Monday, May 11, 2015

The Absurdity of The Book of Genesis (Part One)

The Bible has always bothered me on a fundamental level. Its basic problem is that if you were to read it without any prior knowledge of God or gods, basically not knowing anything at all about the Bible, it would all be very difficult to take any of it seriously. This problem is compacted by the assertion by its adherents that the Bible is the Word of God. This is to say that if the Bible is the Word of God, it should be understandable in its own right with no need for anyone to interpret its meaning(s). I believe anyone going in for a cold reading of the Bible would be blown away by its tall tales, lack of necessary detail and unscrupulous arrangement.

This is as evident in the Book of Genesis as anywhere else in the Bible. So, since Genesis is the beginning of the scriptures sacred to so many, it seems like a good place to prove my point. In doing this ‘cold reading’ I am going to use the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) because, uh, why are there different versions of the Bible? Obviously there would be a version for any given language, but for any single language? This bespeaks of fiction before I’ve even begun.

At any rate, I am going to open up the Bible to Chapter 1, verse 1 of Genesis. It reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

The next 23 chapters drone on about God creating the Earth over the next five and a half days. Well, this would seem quite incredible even if we didn’t know anything about science either. You mean someone made the Earth in six days, all of it? Even if we were to accept this, Genesis is not at all clear about who or what God is which would be a likely place to start given the entire scope of the Bible. Worse, we’re given no reason why God created the Earth. (One of the most important things when writing literature is to give your character motivations.) Yet we’ll forge ahead since there may be as yet unrevealed motivations, though we might want to call into question the length of a day. [We might note here that use of the 24-hour day did not come into use until 4000 years ago, courtesy of the Egyptians and Babylonians.]

Chapter 1, verse 26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

The first thing we might notice in this cold reading is that the word ‘our’ is used here, so it is therefore reasonable to assume that someone besides God is at work here. Who? We do not know because God leaves out these kinds of important details. God also makes man is His image, thereby giving God a definite gender. As for why God gives man dominion over the Earth and its creatures, again we don’t know. It appears God loves omitting details.

Chapter 2 gives us another account of the creation of man for no apparent reason except to clarify that woman was created from the rib of man, a feat surely no one has ever done before and should therefore seem extraordinary to everyone reading the Bible. Interestingly, though we know that woman are treated unequally to men in most societies, there is no indication here that women are inferior to men despite being created out of a man. Chapter 2 also begins to tell us about a place east of Eden where there is a garden in which the first man and woman will live. And, in this garden God plants two unique trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. At this point we’re not sure why God plants these trees, but as we’ll see in the next chapter, this comes off as something of a set-up.

Chapter 3 begins with another of God’s creatures, a serpent, talking to the woman Eve. Eve tells the serpent about how the fruit from the unique trees is forbidden to eat as God has told Adam and Eve they will die if they do so. The serpent (which keep in mind is just a serpent because nothing here tells us otherwise) lies to the woman telling her she will not die if she eats from the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent also tells Eve the truth that if she eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge she will know the difference between good and evil. Chapter 3, verse 6-7 describes what happens next: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

Funny, Adam and Eve now know that being naked is bad and cover themselves up. So…okay…why didn’t God cover them up to begin with? Is God a pervert? And, knowing they have done wrong by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hide from God the next time God comes around. Further in the reading, God has to call out to Adam to find out where Adam is and doesn’t appear to know that some serpent told them it was okay to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. So, nothing here tells us or even implies that God is omniscient, a trait modern believers always attribute to God.

But here’s the real problem with this entire scenario – Before eating the fruit Eve has no reason to suspect the serpent is lying. Even if she did know the serpent was lying, before eating the fruit she doesn’t know that lying is evil. Eve cannot even begin to contemplate the consequences of eating the fruit until after she does so no matter what warning God gives. At the same time, Eve did seem to know that the acquisition of knowledge is good. Though this is an inconsistency in the narrative, what we’re almost forced to take away is that God didn’t want Adam and Eve to know the difference between good and evil. Wtf? Angry with Adam and Eve, God banishes them from the garden before they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. God also punishes the serpent by making it crawl on its belly forevermore, punishes Eve by subjugating her to her husband and intensifying labor pains, while Adam gets off relatively easy being punished to work the land for food despite the fact that Adam is just as guilty as the woman for this whole farce. (That is, Adam likewise didn’t know that eating the forbidden fruit would be bad for the couple but does it anyway and gets himself punished as well. With both people being guilty here, why does Adam get off easier?)

Closing the door on the first three chapter of Genesis, what have we gathered and what questions might we ask? We see that God made the heavens and the Earth but not why. We see that God made the Earth in six days and needed a rest afterward – an indication that whomever we are dealing with is powerful but not all-powerful. We see that there are other gods besides God, though according to this text, this god created us. (But, from what we know about created things, God probably had help.) We are unable to conclude God is good or even perfect given the circumstances surrounding God’s creation’s disobeying their creator. Do perfect creations disobey their creator? is a fair question here. We also see that God frowns upon the acquisition of knowledge and the idea of immortality, a disturbing inference since God’s motivations are nowhere in sight.

Possibly most damaging to the Bible’s narrative is that if we research and compare this cold reading of the Bible to cold readings of other myths of the region of the same general time period, the creation stories are noticeable similar. (e.g. Babylonian, Sumerian, and some African creation myths.) Do we dare read any further?

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