In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8


THIS PAST SABBATH (that is, Sat 22 Oct) marked the beginning of the annual reading of the Torah, the 1st Five Books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish tradition is to cycle through the whole Torah in a year in very predictable ways. Last Saturday was Shabbat Bereshit. This Saturday, the 29th, is Shabbat Noach. I’m no Torah Scholar, nor even an Old Testament expert, but I wanted to mark the passing this Sabbath by highlighting what seems a major difference between the way Christians read this passage and the way it is read in Synagogues. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a bit since a lot of Christians seem not even to recognize the difference exists.

The difference is at the point of Eve and Adam’s Sin. What happened?

First, I want to point out that where we are today in our discussions of Sin is only built on where they were in the days of Jesus, St Paul, and even Augustine. The Catechism of the Church calls original sin a mystery that we cannot fully understand (¶404) and it’s not something that can be parsed out fully, even in a blog post. But neither is it easily sorted out in internet soundbites: it’s not a mere legal issue. We’re not all guilty of the sin of our first parents- only Adam and Eve committed their sins. Yet we are all born somehow implicated in those sins.

Coincidently, I was wrestling with this nearly a year ago as well.

I prefer to think of it as a sort of Spiritual DNA: the human (spiritual) genome was mutated by our first parents. They cannot pass on what they do not have – everyone gets the mutated genes. These genes incline us toward sin the same way a psychological disorder inclines one to kleptomania or disordered sexuality. Likewise, each succeeding generation of humans cannot pass on anything they don’t have: in fact, it gets worse as we go on.

Yet even this genetic idea fails at several points: we are baptized “for the remission of sin” as if we have each committed some action that makes us guilty, even as babies. Each of us is somehow guilty at this point. Of what, though? I don’t know. Even so, we’re not taught the doctrine of Original Sin as if part of a system of plus and minus points. Rather we start out in an infinite deficit repairable only by Sacramental Grace.

Reading God and His Image by Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP, I’ve come to a different sense of our First Parents and our Spiritual DNA.

The issue is not that we’re broken and keep sinning: it’s that we’re broken and can’t see God.

Adam and Eve experienced an intimacy with God that we’ll never know. Do you remember the old line, “Don’t do that to your face or it may freeze that way”? Barthelemey says that, basically: Eve and Adam imagined a different god (not the Creator God of Love) and their spirits froze that way. The act of hiding from God in the garden is the first fruit of this new and evil imagining. (My essay from last year has more on this.) Cain killing Abel is the next fruit. Humanity is created in God’s image but with the fall the mirror is distorted. Until we can see him at all, this isn’t going to work. God spends the next several millennia bringing humanity to a collective place where they can image him correctly. It’s not just with the Jews, either. As the Church Fathers say, God was preparing everyone: Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, and Lao Tzu. All cultures have seeds of the Logos in them, waiting for the Real Thing to arrive in Jesus and unfold the hidden meanings. But Israel gets the most (and the most direct) revelation pre-loaded. They are to be a light for the gentiles in their relationship with God. We are to follow them and younger brothers follow their elders’ lead to the Father.

Rabbinic Judaism as we see it now has no conception of this brokenness.

Yet it was somewhere present in the 2nd Temple Period: Paul comes up with “as in Adam all die” and “all creation groans” with nary even a hint of an apology. The problem arises for us now projecting our current Judaism (or our current Christianity) back on the 1st Century AD. There were multiple Judaisms at that time, one of which evolved into Christianity as we know it today in all its various forms. Another evolved into the Judaism we know today in all its various forms.

That said, there are multiple readings of the stories in the Bible and even the site I linked above says they are concerned with fundamentalist readings. Catholicism hardly qualifies, but I’m sure some would disagree. The Dominican Essay above is a Catholic reading of the Bible, it’s not the Catholic one. Former Evangelicals have a reading that, while Catholic, still sounds kinda Evangelical. The clergy over at Catholic Stuff podcast have another reading which I rather like.

No resolution is offered here, only noting that we do not read these passages the same way. It’s important to note that in deciding on the right reading (or family of readings) there’s no way to reconcile what now must become the wrong family of readings.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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