I’ve been thinking about Genesis lately. In this past month, the lectionary included Eve’s succumbing to the serpent and my study group talked about the troubling fallout in perceptions of gender roles, about what might have happened if Eve hadn’t eaten the apple, about a human tendency toward disobedience.
Today I’m thinking about certainty. Eve and Adam didn’t happen to simply miss curfew, or miss an animal-naming deadline; they ate of the tree of knowledge. Another discussion might consider the aspects of good and evil implicit in this knowledge, but I’m struck by the concept of desiring knowledge so much we are willing to face God’s punishment.
Most of my conscious life I’m hoping for, even demanding certainty. I want to know the one right school to send my kids to, the one right way to raise them, the one right way to eat, the one right way to exercise. My demand for certainty yields little but frustration. The time I spend with art I’m willing to know a little bit less. I read a collection of short stories for a class this past weekend, and turn over the possibilities for each narrative in my head.
Leon Kass found much to turn over reading Genesis. A professor at the University of Chicago, he began his study for general interest, and it became an obsession. What he had planned as a diversion became the near-700 page The Beginning of Wisdom. His 700 pages do not find much in the way of certainty. Instead, Kass suggests Genesis is rife with lacunae offering up and even demanding exploration, offering a narrative of metaphysical and ethical truths. A midrash he mentions in a footnote explains the significance of starting Genesis with bet, a letter closed on three sides and open to the direction of the text, so the reader is permitted only to investigate the time of the world’s creation into the time that we live. Each letter itself has meaning, bringing the level of significance from grand theory to minute detail, wider and deeper than literature lovers even know to look.