First question ...

LincolnSpector

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Jews cycle through the Torah once a year, one parashah per week. We are now back at the beginning, back at Parashah B'reishit (Genesis 1:1 thru 6:8).

Humanist geographer Yi-Fu Tuan once wrote: "All human beings are religious if religion is broadly defined as the impulse for coherence and meaning" With that in mind it is interesting that the first question asked of God in this ancient narrative is not
  • "Why am I here?"
but, rather,
  • "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Come to think of it, the first questions should have been:

"What's wrong with eating that fruit?"

"If you really don't want us to eat it, why did you put the tree there?"

And most important, "Why do you want to keep us ignorant?"
 

LincolnSpector

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Ha! So simple, and so telling!

New Scientist came down firmly on the side of man being 'hard-wired' for God, and that religion would outlast science in the long run.

Probably right, but horrifying. Civilization collapses, we forget all we have learned, and start all over again.
 

Marcialou

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Come to think of it, the first questions should have been:

"What's wrong with eating that fruit?"

"If you really don't want us to eat it, why did you put the tree there?"

And most important, "Why do you want to keep us ignorant?"

With hindsight these are excellent questions. But I think the real first question was "How did we come to live in this terrible world?" And the answer they gave themselves was "We must have done something really terrible to displease the gods/God. Maybe it was that fruit we ate." ;)
 

wil

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a figment of your imagination
What G!d puts up a wet paint sign and doesn't know our impulse to check?

Don't eat that fruit....don't smoke that weed....the stove is hot....keep doing that and you'll need glasses.

we are hard wired to question and find out for our self...

and then what do we do?? Blame....first chance we get throw someone under the bus.... 'the snake told me' ..... "that woman told me"....or actually and more to the point... "that woman YOU gave me told me to do it"
 

Marcialou

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What G!d puts up a wet paint sign and doesn't know our impulse to check?

Don't eat that fruit....don't smoke that weed....the stove is hot....keep doing that and you'll need glasses.

we are hard wired to question and find out for our self...

I'm not sure I understand you correctly. Are you are saying that God set us up for failure by first giving us a curious, testing mind and then punishing us for using it?

and then what do we do?? Blame....first chance we get throw someone under the bus.... 'the snake told me' ..... "that woman told me"....or actually and more to the point... "that woman YOU gave me told me to do it"

Now it sounds like you are blaming us for our tendency to push the blame onto someone else and not accept responsibility for our actions.

You seem to be describing God as a devious manipulator and humans as cowardly liars. Is that your intention?
 

wil

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My intention? I was wondering the intention of the writers... Anyone today knows that if you make something illegal or off limits you increase the interest in the same...

Eat any fruit in the garden, but not that one? Put the cookie jar on top of the fridge and tell the kids not to get into it....you'll find them pushing chairs over the moment you leave the room.

G!d set us up for failure? Not G!d.... man wrote the allegory...
 

Marcialou

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Wil, I think I share your approach towards scripture. When I say God, I mean God the literary figure, not God the god.

I think the writer's intention in creating the story was to explain why their lives were filled with troubles. Like small children often do, they blamed themselves. If there was flood or draught, they figured they must have done something to anger God. Their task then became to figure out what God wanted from them. Hence all the rules, rituals, and myths that come out of religion.

Its no wonder that the God they created was arbitrary and sometimes mean-spirited. God mirrors nature, itself, which can be beautiful, awe-inspiring, powerful, indifferent and cruel.

And I agree: the forbidden fruit was a set-up. God, (the character) must not have intended human-kind to remain in Eden for long. But that's another story.
 

Jayhawker Soule

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And I agree: the forbidden fruit was a set-up. God, (the character) must not have intended human-kind to remain in Eden for long. But that's another story.
Have you ever actually taken the time to study Torah commentary? Or do you simply prefer to demean it with shallow opinion?
 

Jayhawker Soule

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Why don't you summarize some Torah commentary for us. I'm hear to learn as well as to express my opinion.
You came here to learn? Seriously?

Marcialou, do you own a Torah? Rather than dismiss your sages as "small children", why don't you make an adult effort to understand what you so readily demean? For what it's worth, I'd recommend Plaut.

Finally, since you appear to be so enamored by your secularism, let me suggest that you first read:
Shabbat shalom.
 

A Cup Of Tea

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Easy!
It's a personal opinion, those are allowed. She even admitted that she doesn't know everything she wants to and is working to better it the best way she knows how. (as far as you and I know)
We all form opinion on things even when we don't know enough in other peoples eyes, and even though YOU find her opinion demeaning, it was in no way or form expressed in a demeaning way.

Jay, are you always an angry old man?
 

Marcialou

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Marcialou, do you own a Torah? Rather than dismiss your sages as "small children", why don't you make an adult effort to understand what you so readily demean?


Jayhawker,

I own a Hebrew/English Bible. I’ve read all of Genesis and Exodus several times, plus Joshua, Esther, Daniel, Ruth, Samuel I and II, Jonah, and Joab. I intend to read more. I’m a Hebrew school dropout and never read the Talmud. I’m not a scholar.

I like reading the Bible because the writers are asking important questions, the people they portray come off as very human, and the stories are evocative. I even agree with some of the lessons it teaches.

I’m still trying to get through Finkelstein and Mazar but I’ll take a look at We Enter the Talmud Barefoot and talk to some of my more knowledgeable religious friends. I’d love to share ideas and information with you and others about these topics, but I don’t want to respond to or make personal attacks.
 

Jane-Q

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Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering - fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.
The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
So Cain was very angry . . .
--Genesis 4:2-5.
Cain is angry at God. Not at Abel.
But Cain directs his anger at Abel, instead.

Part of the problem is with God:
God naturally prefers livestock burnt-offerings over grain sacrificial-offerings.
But parental figures tend to be arbitrary and unfair, having natural preferences which they cannot always hide from their offspring.
Life is unfair this way. And a maturing person needs to learn to live with this fact.

Cain has developed no introspective ability, to recognize this.
Nor learned that, over time . . . a good parental figure will recognize Cain's worth if Cain himself keeps plugging away.
Cain's crime results from his lack of introspection and his impatience - his impatience to gain the reward of parental approval.

The hunter-gatherer peoples who were our genetic ancestors exhibited many traits which they would employ on one day and forget about on the next. But when these peoples start domesticating wild animals and wild grains and wild fruit-trees and start believing in "Big Gods" and living in much much larger communities, these newly civilized people begin to focus heavily upon two within this panoply of traits (not occasionally, but focusing on them day after day - focusing on them religiously):
1. Curiosity (think of the Garden of Eden story, or better yet - the version of it in Mesopotamian lore).
2. Self-restraint (Cain and Abel).

To be "civilized" . . .
(being "productive" and "living cooperatively" with lots of divergent people
rather than being economically "subsistent" and being a member of a small "kinship-based" hunter-gatherer clan)
. . . necessitates being curious and being self-restrained.
Psychological studies bear out that children who are highly "curious" and/or children who demonstrate a greater degree of "self-restraint" . . . tend to be more successful (statistically "richer" and "happier") in adulthood than those less curious and/or less self-restrained.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
--Genesis 4:9.
The correct answer, to Cain's rhetorical question, is
"If you are civilized, yes you are your brother's keeper!"

This is the "covenant" which all Big Gods (across the board in the ancient world) made with the people they shepherded.
"Respect your God, respect your neighbor."
("Restrain you own natural egocentric impulses.")

Am I my brother's keeper? . . . is not just the First Question in the Torah, it is (and for ten or twelve millennia has been) the correct First Question when it comes to thinking about "civilized conduct."
It is the foremost ethical question.

Jane.

 

Jayhawker Soule

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The correct answer, to Cain's rhetorical question, is
"If you are civilized, yes you are your brother's keeper!"

This is the "covenant" which all Big Gods (across the board in the ancient world) made with the people they shepherded.
This is certainly not my understanding from what I've read. See, for example, Frank Moore Cross and Mark S. Smith. Could you perhaps cite two or three examples?
 

Jane-Q

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Hi Jayhawker Soule.

I have read both books you reference, plus one other by each of the authors.
And each author's ideas are a major basis for my understanding of the Hebrew Bible in its historical and linguistic context.

I see nothing inconsistent in their analysis from what I have said.
But there is a difference between fringe herding peoples and agriculture-based city-dwellers in the ancient world. And the ancient Israelites were probably actually both, and separate groups at one point, who later joined together in mutual alliance for defense after the breakdown in civilization in 1177 BCE, during Egypt's retreat from its Canaanite vassal-citystates.

But the agrarian citystates, each with their patron-deity (in a big temple), as well as the herding clans with their "god of the father" (in their mobile "Tent of Meeting") . . . each formed a contract - a "covenant" - between the deity and the people who the deity pledged to protect. Both insisted that the people follow a package of laws to insure proper behavior toward the deity (purity, correct forms of praise and of sacrifice) and proper behavior toward each other within the community (cooperation). "Respect God, respect neighbor." The world of both temple-gods and gods-of-the-father was a world of carefully worked-out ethics.
That is the gift of the Bronze Age to humanity - from China to Ireland.

One of the hot new books on the subject (which just arrived on my doorstep from Amazon.com) is Ara Norenzayan's Big Gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflict. Have only just glanced at it, but it might give you a sense of how the Neolithic to Bronze ages changed (hunter-gatherer) humanity.

And, to me, that ancient era is the actual starting point for the Bible.
From there Jewish Monotheism eventually develops, and itself evolves. And much of that can be traced in the Bible if - like Cross and Smith - you read the Bible shrewdly and not too literally.

If you are still unclear as to my above meaning, I'd enjoy continuing this discussion.
An important subject, as regards understanding the actual Bible.

Where specifically is it that I appear (to you) to be on shaky ground?

Jane.

 
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