Tuesday, March 4, 2014

They're Both Right

Last week we had a great time with Joseph Kelly on campus (previewed here). I had never met Joseph, so it was fun getting to know him, learning about his background and hearing about his research. He presented a couple of papers, that is, he read them very dynamically. Some bibliobloggers have complained about the way people read papers at scholarly meetings and have advocated that we all present our research in a more engaging way. Well, if we read like Joseph read, the problem of boring presentations would be solved. (I'm thinking about this as I'm about to read a paper in a couple days at a scholarly meeting.)

As for what Joseph actually said, he did a couple of lectures, one on obedience in the Hebrew Bible, one on intertextuality. The latter was based on his dissertation. The former is connected to a book he's writing with Charles Halton on the topic of ethics in the OT (I think the book title is A Moral Vision for the Old Testament).

That 'obedience' lecture prompted a thought perhaps worth sharing.

Joseph mentioned how, after some internal debate, he currently sided with Moberly on the interpretation of "death" in Genesis 3, that is, that death = curses. And so God fulfilled his threat after all. I was somewhat resistant to this interpretation because I want the snake to be right 3 out of 3 times, rather than just 2 out of 3. The snake correctly said that the couple would become like God when they ate the fruit (confirmed at Gen. 3:22) and that their eyes would be opened (confirmed at 3:7). I know the snake is not the hero of this story, but it makes a more satisfying narrative to me for him to be right 3/3 rather than 2/3. I had assumed, to make sense of God's character in this, that he had changed his mind about the punishment to be meted out.

But after talking to Joseph, I'm more open to the idea that death = curses. Oh, I still want the snake to be right 3/3, but maybe both God and the snake were right about the death that would result from eating the fruit. When God said the couple would die (2:17), he meant the curses (this is Moberly's view). When the snake said that they wouldn't die, he meant physical death, the normal sense of the term. They're both right. Now, did the snake know that he was using the word 'die' in a sense different from the one intended by the LORD God? Maybe, I don't know. He is one crafty snake (3:1)!

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