Parashat B’reishit: Genesis 1:1 to 6:8

I’m familiar, in general terms, with the early parts of Genesis, having had some Sunday schooling as a child. That was, of course, a Christian interpretation, and so I expect to encounter differences. Anyway, this is the first of hopefully 54 articles following my reading of the Torah.

For reference, I will be referring to The Torah: A Women’s Commentary as ‘AWC’, and Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible: A Translation and Commentary as ‘RA’ — I will not be reading any Christian Bible alongside, as my goal here is to receive Torah, not to perform any sort of comparative analysis between Jewish and Christian interpretations thereof.

Genesis 1:1-2:3

AWC splits their commentary in to parashat, which provides useful bookmarks for cogitation, but RA doesn’t. Arguments can be had for which approach is ‘better’, but from a narrative sense it’s strange that the seven days of the Creation overflow the first chapter.

The creation of humanity in the story of Creation is interesting, as AWC tries to make the gender-neutral they/them work for both singular and plural. It ends up being a mess. From the standpoint of gender relations, I’m not sure that RA’s use of the masculine for the singular is an improvement — God created humanity in the divine image, and only imparted gender toward the end of that specific act, after all.

I’m a bit dubious on “…how good it was” as a phrasing. It imparts a relativity while removing soundness. Curiously, RA doesn’t address this at all; AWC asserts that the acts of Creation was fundamentally morally virtuous, which is the only indication I’ve gotten that God was testing that and not (just) the soundness of God’s work.

Genesis 2:4-25

To my mind, this is less a second Creation story (as some Christians assert) and more a refinement of the sixth day in Genesis 1, and the order mismatch between the creation of other creatures and the creation of the first human and their division in to two humans seems to me an issue with ensuring the flow of the narrative rather than an actual contradiction.

I disagree with AWC’s description of the first human as ‘non-gendered’. While technically accurate, I think a more nuanced view would be to describe the first human as undifferentiated, given that God draws flesh from the human’s sides to create the second human. In other words, the first human was initially intersex. This stands in contrast to God, who possesses no attributes whatsoever beyond the state of beingness.

Here I find fault with both commentaries: AWC’s translation renders ha-adam as ‘the man’ throughout, deferring the discussion of the ambiguity to commentary, whereas RA renders it as ‘the human’. In both cases, masculine pronouns are used before the second human, as a woman, is created from the first human’s flesh.

Speaking of that flesh, it’s a bit weird to me that AWC calls it a rib in the narrative but seems to want us to take the figurative meaning in the commentary. RA being consistent with respect to retaining anatomical language ends up getting in the way, because we’re not meant to interpret it as removing a literal rib so much as removing a human architectural feature. One might maintain the architectural and anatomical references by choosing ‘breast’ (as ‘breastwork’ is a derived term), which ties in to my ruminations above about undifferentiation.

AWC’s commentary on the tree of knowledge and my own knowledge of the impending exile suggests to me that ‘doomed to die’ is an intentional withholding of the foreknowledge of death and, more importantly, God’s desire that humans live ‘in the moment’, in the same manner that we observe other creatures and young children doing.

Genesis 3

It’s interesting that the man is with the woman when she eats of the fruit, but didn’t say anything about it. It seems to be a common interpretation that he was also present for the harvesting, and possibly even earlier, but if so, it’s curious that he raises no objections to this transgression at any point. However, he does know that it’s from the tree whose fruit he was forbidden to eat.

Far from being ‘original sin’, as the Christians consider it, this is an allegorical loss of innocence. We’re not told what the man and woman have done prior to this story, but that when their worldviews changed as they acquired the knowledge, they acted to create such protection as they were able given the resources. The ‘loss of innocence’ interpretation is furthered by the things God tells the man and woman, and then by the first few verses of Genesis 4.

(That the tree of life was not forbidden until the exile suggests that the tree grants longevity as long as one eats of it periodically, not immortality. It’s interesting how God only becomes concerned with the humans’ access to it after they eat of the tree of knowledge.)

Genesis 4

There isn’t really much to say here, other than that there seems to be fragments missing from the Cain & Abel story at the front and a significant chunk about Lamech toward the back.

Genesis 5

Not much to say here, either. I suspect Enoch’s different story relative to his ancestors’ and descendents’ is a context-lost emphasis on the number 7, as that is the number of days to be found in the story of Creation.

Genesis 6:1-8

And so we come to the end of the first parashah and the prelude to the Great Deluge. This is only the second time that God’s entourage is mentioned (third if we include the cherubim), and not much has been said about them. I would guess that they were the last vestiges of Judaism’s polytheistic precursors, considering there’s no mention of how they came to enter the picture.

Comments

This is the first time I’ve actually ever sat down and engaged in active reading of the Old Testament, either in its Christian form or as the Torah. I participated in a Bible study group once, a decade ago, but ultimately abandoned the effort as the apparent goal was less to study the Bible and more to imbibe the interpretations of the text provided by the pastor who led the group. (Also, we had a guest speaker who digressed significantly to rail against homosexuality, and I’m not going to put up with that horseshit.)

My impression of the Jewish tradition, however, is that we’re meant to grapple with the text and ideas it presents, engaging our minds as we read it, in order to develop our own individual understandings. And, having done so, discussing and debating what we’ve received in order to improve those understandings.

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