to understand and explain information all through a particular lens without taking account of the entire situation. For instance, like attempting to interpret everything through a Freudian, Oedipal Complex, eye. (By the way, interpreting the entire Old Testament like it’s forecasting Jesus is also reductionist.)

However, with two back to back stories about killing sons, I can’t help but wonder if we’re not getting glimpses of some very long standing emotions about familial relations. We know that the ancient Greeks thought about these things – why not Ancient Near Eastern people as well?

The Questions

One big question internal to the story is, how can Abraham get everything that God has promised him (descendants and land for them), if he is killing his sons (while claiming that God is telling him to kill them – sounds delusional, no?)? So, if these Freudian drives are correct, is this in part a story about Abraham overcoming his internal drives (son-murder) in order to acquire his long-term goals: Id v. Superego? Should he smoke a cigar?

If you like this family murder stuff, Genesis is filled with some great fratricide and attempted fratricide stories too (e.g. Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers).

Have you read Genesis 21 and 22? What do you think about this Freudian interpretation on the whole thing? What are your thoughts on Abraham’s psyche? Are there other places you can think of in the Bible that lend themselves to Freudian interpretation? God does let his only son get murdered, right?

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Quran Day: The Cow 21-29 Speaks of Allah’s Omniscience and Other Qualities

God’s Characteristics

I was struck throughout these 9 verses by the flurry of ways that Allah, as He’s portrayed here in the Quran, reflects issues that the biblical reader will notice immediately. Then suddenly, at the end, there’s a huge difference (a difference that a biblical reader, though not necessarily a religious Christian or Jew, might notice).

In verse 29 of the Cow, we learn that God is omniscient; that is, he has knowledge of everything. Though predictable that the Quran would make sure to let us know this seemingly obvious fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this about God.

Jews and Christians will insist that God is omniscient – after all, how could He not be? – but show me where it says that in the Bible. It doesn’t. The Jewish and Christian conception of God that developed in the centuries surrounding the year 0 was one of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but God was not always thought of like this. In fact, there are instances in the Bible where we see that God just doesn’t know certain things (in Gen. 3 He has to look for Adam and Eve and calls to them because He doesn’t know where they are).

My point is that by the seventh century and the development of Islam, the concept of God in monotheistic traditions had developed in such a way that God was quite obviously omniscient, as the Quran states outright. God, we learn in these verses, is also the creator and the controller of nature.

Covenant?

One point I would love to understand better in these verses is from 27, when God’s “covenant” is spoken of. A covenant was a two-party agreement in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and either the word is being used generally or I’m having some trouble with it. Can anyone tell me what the Arabic word is?

Usually a covenant is not God’s, per se, but God’s covenant with person x. Is it implied that this is God’s covenant with mankind or individuals? Is this common language and should we understand what is being said?

Man as Creation’s Culmination

It seems a bit unfair of me to compare everything in the Quran to the Bible but as one who has studied that text and since the Bible is known to the Quran, I feel justified making such comparisons. Verse 29, that God made all that lies within the earth for you, is an interesting combination of the two creation stories in the Bible.

In Genesis 1, everything is created and human beings (not Adam and Eve) are the final creations: they are the culmination of creation. In Genesis 2, a different creation story (just read them and you’ll see that they are two different tales) tells us that man is created, and then everything else is created for him to enjoy.

These two different ideas – man as culmination of creation and as the catalyst for additional creation – seem to be harmonized in the Quranic verse, “God made for you all that lies within the earth.”

What do these verses make you think about? The notion of resurrection is also present in these verses? What is the Muslim understanding of resurrection? Are there any notions here about God that you find are the same as or different from those expressed in the Bible?

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The Cow 21-29

21. So, O you people, adore your Lord who created you, as He did those before you, that you could take heed for yourself and fear Him. 22. Who made the earth a bed for you, the sky a canopy, and sends forth rain from the skies that fruits may grow – your good and sustenance. So do not make another the equal of God knowingly. 23. If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our votary, then bring a Surah like this, and call any witness, apart from God, you like, if you are truthful. 24. But if you cannot as indeed you cannot, then guard yourslves against the Fire whose fuel is men and rocks, which has been prepared for the infidels. 25. Announce to those who believe and have done good deeds, glad tidings of gardens under which rivers flow, and where, when they eat the fruits that grow, they will say: “Indeed they are the same as we were given before,” so like in semblance the food would be. And they shall have fair spouses there, and live there abidingly. 26. God is not loath to advance the similitude of a gnat or a being more contemptible; and those who believe know whatever is from the Lord is true. But those who disbelieve say: “What does God mean by this parable?” He causes some to err this way and some He guides; yet He turns away none but those who trangress, 27. Who, having sealed it, break God’s covenant, dividing what He ordained cohered; and those who spread discord in the land will suffer assuredly. 28. Then how can you disbelieve in God? He gave you life when you were dead. He will make you die again then bring you back to life: To Him then you will return. 29. He made for you all that lies within the earth, then turning to the firmament He proportioned several skies; He has knowledge of every thing.