We have just had a vision of Adam’s vision of his Other Half. Now, we are ready to shift into another story.
Genesis 2.25 is the beginning of the passage. This week, we will pick up here and discuss it up until the moment they take the bite out of the “apple.”
As a reminder, try to forget the stories you’ve heard and read the text (Genesis 2.25—3.8) for yourself. Read it slowly, in at least two different translations (Genesis 2.25—3.8NIV). This may help to break up what you know from what you read.
Naked. It’s a term that makes some of us cringe, some of us laugh, and some of us…ashamed. But why? We have this innate sense that nakedness is something to be ashamed of. After all, this story does sorta suggest that, right? But, what if this is a word play? What if nakedness is a metaphor for something else?
Disclaimer. I am not suggesting everyone get naked and carry on daily business. I’m just saying our attitudes about nakedness, skin, flesh, sex, etc… may be due in large part to simply not reading Scripture correctly.
What is the central tree we have to avoid? It is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As I have discussed before, this tree is more than a false dichotomy of right and wrong. It represents the all-in-all of what it means to know, to have wisdom, about everything from good to evil. In this small passage, we are told that this tree would give to the humans the knowledge of all that good-to-evil, making them divine (Genesis 3.5). This wisdom (Genesis 3.6) is what the tree represented. It was not about sin, but about knowing what God knew.
Think of what is the first characteristic “divinity” is given in Scripture. Wisdom. In later uses, Wisdom is personified as an attribute of God (usually female, Proverbs 8; Sirach 24). Even Job has Wisdom featured somewhat as an anthropomorphized image of God. What is this wisdom?
In the Ancient Near East, the serpent represented… life, death, wisdom, and fertility (among other things). Christians have sense given the serpent the title of “Satan.” But, remove that for a moment. In Gilgamesh, a serpent is present to cheat someone out of immorality. Think about how a serpent that cultures would have recognized as meaning “life, death, wisdom, and fertility” brings this story to life.
This brings us back to the nakedness. In Genesis 2.25, the couple is said to be naked (arummim). In Genesis 1, we are introduced to the serpent who is said to be “shrewd” (arum). This wordplay is important, I think.
From the NET Bible (Genesis 2.25–3.8NET):
- The Hebrew word עָרוּם (’arum) basically means “clever.” This idea then polarizes into the nuances “cunning” (in a negative sense, see Job 5:12; 15:5), and “prudent” in a positive sense (Prov 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). This same polarization of meaning can be detected in related words derived from the same root (see Exod 21:14; Josh 9:4; 1 Sam 23:22; Job 5:13; Ps 83:3). The negative nuance obviously applies in Gen 3, where the snake attempts to talk the woman into disobeying God by using half-truths and lies.
- There is a wordplay in Hebrew between the words “naked” (עֲרוּמִּים, ’arummim) in 2:25 and “shrewd” (עָרוּם, ’arum) in 3:1. The point seems to be that the integrity of the man and the woman is the focus of the serpent’s craftiness. At the beginning they are naked and he is shrewd; afterward, they will be covered and he will be cursed.
What does “naked” mean? Some believe it is a word play, with one nakedness highlighted above another’s nakedness. The Targum Jonathan (c. 3rd century) translates Genesis 2.25 like this: “And they were both wise, the man and his wife, but they did not remain in their glory.” Thus, Genesis. 2.25 becomes something like a heading.
But, what we have then is that the serpent is made more crafty than the humans. Or, if we take these words as metaphors, then we see a fear of vulnerability in which case, the serpent (more naked) must work to trick the unsuspecting duo into eating the fruit because it is jealous.
There are a lot of “ifs” about these puns.
Let’s connected “nakedness” to wisdom. What happens when they become wise? Then they realize their nakedness and then work to cover it up.
If Genesis 2.25 is not a heading, but a statement of reality, then why does nakedness bring shame after they eat the fruit? Is this really a lesson about sexual temptation?
But, is there more?
This is a foundational story, especially for Christians. We have a lot of theology based on “the original sin.” But, what if the totality of the story is simply to ask the question, “What happens when humans get their hands on the knowledge of good-and-evil?” Maybe this: “The story … simply says that the knowledge of good and evil, in anybody’s hands other than God’s, will bring death and suffering, that is, expulsion from Paradise.”1
Another question… where do you think Adam was during all of this? Why is Eve the only one approached?
Some of the things this story is not about?
- Evil. Evil pre-exists
- This is the story of the Fall, a particular important story in Christian theology. But, does the Fall exist in Judaism?
- If this is the story of the Fall, what does this say about God?