The very introduction to the Bible is obscure. We would have expected the introduction to tell us why God created the world and what God expects from humans, a problem that bothered the famous Bible commentator Rashi (1040-1105), but instead chapters 1 and 2 and other parts of the Bible are obscure, as can be seen in the following items. The obscurities are apparently purposely opaque to prompt us to think, and by thinking improve ourselves and society
- Rashi’s first commentary is a question, shouldn’t the Torah begin with Exodus 12:2, the first command that God gave the Israelites, to consider the month in which the exodus from Egyptian bondage occurred as the first month of the year. Rashi responds that the Bible begins with the fact that God created the world to answer the critique by non-Jews who claim Jews have no right to Israel. God, the creator, has the right to give what He created to whomever He wants, and can give Jews the land of Israel. Is this a reasonable response? Will it persuade non-Jews? Is it the clear intent of chapters 1 and 2?
- Jews have apparently ignored the first command. They “call” the month in which the exodus occurred, the month in which Passover is celebrated, the first month, but do not treat it as the first month. Instead they treat the seventh month as the beginning of the year and call the first day of the seventh month Rosh Hashanah, the head or start of the year. Why is the biblical command neglected for Rosh Hashana, a holiday that is not mentioned in the Torah?
- What is the meaning of aher bara Elohim laasot im 2:3 “which God created to make”?
- What is the significance of Adam being created from earth?
- Why wasn’t Eve created from earth?
- The Jerusalem Talmud in Nazir 7:2 underscores the holiness of the human body with a parable that states that the dust from which Adam was formed was taken from the ground on which the sacrificial altar of King Solomon’s temple was to be built. Is there any hint of this in the Bible?
- Another traditional source states that the dust from which Adam was formed was taken from the four corners of the earth, suggesting the oneness of humanity (Rashi on Genesis 2:7). Is there any hint of this excellent idea in the Bible?
- Eve was created from the tzela of Adam, an obscure word which could mean “side” or “rib.” Why is an obscure word used? Why was Eve created from a part of Adam? Does this suggest inferiority or that women need to do what men desire done, just as a man’s arm or foot does?
- God created Eve to be eizer khenegdo in Genesis 2:18. What do these words mean? Eizer can mean “help” and khenegdo can mean “against him.” It has been translated as “a helper.” Does this mean women have a servile role? Was she only created because it is difficult for a man to live alone?
- When Adam is introduced to Eve he calls her Isha, “woman,” in 2: 23 because “she was taken from ish, “man.” Later in 3:20, he renames her Chava, a name which Rashi explains is similar in consonants to Chaya, “life,” “because she gives life to her children.” Why did Adam change her name? Why did he pick a name suggesting giving birth to children, Adam and Eve had no children in 3:20 when he renamed her? Why is Chava transliterated as Eve? Is it simply because there is no Hebrew guttural ch sound in all languages.
- What was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – the Torah does not say?
- If God did not want the humans to eat of the fruit of that tree, why was it placed in the garden? Is this what criminal courts today call entrapment – the government setting up a trap to find an excuse to punish a victim?
- Why did God say on the day that you eat it you will surely die, when this did not happen? A tradition states that “day” refers to a thousand years, the length of Adam’s proposed life until he heard a prophecy that King David would die at birth and he gave him 70 years of his life and died at age 930. Is there any hint of this in the Torah?
- Eve tells the serpent in 3:3 that God forbid even touching the tree of knowledge, but in 2:17, God only forbids Adam eating its fruit. Did Adam give Eve the wrong information about God’s decree? Did Eve invent this prohibition and, if so, why? Or should we assume that although the biblical text in chapter 2 does not mention touching the tree, God did mention it. The Bible frequently makes a statement and only later gives details about it, as in the next example.
- Genesis 1:27 states “male and female created He them,” which seems to imply that the two were created simultaneously. Yet, in 2:22 Eve is created from Adam’s rib (or side, depending on the translation of the Hebrew word). Are biblical critiques correct that chapter 1 was composed by one or more humans while chapter 2 is from another source? Is the Midrash correct that chapter 1 describes the creation of a person who was part male and part female and chapter 2 tells that the person was split into two beings? The source of this Midrash may have been the earlier fourth century book by the Greek philosopher Plato who in his book Symposium has this idea said by the comic playwright Aristophanes.
- In chapter 2:23 God tells male and female humans to join together, leave their father and mother, and “be one flesh.” How are couples supposed to become “one flesh”?
- What if anything is the significance of mentioning Eve’s statement about touching the tree, no one was punished for touching the tree?
- Why did God punish the serpent, Adam, and Eve so harshly? All they did was perform an act God forbid. Furthermore, why are all Eve’s female descendants punished because of her act by having pain in childbirth? The descendant did not eat the fruit.
- What does Eve’s punishment “your desire shall be to your husband and he shall rule over you” mean? Is this a placement of women in an inferior role?
- What is the meaning of the serpent’s punishment “upon your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life? If we understand this literally, it is untrue, snakes to not eat dust. Alternatively, is it just another way of saying that the snake crawls over the earth? If so, it is a repetition of what is said previously. While it may surprise some Bible readers, the Bible frequently repeats an idea for emphasis and for the poetry of its language. Rabbi Akiva insisted that the Bible has no extra words, it never repeats. Do you agree?
- Why are Adam’s male descendants punished “in the sweat of your face you will eat bread”? Was the Christian cleric Augustine correct when he developed the notion called “original sin,” that all humanity is punished because of what Adam and Eve did and only faith in Jesus can save people?
- Adam is told in 1:28 to “subdue” the earth and “have dominion over” the creatures. How should we understand Adam’s power of dominion? Does dominion carry with it the right to kill? Does it imply that humans may do to animals whatever they want? What about scientific experimentation on animals? Is this right?
- Did the relationship between humans and the animal world change following the flood? Is the relationship affected by the permission granted to Noah to eat the flesh of animals (Genesis 9:3), whereas Adam was restricted to vegetation (Rashi on Genesis 9:3; also see Genesis 1:24)?
- Eve named her firstborn child Cain saying four Hebrew words which can be translated, “I acquired, a man, with, the Lord,” which gave rise to a legend accepted as true by many that Cain was sired by the serpent. Why did people feel the need to develop this notion? What is the plain meaning of the Hebrew words?
- Verse 5:3 states that Adam had a son when he was 130 years old and named him Seth. Does this mean that he had no children after Cain and Abel until he was 130 years old? Why? Is the text suggesting that Adam was so angry at his wife Eve for eating the forbidden fruit and causing him to labor for food that he stopped having relations with her for over 100 years? Or should we understand that the Bible is mentioning Seth because he was the ancestor of the people we are interested in, including Abraham, but Adam had other children during the 130 years? This would be consistent with the biblical style to tell us only what is significant for us even though other things happen.
- There is a legend found in many sources that during the 130 years Adam had sexual relations with the demon Lilith. Among other sources, C. S. Lewis tells us in his 1950 book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of his seven books in the Narnia series, that Four children, two brothers and two sisters, are sent out of London to the professor’s house in the countryside to escape the bombs dropped by the German air force during World War II. They discover a wardrobe that turns out to be a portal leading to the magical land of Narnia. Narnia is under the control of a wicked witch who is a descendant of Adam and the demon Lilith. Is there any hint of this in the Bible?
- We are told how long Adam lived. Why aren’t we informed how long Eve did so?
God created Eve to be eizer khenegdo in Genesis 2:18. What do these words mean? Eizer can mean “help” and khenegdo can mean “against him.” It has been translated as “a helper.” Does this mean women have a servile role? Was she only created because it is difficult for a man to live alone?
This is a very interesting commentary on the Torah. I mean it makes us think profoundly about how men and women’s role in society and how they should act. If women are actually suppose to be inferior or helpers of man. We can think more about the specific role woman can have and influence they can make in society.
You are correct. The words eizer khenegdo are obscure. They could be translated as a helper or as many prefer a helpmate, meaning a partner.
I don’t think it was a visitor from another planet. I searched your blog and I did not find an essay about Ezekiel. Are you interested in writing one about him? (when you have time and if you want to, of course).
I also do not think he was describing a visit from another planet, but there are people that have all kinds of weird explanations of obscure items. No, I am not in the mood of writing about Ezekiel right now. But thanks for the interest.
I agree the Bible is very obscure. For example, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the lord. What was the vision? How do you interpret it?
No one rally knows what Ezekiel is saying. It is obscure. Interpretations include, a visitor from another planet.
Great list of obscure items in the Torah. I think the Garden of Eden story is a parable. Regarding Genesis 1:27, Rabbi Slifkin says “male and female created He them,” which implies that many people were created simultaneously. Adam refers to mankind in its entirety. Do you agree?
I think that it is important to recognize that this question and virtually all others is obscure and we will never know. At best we can say that it is possible that Adam refers to many people.