Sunday, February 18, 2001

Genesis Raises More Questions Than It Answers

We at Classics Corner have always asked the wrong questions. This made us a terrible Catholic. When we favorably compared Christianity to Communism in Sister Mary Jane’s social studies class, grave concern was expressed for our immortal soul. Priests were notified. Conferences held. Saint Mary’s School was not ready for Perfess’r Harris.

Maybe we never got over it. Still, when recent revelations from the Human Genome Project sent us scurrying to Genesis, the first dozen chapters or so left us more confused than ever.

For example, we all know about Adam and Eve, but who were those others east of Eden in the Land of Nod? What were they like? More to the point, what did they know and when did they know it? Did they have their own Trees of Wisdom, or were they just born wise? Who made the snake so smart? Was God of two minds?

What about Adam and Eve’s other kids, the unnamed sons and daughters of Genesis 5:4? Were they jealous of firstborn Seth? Did they still love Cain? Did they resent the loss of Eden? Did they ever stop thinking of the Tree of Life? Does the Angel with the flaming sword ever sleep?

Civilization, in all its lovely complexity, first arises in the sixth generation after Cain, with Jabal the herdsman, Jubal the musician, and Tubal-cain the blacksmith. Hardship made them strong. Work made them whole. God, however, thinks only of sin. A little omnipotence proves a dangerous thing.

His great flood ushers in a new age of inbreeding, alcoholism, incest, and war. Enter Noah, descended from Seth, who, with his wife, his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japeth, and their wives, repopulates planet earth. Who were these women? How did it feel to sleep with the Last Men on Earth?

Compared to this, Adam and Eve’s indiscretion was very small potatoes. The Original Sin was God's killing flood, and why not? God gropes his way through life just like everyone else, and like us, he makes mistakes.

Soon after the flood, Noah cultivates the earth, ferments some fruit, and drinks like a man dying to forget. He passes out naked in his tent. Noah has seen better days. Ham finds him and tells Shem and Japeth. They avert their eyes and cover him with a blanket. When Noah awakes, he randomly curses Ham's son Canaan. All of his progeny will live as slaves to the line of Shem.

This strikes us as a lousy way to renew the promise of humanity. Not surprisingly, Shem's family line leads to David, the great warrior king who kicks ass in the land of milk and honey. The Promised Land, oddly enough, is populated by the accursed Canaanites. David smites them. Blood runs. He has Noah to thank and God as an accomplice.

Long before David, however, we have perhaps the most under-reported event in the entire Old Testament. Shem begets Shelah who begets Eber who begets Peleg, and in his day, says Genesis 10:25, "the earth was divided." We’d like to know more about this. On that day, our world began.

No comments: