Brotherhood

Mankind as a brotherhood – that’s the dream. Perhaps, never to come true.

However, once upon a time, says the Bible, the dream was realized. And we had two brothers, Cain and Abel. Of course, we don’t think of them as of the supreme example of brotherly love. You know that story already, I assume.

They bring their sacrifices and Abel’s animal sacrifice is preferred by Yahweh over Cain’s vegetable sacrifice. Does Yahweh prefer flesh meat over vegetarian cuisine? I don’t know. And then Cain is angry. And then Yahweh sees that anger. And then Yahweh says to Cain to calm down. And then he leaves Cain and Abel alone. And then Cain kills Abel, and then Yahweh says curse over Cain.

The story sets forth some of the old semitic beliefs. For example, old Semites rather avoided spilling of the victim’s blood on the floor. Because, says that superstition, the blood spilled on the ground demands vengeance. So the old Arabs used to slay their victims over a vessel that will collect the blood, preventing it from being spilled. Yak!, I hear you saying.

But, this is not about blood. This is about morale of the story. It’s completely clear that Yahweh sides with the innocent victim. And that’s all he’s doing for Abel. Yahweh knows in advance what Cain is up to. Did he prevent him from murdering his brother? Did he, at least, warn Abel what’s going to be? Unfortunately, nope is the answer to both questions. Moreover, Yahweh is strangely absent when murder occurs. Just like he wasn’t there by the tree when Adam and Eve were tempted by the snake. He is absent just in the moments when his presence is most needed.

Furthermore, Cain is sentenced to nomadic life, not to death. Plus, he is protected from any eventual revenge. Revenge by whom, you may ask? Adam and Eve? His siblings not mentioned before? None of the answers is satisfying. Clearly, the writer is not concerned with that question. However, what we are concerned about is that the punishment is actually not carried out. Cain marries a woman, has a son and builds a city. Not some punishment, you know.

Thus, it seems that the morale of the story is that we are left on our own. No one really protects us, no one really punishes us. Is that what the Bible believers actually believe?

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THE FALL

Once upon a time I was teaching ethics for students age 15 to 18. Ethics was alternative for the students that didn’t want religious education. So, instead of Creation, Israel, Jesus, Church and so on, you could opt for topics on human rights, morality, corruption, etc.

Having before me students without religious education, I decided to make an experiment. How would they interpret Genesis 3? What happens there? That was their homework, to figure out what is this story about.

To my utter disappointment, virtually all the students offered the same interpretation: the text about speaking snake and a naked couple eating a forbidden fruit is the story about human fall into sin, from which we can be saved only through baptism. “OK, where do you find such words in the text?”, I asked them. They remained silent. Contrary to theologians who are very talkative when being asked the same question. “You see”, I can hear them, “Adam and Eve were sinless, they had no shame, because they had no lust, they walked freely with God, but, then, they listen to Satan’s voice and after that they cover their nakedness, flee away from God’s voice, become mortal” etc.

Well, to me Adam and Eve look like typical teenagers. You know that: “Kids, I’m just leaving a classroom for five minutes, please, sit down, be silent…” And what usually happens: turmoil and noise the moment you leave.

Thus, in this story, Yahweh leaves his garden for a while. Before that he sternly warns: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (2.17). No, he didn’t say: “You’ll become mortal”, but “You’ll die”, the very day you eat it. Remember that, mate, or you’ll misunderstand the whole story.

And in the beginning of the chapter we have someone who talks the human couple to a prank. This is a snake, but a talking one, something you’ve never heard of at your biology classes. Moreover, this snake knows in advance that 1. Adam and Eve will not die; and, 2. they will become like gods, knowing good and evil (meaning that they will know everything).

Both Adam and Eve fall for that story. Remember that they go together. Later theologies attempted to exculpate Adam, making of him a romantic hero who takes the fruit just because of Eve. But in the text, he is just as willing as Eve to eat this strange fruit. And then they start feeling stupid. They, firstly, become ashamed of their nakedness. Then they try to escape Yahweh. But you don’t need to be God to discover what some naïve teenagers did. Each of the culprits receives their due: the snake will have the problem with the dust and men’s heels; the woman will have the problems with childbirth and with men; the man will have the problems with tilling the ground. He is the dust, and he will deal with the dust all his life (just like the snake) and end in the dust. Finally, they have to leave the Garden. Now! You hear me?! They must not eat from the tree of life, for, as the snake predicted, they’ll become like God. A comforting thing is that they get leather garments. Animal rights societies, obviously, were not around. “Whoosh”, said Adam and Eve relieved. They didn’t die, as you may clearly see.

Therefore, a few words on later theological (Christian) constructs. Firstly, the text never implies some sinless nature of Adam and Eve. They’re as human as we are. Secondly, the text is not about the Fall into sinful nature, but about expulsion from the Eden. As the consequence of that expulsion, says the myth, we have to work hard, to deliver babies painfully, to wear clothes, etc. Next, Adam and Eve were already seen as mortal. But they escaped this time the death sentence. Yahweh in this story reminds to some stern parent or a pedagogue that threats with severe punishment, but, when a transgression really occurs, calms down and punishes in a milder way. Actually, it would be extremely stupid to kill anyone because of taking a single fruit, whatever it was. When theologians, beginning with apostle Paul, see in this text a verdict upon all humanity, some may really doubt their sanity. Why, on earth, all of us should suffer such terrible consequences of one pretty innocuous prank? Even if we agree with the interpretation I offer here (and I’m just leaning upon other biblical experts), the punishment was anyway exaggerated. Had I been Yahweh (had you been Yahweh) the punishment would be very simple: some yelling, no Internet today, no going out in the evening, and “The next time you do it…. Well, just try me, you little pranksters!” Chasing your kids from home for doing what Adam and Eve did would be too much. Killing them would me even more too much, right?

Lastly, a word about snake. In the book of Revelation it has been (probably) identified as Satan. Yet for the writer of Genesis 3 (nicknamed Yahwist) – it is just an animal. A strange, talking, divine-minded animal, but animal. And did you notice one thing? When Yahweh finds out what was done, he lets both man and woman to speak. But the snake has no such privilege. It has to remain silent while receiving its due. Really, no animal rights here. At the end of the story, Yahweh repeats the snake’s words.

And we’re left unsure whether the snake was not Yahweh himself.

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Adam and Eve (and Steve)

Ideal wedding

Forget about Brangelina or Lady D and Charles. The best known couple ever are those two naked guys, Adam and Eve. They were the first, and, per definition, the best.

There is pretty much stuff about them that I really like. Where to begin? Nice environment, something that really matters, especially for a family. Furthermore, no parents, no in-laws, just two of them. On top of that, says the Bible – they were naked, “and they felt no shame” (btw, open your Bible, Genesis 2. Or click this, if you’re so Internet-freaked). One of my favorite texts, not only in the Bible. Scandalous, for centuries. Thanks to this verse, nakedness never became a total taboo in the dark ages. Renaissance artists even painted it in the Churches (something that you’re not gonna see in the Protestantism, alas). Nakedness is quite natural, says the Bible, we are created naked. You don’t see a revolution here?

And, of course, what would a young, naked couple do? No, please, no sex. Firstly, they wed, mate, saying solemn wows before God himself.

I mean, once upon a time I really believed that. When I met my present wife, we decided to marry first. And the wedding was a reminiscence to that first wedding. I was asked: “Do you, etc.?”, and said “I do” (still I do). My wife was asked: “Do you…”, and she said (and still says) “I do”.

But, wait, that’s not in the Bible! Eve was brought to Adam, says the text. Adam was very happy to see what God had made out of only one rib. And he recited a sort of poem (in terms of Hebrew poetry, no rhymes, but nice parallelisms). That’s what happens when you fall in love with a beautiful naked woman. And what about her? Did anyone ask her anything? Nope, mate. She wasn’t asked, she was, as already mentioned, brought. Exactly like you bring your pencil or a bottle of wine.  You couldn’t hear her yes or (God forbid) no. So, if you want a biblical wedding, don’t ask your wife. Have someone to bring her to you.

It’s naïve, therefore, when someone says that this biblical story is transcultural, that it shows a divine ideal for marriage. Nope, the story is immersed in its own culture, just like any other biblical or extrabiblical story. In a word, traditional Christian wedding is not a repetition of the wedding in Eden. In our culture a women is a subject, not a mere object. When a man loves a woman, she has the right to say yes or no.

Steve

And here comes into play the old chap Steve. As you all know, God didn’t marry Adam to Steve, but to Eve. That’s why even today Adam cannot marry Steve. People are very adamant about this fact. First biblical marriage, one that God himself established in the garden of Eden, was heterosexual. So, that’s the marriage – a man and a woman. Alright, I see the point. But, then, what do you think about marriage between siblings? A stuff like a man marries her sister? Well, that’s forbidden, too, at least in Christian countries. But, hey, whom married Adam and Eve’s sons? There were no women around, apart from their own family, right? It is clearly implied that sons of Adam were marrying their sisters. And you are trying to convince me that Adam and Steve cannot marry, but Seth and, say, Joan, can? The former is sin, the latter is … what? God’s ideal for marriage? Find the answer for yourself. But, let me be clear: you shall not hate Steve because of Eve. When you discuss the question of homosexuality, just do not take your Bible. You’ve already made it obsolete, why to pretend?

A word of science

Scientist still debate the question of our common ancestors. There is a hypothetical Y-chromosomal Adam, there is also mitochondrial Eve. Did they meet? Most probably – nope. “Adam” is much older than “Eve” (hundred thousand or so years). Even if you put them together, they certainly haven’t been the only humans on Earth. Plus, it didn’t happen approx 10 k years ago, but much, much earlier. Don’t trust your preachers, do some serious study. Surf through it, read about it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to quarrel with a myth.

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Taking a story properly

Take your Bible first, and read Genesis 1. So, you don’t have a Bible? OK, click here. Now we can talk.

Reading a myth as a myth

Creation of heaven and earth is a topic of many mythologies. Anyone knowledgeable in myths, especially in the mythology of the ancient Near East, will recognize that the Bible in its first chapter just gives another myth or story on creation. A peculiar myth, differing from some other myths that were preserved to our time. However, there’s no doubt concerning a mythical character of the text. As long as you treat this text as a story, I raise no critical voice. To criticize a myth would be like shooting Cinderella.

Ancient myths are there to explain what goes on in the time of a narrator. They are not a sort of science dealing with what really happened a long, long time ago. You do not discuss a myth as you would discuss a scientific paper.

Taken as a myth, the first biblical chapter (including the first three verses of the second chapter) is a nice piece of literature. Firstly, it is peaceful. There is no fight among gods, like in Babylonian Enuma Elish. Although, I have to say, that such a fight was not a usual part of ancient myths. There are blessings all around: “Go, make love and have your offspring” is clearly stated and repeated (yep, the wording is different, but that’s the meaning). Anyone opposed? Me not, for sure. And notice that oblique vegetarianism. All animals, including humans, eat vegetables. Well, that’s not my definition of beatitude, but there is no dog-eats-dog situation.

Secondly, the story is a nice mixture of poetry and prose. Furthermore, it has an intricate structure – seven days are symmetrically paired: first and fourth, second and fifth, third and sixth. The former describe a sort of “form” (light, air, water, earth), while the latter describe a sort of matter (“lights”, birds, fish, animals).

At last, the story is criticizing near-eastern religions that venerated the Sun, the Moon and the stars as deities. You see, perhaps the writer of this chapter was the first critic of religions. He defied all religions, except of his own. What a pity, he was really talented. Btw, supposedly, he was a 6. century BCE priest, mysteriously named by modern theologians “P” (my namesake, you see).

Reading a myth too seriously

However, I do have a problem when one takes this beautiful mythology too seriously. For example, as a normative scientific text. That, then, explains everything you always wanted to know about genesis of the Universe, but were afraid to ask. My problem is that the text, actually, explains nothing. For example, what about vault or firmament in verse four? You really believe that there is something stretched across the sky on which the stars are fixed? And that stars are there just to show you how many days remain until the end of year? Yeah, but your writer knew only about the stars visible to the naked eye. Use your binocular, at least, you’ll see something that never occurred to the author (neither to astrologers). Take some proper course in science, not based upon Genesis 1.

The myth can lead us into a dangerous belief that everything is created because of humans. We are to rule over the fish, the birds and over everything moving on the ground”. Every plant is given to us. Lights in heaven are there for us. The picture in Genesis 1 is so anthropocentric. You’ll find easily many theologians from the old that really took these words quite seriously. Read Calvin’s Institutions to get the idea. Or, don’t read, just trust me.

Sorry, mate, but reality is different. The stars existed long, long time ago before us. And most of them will survive us. Not giving a damn that no one marks the seasons by watching them. We are just a very small and pretty insignificant part of the whole mosaic. Everything may easily go on without us. Perhaps even more easily than with us. The anthropocentric viewpoint is an ideological root of today’s devouring of the Earth that humans do on daily basis. That happens when you take this myth too seriously.

So, read the story, enjoy its remarkable style. You shall not skip classes in science. Otherwise, you’re not only going to be uninformed about the basics in human knowledge, but you’ll get the wrong idea that world spins around your ass. And you’ll deserve a kicking of your ass, mate.

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First things first

Firstly, let me tell you in advance: I’m not a believer, I’m a critic. As the title of my blog clearly says. This blog is not intended to lead you to eternal life or to your communion with God. “Critic” means “one that puts reason above faith”. No faith here; if you want something to nurture it, search for another web-site.

So, I’ll be dealing with the Bible as a critic deals with it. It is not a usual exercise in so called “biblical criticism”. I’m not going to determine the authentic text of the Bible or who actually wrote it. No worries, no academic intricacies allowed here. It’s a blog, mate, not a theological journal. Yet, I’ll be leaning on what best scholarship says about these topics. You won’t notice it, I promise that. At least not immediately. 

But critic doesn’t mean a simple thing. Yep, on the one hand, a critic points his critical finger to critical points and says something like: “THIS is not good!”. Or, “it stinks”, if you like it. Or, use your favorite swear word. Certainly, I’ll be doing that. No, I don’t mean swearing, but criticizing. I show no mercy to anyone’s ideas (including mine). I’ll be pointing my fingers to all the stuff in the Bible I find problematical. There’s a load of such stuff, and they certainly discredit the Bible. It was written long time ago, its writers were not that knowledgeable as we are today. And they were, for sure, heavily biased, defending their own faith.

On the other hand, a critic must point to the good stuff as well. Of course, provided that there IS a good stuff. I think that such things are in the Bible, and I’ll not skip over them. I’m not here to defend my case. Because a critic has no case (perhaps a briefcase only). Rather, she/he analyzes the other’s cases. That’s why I’ll say wherever I find something good in the Bible. At last, it condenses millennia of human experience. No wonder if something good has been found in it.

Next, I’m not going to deal with general issues. No questions like “what does the Bible teach about…?” and so on. I will only do particular texts. We’ll read them together and we’ll try to understand them properly and to judge them fairly (yeah, a critic judges fairly). Just for the record, I do not believe in the unity of the Bible. It’s rather a conglomerate of different texts, sometimes with quite contradictory ideas. Of course, you can prove me wrong (that’s why you should use comments). But we shall see in the course of time that there is no a single line of thought there, I assure you. However, such conclusion can only be inductive – and, because of that, we are going through the texts.

At last, a personal note. Once upon a time I was a Bible believer. Not only believer, I was a pastor. Even more, I was pastors’ teacher. Teaching about biblical doctrines, among else. Then I stopped believing. You know why? Because the Bible told me so. Having read it forty times in different languages, I quit my faith. And my job, as well.

Are you still following me? That was just an intro. We’re starting soon. Oh, yes, you’re quite free to comment. In spite of my little ego that thirsts for commendations, I’ll prefer critical comments. Based on arguments, of course. However, if your little ego likes judgments deprived of arguments, you’re free to post them. If you have to be harsh on me – so be it! But no spammers allowed here. No haters, racists, and similar. No porn, like it or not. Just be critical and that’ll be fine.

See you soon!

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