CONTEXT: The literary delight in words in this story signify ideas essential to the plot and to the narrator’s world view. The wordplays flow naturally in Hebrew and this translation seeks to continue the fun with minimal explanation. Thus, for example, adam and adamah ("ground"), remain in Hebrew, the translation following a slash. Note that adam, in my reading is not intended as a proper noun but simply “person,” with the narrative leading to masculine connotation, “man.” (Only a couple of generations back, "man" had a two-fold usage, "humanity," along with "male person.") The play on nachash, “snake” with its connotations of wonderment–the Hebrew root in its verb form means “guess/figure out”–and its nakedness/cleverness stands out. In a suggestive pun, the author uses the word arum, “naked” to describe the couple at the end of Ch 2 and the same word in its meaning, “clever, sly” in the next verse. The two usages may be a homonym but the author is linking the meanings, laying the ground for a story about sexual awareness

“Helpful juxtaposer” renders the remarkable Hebrew phrase, ezer k’negdo.’ The elements of the unique idiom: ezer = “help,” k’= “as,” negdo= “opposed to him/opposite him/against him/fitting him.” The King James “help meet,” with “meet” meaning “appropriate,” is a good try, with 17th century dignity. “Help match” would be a modern sounding approximation for that interpretation. In “helpful justaposer,” the author defines woman with ironic sexism. She follows, in this story, a series of failed experiments. Yahh has a lot of testing to do before arriving at that pragmatic solution. The author was not quarelling with men as masters in biblical society (with women capable of manipulating.) But this story of the state of nature conceives femininity as that force that confronts a man and moves him to action. What a man needs is a woman to stand up to him, a helpful juxtaposer. Without Chavah, we’d remain infantile in Eden.

Elohim, “God,” is the creator in “The First Week.” Elohim can also be read as generic term for “god,” and so it is used in this story. For the J author, Yahh God–Adonai (YHVH) Elohim–does the forming. Yahh is an acceptable shortened form of the Israelites’ name for their god. The construction, Yahh God, probably follows the earlier Akkadian and Sumerian usage in cuneiform: the name is followed by the ideogram for deity.

Parentheses indicate interpolation, a gloss added by some later hand. Speaking of added narration, I have taken the liberty to insert some in translating this story because I think the narrator’s laconic storytelling here has allowed misunderstanding. I hope to contribute clarity and smoothness without doing violence to the original or resorting to commentary.

Genesis 2:4b-25
4bOnce upon a time, Yahh God made land and sky. At the time, 5Every field shrub had yet to be in the land, and every grass had yet to sprout, for Yahh had not made it rain over the land and there was no person to work the ground.

6Mist rises from the land and waters the whole face of the adamah/ground. 7From the dust of that adamah Yahh formed the adam/person. He puffed into its nose the breath of life, and the adam became a living self.
8Yahh planted a garden eastward, in Eden/Pleasure. There he set the adam he had formed. 9From the adamah he caused to sprout every tree, of desirable appearance and good for food. And in the very middle of the garden, a Tree of Life and one of Knowledge, good and bad.

10(A river goes out from Eden to water the garden, from there splitting into four heads. 11The name of the first is Pishon. It circles Chavilah, land of gold–12the gold of that land is good–and also bdellium resin and bright colored gemstones. 13The name of the second is Gichon. It circles the whole land of Kush. 14The name of the third is Chidekel/Tigris. It flows east of Assyria. The fourth river is Prat/Euphrates.)

15Then Yahh took the person and placed him in the Garden of Eden/Pleasure to work it and guard it. 16Yahh commanded the person: “Eat, eat, from any of the garden trees 17except do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, good and bad. The day you eat from that tree, you drop dead.”

18Yahh said: “It’s not a good thing for the adam/man to be alone. I’m going to make him a helpful juxtaposer.” 19So, with more clay from the adamah/ground, Yahh formed every animal of the field and bird of the sky, bringing each to the person to see what he would call it. Whatever he would call the living creature become its name.

20The person gave every beast and bird a name, but the process yielded not one that could stand up to the adam in a helpful way. 21So Yahh made fall a deep slumber on the adam so that he slept. He then excised one of his ribs, closing flesh in its place. 22From the rib Yahh had taken from the adam, he constructed a woman and brought her to the adam, 23who said:
“At last! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.
This one will be called “ishah/woman” because she is taken from “ish/man”.
(24So thus, a man leaves his parents to cling to his woman so that they become one flesh.)

They were both naked, the person and his woman, and not a bit embarrassed.

Genesis 3
1The snake was the nakedest/cleverest of the animals that Yahh had made. 2So the snake, said to the woman: “Say, is it that God said you mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

2“We can eat from the garden trees,” she replied to the snake, “except for the one in the middle. For that one God said ‘Don’t eat from it or touch it lest you die.’”

4“You will not drop dead,” said the snake. 5“Because God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened. You’ll become like God, knowers, of good and bad.”

6The woman saw that the tree was good for food, appetizing to the eyes. And the tree could make you smart? Desirable! So she took some of its fruit and ate and gave some to her man, who ate as well.

7In both of them, their eyes were opened. They recognized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves for garments to go around their waists.

8And then they heard the sound of Yahh God going for his stroll in the breeze of the day. The adam and his woman hid from Yahh, among the garden trees.

9Yahh called out: “Adam, where are you?”  

10The adam replied: “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I am naked, and I hid.”

11“Who told you you were naked? Have you eaten from that tree from which I commanded you not to?”

12“The woman you gave me, she gave me from the tree and I ate.”

13Yahh spoke to the woman: “What is this you have done?”

And she said: “The snake beguiled me and I ate.”

14To the snake Yahh said:
“For doing this, be cursed
Of every beast, of every field animal:

On your underbelly shall you go, and eat dust all your days.

15Enmity, I set, between you and the woman,
Between your seed and hers.
He’ll attack your head and you’ll attack his heel.”

16To the woman:

“I give you a lot of pain and pregnancy;

In pain shall you bear child.
Yet your urge is for your man,
And he will dominate you.”

17To the adam: “Because you listened to your woman and ate from that tree which I commanded: ‘You shall not eat of it:’
Cursed be the adamah on your account;
By pain shall you eat of it all your days.
18It’ll sprout you thorn and thistle though you eat of the grain grass.
19By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,
Till you return to the ground from which you were taken,
For, dust you are, and unto dust you return.”

(20Then the adam named his woman, Chavah, for she was to be the mother of all that chay/live.)

21Yahh made tunics of leather and clothed the two of them. 22And then he said: “Well, when it comes to knowing, good and bad, the adam/person has become like one of us. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life, and, eating, gain immortality…”

23So Yahh God sent him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove the adam/person out. To the east of the Garden of Eden he stationed the k’ruvim/monsters, and the flaming, ever turning, sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.

Genesis 4

1The adam knew Chavah, his woman. She conceived and bore Kayin, as to say: “With Yahh, I have acquired a man.” 2Additionally she bore Hevel, his brother, (as to say, “for nothing.”) Hevel was a herder of flocks, Kayin, a worker of ground.

© Rabbi David L. Kline  


Ray Green said...

According to the scientific consensus, the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and the hominid family lived in Africa between 5 and 7 million years ago. See “Genes, Peoples & Language” by L.L. Cavelli-Sforza; Scientific American November 1991. Indeed, it has been proposed that humans, gorillas and the two species of chimpanzees could be reclassified as four species within the same genus. Michael Lind “The Two Cultures” Commentary October 1991. It should be noted that modern humans are not descended from modern chimpanzees. Each extant species has undergone a parallel course of evolution that began with the common ancestor, many millions of years ago. We should therefore not assume that a modern chimpanzee would either look like or behave like the last common ancestor.

The Biblical authors obviously were not aware of, or familiar with the idea of evolution and the process by which speciation takes place through variation and natural selection. Nevertheless, the Bible’s description of Adam and Eve, before being expelled from Eden, is consistent with the idea that our human ancestors were derived from a common ancestor. Adam and Eve had no clothes; they had no technology of any kind; they had little or no forethought; (until eating an apple); they only ate fruits and vegetables; and their command of language was essentially limited to the naming of objects, a skill that can also be accomplished by chimps and gorillas. Before eating from the forbidden tree, these proto-humans, as described in the Bible, were virtually identical to the Great Apes.

Perhaps the Middle Eastern prototype of this type of character is Enkidu, who was the companion to Gilgamesh in that much earlier Sumerian Legend. In that story, Enkidu was raised in the wilderness and was a companion to the wild beasts. When he was seduced by civilization, (represented by having sex with the cult prostitute), the animals no longer could understand his speech and they abandoned him.

It seems to me that that one of the themes in the Bible is the dual nature of mankind. That is, there is an exploration of a man’s individual existence as an animal in relation to his existence within the culture of his group. Moreover, I think that there is a kind of nostalgia for the free and individualistic life style of the man who lives in the wilderness and who is unrestrained by the norms of civilization and city life.

King David, in his youth, is described as living with animals in the wilderness. When Saul told him that he could not fight the Philistine because he was only a boy, David responded:

Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep and if a lion or a bear came and carried off an animal from the flock, I would go after it and fight it and rescue it from its mouth. And if it attacked me, I would seize it by the beard and strike it down and kill it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear.

The same pattern of the savage man reared in nature is referred to in several other parts of the Bible. Esau is described as being born red, with a hairy mantle all over. (David similarly is described as having ruddy cheeks). Like Enkidu, Esau is described as a “skilled hunter; a man of the outdoors.” Another example following the same pattern would be John the Baptist. At Mathew 3:

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

Outside of the Biblical tradition, a modern example of this same type of hero would be Tarzan, who in Elmer Rice’s story, was orphaned in Africa and raised by apes. Other examples of popular literary figures combining human and animal characteristics might include Batman and Spiderman. Moreover, there is an entire genre of “horror” literature featuring werewolves and vampire bats. It may be that these stories are popular because they tap into a very old and pre-conscious recognition that humans are also animals.

David L. Kline said...

Excellent point, seeing the animal nature in human beings. How about "The First Week" creation story in which humanity is blessed with the same command as the fish, and birds: be fruitful and multiply. Furthermore, in both stories, people, like animals, are herbivores.
In their Midrash commentaries, the early rabbis figured that the first man and woman learned about sex by watching animals mate. In my reading, eating the forbidden fruit was the catalyst that awakened human sexuality. The man and woman lived as children in the Garden and sex was the first thing they did when they reached the real world.