The unseeing eye…

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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.

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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 evilsaid 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.

24 thoughts on “The unseeing eye…

  1. Yes, question everything. It must feel good (and a little awkward) to question what the Bible said. You did, and I read your post twice. Wonderful! My church (Episcopal) didn’t teach or use the word ‘devil’ in Adam and Eve. It’s all in how you read Thank you for

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    1. My Sunday School was quite eclectic… multicultural Anglican in the Zion Baptist church…. but we still got the hellifire and brimstone alongside a gentle Jesus. I read the Bible long ago in order to find out for myself…but I evidently didn’t read it with anywhere near enough care.

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    1. Much depends, I feel, on whether we are reading with the heart, either through the eyes of faith or trying to understand the stories symbolically…or whether we try to take them more literally. Either way, there is, indeed, much of value in all sacred texts.

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  2. Genesis has always troubled me. It still troubles me. I also think cultural assumptions and interpretations (which have also varied over time) become part of the original text’s story. There’s the text (and really, do we know if it is even the “original”?) and there’s also the verbal story-telling, which makes subtle changes with each new teller of the tale.

    I’m often surprised by what I remember and what’s there when I go back and re-read. Or maybe I’ve changed, too. (K)

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    1. Reading any text, especially those held sacred by many, is an adventure into the recesses of the mind. There are so many ways we can each interpret them and, as you say, we change and bring further experience to them over time.

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  3. Interesting read, but I’d love to hear more of your thought process. If I understand, the revelation was

    – “a living soul” = no physical body? (Actually, this always made more sense to me, that what was meant by ‘clothed in skin’ was more literal.)

    – “one of us” = if really true, our real nature/potential is … hmmm, shocking? Astounding? True equality WITH God possible?

    – “no mention of the devil or evil” = I remember the story I was taught as it being Satan, but upon reading, it’s actually in the next chapter where this is written. I took this to be just the result of the oral tradition which typifies a good bit of the Old Testament. (The stories just weren’t written down til much later.) Q: in the first presented version, who or what is the serpent then? Angel? Fellow living soul? Also “one of us?”

    – I knew of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was intriguing to me that A&E were permitted to eat from the former. (Actually, I think I would have gone for that one first, although, who knows, maybe Omnipotent God could have reversed that?)

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    1. You will forgive me if I mention that this post was not so much about the details of the biblical story as it was about how we can blinker ourselves through accepting what we think we know without questioning its validity or reality. I should also point out that my personal views are unlikely to be seen as orthodox.

      The idea of the soul polarises those who do and do not believe in such things. I liked the specific reference to a living soul… not a living being, or a creature of dust. For me that suggests that Man was made for more than the life of earth, which accords with the text stating that Adam was made for Eden. That such a living soul can be formed of the dust suggests that the life of earth is a sacred as any Eden and a necessary part of the evolution of that soul.

      ‘One of us’? Shocking only in that dogmatic teaching refers to God only as a singular Being, where the text implies a plurality that is never taught or highlighted. My personal beliefs encapsulate the idea that our purpose is to become one with the One… but I do not see that One as either singular or plural, but as All.

      If you’ll excuse the pun, discussing the symbolism behind the serpent could open a whole can of worms… Briefly, though, I have never seen the serpent as a force of evil, more a natural aspect of Divinity. The omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God of the Bible would have known full well what would happen when He created Adam, Eve and the serpent, therefore one can only assume that the subsequent temptation and Fall were part of the Divine Plan all along. The serpent then becomes the enabler of that Plan, just as Judas would in later times and as Seth had been for the Egyptians. There can be no growth in stasis and something had to tip the balance before movement takes place.

      I too knew of both Trees though only through my own reading, not because we were taught of them when young. The outcome of eating from them as written though is perhaps worth real contemplation. That Adam should be told he would die by eating from the Tree of KNowledge implies an idea of death very different from the bodily finality of the end of life. That a divine immortality is granted by the fruit of the Tree of Life is not something we were ever taught at all.

      But the main point I was making here is that of the habit of blind acceptance that passes unquestioned…and whether we are looking at a sacred text or the reality we think we see beyond our front door, as a species, I think we have a lot of room for improvement.

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  4. I should point out that there are today MANY interpretations of the original ancient Hebrew and because the Hebrew is so old, there are many interpretations of it, too. Each of the relatively recent interpretations of the Torah are different and each opens up another box of questions.

    Jewish scholars who study anthropology believe there were many more books that were part of the Torah, nearly all of which were destroyed during the first or second destruction of the Temple. Possibly hundreds more meaning the 9 remaining are bits and pieces without a context.

    We have just story fragments. In the course of archaeology, the hope never dies that somewhere, some pieces of the missing books will be found. Until that day, we are left with these bits and pieces. I doubt anyone can come up with a coherent story. Too much is missing.

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    1. The Bible likewise lost much of its possible content when the decisions were taken on what to include and what to discard. Add that to oral traditions and the varied interpretations of the ancient texts and you are right… there is no way of knowing what the true ‘original’ story would have been. And that is without the personal preferences of translators through the ages adding their own choice of word, which may well be accurate in translation but may lose much of the underlying tone of the original.

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