HUM 101
Genesis 1-3
Daniel HoffmanSchwartz
“Myth” and “Religion”
• In everyday language, “myth” is what belongs
to ancient people, ignorant people, or the
cultural other, whereas “religion” is what ‘we’
have.
• But the two in fact cannot be separated from
one another…
“Myth” and “Religion”
• “Myth,” from Mythos (Greek) – “story,
narrative.”
• “Religion,” from religio, relegare (Latin) – “to
re-bind.”
• Religion relies on myths (stories, narratives)…
• And myth aims to bind the community
together…
“Ligament” – Binding, Also from
Legare
Polytheism and Monotheism
• Polytheism = Multiple Gods
• Monotheism = One God
• Monotheistic “religion” presents polytheism
as “myth.”
Genesis
• Written around 500 BCE
• 1st book of the Hebrew Bible and of the Christian
Old Testament
• Moses traditionally considered author of first 5
books of Hebrew Bible including Genesis
• But it is actually a hybrid text, written by different
authors, combining different traditions including
tradition of Sumerian myth.
Transformation of motifs from Epic of
Gilgamesh
• Coming to consciousness through sexuality.
• The experience of limitation.
• The serpent and the thorn.
Two Creation-Stories: The Problem
of Origins
• 1. “Let there be a light…”
• 2. The Garden of Eden…
• Why Two creation-stories?
3 Traits of the Monotheistic God in
Genesis 1-2:3
• Sovereignty
• Creativity
• Transcendence
Sovereignty and Creativity
• This god rules over the cosmos and gives
commands.
• This god creates the cosmos by giving
commands; e.g., “Let there be light.”
• God must be first in time in order to create.
And because he is first in time he is first in
rank.
• However: first in time is not necessarily the
first in rank.
• This is an invention specific to monotheism.
• Compare the Greek Gods: Zeus, the king of
the Gods, is of the 4th generation of gods.
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek
Mythology
Commandment: Separation
• “God saw that the light was good and he
separated the light from the darkness.”
(Genesis, 1:4)
• “So God made the vault and separated the
water under the vault from the water above
it.” (Genesis, 1:6)
• “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce
vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on
the land that bear fruit with seed in it
according to their various kinds.’”
Order
• On one hand, man is part of created, natural
order, at the top of the hierarchy of created
beings.
• In other words, social relations are
naturalized.
• On the other hand, as we see in Garden of
Eden story, man cannot simply live within
nature, natural order.
Transcendence
• God is no longer ‘in the world.’
• The Creator cannot participate in the creation
– the idea of “first cause.”
• Sovereign dignity requires distance.
Transcendence
• Acts of God ‘in the world’ are henceforth
understood as miracles or exceptions
• And usually understood as indirect or
mediated, that is, as revelations requiring
interpretation.
Longinus (1st Century C.E.)
• “It seems to me that the strange medley of
wounds, quarrels, revenges, tears, bonds, and
other woes which makes up the Homeric
tradition of the gods was designed by its author
to degrade his deities, as far as possible, into
men[.]”
• Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”) according to
Longinus: an “adequate conception of the
supreme being” given “adequate expression.”
Freedom as Sovereignty
• The creation is a free, sovereign act; it does not
have to take place.
• And man is free because he is in image of God.
• “Then God said, ‘let us make human beings in our
image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over
the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over
the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all
the creatures the move along the ground.”
(Genesis, 1: 26)
Freedom as Sovereignty
• Man rules on earth because God is not ‘in the
world’; man rules for God, in the place of God.
• Animals exist to be ruled; power is associated
with verticality: “human beings…may
rule…over all the creatures that move along
the ground.” (Genesis, 1:26)
Freedom as Sovereignty
• Thus man is both ruling and ruled; ruled by
God, but rules over the animals.
• How does this work?
• This problem is alluded to at Genesis 1:27: “So
God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them.”
Freedom and Sovereignty
• “God created human beings in his own image”
– God rules over man – but “in the image of
God he created them” – man nonetheless has
a God-like freedom.
Differences between the Two Creation
Stories
• Setting: Cosmos versus Earth/Garden
• Method: Creation out of nothing [Creatio ex
nihilo] versus earth-sculpture+breath of god.
• Man’s Place in Sequence: After animals and
vegetation versus before animals and
vegetation.
• The name of God: “God” versus “The Lord
God” (or “The God Yaweh”).
Giovanni di Paolo, The Creation of the World and the
Expulsion from Paradise (1445)
Another Mode of Hierarchy:
Gender
• “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man
to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for
him.’”
• “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So
the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep
sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of
the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with
flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from
the rib he had taken out of the man, and he
brought her to the man.”
Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve (1504)
Paul Klee, Adam and Little Eve (1921)
Paradoxes of Freedom and
Command
• “And the LORD God commanded the man,
‘you are free to eat from any tree in the
garden; but you must not eat from the tree of
knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat
of it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Paradoxes of Freedom and
Command
• “And the LORD God commanded…‘you are
free…but you must not….”
• Is this a contradiction? If man is “free,”
why is a there “must not”?
Paradoxes of Freedom and
Command
• Because, paradoxically: Only a free being can
meaningfully follow a command.
• If a being were not free, how could it choose
to follow a command?
Two Kinds of Freedom
• Freedom as sovereignty, the power to
command – ‘God’s freedom.’
• Freedom as free will, the power to obey or
disobey the law – ‘human freedom,’ ‘ethical
freedom.’
Paradoxes of Freedom and
Command
• Note: in this 2nd creation-story, the status of
command has changed:
• In the 1st creation-story, commands simply
produce reality,
• But in the 2nd, the command is not creative,
but simply linguistic; there is thus the
possibility of the command not being
followed.
The Problem of the Serpent
• Why is the serpent “more crafty than any of
old the wild animals the LORD God had
made?”
• Is there already evil before the Fall?
• Has God created an evil being?
The Problem of the Serpent
• [The serpent] said to the woman, “Did God really
say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the
garden’?”
• In other words: what if we don’t understand the
law?
• Or put slightly differently: because the command
is now communicative rather than creative or
absolute, it is open to interpretation,
misunderstanding, translation, etc.
Gender Hierarchy II
• “I will make your pains in childbearing very
severe; with pain you will give birth to
children. Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
• Tendency to identify Eve with serpent and
both with “evil”
Entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral
(Paris)
A 3rd Kind of Freedom?
• 1. Sovereign creativity of God; absolute
freedom.
• 2. Human freedom to follow or not follow
God’s commands; free will.
• 3. Meaning is never complete, absolute, or
final; the authority of the command is not
absolute; freedom of language.