a nice story [more here] about Christopher Hitchens' appearance at the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston. I thought pretty hard about going - Houston is just 4 hours down the road - but the timing wasn't good, since yesterday was Yom Kippur. We Jewish atheists have a lot on our plates.
While sitting in services yesterday I read the first couple of chapters of Genesis and gave a little more thought to the Shea-Coyne-Sullivan-Rosenhouse debate about Adam and Eve. There's a lot in there that reinforces what I said a few days ago about sheer story telling, with neither literal/historical import nor metaphorical/meaningful import.
Like: what about the cherubim? God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and then "he stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life." Come on--why should I think the author of this passage was serious about cherubim (winged creatures of some sort) and fiery ever-turning swords, instead of just a colorful story-teller? And if the author was a colorful story-teller, why should I think he/she put the cherubim in the story to convey some deep, ever-lasting meaning?
So it's "none of the above"--we shouldn't necessarily think the author(s) believed in cherubim, nor should we think they're metaphors. Sometimes story elements are just story elements. The beanstalk in Jack in the Beanstalk is--a beanstalk! The fact that we find story elements evocative and amazing doesn't mean that the story teller was in the metaphors 'n' meanings business, like Melville writing Moby Dick.
But what about the core of the Adam and Eve story, and how they got expelled from the garden? That's obviously supposed to be instructive ... or so it seems. So either it was intended as an instructive history, or as an instructive story. It's not an option to think it was just a story. Ross Douthat reasons it must have been intended as an instructive story, based on all the inconsistencies. Nobody could have meant such an inconsistent story to be read as The Historical Truth.
Sitting there in services, I spent some time examining the inconsistencies, using the very fine Torah with commentary provided in front of each seat for scholarly (or bored) congregants. In Genesis 1, God created humans, male and female he created them. So it's definitely not first Adam, then Eve. In Genesis 2, it's first Adam, then Eve, and all signs are nobody else exists. If Adam could have wandered out of the garden and found himself some friends, he wouldn't have had to create Eve from his rib to avoid being "alone" and to have a "helper." In Genesis 3 we have the expulsion, and then in Genesis 4 Adam and Eve have a couple of nice (or not so nice) boys, Cain and Abel. After Cain kills Abel, Cain "knows his wife." Um, where'd the wife come from?
So in the space of a few pages, there are three pictures of the beginning: (1) First there are two humans, a male and a female; (2) first there's one human (Adam), and then there's a second (Eve); (3) the first humans include a lot of people beyond the garden.
What does it tell us that compilers and bible readers were satisfied with such a mess? I don't think it tells us (a la Douthat) that this is all in the realm of metaphor&meaning. Even in a metaphorical/meaningful story, consistency is important. You can't have Ahab chasing one whale on page 1, and two whales on page 2, even if the whale is just symbolic, and the whole thing is presented as make-believe.
One thing you have to say is that ancient compilers and readers didn't care if the story/history went like (1), (2), or (3). These were not matters of orthodoxy--there was no catechism. You could think it was one way or it was another, and nobody would freak out. That's why it's strange how fundamentalists today put so much energy into defending the veracity of one of these accounts. They're doctrinaire about human origins, when the ancient Israelites evidently were not.