I had an email with a biblical reference. Not having read the passage to which he referred in any depth for as long as I can remember, but knowing the story as we pretty much all do, I picked up the Bible and started to read Genesis. I was looking for the particular verses to which the email referred, but read, with growing amazement, the details of a story I had never truly seen. And I have read the Bible cover to cover… skipping the genealogies I must add… as well as referring to it frequently in the course of my own studies and research.
It was what, in modern parlance, I can only call one of those WTF moments…
Don’t misunderstand here…I am not picking at the Bible or Christianity, but at something entirely different in the way we choose to see the world. Bear with me…
We all know the story of how the devil in the form of a serpent tempts Eve with the forbidden fruit. She takes it, shares it with Adam, they realise they are naked and go for the fig leaves. God finds out and ejects them from Eden. That is probably pretty much the story as many of us will know it. It is certainly how I was taught it in Sunday School. I knew there was more to it than that… I’d read the book after all.
I was initially just scanning through looking for the references. Then realised I would have to go back to the start and read it properly… with attention. For a start, I could find no mention of the devil, just the serpent, ‘more subtle’ than any of the other beasts. No mention of evil at all in fact, except in that the serpent ‘beguiled’ Eve… or so she tells God when questioned, after Adam has cast the blame on her. It seems responsibility wasn’t a strong trait in Eden. But even before that, a phrase had caught my eye in Genesis 2:7 that stopped me in my tracks. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” I had never noticed that before… a living soul… It made me think… it is a very evocative choice of words.
Then God tells Adam he may eat of all the fruit in the garden except one tree, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Given that this is God speaking, we can assume He wasn’t telling lies. Yet Adam did not die… he lived, yet the nature of his living changed; by being cast out of Eden to walk upon the Earth you could say he ‘died’ to one state of being and was ‘born’ into another.
Between the words of the serpent and the words of God, the nature of the tree of knowledge itself is revealing. “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil… ” said the serpent to Eve. And then God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever…..” I had to read that bit twice… how on earth could I have missed that? Why was it not part of the common version of the story?
Finally Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden and then “did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them…” So Adam has gone from a ‘living soul’, to ‘one of us’ (and that ‘us’ really begs a few questions…) and is finally clothed in skin… incarnated?… to walk the earth.
Now, I am not about to go into the whole train of thought that crossed my mind here. Much of it must be evident from the comments. What really left me astounded was how very different the actual story is from the one we are generally taught. The one I thought I knew pretty well… the one, I happily admit to having read. How on earth had I, could I have, missed all that?
As we grow our understanding deepens and we can see more in the meaning of a tale, but I had missed even the words themselves it seems. It is also true that understanding comes when the time is ripe. But I had not even seen that there was anything unseen. My assumption of knowledge blinkered me.
In the Silent Eye we ask students to question everything. Yet there was I, decades on, still blithely accepting what I was taught as a small child and even worse, that very act of acceptance had blinkered me to seeing what is really written in that story. How many things do we hold on to in error and blindness? I can’t help but wonder today how many of the things we accept and take for granted in life generally are intrinsically wrong, forged by acceptance into a semblance we recognise, a form which does not in fact reveal, but hides the truth. Question everything? Yes, and perhaps we should begin with our own perceptions and ourselves.