Interesting. Where can I read a good summary of what anthropologists say about a culture of shame vs a culture of guilt? (Looking for something that will give me the most bang for the buck, so to speak.) Is it a major topic in your book about original sin?
Thanks, felix. I don’t think I’m especially serpentine. . . .
Reticulator: the distinction was originated by Ruth Benedict, I believe, and I find it very useful in discussing, say, the warrior cultures of ancient Greece and the Anglo-Saxon world of Beowulf. But I think it has fallen out of fashion among anthropologists.
Anyway, a couple of things, which may or may not be worth mentioning:
1. I think I agree that the question of shame and the human body is more complicated than Augustine tends to make it. It needs to be pointed out however, that nakedness is not divorced from human sexuality in the Eden narrative, and that both are associated with moral culpability, at least by their proximity to one another on the page. (Note that the passage about ‘naked but not ashamed’ [2:25] is immediately preceded by the idea that man and woman “become one flesh” [2:24]. Moreover, we are talking about the fruit of the tree of Good and Evil in this story [not Clean and Unclean]). It seems to me then, as if Augustine’s basic error lies in making human sexuality the root of all rebellion against God, but not in suggesting that there is – at least on the face of the Biblical text – an observable connection between sexuality and Sin. If that makes sense, and if I haven’t misunderstood your point, I wonder how you would respond.
2. When the text says that Adam and Eve were naked and “not ashamed,” the verb form that gets translated as “not ashamed” is arguably more meaningful than it gets credit for. The form of the verb that occurs there can be read as reciprocal in meaning, rather than passive. That is to say, the grammar of the expression could be taken to suggest that Adam and Eve were “not ashamed in one another’s presence,” or that they “did not cause one another to feel shame,” in spite of their nakedness. I’m not sure why the various English translations all seem to avoid this point (perhaps because the ancient versions seem not to care about it), but Hebrew-English lexica do sometimes gloss this form (which occurs only here) as “be ashamed before one another.” Thus, the concept of shame as an essentially public display of facts that would normally remain hidden seems to be encoded in the grammar of Genesis 3, at least in a narrow, grammatical sense. This is more complicated than I have made it sound, and there are good reasons to suggest that I am being too clever by half here, but it’s sort of fun to play around with this stuff sometimes.
Bill, thanks for the reply. As best I understand it, the passage you refer to — “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” — says almost explicitly that there is no “connection between sexuality and sin.” Their sexual relationship is ordained and established, and yet there is nothing to be ashamed of, and no sin has been committed. Since sexual relations are established before the Fall, and clearly Adam and Eve do not fall by any sexual act, what could the connection be?
It seems to me as if you’re right that the text doesn’t really teach a causal connection between sexuality and sin. That’s why I said that I think I agree with your overall assessment of Augustine’s teaching on the matter.
The only thing that I wanted to point out was that the text places this particular description of the relationship between Adam and Eve (that is, one that includes some information about the sexual aspect of their union) right in the middle of the account of the Fall. That seems worth mentioning to me, because – in terms of the immediate literary context – I’m not sure that such a piece of information is necessary to move the narrative forward, strictly speaking. And as you noted in your essay, Hebrew narrative tends to be pretty terse; it orders things carefully, and it generally doesn’t clutter up the page with a whole lot of useless information. That being so, I don’t think it was entirely unreasonable for Augustine to have wondered what he might make of such a piece of information.
As I understand the narrative of Genesis 2, it runs more-or-less like this:
1. God creates the man and plants a garden
2. God plants trees in the garden and waters them
3. Geographical information about the location of the garden
4. God puts the man in the garden
5. God commands the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
6. God creates the woman, as a suitable counterpart for the man, to help him
8. THEMANANDTHEWOMANWERENOTASHAMED IN THEIRNAKEDNESS
9. The Serpent is crafty, and tempts the woman
10. The woman falls
11. The man falls
12. At the risk of understating things, etc.
Now, I think Augustine is wrong to have concluded that Sex lies at the root of all rebellion against God. But – given the location of the data within the overall narrative – I also think that there is some justification for his attempt to forge a link between sex and nakedness on the one hand and sin on the other. After all, sex and nakedness are the elements of the narrative that immediately precede the entry of sin into the created order. If we don’t try and do something with that fact, then why would God have included the information in the first place? I suspect that it is this kind of hermeneutic that may have driven Augustine to read the story as he did.
To answer your question then, the connection between sex and sin seems to be their close physical collocation on the page. They’re all right there in the same story, and I think Augustine assumed — not without justification — that they had been included where they were for some specific reason.
Plus, it’s just good business. Gratuitous sex scenes always get the R rating, and R ratings generally earn less at the box office than the family stuff.
the text places this particular description of the relationship between Adam and Eve (that is, one that includes some information about the sexual aspect of their union) right in the middle of the account of the Fall
I wouldn’t put it that way; I’d say that the text makes this description the culminating detail of the account of Creation. The Fall is the next story.
I’m not sure that that option is really open to us though, is it?
The person responsible for the final form of the book of Genesis has provided some pretty clear macro-syntactic markers throughout the text (“These are the generations of…”), which seem to indicate for the reader where each of the narratives in that segment of the Pentateuch is supposed to begin and end. One of those macro-syntactic markers occurs at 2:4, and the next one occurs at 5:1. If those markers are to be taken seriously, then the material that leads up to 2:24-25 has to be understood as literarily connected with the material that follows those verses in some significant way.
Interestingly, neither of the lectionary systems preserved in the Masoretic text places a break of any kind where you suggest, although they do place breaks within the overall narrative from 2:4-5:1. Of course, neither of those is an inspired tradition, but they are traditions that have existed for a very long time among people who thake these narratives very seriously. That being so, they can shed some light on what kinds of divisions seem to have made the most sense to the greatest number of people so far, which is at least worthy of consideration. In your defense, the Book of Common Prayer does seem to put a break after 2:25, although I’m not sure how we’re suppposed to think of the significance of the breaks in BCP, nor do I have any idea how this relates to the lectionary that Augustine might have used.
Now — particularly in light of the divisions in BCP — we might be able to argue that 2:4-2:25 is one episode within the larger narrative (2:4-5:1), and that 3:1 and following is to be understood as a subsequent episode. But I’m not sure that that really does what we need it to do, in order to get us out from under Augustine’s basic observation.
Based on the macro-syntactic markers native to the inspired text (“These are the generations of…”), the two episodes are still inseparable with respect to the larger narrative. The first episode (which seems to be focused on the ordering of creation) ends with a somewhat counter-intuitive piece of information (man and woman became one flesh; they were naked and not afraid), and the second episode follows that counter-intuitive piece of information immediately with a (non-intuitively related) account of the fall of humanity. Why create that kind of a bump in the narrative, if we the readers are not supposed to take notice of it and try to figure out how the two things are related?
Is this boring? I don’t mean to hammer away at something that no one else cares about. Anyway, thanks as always.
Bill, I think you’re missing the way the story works as a story. From 1:1 to 2:25 the narrative concerns one topic: the Lord’s creative activity. The narrative of that activity is concluded at 2:25. Then the narrative shifts gears: we are introduced (without explanation) to a new character, and that character is described (“more crafty than any other”) and placed in dialogue with another character. This is wholly different from what we have seen so far; nothing is now being created; we are now seeing interactions among the created beings. And those very first interactions produce the Fall. This is one of those cases when the chapter divisions make perfect sense and indeed reflect the nature of the narrative. The story of Creation is completed at 2:25; the story of the Fall commences with 3:1.
And I would add that even if we say that the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve is in the same story as the Fall, that would not imply any causal connection. There are a lot of things in that story. There is simply not one hint in the story to suggest that sexuality is connected with the temptation offered by the serpent, and you can only say there is a connection is, like Augustine, you’re prepared to abandon exegesis altogether and argue from experience (the experience of “disobedient members”).
“YOU SEEM TO BE MISSINGTHEWAYTHATTHISWORKS AS A STORY.”
I wouldn’t put it that way. I’d say that we disagree about how this works as a story, and that you seem to be unwilling to take my reading of the text seriously.
I suggest that there are two narratives here.
The first narrative describes the Creation of the universe. It runs from 1:1-2:3, and it is structured around the days of the first week. Its final event is the seventh day, on which God declares himself finished with his work and institutes the Sabbath rest. This is followed by a short epilogue, which constitutes a perfectly reasonable and satisfying conclusion to the story.
The second narrative begins with the formulaic expression “These are the generations of…,” which occurs 10 other times in the book of Genesis, always at the boundary between to narratives. This narrative runs from 2:4-4:1. It covers several topics, but the introductory formula suggests that it is structured around the genealogy “of the Heavens and the Earth.” This structural device establishes a basic chronological relationship among the events of the story, which is comparable to the structural device that controls the previous narrative (“First day…Second day, etc.” in 1:1-2:3).
To my way of thinking then, the way that both narratives work as stories is that each new episode is presented as if it follows logically (predictably?) from the events of the previous episode. The text does not always bother to describe the precise nature of the connections from one event to the next, but the basic structural framework of each narrative does seem to force this kind of interpretation on us, at least as far as I can see.
Now, I may be completely wrong about all of this, but I am hardly the only person in the world who reads the text in this way. You will find some version of this approach in most – if not all – of the major exegetical commentaries published in the last 50 years. That being so, I think that I have a pretty well-defined and broadly non-controversial idea about how this works as a story.
“(3:1) IS ONE OF THOSECASESWHERETHECHAPTERDIVISIONSMAKEPERFECTSENSE…”
I must confess that the chapter divisions had completely evaded my attention in all of this. I think you’re right. The chapter break does seem to be a point in your favor, although I don’t think that it’s an insuperable problem for my reading. I am still able to accommodate the observation that there is a shift in focus at 3:1, without accepting that that point must be the boundary between two distinct stories; I just think that it’s a lower order of transition than you do. The difficulty for your division of the text is that it fails to take into account one of the major structural devices for the entire book of Genesis (“These are the generations of…”). If we adopt your interpretation, then I think that we need to find a pretty compelling explanation for the location of 2:4 in the first story. Why is it stuck in the middle of a narrative in this case, when it seems invariably to have been used as an introductory formula everywhere else in the book?
“…THAT WOULDNOTIMPLYANYCAUSAL CONNECTION…”
I agree. Strictly speaking, the text does not seem to establish a causal link between sex and sin. I have already said as much at least once, and it is because I don’t see an explicit causal relationship in the text that I have continually acknowledged the wrong-headedness of Augustine’s conclusions. What I am trying to point out is that: a.) Not all connections are necessarily causal; and b.) We are being unfair to Augustine if we refuse to understand that – given his basic assumptions about the unity and composition of the text – the seeds of his inquiry are planted firmly in the structure of the narrative itself.
“YOU AREWILLING TO ABANDONEXEGESIS.”
How so? My last three posts have been almost entirely concerned with describing the structure of the text as I understand it, and with trying to allow the macro-syntactic markers that have been incorporated into the book of Genesis by the author to control the way that I think about what the narrative says. Those are fundamentally exegetical questions, are they not?
I don’t want to be perceived as having hang-ups about sex, and I would like to be able to dismiss Augustine’s teaching on the natter without qualification. The problem that I am running into is that I can’t seem to force the text into making those intentions entirely legitimate. Thus, I am left in the undesirable position of needing to offer a defense of his interpretive objectives, in spite of my own opinions about his conclusions.
Am I not actually insisting on exegesis and abandoning eisegesis?
Bill, it’s not that I don’t take your argument seriously, I just don’t agree with it. And the comment about abandoning exegesis was directed against Augustine, not you. I mean, you said you're not arguing for a causal connection.
OK…I don’t need to be arguing for a causal link for Augustine to be doing legitimate exegesis, though. He’s not doing the kind of exegesis that you and I would be inclined to do, but he is taking all of his cues directly from the text, and that is – by definition – a form of exegesis.
As for our un-reconciled readings of Genesis 1-3, I feel like there’s a lot more that ought to be said, but I do understand if I’m starting to wear out my welcome.
Thanks once more for the article (which I mostly agreed with) and the discussion (which has been a privilege). I really enjoyed it.