Posts Tagged ‘Adam and Eve’

MONOTHEISM AND MYTH

Jews, Christians and Muslims know that monotheism began with Abraham, the Hebrew patriarch whom Torah students have studied these past three weeks. But like Elvis sightings, that’s an urban legend.

Secular scholars point to monotheism’s birth in what Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age—700 to 200 BCE. Karen Armstrong writes that as urban civilizations developed, “people ultimately began to find that the old paganism, which had served their ancestors well, no longer spoke fully to their condition.”

The biblical narrative offers a third view, as I detail in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible. The book of Genesis plants monotheism’s roots in the sixth day of creation, presenting Adam and Eve as the original pair of monotheists long predating Abraham. They enjoy a personal relationship with God, Who instructs Adam not to eat from a specific tree and makes clothing for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness after they do. And yes, He also expels them from Eden.

Their sons also know God. When God accepts Abel’s offering but not Cain’s, Cain sulks. God offers parental advice: “Surely if you do right, / There is uplift. / But if you do not do right / Sin couches at the door; / Its urge is toward you, / Yet you can be its master” (Gen. 4:7).

With Abel dead and Cain banished, Adam and Eve have a third son—Seth. Genesis makes no mention of Seth’s relationship with God, but there’s every reason to believe Adam and Eve informed Seth about their Creator. Why?

When the earth becomes populous, Genesis states, “It was then that men began to invoke the Lord (YHVH) by name” (Gen. 4:26). This induces Nahum Sarna to write, “This text takes monotheism to be the original religion of the human race, and the knowledge of the name YHVH to be pre-Abrahamic.”

Humanity descends into wrongdoing and idolatry. Still, Enoch, the seventh in Adam’s line and great-grandfather of Noah “walked with God 300 years” (Gen. 5:22). Noah, in the tenth generation, receives God’s instruction to build an ark.

After the Flood, people again turn away from God. The Talmud (Berachot 33b) explains, “Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven.” Eden now consisting of only of a myth as humanity drifts into various forms of polytheism and idol worship. Monotheism, like a buried seed, lies dormant. Still, as God’s Others relates, pockets of monotheism lived on.

Twenty generations after Adam and Eve, Abraham appears. The biblical text never explains why God chooses him, but it now seems clear that Abraham rekindles monotheism rather than discovers it. Yehezkel Kaufmann writes that primeval mankind from Adam on “appears to have been monotheistic.” Gunther Plaut notes of Abraham, “The Torah does not depict him as the founder of a new religion.”

From the biblical perspective, monotheism constitutes humanity’s natural religious state. This prompts us to consider a corollary. All people contain the Divine spark. The Parent loves all His children. In a nation—indeed a world—torn by hatred and violence, we would do well to remember that to which Abraham sought to return us, however we might define God and the unity of the universe.

You can order God’s Others from Amazon, your local book store or—such a deal!—from me.

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WHAT I HAVE AND WHAT I DON’T

I have prostate cancer. I also have much to be thankful for. My urologist caught it early. The cancer is confined to my prostate. It’s completely curable.

I have an attentive primary-care physician and an attentive urologist. My primary, at my annual physicals, evaluated a steady rise in my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) scores. A few years ago, he referred me to my urologist. Two biopsies proved negative, but my PSA kept rising. My urologist suggested a new blood screening—the 4K test. It led to an MRI, which revealed several small growths. A guided biopsy proved positive. Radiation and hormone therapy will kill the cancer and prevent new malignancies from developing.

What I don’t have is an attitude of “Why me?” Most men develop prostate cancer if they live long enough. Most die with it, not of it. Many who do die of prostate cancer may not have had regular checkups. Their undetected cancer spread to their bones and/or organs.

What I don’t have, as well, is a loss of spirit. I’d probably feel differently if I’d been diagnosed with brain cancer, pancreatic cancer or leukemia. I’ve had family and friends who died from all the above at an early age. They suffered. I have no symptoms.

What I also don’t have is a sense of lost invincibility. Both my urologist and radiation oncologist mentioned that even with a prognosis of full recovery, many men with prostate cancer are rocked on their heels. They discover their own mortality. I’ve never thought I wouldn’t die. My grandparents died. My parents and all but one of their generation died. A cousin died of leukemia at 12. A friend was killed when the Medevac helicopter he piloted in Vietnam was shot down. A client died at 27 many years ago in a car crash on the Golden Gate Bridge. There were others.

The biblical story of Adam and Eve reminds us that death is inevitable. Denied the fruit of the Tree of Life, no one enjoys immortality. The story of their sons Cain and Abel alerts us that death may come before its time—and at our own hands.

Unfortunately, here’s something else I don’t have: faith in our government as presently constituted to help millions of Americans obtain and/or maintain the healthcare they need—the healthcare I fortunately have. Further, I don’t have faith in a president who only discovered in his first weeks in office that the issue of healthcare is complex.

Added to that, I don’t have faith in many members of Congress, who approach healthcare in purely ideological terms, eschewing compassion and compromise in the name of politics. For that matter, I don’t have faith in pharmaceutical companies who develop life-saving drugs but make it difficult or impossible for many Americans to afford them.

I won’t be updating you on my medical story, such as it is. I’ll be fine. The story that is on my mind is a new novel that will take three or four years to complete. I’ll have the time. I wish I could say the same for potentially millions of Americans whose health and very lives may be forfeit because Washington would prevent them from obtaining the healthcare coverage and medical assistance they need and deserve.

I also have a desire to be read. Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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NORMAL VS. USUAL

Recently, I asked a doctor if a small matter was normal. He answered, “You mean, is it usual?” Regrettable remarks by a multi-class boxing champion bring that comment into focus.

I reference Monday’s comment by Manny Pacquiao, also a senator in the Philippines. He spoke against proposed legislation protecting transgender Filipinos: “Even in the Bible, we read that the woman should wear women’s [clothing]; and the man, for men’s wear. That’s what I believe.” One year ago, Nike ended its relationship with Pacquiao after he called gays “worse than animals.” He apologized.

Pacquiao’s quoting the Torah puzzles me. Christian conservatives habitually cite such commandments as, “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear women’s clothing” (Deuteronomy 22:5). Yet this is not one of the Ten Commandments, which Christians revere. It’s one of 603 other mitzvot given the Israelites at Sinai. Christians believe them obsolete because Jesus established a new covenant with humanity.

Does Pacquiao’s defending one of those 603 other mitzvot give his position credence? Leviticus 11:7-8 forbids eating swine. Other passages forbid eating shellfish. (For the record, I don’t eat pork or shellfish.) These commandments are addressed to Jews. Does Pacquiao follow them? Is he a closet Jew?

I’m not writing to beat up (figuratively) Manny Pacquiao. Rather, I want to emphasize that many mitzvot emphasize separation. This includes keeping the seventh day, Shabbat (I do but not to Orthodox standards) and forbidding the wearing of clothing made of both wool and flax—animal and vegetable fibers (easy to follow). Often, the mitzvot don’t mesh with twenty-first century modernity.

For example, many people believe that gender identity comes in only two types, male and female. And that sexual preference consists of only one type, heterosexual. They see this as normal. But science and observation—I’m the father of a transgender son (born a female), a gay son and a straight son—demonstrate that gender identity and sexual preference flow along a spectrum.

My trans son isn’t acting out or deliberately flaunting society’s norms. He has long identified as male and felt uncomfortable as a female. I wish Carolyn and I picked up the cues earlier in his life, but the issue was unexpected and public knowledge scarce. Over the years, I’ve learned that society inflicts considerable and unjustifiable pain when it dictates how people must identify their gender and sexual preference—demands that nullify the very soul of an individual.

Reality is, straight male and straight female identities aren’t normal. They’re usual. The majority is straight—or seems so. To what degree is an individual matter. Still, the world contains a sizable LGBTQI community. Its members may not be usual, but they’re normal. Moreover, they are all human beings who deserve respect.

If Manny Pacquiao wants to quote Torah, he might study Genesis 1:27. “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The Sages of the Talmud propose that Adam was a hermaphrodite. Separation provided Eve. The discussion is complicated but fascinating.

Whatever position you take on this Torah verse, it makes clear one critical idea: all human beings are created in the image of God.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you feel it’s more appropriate, remember Jesus’ words: “Do unto others…”

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THE CHALLENGE OF CHOICE

In 1990, I met new friends Yury and Svetlana who’d just come to the U.S. from the Soviet Union. I took them to the Toy Boat on Clement Street for ice cream. The choices of flavors staggered them. Over time, they learned to shop around. Still, retail choices aren’t always simple. Moral choices can be a nightmare.

B’reishit, the first portion of the Book of Genesis, offers two timeless stories concerning choice. In the first, God instructs Adam not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. But the wily serpent convinces Eve to take a bite. She does and passes the fruit on to her husband who also indulges. Bad choices. Goodbye, Eden.

Next comes the story of Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve. When God accepts Abel’s offering but not Cain’s, Cain becomes crestfallen. God offers Cain encouragement: “Sin couches at the door; / Its urge is toward you, / Yet you can be its master.” Evil tempts us constantly, but we are not condemned to making bad choices. Regrettably, God’s advice falls on deaf ears. Apparently consumed by jealousy, Cain kills Abel. In punishment he must wander the earth.

Who among us is not without regrets? It is in our nature as human beings to make bad choices as well as good ones. According to the Sages of the Talmud, Adam and Eve bequeathed to humanity the yetzer tov (the good inclination) and the yetzer hara (the bad inclination). These often place us at war with ourselves. Nearly two thousand years later, Freud wrote about the conflict of the id, ego and superego. Both religious and civil law attempt to keep the yetzer hara in check.

John Steinbeck made the Cain and Abel story the core of his novel East of Eden (1952). The brothers Adam and Charles Trask share a love-hate relationship. Adam’s wife, Cathy Ames, represents pure evil. The serpent perhaps? Cathy’s sons Aron and Caleb—supposedly Adam’s, more likely Charles’—also possess conflicting personalities. Caleb loves Aron, but Aron is the beloved child. Ultimately, Caleb gets Aron to enlist in the Army during World War One. Aron is killed in Europe.

Steinbeck pursues the theme of choice throughout this long novel. At its conclusion, he repeats an earlier reference to the Cain and Abel story that uses the Hebrew word timshel, translated as “thou mayest.” Caleb is told that he can dominate or master his sinful urges. He does not have to wander the world; he can build a life.

The Torah offers structure for making moral choices. The Talmud delves deeper. Still, sound choices never come easy. Modern-day thinkers often present challenging responses to making geopolitical choices in a complex world. Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, wrote in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957) that some situations force us “to run risks in a situation which permits only a choice among evils.” We must not lose our principles, Kissinger states, but we cannot uphold them if we perish.

Today, Islamist violence in the Middle East and the plight of refugees along with poverty and gun violence at home confront us with difficult choices. I referenced Genesis, which begins the Bible. I’ll close with Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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