1. Hmmm . . .
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    WHICH TREE WAS THAT?

    A little exegesis on the story of the garden and the two trees from Genesis. For a couple verses, I have given a word-by-word translation from the Hebrew, to indicate some of the word-play that goes on; otherwise I have used the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanach, or the New Revised Standard (NRS) with slight modification from others. In the word-by-word, I have left out translators’ punctuation, which is not in the original.

    The “twist” on conventional understandings that comes out is that the original adolescents may have missed the trees for the forest—that this could be a tale of confusion and lack of understanding, more than one of disobedience.

    A Tale of Two Trees—


    _______________________________

    Genesis 2:9—

    And he sprouts YHVH Elohim from the ground (ha’adamah) all (every) tree desirable to look at and good (tov) to eat and tree of life in middle and tree of knowledge good (tov) and bad (ra).

    JPS translation: And from the ground YHVH God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.

    _______________________________

    Genesis 2:16, 17—

    And charged YHVH Elohim the earthling (ha’adam) by saying from all (every) tree of the garden eat you may eat but from tree of knowledge good and bad not you may eat from part (mi’manu)* because in time (day) you eat from part die you will die.

    JPS: And YHVH God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”

    * Note: mi’manu can also be translated as “more than part (or a portion).” On this reading, the prohibition would be on quantity, not eating per se. I know of no translation or tradition that follows this possible reading.

    _______________________________

    Genesis 2:25—

    JPS: The two of them were naked (arumim), the man and his wife, yet felt no shame.**

    ** The Hebrew phrase translated as “felt no shame” could also be rendered “were not disappointed.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Genesis 3:1—

    NRS: Now the serpent was more crafty (arum)*** than any other wild animal that YHVH God had made.

    *** There is a word-play in these two verses between “naked” and “crafty.” Depending on the vowel-pointing, the Hebrew letters A-R-M can mean either. In this case, the difference is one vowel-point on the initial A. However, in the original Hebrew there were no vowel-points! (as there are not on Hebrew scrolls today). arumim in verse 2:25 is plural, referring to both humans; arum in verse 3:1 is singular, referring only to the serpent.

    In the original Hebrew, the words could be read either way. Thus, what we have here is a kind of pun.

    ________________________________

    Genesis 3:1 to 3—

    JPS: He said to the woman, “Did God really say: “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees in the garden. It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: “You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.”

    So, first the naked (oops! crafty) serpent asks if God said not to eat of any tree in the garden. Kind of a loaded question, that.

    Then the woman says that they are forbidden to eat of the tree—in the middle of the garden! Which tree is that? (Verse 2:9) The tree of life!

    She got the trees confused! (Or else she was lost.) And the serpent played on the confusion.

    Genesis 3:6—

    JPS: When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of understanding, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

    Now, she was looking at a tree. And she recognized it as “a source of understanding.” Did she know which tree she was looking at? The serpent doesn’t tell her; he just begins talking about the tree they’re looking at, assuring them that they (actually, here the serpent speaks in the plural, implying that perhaps now both humans were present) won’t die if they “eat a portion.”

    When God confronts them—after finding them hiding in the trees—he asks if they have eaten from the tree “from which I had forbidden you to eat.” Their responses— Adam: “She gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Woman: “The serpent duped me, and I ate.” Imagine here confused and disconcerted looks on their faces; after all, this is shortly after they have had some new and apparently disconcerting discovery about their nakedness.

    The tree, the tree, the tree...

    ___________________________________

    EITHER—

    The woman thought she was in the middle of the garden, and was looking at that tree (the tree of life), in which case the old charge of temptation and disobedience may stand. (Although she is still not exactly alert and aware of what is going on—that is, she was lacking some understanding. She's still confused about which tree is forbidden, or where it is.)

    OR—

    She believed she was eating a different tree, not the one “in the middle of the garden,” but another one that was “desirable as a source of understanding.”

    Either way, there is enough confusion in this story—enough twists and turns among the trees—to seriously offer an alternative to the (more traditional) interpretation that this was about clear-sighted and knowing disobedience. As I have said before, part of the tradition of midrash is to “search out” (d’rash) all the possible readings.

    Of course, this raises questions about God’s response to the whole thing (and I have explored that before), but that is another matter...
  2. Joined
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    03 Mar '06 11:191 edit
    Originally posted by vistesd
    [b]WHICH TREE WAS THAT?

    A little exegesis on the story of the garden and the two trees from Genesis. For a couple verses, I have given a word-by-word translation from the Hebrew, to indicate some of the word-play that goes on; otherwise I have used the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanach, or the New Revised Standard (NRS) with slight modi ’s response to the whole thing (and I have explored that before), but that is another matter...[/b]
    "* Note: mi’manu can also be translated as “more than part (or a portion).” On this reading, the prohibition would be on quantity, not eating per se. I know of no translation or tradition that follows this possible reading."

    This would certainly lead to some interesting interpretations.

    "*** There is a word-play in these two verses between “naked” and “crafty.” Depending on the vowel-pointing, the Hebrew letters A-R-M can mean either. "

    Hmmm, so perhaps they were crafty, but the serpent was even more crafty?

    "The “twist” on conventional understandings that comes out is that the original adolescents may have missed the trees for the forest—that this could be a tale of confusion and lack of understanding, more than one of disobedience."

    This would be in line with some gnostic readings of the text.


    Very interesting. Would rec it if I could...

    PS What would be the implication of this exegesis if this story was told as part of a right of passage? Specifically at the threshold into adulthood for example?
  3. Standard memberPalynka
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    03 Mar '06 14:39
    Originally posted by vistesd
    [b]WHICH TREE WAS THAT?

    A little exegesis on the story of the garden and the two trees from Genesis. For a couple verses, I have given a word-by-word translation from the Hebrew, to indicate some of the word-play that goes on; otherwise I have used the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanach, or the New Revised Standard (NRS) with slight modi ...[text shortened]... ’s response to the whole thing (and I have explored that before), but that is another matter...[/b]
    Excellent work!

    I've interpreted the casting down to Earth more due to the fact they were no longer innocent enough to live in the garden than some sort of divine punishment (which would seem quite unfair, IMO). Your translation can surely be interpreted in that sense...

    Do you remember in which thread you have explored God's response? I don't recall reading it...
  4. Territories Unknown
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    03 Mar '06 15:11
    Great. Now I gotta crack a book again. Thanks.

    Knee-jerk memory, so don't hold me to it just yet...
    The two trees were in the middle, and there was but one prohibition, that against the TKGE (tree of the knowledge of good and evil). The tree of life had no such prohibition, until after the other fruit was eaten.

    The woman neglected the truth that she knew, by adding to what she had been taught. They were only told not to eat of the fruit from the TKGE; there was no prohibition from 'touch.'

    Although the sense of 'you' in referring to the humans allows for both to have been present, the fact that the serpent addresses the woman and not the man bends more toward her being alone. The opportunity to show herself as 'bringing something to the table,' coupled with the temptation of knowledge power, made her situation doubly difficult.

    I believe she was 'tricked' not by improper identification, but by genius. By herself, she was no match. The man was clearly a threat to the serpent, as the two are never seen in conversation. Realizing a head-on confrontation would have yielded poor results, the serpent attacked the man through the woman, an end-round, as it were. That woman was well-built!

    I'll crack a few books and see how well memory serves. But, as always, thanks for the thought-provoking ideas, superbly articulated.
  5. Hmmm . . .
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    03 Mar '06 15:53
    Originally posted by Palynka
    Excellent work!

    I've interpreted the casting down to Earth more due to the fact they were no longer innocent enough to live in the garden than some sort of divine punishment (which would seem quite unfair, IMO). Your translation can surely be interpreted in that sense...

    Do you remember in which thread you have explored God's response? I don't recall reading it...
    Thank you. Here’s the link to the other thread:

    http://www.redhotpawn.com/board/showthread.php?threadid=25669&page=8

    This was actually my first attempt at midrash (after the little Elisha and the Bears), and I played it pretty fast and loose. On page 12, I think, I gave a response to No.1’s question about God “tricking” the first humans.

    It doesn’t fit exactly with the approach I took here, and doesn’t do as much with God’s response as I remembered--it really just implies it. I thought somebody challenged me that I was just trying to “get God off the hook,” but that is far from my aim. My goal is really to follow a modern version of the talmudic tradition of opening up the stories to play with all the possibilities—even the weird ones.
  6. Hmmm . . .
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    03 Mar '06 15:591 edit
    Originally posted by JadeMantis
    [b]"* Note: mi’manu can also be translated as “more than part (or a portion).” On this reading, the prohibition would be on quantity, not eating per se. I know of no translation or tradition that follows this possible reading."

    This would certainly lead to some interesting interpretations.

    "*** There is a word-play in these d as part of a right of passage? Specifically at the threshold into adulthood for example?
    [/b]PS What would be the implication of this exegesis if this story was told as part of a right of passage? Specifically at the threshold into adulthood for example?

    I think that protestant theologian Paul Tillich treated the story this way, focusing especially on sexual awakening—though he didn’t say the story was about sex, just that that is one example. Also Rabbi Neil Bonder in his book Our Immoral Soul; I alluded to that a bit in the thread that I cited to Palynka (above).

    I’ll have to pursue that line of thought further when I get the time.

    I haven’t read any of the gnostic stuff. Got something you can recommend?
  7. Hmmm . . .
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    03 Mar '06 16:21
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Great. Now I gotta crack a book again. Thanks.

    Knee-jerk memory, so don't hold me to it just yet...
    The two trees were in the middle, and there was but one prohibition, that against the TKGE (tree of the knowledge of good and evil). The tree of life had no such prohibition, until after the other fruit was eaten.

    The woman neglected the truth that ...[text shortened]... serves. But, as always, thanks for the thought-provoking ideas, superbly articulated.
    I only have a few minutes here today, Freaky, so just a couple quick comments—

    I think the Hebrew wording can support both trees being in the middle. It can also support the notion of them being in two different places. What struck me was how the punctuation can affect such readings. Scholar, rabbi and modern talmudist Marc Alain-Ouaknin* said that the first thing the reader of the original Hebrew must do is break the text into pieces to identify possible words, then you start grouping things.

    I ignored the part about even touching the tree, but you’re right, and that opens up more lines of argument... ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I just caught the plural “you” in the text at the last minute, and threw that parenthetical statement into it. But, you know, I sometimes think that the authors, using the openness and depth of the Hebrew language, played with that kind of thing. I think they also left things out to allow space for us to engage the stories—in fact, I think they did that a lot. (Kind of like the lady and the tiger—or Jesus’ parables maybe: “Sorry, not giving you the answer; you have to find it.” Hemingway once said that what you leave out is as important as what you put in.)

    As for the rest, I don’t see any problems with the readings you’re suggesting, insofar as the text is concerned.

    Hey!—we could have a contest. We could each, whoever wanted to, post our complete best-shot exegesis of this story (mine are patchwork, thus far), and have a panel of judges like rwingett and Dr.Scribbles in their debate on.....No! Forget that. Forget it all!

    * The Burnt Book: Reading the Talmud. Ouaknin is a proponent of what he calls a an “existentialist” approach to reading torah/talmud. This is a difficult book—I’ve waded through it twice now, and have only scratched the surface—but it’s well worth the read.
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    06 Mar '06 08:25
    Originally posted by vistesd
    I haven’t read any of the gnostic stuff. Got something you can recommend?
    A bit limited in time at the moment, but try this article as a starting point:

    http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/genesis.html
  9. Felicific Forest
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    06 Mar '06 14:55
    Originally posted by vistesd
    [b]WHICH TREE WAS THAT?

    A little exegesis on the story of the garden and the two trees from Genesis. For a couple verses, I have given a word-by-word translation from the Hebrew, to indicate some of the word-play that goes on; otherwise I have used the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanach, or the New Revised Standard (NRS) with slight modi ...[text shortened]... ’s response to the whole thing (and I have explored that before), but that is another matter...[/b]
    After reading the story of Adam and Eve for the first time as an adult, I noticed the posssibility of this interpretation you give us here and I presented it to a friend of mine, a theology student. She never heard of this interpretation and promised to ask her uni-professor. His answer was that it was not the traditional interpretation of the text and the best thing I could do was to forget about it ...... what a bummer ! .... Oh well, I'm glad you refreshed my memory by bringing up the subject .... ๐Ÿ™‚

    Rec-ed.
  10. Hmmm . . .
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    08 Mar '06 02:38
    Originally posted by ivanhoe
    After reading the story of Adam and Eve for the first time as an adult, I noticed the posssibility of this interpretation you give us here and I presented it to a friend of mine, a theology student. She never heard of this interpretation and promised to ask her uni-professor. His answer was that it was not the traditional interpretation of the text and the b ...[text shortened]... ! .... Oh well, I'm glad you refreshed my memory by bringing up the subject .... ๐Ÿ™‚

    Rec-ed.
    Thanks, my friend. I don’t deny the traditional readings. I just think that the authors of these stories allowed for different readings—either because of their skill and art, or because of the nature of the language, or (more likely, I think) both.
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    08 Mar '06 03:02
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    Great. Now I gotta crack a book again. Thanks.

    Knee-jerk memory, so don't hold me to it just yet...
    The two trees were in the middle, and there was but one prohibition, that against the TKGE (tree of the knowledge of good and evil). The tree of life had no such prohibition, until after the other fruit was eaten.

    The woman neglected the truth that ...[text shortened]... serves. But, as always, thanks for the thought-provoking ideas, superbly articulated.
    Just something to throw into the "mix":
    Why did the serpent not attack the man, rather than the woman? You say he went after her because she was the weaker of the two. On the contrary. In the transgression of the commandment, she showed herself to be the stronger... For she alone stood up to the serpent. She ate from the tree, but with resistance and dissent and after being dealt with perfidiously. But Adam partook of the fruit given by the woman, without even beginning to make a fight, without a word of contradiction - a perfect demonstration of consummate weakness and a cowardly soul. The woman, moreover can be excused; she wrestled with a demon and was thrown. But Adam will not be able to find an excuse... He personally received the commandment from God.
    (St. Iranaeus)
  12. Hmmm . . .
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    08 Mar '06 03:07
    Originally posted by lucifershammer
    Just something to throw into the "mix":
    Why did the serpent not attack the man, rather than the woman? You say he went after her because she was the weaker of the two. On the contrary. In the transgression of the commandment, she showed herself to be the stronger... For she alone stood up to the serpent. She ate from the tree, but with resista ...[text shortened]... le to find an excuse... He personally received the commandment from God.
    (St. Iranaeus)
    Excellent addition to the "mix!" Rec'ed.
  13. Standard memberBosse de Nage
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    08 Mar '06 09:37
    Originally posted by vistesd
    Excellent addition to the "mix!" Rec'ed.
    Weak Adam reminds me of unquestioningly obedient Abraham.
  14. Hmmm . . .
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    08 Mar '06 16:51
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    Weak Adam reminds me of unquestioningly obedient Abraham.
    Interesting. And Jacob unquestioningly obeying mother to steal his brother's birthright, maybe? You know, underneath the thick patriarchal veneer, the stories so often seem to hinge on a stong-willed, strong-minded and wise/crafty woman: Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rivkah, Rachel, Tamar, Zipporah, Miriam, Devorah..... Sometimes I think that the stories of these women are like small gems that we're supposed to search out from the larger folds of the narrative cloth.

    You know my favorite take on Abraham and the aqedah story, that I heard from one rabbi years ago: Abraham's faith was tested--and he failed! He should've stood up to God and argued with God again: "Far be it from you to command me to sacrifice my son!"
  15. London
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    08 Mar '06 16:57
    Originally posted by vistesd
    You know my favorite take on Abraham and the aqedah story, that I heard from one rabbi years ago: Abraham's faith was tested--and he failed! He should've stood up to God and argued with God again: "Far be it from you to command me to sacrifice my son!"
    Does the story support such an interpretation? Seems to me that God was pleased with his willingness to go through with a command he didn't understand.
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