Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) (RLST 145) with Christine Hayes
This lecture continues the discussion on Genesis, including the familiar accounts of Cain and Abel, the Flood and Noahide covenant. The story of Cain and Abel expresses the notion of the God-endowed sanctity of human life and a “universal moral law” governing the world. Examination of the contradictions and doublets in the flood story leads to a discussion of the complex composition and authorship of the Pentateuch. These features as well as anachronisms challenge traditional religious convictions of Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible.
00:00 – Chapter 1. The Taming of Enkidu in The “Epic of Gilgamesh”
05:44 – The Story of Enkidu as Parallel to the Second Story of Creation in Genesis
21:29 – Major Themes in the Story of Cain and Abel
24:02 – Comparing Mesopotamian, Semitic and Israelite Flood Stories
35:32 – Contradictions and Doublets in the Flood Story in Genesis 6-9
42:42 – Implications of the Repetitions and Contradictions throughout the Bible
Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:
This course was recorded in Fall 2006.
Hayes: So, last time I gave a reading of
the creation accounts that are in Genesis 1 to 3.
These are two very different
stories but their placement side by side suggests the possibility
of a joint reading. Nevertheless they are very
different in character, and today I want to focus in on
the second creation story. This is a story that is
predominantly in Genesis 2 and trickles into Genesis 3,
and I'm going to look at it mostly in isolation from the
first account. I'm going to be looking at it
in light of an important parallel.
This parallel is The Epic of Gilgamesh–I get to point
this way now, to the boards,
okay? The Epic of Gilgamesh,
and I'll be drawing on the work of many scholars,
Nahum Sarna probably most prominently among them,
but others also who have devoted themselves to the study
of these textual parallels, and developing an
interpretation of these stories. I'd like you to carry that with
you into your discussion sections as you look at some of
the other interpretations from antiquity and on into the modern
period. Now The Epic of
Gilgamesh is a magnificent Mesopotamian epic that relates
the exploits of a Sumerian king, King Gilgamesh of Uruk.
That's the name of the
city-state over which he is king.
And the epic as we now have it was probably composed between
2000 and 1800 BCE. Gilgamesh was apparently a
historical character, an actual king of Uruk,
but the story of course has fantastic and legendary
qualities to it. We have a full text of the epic
that was located in the library of Assurbanipal,
an Assyrian king. It's a seventh century copy of
the story. But we have fragments that are
much, much older (that date back to the eighteenth century) that
were found in Iraq. So clearly it's an old story
and we have even older prototypes for elements of the
story as well. The story opens with a
description of Gilgamesh. He's an extremely unpopular
king. He's tyrannical,
he's rapacious, he's undisciplined,
he's over-sexed. The people in the city cry out
to the gods. They want relief from him.
They particularly cite his
abuses towards the young women of the city.
And the god Aruru is told that she must deal with Gilgamesh.
Aruru is on the board.
So Aruru fashions this noble
savage named Enkidu. Enkidu is designed to be a
match for Gilgamesh, and he's very much like the
biblical human in Genesis 2. He's sort of an innocent
primitive, he appears unclothed, he lives a free,
peaceful life in harmony with the animals,
with nature and the beasts, he races across the steppes
with the gazelles. But before he can enter the
city and meet Gilgamesh he has to be tamed.
So a woman is sent to Enkidu and her job is to provide the
sexual initiation that will tame and civilize Enkidu.
I'm reading now from The
Epic of Gilgamesh (Pritchard 1958,40-75):
For six days and seven nights Enkidu comes forth,
mating with the lass. After he had had (his) fill of
her charms, He set his face toward his wild
beasts. On seeing him,
Enkidu, the gazelles ran off, The wild beasts of the steppe
drew away from his body. Startled was Enkidu,
as his body became taut. His knees were motionless–for
his wild beasts had gone. Enkidu had to slacken his
pace–it was not as before; But he now had [wi]sdom,
[br]oader understanding. Returning, he sits at the feet
of the harlot. I'm not sure why that
translation. I've been told by those who
know Akkadian that the word could mean "harlot/prostitute,"
it could mean some sacred prostitute… I'm not an expert
in Akkadian. But:
He looks up at the face of the harlot,
His ears attentive, as the harlot speaks;
[The harlot] says to him,
to Enkidu: "Thou art [wi]se,
Enkidu, art become like a god! Why with the wild creatures
dost though roam over the steppe?
Come, let me lead thee [to] ramparted Uruk,
To the holy Temple, abode of Anu and Ishtar,
Where lives Gilgamesh, accomplished in strength
And like a wild ox lords it over the folk."
As she speaks to him, her words find favor,
His heart enlightened, he yearns for a friend.
Enkidu says to her,
to the harlot: "Up lass, escort thou me (to
Gilgamesh)… I will challenge him [and will
bo]ldly address him." So that's tablet I from The
Epic of Gilgamesh. So through this sexual
experience Enkidu has become wise, growing in mental and
spiritual stature, and he is said to have become
like a god. At the same time there's been a
concomitant loss of innocence. His harmonious unity with
nature is broken, he clothes himself,
and his old friends the gazelles run from him now.
He will never again roam free
with the animals. He cannot run as quickly.
His pace slackens,
he can't even keep up with them.
So as one reads the epic one senses this very deep
ambivalence regarding the relative virtues and evils of
civilized life, and many of the features that
make us human. On the one hand it's clearly
good that humans rise above the animals and build cities and
wear clothes and pursue the arts of civilization and develop
bonds of love and duty and friendship the way that animals
do not; these are the things that make
humans like the gods in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
But on the other hand these
advances have also come at a cost.
And in this story there's also a sense of longing for the
freedom of life in the wild–the innocent,
simple, uncomplicated life lived day to day without plans,
without toil, in harmony with nature,
a somewhat Edenic existence. So there are very obvious
parallels between this part of the epic that I've just read to
you and our second creation story.
Enkidu like Adam is fashioned from clay.
He's a noble savage, he's a kind of innocent
primitive, and he lives in a peaceful co-existence with
animals. Nature yields its fruits to him
without hard labor. He's unaware of–he's
unattracted by–the benefits of civilization:
clothing, cities and all their labor.
Just as Enkidu gains wisdom and becomes like a god,
and loses his oneness with nature,
so Adam and Eve after eating the fruit of the knowledge of
good and evil are said to have become like gods,
and they also lose their harmonious relationship with
nature. In Genesis 3:15,
God says to the snake: "I will put enmity
Between you and the woman, And between your offspring and
hers; They shall strike at your head,
And you shall strike at their heel."
Presumably there had been a peaceful relationship between
creatures like snakes and humans to that point.
They are banished now from the Garden.
It used to yield its fruits to them without any labor,
but now humans have to toil for food and the earth yields its
fruits only stintingly. So in Genesis 3:18,
God says to Adam: "Cursed be the ground
because of you; By toil shall you eat of it
All the days of your life: Thorns and thistles shall it
sprout for you. But your food shall be the
grasses of the field; By the sweat of your brow
Shall you get bread to eat"
So knowledge or wisdom or perhaps moral freedom,
seem to come at a very high price.
But there are important differences between these
stories too. And the most important has to
do with the nature of the act that leads to the transformation
of the human characters. It's Enkidu's sexual
experience, his seven-day encounter with the woman that
makes him wise and godlike at the cost of his life with the
beasts. There has been a long tradition
of interpreting the deed or the sin of Adam and Eve as sexual,
and there are some hints in the story that would support such an
interpretation. I was just reading recently a
scholarly introduction to Genesis that very much argues
and develops this interpretation.
Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil in violation of God's command.
Now eating can perhaps be a metaphor for sex,
some have argued. Knowledge of good and
evil–perhaps that could be understood in sexual terms.
In biblical Hebrew the word "to
know" can mean "to know" in the biblical sense.
It can mean sexual intercourse. Snakes are symbols of renewed
life and fertility in the East because they shed their skins so
they seem to be eternally young; and they're also phallic
symbols. Eve says that the snake seduced
her. uses a term that has some
sexual overtones. So do all of these hints
suggest that, in the biblical view,
the change in Adam and Eve came about through sex?
If so, is sex a negative thing
forbidden by God? It would depend if you view the
change as a negative thing. That seems unlikely in my view.
You will certainly hear it
argued, but it seems unlikely in my view.
God's first command to the first couple was to be fruitful
and multiply. Now admittedly that comes from
the first creation story in Genesis 1;
nevertheless in the second creation story when the writer
is recounting the creation of woman,
the writer refers to the fact that man and woman will become
one flesh. So it seems that sex was part
of the plan for humans even at creation.
Also, it's only after their defiance of God's command that
Adam and Eve first become aware of,
and ashamed by, their nakedness,
putting the sort of sexual awakening after the act of
disobedience rather then at the same time or prior to.
So maybe what we have here is
another polemic, another adaptation of familiar
stories and motifs to express something new.
Perhaps for the biblical writer, Adam and Eve's
transformation occurs after an act of disobedience,
not after a seven-day sexual encounter.
The disobedience happens in a rather backhanded way.
It's kind of interesting.
God tells Adam before the
creation of Eve that he's not to eat of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, that's in Genesis 2:16,
on pain of death. Eve doesn't hear this command
directly. She has not yet been created.
In Genesis 3 we meet the
cunning serpent, and although many later
Hellenistic Jewish texts and the New Testament will identify the
snake as a Satan, an enticer, a tempter,
some sort of evil creature, he doesn't seem to be so in
this fable. There's no real devil or Satan
character–we'll talk about Job later–in the Hebrew Bible,
the snake in Eden is simply a talking animal.
He's a standard literary device that you see in fables of this
period, and later–the kind that you find for example in the
fables of Aesop. And the woman responds to the
serpent's queries by saying that eating and even touching the
tree is forbidden on pain of death.
One wonders whence the addition of touching.
Did Adam convey God's command to Eve with an emphasis all his
own? "Don't even touch that tree,
Eve. It's curtains for us if you do."
She didn't hear the original
command. Or did she just mishear in some
very tragic version of the telephone game.
And the serpent tells her, No, "you are not going to die"
if you touch or eat the fruit. In fact, he adds,
the fruit will bring you wisdom making humans like gods who know
good and bad. And in fact that's certainly
true. He tells her the truth.
Genesis 3:7 is a very critical
verse and it's rarely properly translated.
Most translations read like this: "She took of its fruit and
ate. She also gave some to her
husband and he ate." The implication is that Eve
acts alone and then she goes and finds Adam and gives him some of
the apple and convinces him to eat it.
But in fact the Hebrew literally reads,
"She took of its fruit and ate and gave also to her husband
with her, and he ate."
"With her" is a very teeny-tiny little word in Hebrew,
so I guess a lot of translations figure they can
leave it out. But the "with her" is there in
the Hebrew. At that fateful moment,
Adam and Eve are standing together at the tree,
and although only the woman and the serpent speak,
Adam was present, and it seems he accepted the
fruit that his wife handed him. He was fully complicitous,
and indeed God holds him responsible.
He reproaches Adam. Adam says: Well,
Eve handed it to me. She gave it to me.
the serpent tricked me. God vents his fury on all
three, and he does so in ascending order:
first the snake for his trickery and then the woman,
and finally the man. So just as the harlot tells
Enkidu after his sexual awakening that he has become
like a god, so Adam and Eve after eating
the forbidden fruit are said to be like divine beings.
Perhaps because they have become wise in that they have
learned they have moral choice. They have free will,
they can defy God and God's plans for them in a way that
animals and natural phenomena cannot.
But now that means there is a serious danger here,
and in Genesis 3:22, God says,
"Now that man has become like one of us, knowing good and
evil, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from
the tree of life and eat, and live forever?"
So it's the threat of an
immortal antagonist that is so disturbing and must be avoided.
And so God banishes Adam and
Eve from the Garden and he stations these kerubim,
these cherubim–not puffy cute little babies like Raphael
painted, but these fierce monstrous creatures–and a
fiery, ever-turning sword to guard the
way back to the tree of life. It is now inaccessible.
So the acceptance of mortality
as an inescapable part of the human condition:
it's a part of this story. It's also one of the themes of
The Epic of Gilgamesh. As the story continues Enkidu
enters the city and Enkidu earns Gilgamesh's respect and deep
love. This is the first time that
this rapacious tyrant has ever actually loved anyone and his
character is reformed as a result.
And then the rest of the epic contains the adventures of these
two close friends, all of the things that they do
together. And when Enkidu dies,
Gilgamesh is absolutely devastated.
He's for the first time confronted with his own
mortality. He's obsessed with grief over
Enkidu, and he's obsessed with the whole issue of mortality.
He begins a quest for
immortality, and that takes up most of the rest of the epic.
He leaves the city,
he travels far and wide, he crosses these primeval seas
and endures all sorts of hardships.
And finally exhausted and battered he reaches Utnapishtim,
also there on the board, Utnapishtim,
who is the only mortal ever to have been granted immortality by
the gods, and he comes to him and asks
for his secret. It turns out that Utnapishtim
can't help him, and we'll come back to
Utnapishtim later in the flood story, and Gilgamesh is
devastated. He then learns the whereabouts
of a plant of eternal youth. And he says:
Well that's better than nothing.
That at least will keep him young.
And so he goes after the plant of eternal youth,
but he's negligent for a moment and a thieving snake or serpent
manages to steal it and that explains why snakes are always
shedding their skins and are forever young.
Gilgamesh is exhausted, he feels defeated,
he returns to Uruk, and as he stands looking at the
city from a distance, gazing at it,
he takes comfort in the thought that although humans are finite
and frail and doomed to die, their accomplishments and their
great works give them some foothold in human memory.
Now Nahum Sarna is one of the
people who has pointed out that the quest for immortality,
which is so central in The Epic of Gilgamesh,
is really deflected in the biblical story.
The tree of life is mentioned, and it's mentioned with a
definite article. Genesis 2:9 says,
"with the tree of life in the middle of the garden,"
as if this is a motif we're familiar with,
as if this is something we all know about.
But then it's really not mentioned again as the story
proceeds. The snake, which in The Epic
of Gilgamesh is associated with the plant of eternal youth,
in Genesis is associated instead with the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil. That's the focus of our
attention in Genesis, and it's only at the end of the
story that the tree of life appears again in the passage
that is emphasizing its permanent inaccessibility.
And we could perhaps draw two
conclusions from this. First it may be that Adam and
Eve had access to this tree up to that point.
As long as their will conformed to the will of God,
there was no danger to their going on eternally,
being immortal. Once they discovered their
moral freedom, once they discovered that they
could thwart God and work evil in the world,
and abuse and corrupt all that God had created,
then God could not afford to allow them access to the tree of
life. That would be tantamount to
creating divine enemies, immortal enemies.
So God must maintain the upper
hand in his struggle with these humans who have learned to defy
him. And he maintains the upper hand
in this, the fact that they eventually must die.
Second of all the motif of
guards who block access to the tree of life suggests that no
humans have access to immortality and the pursuit of
immortality is futile. So it might be then that God
really spoke the truth after all.
The fruit did bring death to humankind.
Before we leave this story and move onto Cain and Abel,
I just want to make a couple of quick observations.
First of all the opening
chapters of Genesis, Genesis 1 through 3,
have been subjected to centuries of theological
interpretation, and I hope that you're in the
midst of reading some of them now.
They have generated for example the doctrine of original sin,
which is the idea that humans after Adam are born into a state
of sin, by definition. As many ancient interpreters
already have observed, the actions of Adam and Eve
bring death to the human race. They don't bring a state of
utter and unredeemed sinfulness. In fact what they tell us is
that humans have moral choice in each and every age.
The story is primarily
etiological rather then prescriptive or normative.
We've talked about this:
these etiological tales are tales that are trying to explain
how or why something is the way it is.
This is why serpents shed their skin, for example.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh
they were the ones who got the plant of eternal youth.
The writer observes that humans
emerge from innocent childhood to self-conscious adulthood.
The writer observes that
survival is a difficult endeavor and that the world can sometimes
seem harshly hostile. The writer observes that women
are desirous of and emotionally bonded to the very persons who
establish the conditions of their subordination.
The story is explaining how
these odd conditions of life came to be as they are,
which is not to say that it's the ideal situation,
or even that it's God's will for humankind;
these are etiological fables, and they're best read as such.
Second of all in this story we
see something that we'll see repeatedly in the Pentateuch,
and that is that God has to punt a bit.
He has to modify his plans for the first couple,
by barring access to the tree of life.
That was not something presumably he planned to do.
This is in response to,
perhaps, their unforeseen disobedience:
certainly the way the story unfolds that's how it seems to
us. So despite their newfound
mortality, humans are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
They're unpredictable to the
very god who created them. Finally I'll just draw your
attention to some interesting details that you can think about
and maybe talk about in section. God ruminates that the humans
have become like "one of us" in the plural.
That echoes his words in
Genesis 1 where he proposes, "Let us make humans," or
humankind, "in our image." Again in the plural.
Who is he talking to?
And what precisely are these
cherubim that are stationed in front of the tree of life
barring access? What do we make of these
allusions to divine colleagues or subordinates in light of
Kaufman's claims regarding biblical monotheism?
You should be bringing some of
the things we talked about when discussing his work,
into dialogue with and in conflict with some of the
evidence you'll be finding in the text itself.
So think about these things, don't pass over these details
lightly, and don't take them for granted.
The Cain and Abel story which is in Genesis 4:1 through 16:
this is the story of the first murder,
and it's a murder that happens despite God's warning to Cain
that it's possible to master the urge to violence by an act of
will. He says, "Sin couches at the
door;/Its urge is toward you/Yet you can be its master," Genesis
4:7. Nahum Sarna and others have
noted that the word "brother" occurs throughout this story
repeatedly, and it climaxes in God's
question, "Where is your brother,
Abel?" And Cain responds,
"I don't know; am I my brother's
keeper?" And ironically you sense,
when you read this that, even though Cain intends this
as a rhetorical question–"Am I my brother's keeper?"–in fact,
he's right on the money. Yes.
We are all of us our brothers' keepers, and the strong
implication of the story is as Sarna puts it,
that all homicide is in fact fratricide.
That seems to be the message of this story.
Note also that Cain is culpable, and for someone to be
culpable of something we have to assume some principle that they
have violated. And therefore this story
assumes the existence of what some writers,
Sarna among them, have called "the universal
moral law." There seems to be in existence
from the beginning of creation this universal moral law,
and that is: the God-endowed sanctity of
human life. We can connect it with the fact
that God has created humans in his own image,
but the God-endowed sanctity of human life is an assumption,
and it's the violation of that assumption which makes Cain
culpable. The story of Cain and Abel is
notable for another theme, and this is a theme that's
going to recur in the Bible, and that is the tension between
settled areas and the unsettled desert areas and desert life of
the nomads. Abel is a keeper of sheep.
He represents the nomadic
pastoralist, unlike Cain who is the tiller of soil,
so he represents more settled urban life.
God prefers the offering of Abel, and as a result Cain is
distressed and jealous to the point of murder.
God's preference for the offering of Abel valorizes the
free life of the nomadic pastoralist over urban
existence. Even after the Israelites will
settle in their own land, the life of the desert
pastoralist remained a sort of romantic ideal for them.
It's a theme that we'll see
coming up in many of the stories.
It's a romantic ideal for this writer too.
Now the murder of Abel by Cain is followed by some genealogical
lists. They provide some continuity
between the tales. They tell us folkloric
traditions about the origins of various arts,
the origins of building, of metalwork and music,
but finally in Genesis 6:5 we read that, "every imagination of
the thoughts of his heart," the human heart,
"was evil continuously". And this sets the stage then
for the story of a worldwide flood.
Now here again the Bible is making use of older traditions
and motifs and adapting them to their own purposes.
I've hinted at this already and
we'll look at it in a bit more detail now.
We know of a very ancient Sumerian flood story.
The hero is Ziusudra,
also on the board. We also know of a very early
Semitic work, the Epic of Atrahasis,
in which there's a flood. But the most detailed flood
story we have actually comes from The Epic of
Gilgamesh, on the eleventh tablet of
The Epic of Gilgamesh. You'll remember that in his
search for immortality Gilgamesh sought out Utnapishtim,
the one human who had been granted immortality.
He wants to learn his secret.
And when he begs for the secret
of eternal life he gets Utnapishtim's story,
and it's the flood story. He learns that Utnapishtim and
his wife gained their immortality by a twist of
circumstances: they were the sole survivors of
this great flood, and as a kind of reward they
were given immortality. The Sumerian story of Ziusudra
is very similar to the Genesis account.
In both you have the flood coming about as the deliberate
result of a divine decision; you have one individual who's
chosen to be saved from the flood;
that individual is given specific instructions on
building an ark, and is given specific
instructions on who to bring on-board the ark.
The ark also comes to rest on a
mountaintop, the hero sends out a bird to reconnoiter the land,
to find out if it's dry yet. When the hero emerges he builds
an altar. He offers sacrifice to the
deity and receives a blessing. Very similar,
parallel stories, and yet there are significant
contrasts between the Mesopotamian story and its
Israelite adaptation. Let's compare some of the
elements from all three of the stories with the biblical story.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh
we have no motive given for the divine destruction whatsoever.
It just seems to be pure
capriciousness. In the Epic of Atrahasis
we do in fact read of a reason, and the text there states,
"The land became wide and the people became numerous.
The land bellowed like wild
oxen. The god was disturbed by their
uproar. Enlil heard the clamor and said
to the gods, "Oppressive has become the clamor ofmankind.
By their uproar they prevent
sleep". So it seems that humankind is
to be destroyed because they irritate the gods with their
tumult and noise. In the Gilgamesh epic,
Ea, an earth-water god, does ask another god,
Enlil, how he could have brought the flood on so
senselessly. He says, "Lay upon the sinner
the sin; Lay upon the transgressor his
transgression", which would indicate that in
The Epic of Gilgamesh there is this element of
capriciousness. The biblical writer in
retelling the story seems to want to reject this idea by
providing a moral rationale for God's actions.
The earth, the text says, is destroyed because of
hamas. Hamas is a word that
literally means violence, bloodshed, but also all kinds
of injustice and oppression. Noah is saved specifically for
his righteousness, he was righteous in his
generation. He was chosen therefore for
moral reasons. So the writer seems very
determined to tell the story in a way that depicts God as acting
not capriciously but according to certain clear standards of
justice. This was deserved punishment
and the person who was saved was righteous.
Furthermore in the Mesopotamian accounts the gods do not appear
to be in control. This is something that's been
pointed out by many writers. Enlil wants to destroy
humankind completely. He's thwarted by Ea who drops
hints of the disaster to Utnapishtim so Utnapishtim knows
what to do and therefore manages to escape the flood.
But that's thwarting the design
of the god who brought the flood.
He wanted everything destroyed. When the flood comes the gods
themselves seem to have lost control.
They're terrified, they cower. The text says they "cowered
like dogs crouched against the outer wall.
Ishtar," the goddess Ishtar, "cried out like a woman in
labor . And moreover during the period
of the flood they don't have food, they don't have
sustenance. At the end when Utnapishtim
offers the sacrifice, the gods are famished and they
crowd around the sacrifice like flies, the text says.
The biblical writer wants to
tell a different story. In the biblical flood story,
God is represented as being unthreatened by the forces of
nature that he unleashes, and being completely in
control. He makes the decision to punish
humans because the world has corrupted itself through
hamas, through bloodshed and violence.
He selects Noah due to his
righteousness and he issues a direct command to build an ark.
He has a clear purpose and he
retains control throughout the story.
At the end, the writer doesn't depict him as needing the
sacrifice for food or sustenance.
We might say that this story,
like the story of Cain and Abel before it, and like the story we
will read later of Sodom and Gomorrah,
this story presupposes this universal moral law that Sarna
and Kaufman and others have talked about,
this universal moral law that seems to govern the world,
and if God sees infractions of it,
then as supreme judge he brings humans to account.
If morality is the will of God,
morality then becomes an absolute value,
and these infractions will be punished, in the biblical
writer's view. The message of the flood story
also seems to be that when humans destroy the moral basis
of society, when they are violent or cruel
or unkind, they endanger the very existence of that society.
The world dissolves.
So corruption and injustice and
lawlessness and violence inevitably bring about
destruction. Some writers have pointed out
that it's interesting that these humans are not being punished
for religious sins, for idolatry,
for worshipping the wrong god or anything of that nature,
and this is important. The view of the first books of
the Bible is that each nation worships its own gods,
its own way, perhaps.
At this point in the story, perhaps the view is that all
know of God even if they ignore him.
But the view eventually will be that only Israel is obligated to
the God of Israel, other nations aren't held
accountable for their idolatry in the books of the Torah.
We'll see this is we continue
along. And yet everyone,
all humans, Israelites or non-Israelites alike,
by virtue of having been created by God in the image of
God–even though they may not know that God,
or may ignore that God–they are bound to a basic moral law
that precludes murder and, perhaps from this story,
we could argue other forms of oppression and violence.
What better way to drive home
the point that inhumanity and violence undermine the very
foundations of society than to describe a situation in which a
cosmic catastrophe results from human corruption and violence.
It's an idea that runs
throughout the Bible, it also appears in later Jewish
thought and some Christian thought, some Islamic thought.
The Psalmist is going to use
this motif when he denounces social injustice,
exploitation of the poor and so on.
He says through wicked deeds like this "all the foundations
of the earth," are moved, "are shaken".
The Noah story, the flood story,
ends with the ushering in of a new era, and it is in many ways
a second creation that mirrors the first creation in some
important ways. But this time God realizes–and
again this is where God's got to punt all the time.
This is what I love about the
first part of Genesis–God is trying to figure out what he has
made and what he has done, and he's got to shift modes all
the time–and God realizes that he's going to have to make a
concession. He's going to have to make a
concession to human weakness and the human desire to kill.
And he's going to have to
rectify the circumstances that made his destruction of the
earth necessary in the first place.
So he establishes a covenant with Noah: covenant.
And humankind receives its
first set of explicit laws, no more implicit,
"Murder is bad." "Oh I wish I had known!"
Now we're getting our first
explicit set of laws and they're universal in scope on the
biblical writer's view. They apply to all humanity not
just Israel. So these are often referred to
as the terms of the Noahide covenant.
They apply to all humanity. This covenant explicitly
prohibits murder in Genesis 9, that is, the spilling of human
blood. Blood is the symbol of life:
that's a connection that's made elsewhere in the Bible.
"The life… is in the blood." So blood is the biblical symbol
for life, but God is going to make a concession to the human
appetite for power and violence. Previously humans were to be
vegetarian: Genesis 1, the portrait was one in which
humans and animals did not compete for food,
or consume one another. Humans were vegetarian.
Now God is saying humans may
kill animals to eat them. But even so,
he says, the animal's life is to be treated with reverence,
and the blood which is the life essence must be poured out on
the ground, returned to God, not consumed.
So the animal may be eaten to
satisfy the human hunger for flesh, but the life essence
itself belongs to God. It must not be taken even if
it's for the purposes of nourishment.
Genesis 9:4-6, you shall not eat flesh with
its life, that is, its blood.
For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning;
of every beast I will require it and of humans… So if you
are killed by a beast or a human, there will have to be a
reckoning, an accounting. "…of every person's brother I
will require the life of the person.
Whoever sheds the blood of a person, in exchange for that
person shall his blood be shed, for God made humans in his
image. All life, human and animal,
is sacred to God. The covenant also entails God's
promise to restore the rhythm of life and nature and never again
to destroy the earth. The rainbow is set up as a
symbol of the eternal covenant, a token of the eternal
reconciliation between the divine and human realms.
We should note that this
notion, or this idea of a god who can even make and keep an
eternal covenant is only possible on the view that God's
word and will are absolute, insusceptible to nullification
by some superior power or some divine antagonist.
Now, I handed out,
or there was handed out to you a sheet of paper.
You might want to get that out
in front of you because we're going to talk a little bit about
the flood story in Genesis 6 through 9.
When we read the flood story in Genesis 6 through 9,
we're often struck by the very odd literary style.
I hope you were struck by the
odd literary style, and the repetitiveness and the
contradictions. So I want to ask you now,
and be brave and speak out, in your reading of the story
did anything of that nature strike you?
Was the story hard to follow? Was it self-contradictory,
and in what ways? Anything?
Just don't even be polite, just throw it right out there.
Student: [inaudible] Professor Christine
Hayes: Okay, we seem to have two sets of
instructions. Someone's pointing out here,
we seem to have two sets of instructions about what to bring
on-board: either to bring two of each sort of living thing,
animals and birds and creeping things, or in another passage
God tells Moses to bring on seven pairs of pure animals and
one pair of impure animals and seven pairs of birds.
Different sets of instructions. Anything else strike you as odd
when you were reading this story?
Professor Christine Hayes: Okay,
rain seems to be there for different amounts of time,
doesn't it? There are some passages in
which the flood is said to have lasted for 40 days,
or be on the earth for 40 days. We find that in Genesis 7:17,
but in Genesis 7:24,150 days is given as the time of the flood.
Any other sorts of doublets or contradictions,
because there are a few more?
Who's giving the instructions?
That's not hard;
you have it right in front of you.
Who's giving the instructions? Student: [inaudible]
Professor Christine Hayes: Okay,
God. We have the word "God" being
used I guess in that translation, right,
with a capital G. What else is used?
Professor Christine Hayes: Lord.
Those are actually different Hebrew words underneath there,
okay? Those two terms are different
names of the deity that's giving the instruction.
Okay, so there are two designations used for God.
which is the sacred Tetragrammaton,
it's written with four letters in Hebrew, they don't include
vowels. We don't really know how it's
pronounced; I'm guessing at Yahweh,
and that is a proper name for God, and in your translation
that would be translated as "LORD" in small caps.
So wherever you see '"LORD" in
small caps, that's actually the English translation for Yahweh,
the proper name, like almost a personal name for
God. And then in other places we
have this word Elohim, which actually is the word for
"gods," a sort of generic term for deities in the plural.
However, when it's used to
refer to the God of Israel it's clearly singular,
it always has a singular verb. So that will be appearing in
your text as "God" with a capital G.
So whenever you see "Lord" or "God" those are actually
pointing to different words that are being used in the underlying
Hebrew text. Twice God is said to look down
on creation. Twice it is said that he is
displeased. Twice he decides to destroy all
living things. Twice he issues instructions
and as we've seen they're contradictory.
We seem to also have a different account of how long
the flood lasted; there are more subtle
contradictions throughout as well.
Sometimes the flood seems to be the result of very heavy rain,
but in other descriptions it seems to be a real cosmic
upheaval. You'll remember the description
of the world from Genesis 1 as an air bubble essentially that's
formed by separating waters above and waters below.
They're held back or pressed
back by the firmament above. And it's the windows in the
firmament that are opened–those waters are allowed to rush in
and dissolve that air bubble. It's as if we're back to square
one with the deep, right?
Just this watery mass again. So it's creation undoing itself
in some of the descriptions, as opposed to just heavy rain.
And in keeping with that idea
of a kind of a return to chaos, Noah is represented in a way as
the beginning of a new creation. Because like Adam and Eve in
the first creation story, Noah is told to be fruitful and
multiply. He's also given rule over
everything, and that's now extended to the taking of human
life . The Bible contains a lot of
repetition and contradiction. And sometimes it occurs in one
passage, as in the flood story here, and sometimes it occurs in
stories or passages that are separate from one another,
for example, the two creation stories.
There are many significant
differences between the two creation stories.
They different greatly in style.
Genesis 1 is formalized,
it's highly structured, it has the seven days and
everything's paired up. It's beautifully structured,
it's very abstract. Genesis 2 is much more
dramatic, much more earthy. The first creation story
doesn't really contain puns and wordplays, it's a little bit
serious. The second creation story is
full of them: there are all sorts of little
ironies and puns in the Hebrew. Adam,
the earthling made from the earth.
Adam is made from adamah.
Adam and Eve are naked, arum,
which is the same word for clever or shrewd,
and the snake is arum, he's clever and shrewd:
there are lots of little puns of this kind.
There are also differences in terminology between the two
stories. Genesis 1 speaks of male and
female, one set of Hebrew terms, but Genesis 2 uses man and
woman, a different set of Hebrew terms
to describe the genders. So the terms for gender are
different in the two stories. Genesis 1 refers to God,
as in your translation "God," Elohim, the word that's
translated as "God." He's remote, he's transcendent.
He creates effortlessly through
his word and through his will. But Genesis 2 refers to the
deity as a name that's really a combination, it's Yahweh Elohim,
so you'll see '"Lord God" right?
You see that a lot in the Bible as well, Lord God.
That tells you both of those
words were side by side in the original Hebrew.
So in Genesis 2 the deity is Yahweh Elohim.
He's much more down to earth. He forms the human like a
potter working with clay. He talks to himself,
he plants a garden, he takes a stroll in the garden
in the cool of the evening. He makes clothes for Adam and
Eve. He's spoken of in much more
anthropomorphic terms then the God that we encounter in Genesis
1. So what we have in the first
few chapters of Genesis are two creation stories that have
distinctive styles, distinctive themes,
distinctive vocabularies and they're placed side by side.
In Genesis 6 through 9 we seem
to have two flood stories with distinctive styles,
and themes, and vocabularies, and substantive details,
but they're interwoven instead of being placed side by side.
And there are many such
doublets in the Bible. At times we have whole books
that repeat or go over the same material.
In fact the whole historical saga that's recorded from
Genesis through the end of 2 Kings is rehearsed again in the
books of First and Second Chronicles.
What are we to make of the repetitions and the
contradictions here and throughout the Bible?
What are the implications?
Suppose you came across a piece
of writing that you knew nothing about just lying there on the
table. You didn't know who wrote it,
where, when, how, why, and someone says to
you, "I want you to draw some conclusions about that piece of
writing. I want you to draw some
conclusions about its authorship and the way it was compiled or
composed." And so you pick it up and you
start reading and you notice features like this.
What might you conclude?
Throw it out,
what might you conclude? No presuppositions.
You pick up the work and you
find these features. What might you conclude about
its authorship or manner of composition?
Student: There are multiple authors.
Hayes: You might conclude that there are multiple authors.
Multiple authorship. Yeah?
Student: There are revisions.
Professor Christine Hayes: That revisions may
have been made, so that you might have
different sources that have been revised or put together in
different ways. Right?
Revisions implying that you've got something and then it's
worked over again, additions might be made so now
that's a new source. You might conclude that these
features are evidence of multiple authorship;
a good deal of revision which points itself to a kind of
composite structure, different layers maybe,
different sources. Well as early as the Middle
Ages there were some scholars who noticed these things in the
biblical texts. They noticed that there are
contradictions and repetitions and there are anachronisms too,
other features that were evidence of multiple authorship,
revisions and composite structure.
So what? Why would that be a big deal?
Professor Christine Hayes: Okay,
it could be a bit of a problem if this text has become the
basis for a system of religious faith or belief,
and your assumptions about it are that its telling a truth
that is singular in nature. And also what about the
traditional beliefs on the origin of this text?
Right, who wrote this text
according to traditional beliefs?
I'm hearing Moses,
I'm hearing God, I'm hearing a bunch of
different things, but there are traditional ideas
about generally the Mosaic authorship of the Bible,
certainly the first five books of the Bible.
And so these features of the text which were noticed were a
challenge to traditional religious convictions regarding
the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible,
and in many ways the perfection of the Bible,
as speaking with a unified voice on matters of doctrine or
religious theology. So medieval commentators for
example began to speak a little bit more openly about some of
these features. One of the first things they
noticed is that Deuteronomy 34 describes the death and burial
of Moses. So they decided it was possible
that Moses didn't write at least that chapter.
Similarly there are some anachronisms that they had to
explain. One of the most famous is in
Genesis 13:7. It's in the midst of a story
about dividing the land between Lot and–at that time his name
was Abram, it later becomes Abraham–but
between Lot and Abram. And the narrator in telling
this story sort of interjects and turns to us,
the readers, and says, "The Canaanites and
Perrizites were then dwelling in the land."
Now what's weird about that sentence?
The narrator is speaking to us from a time in which the
Canaanites and Perrizites don't live in the land,
right? "That's back when the Native
Americans lived in Connecticut." Is that writer living at a time
when Native Americans are still living in Connecticut or owning
They're writing from a later point of view.
So the narrator breaks and talks to the audience in Genesis
13:7 and says, "That was back in the time when
the Canaanites were in the land."
When did Moses live? Who lived in the land in the
time of Moses? The Canaanites.
I know you haven't gotten there yet, but when you get to
Deuteronomy you're going to find out he doesn't make it into the
land. So he never makes it in there,
he never gets in before the Israelites conquer.
He dies–the Canaanites are
still in possession. So that line was certainly
written not by Moses; it was written by someone at a
much later time who's looking back and referring to the time
when the Canaanites were in the land.
So these are the kinds of things that people began to
notice. And with the rise of
rationalism in the modern period, traditional notions of
the divine and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch,
the Torah, the first five books of Moses, were called into
question. The modern critical study of
the Bible begins really with Spinoza who in the early
seventeenth century suggested that the Bible should be studied
and examined like any book: without presuppositions about
its divine origin or any other dogmatic claims about its
composition or authorship. But it was a Catholic priest,
Richard Simon, who first argued that Moses
didn't write the Torah, and that it contained many
anachronisms and errors. Well we've run out of time,
but I'll pick up this fascinating story on Wednesday
and we'll learn a little bit more about critical ideas about
the composition of the Bible. Please be on the look out for
emails from section leaders with study guides for sections which
will be meeting this week; you'll have a lot of fun with
the creation stories.