12 October 2007

Philosophy Class (Week 7)

We've moved a bit more westward. Now we're looking at Judaism. Specifically, the Adam and Eve story. I'll be honest: I have some specific reasons for despising this story. However, Dr. Carlson presented in a way that didn't rile me. Still... I figured the disclaimer was appropriate in case my rancor leaks through in my descriptions.

The focus was on four issues.
1. Tree of Life vs. Tree of Knowledge
2. Naming of the Beasts as poetic longing for companion
3. Who lies?
4. Why "naked"?

On the first issue, there's a very Taoistic thing going on. The opposite of Life is not death, but Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is precisely the same idea as in the Tao te Ching: the first step to falling away from the Tao is to start distinguishing between objects; when you start making judgments on those objects, you have completely lost sight of the Tao. Amusingly, making judgments on things makes you "more like God" in the Judaic conception, and yet makes you fall away from "Paradise." Hmmmm... So to be God is to be forever miserable and never able to be in Paradise yourself? (random thought that just occurred to me; may be worthless)

For a more Jewish conception, Dr. Levenson mentioned that there's a philosophic interpretation where the Tree of Life is really the scriptures themselves, though that's a mite problematic if God specifically removed Adam and Eve from the garden to keep them away from the Tree of Life and then revealed scripture to their descendants. Another interpretation is that the human body itself is the Tree of Life, if one can penetrate its deepest mysteries. I suppose you would have to assume that, back at the original Trees, Adam and Eve weren't ready for this ultimate mystery, but that some of their descendants would be.

I still don't quite understand (2). I get the ancient idea that naming things gives you power over them. I don't really see a direct connection to Adam's longing for a companion. There's an indirect connection, in that anything over which Adam has that much power would never be an equal to him, but Dr. Levenson kept talking about the "poetry" of it all, and how it was like a poet yearning for his beloved. I'm just going to shake my head and refrain from comment on that.

For (3), the answer is no one, depending on the time frame you use. The snake was correct in the immediate term: eating the fruit did not cause immediate death. God was correct in the long term, according to standard theology, in that now Adam and Eve would eventually die. I'd like to know what the original Hebrew on "must" is, in "you must not eat of those trees." One idea that got discussed was that the creation could not be complete until it had rebelled against its maker, "grown up" so to speak. But there's some incredibly bizarre and contradictory imagery in there.

I asked Dr. Levenson for his take on how there could be "knowledge of good and evil" when God had created everything and "it was good." His response? "There are a great many inconsistencies in the stories." To know good and evil is to be like God, but if God is entirely good, then how can he know evil? Either there was an external source of evil, or God is not entirely good. There is no other option. Incidentally, the very act of finishing Creation with "And it was good" is an affirmation that it didn't have to be good, that there was at least one other possibility. So there was already such an idea as not good. And I could go on and on about this...but I won't.

(4). The one detail we're given about Adam and Eve's conception of themselves before/after the "fall" is that they realized they were "naked." Dr. Levenson had an interesting take on this, which hadn't occurred to me. He suggests that to not know that they were naked beforehand implies that they had no body awareness at all, that they did not differentiate themselves from their body, and possibly even from their environment. In a sense, they were not truly "embodied" until after eating of the tree.

As an allegorical depiction of the rise of consciousness in humanity, this makes some sense to me. For anyone who considers it a literal historical event, I have one question: what kind of fruit was it? It doesn't say in the text. You would think that the singular event which resulted in the expulsion from paradise (for being too much like God) would be remembered in vivid detail. But the kind of fruit is not mentioned. Even supposing it was unique to the Garden of Eden, some mention of "the fruit only God could grow" would be expected. But, no. It's only "fruit."

Further working against the idea of the event as historical is that most cultures have a myth of some sort of "golden age" from which humankind has "fallen." Based on my (limited) reading, this probably reflects the change from hunter/gatherer societies to agricultural ones. Hunter/Gatherer societies typically work less than agricultural ones. At the same time, though, they're incredibly insecure and completely at the mercy of the elements. When the weather is favorable to plants and animals, all is well; something wipes out the local flora and fauna, and the community perishes. Hence, the temptation to plant things oneself, to try and gain security, but added security also means added toil. Also dental decay, but that's another story.

Final thoughts, one very interesting oddity in the story is that Adam is created in the desert and then placed in the Garden of Eden, in paradise. In other words, humans' natural state is not paradise; it's the desert, the wasteland, the parched land. I hadn't thought about this until Dr. Levenson pointed it out in the scriptures. It took God to put Adam into paradise, then his inborn (created?) nature took over and got him thrown right back out. This is important. Why? Because the Garden could only be a temporary place for him, never his home. It changes the entire meaning. Being taken to the Garden was an opportunity, not to be with God, but to earn independence from God. How? By showing defiance. He was created already separate from God's perfection, and completed the break in the Garden. To posit this as a source of sin or evil is about as logical as deciding that every rebellious teenager is evil. No, Adam had to grow up, to become more like God, and then he was unceremoniously tossed out to fend for himself, just as many teenagers are.

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