What do you see?

You take the Bible seriously…? Childish fables and all?  Creation in six days, Eve and the snake in the garden, Noah’s ark, Aaron’s stick that turns into a snake, on and on?”(1)

It is easy to make a caricature of the Bible,  especially of the first chapters of Genesis.  When read as an ANE myth, the first chapters of Genesis describe man and woman discovering sex and becoming aware of themselves, the man learning his role as a toiler in the fields and the woman her role as child bearer, the reason a serpent slithers, etc, etc.    But if we read Genesis 2 and 3 in the light of the Pentateuch (and the rest of Scripture) then  we will find etiologies of a different sort.   Here is the first instance of a law; the formation of the first family unit;  the origin of guilt, shame and fear; and the first sacrifice.   The garden is the temple, the heavenly city.  The sloughing serpent is Leviathan, the dragon that rises from the sea.

In one of his Pensees , Blaise Pascal noted that our attitude towards a person (or a text) fundamentally influences  how we hear them.

If two people are talking nonsense, and one sees a double meaning understood by adepts, while the other sees only a single meaning, any uninitiated person who heard them talking like this would judge them alike.  But if the first goes on to say angelic things and the other always banal commonplaces, he would judge that the one was talking mystically, but not the other, since one has shown clearly enough that the is incapable of such nonsense and capable of a mystic meaning, while the other has shown himself incapable of a mystic meaning and capable of nonsense.  The Old Testament is a cipher.  (Pensees 276, Blaise Pascal, Penguin Edition 1995)

If we were to hear a man speaking gibberish and only later discovered that he was known to be wise, then will likely look for meaning in what we first dismissed out of hand.  Even if we don’t succeed, we will acknowledge that our failure to understand is due to our own limitations, and that with time, the meaning will become clearer to us.  On the other hand, if we hear gibberish, and later discover that the person who spoke was insane, then we will not give the matter a second thought. Pascal’s point was that the Old Testament is a Cipher that speaks of Christ.  Pascal believed that God gave enough light through nature and the Scriptures to guide sincere seekers, and enough darkness to keep rebels from being unwillingly bludgeoned into accepting the truth. (3)  This same principle is also found in the parables of Christ.

Bibliography: (1) Wouk, H. (2010). The language God talks : on science and religion. New York, NY, Little, Brown and Co.  This quote is in the context of a discussion between the author and a the Physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. (2) Pascal, B. and A. J. Krailsheimer (1995). Pensées. London New York, Penguin Books ; Penguin Books USA. (3) MacKenzie, C. S., Blaise Pascal: Apologist to Skeptics, University Press of America: Lanham, 2008

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