Us

Tue 09/13/05 at 2:33 pm

Ever wondered about God’s use of the objective case of we, as in, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness?” Genesis 1:26. The appearance of the term “humankind” instead of “man” in this quotation signals my switch from quoting the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible as I did in my earlier posts to quoting the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1991). Even though it will take way more than rewriting the Bible using inclusive language to even begin to address the sexism inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is an important first step. I received a copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha as a gift on June 3, 1991, and it has proved an invaluable tool in this literary endeavor. (Thanks A.) The footnote associated with Genesis 1:26 blithely speculates that “[t]he plural us, our (3.22; 11.7; Isa 6,8) probably refers to the divine beings who compose God’s heavenly court.” (Emphasis in original.)

The above-cited cross-references identify other instances in the Bible where God has had occasion to converse with these beings (hereinafter “Us”). For instance, shortly after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thereby committing Original Sin, capital “O,” capital “S,” God expresses his concern that “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Genesis 3:22. To prevent such an eventuality, God drives Adam and Eve out of Eden and places “the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.” Id. at 23-24.

I was always taught the serpent lied to Eve when he told her she would not die if she ate the forbidden fruit. On the contrary, it appears that God, rather than the serpent, is the liar. Specifically, when Eve meets the serpent in the garden, he asks her, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Eve answers that God told her, “[y]ou shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” The serpent, apparently quite truthfully, assures Eve, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So, why hasn’t anyone bothered to point out that Adam and Even could have achieved immortality had they simply managed to eat from the tree of life — an action that was, apparently, not forbidden – before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Well, I suppose one could say that technically God told Eve the truth, since by his omniscience he would have known that she and Adam would eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil first, and he’d be able to kick them out of Eden before they could get to the tree of life. (And you wonder where we lawyers learn our tricks.)

Us also figures prominently in the story of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1-9. Following the flood, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” And humankind said one to the other, “let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” For reasons left unexplained in the narrative, just the opposite proved to be true.

That is, the footnote accompanying this passage compares humankind’s architectural aspirations with Eve’s quest for the knowledge of good and evil and bills the story as a further example of how “God frustrated another attempt to overreach human limitations.” God, accompanied by Us, comes down to “see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.” God observes, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so they will not understand one another’s speech” — in other words, take the necessary action to thwart humankind’s (and here I’ll quote from the footnote) “Promethean desire for unity, fame, and security.” Picking up the narrative again, “and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

Given these events, especially if one ascribes to the chaos theory, it sort of gives a whole new meaning to the quote Walt Kelly first used on a poster for Earth Day in 1970:

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next post: We’re All Alone
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