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Religion Library: Judaism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Marc A. Krell

Title: Adam and Eve encountering the snake in the Garden of Eden foundation of Jewish sacred narrative is the Hebrew scriptures, and its thematic center is the evolving relationship between God and Israel that is presented in a linear fashion with three temporal coordinates: creation, revelation, and redemption. The first point on the time line is creation and the myths associated with the origins of the cosmos that are common to the ancient near east, specifically the creation of the world in seven days as stated in Genesis 1: the first day in which God creates light, separating it from darkness; the sky on day two; land and plants on day three; the celestial lights of the sun, moon, and stars on day four; fish and birds on day five; land animals and humans on day six; and Shabbat rest on day seven.

Creation: GENESISRevelation: EXODUSRedemption
creation myth
covenant with Noah
God and Israel on Sinaifreedom from slavery
received as God's people

Genesis chapters 3-9 present other origin narratives that explain the roots of evil beginning in the story of the first human beings, Adam and Eve. The serpent represents a type of preexisting evil in the universe; it convinces Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge that leads to increased understanding and shame over their nakedness. Moreover, their divine punishments serve as an etiological myth for snakes slithering on the ground, female pain in childbirth and apparent subordination to the male, as well as manual labor for males.

Title: Abel (left) and Cain (right) offer their respective sacrifices Source: Genesis 3 involves the tension between choice and temptation within the human psyche as a result of the serpent's evil influence, Genesis 4:1-16 transposes the internal conflict into a sociological context involving the murder of a brother resulting from an apparently inexplicable tension between Cain, Abel, and God, based on God's refusal to take Cain's offering. Yet this narrative is not so much about Cain's intention to commit a crime, but rather about how he deals with unjustified suffering when he does not receive a response from God for his offering. Cain thus inherits the internal tension of his parents to resist the existence of evil in the form of the serpent as a result of selfishness, but then acts upon it in a way that causes someone else's death, turning desire and curiosity into interpersonal aggression, rage, and revenge. Again the knowledge of good and evil leads to death and banishment east of Eden.


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