We are introduced to Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Peter Enns reminds readers that Jewish and Christian interpreters have struggled to understand it. Moderns are not the first people to rethink the text.
Enns begins his exploration into the biblical texts by reminding readers that Genesis is a tough text to understand before introducing readers to the recent findings of scholarship. He mentions the many, many questions that arise from the text itself (not from the critical approach scholarship, per se). Some examples include the following:
Why does God say, “Let us make humankind” (1:26; 3:22)?
If Adam and Eve are the first humans, and Cain their only surviving offspring, how can Cain be afraid of retaliation for murdering his brother (4:13–16)? Where did he get his wife (4:17)?
Who/what is the serpent in the garden, and what is it doing there in the first place (3:1–7)?
In Genesis 1, how can there be days 1, 2, and 3 (1:3–13) before a sun and moon are created on day 4 (1:14–19)?
(Kindle Locations 492-509)
Lest someone think that modern scholarship led to people asking hard questions Enns clarifies, “
“These questions are among those asked by the earliest known biblical interpreters—beginning with Jewish interpreters living two hundred years or so before Christ.” (Kindle Locations 512-513)
“For this reason the long history of Jewish biblical interpretation has been anything but bashful about engaging the many interpretive challenges of Genesis.” (Kindle Locations 518-520).
We see interpretive creativity and fluidity in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Philo, Josephus, and later documents like the Mishnah, Talmud, Targums, and forms of midrashim. Likewise, Christians have read Genesis differently over the years, e.g. Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine and others. Speaking of Augustine Enns writes of his The Literal Meaning of Genesis ,
“…where he shows, among other things, how much intellectual effort is required to handle Genesis well, and how ill-advised it is to read the creation stories literally.
‘It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [cosmological] topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.’ “ (Kindle Locations 532-537)
This leads Enns to comment: “My point is that Genesis is not now and never has been an easy book to understand.” (Kindle Location 539)
In my next post I will relay Enns’ thoughts on how modern interpreters have understood Genesis.