I have decided to start a series following The Raven Foundation’s “Bible Matters” series in which Rene Girard’s mimetic theory is used to analyze the various books of the Bible. Appropriately enough, I will start with the book of Genesis. To see the related video just follow this link.
The book of Genesis is “theo-political” in that it explores what it means to be God. It is also anthropological because it explores what it means for humans to be humans. In this sense, it is one of the most important books in the entire Bible as it acts as a sort of anchoring stone for what is to follow in the subsequent biblical texts.
God creates the world in stages, proclaiming after each that “It is good.” In the last stage of creation, however, God announces that it is very good. What is the significance of this? Only rulers of the ancient world were thought to be made in the image of the gods thus denoting the exclusivity of this phrase. These rulers represented the will of the gods on the worldly plane. In Genesis, the phrase is democratized: not only rulers, but the hoi polloi contain the spark of divinity. We are all representatives of the God who creates the universe, imbuing it with Goodness: a truly revolutionary idea!
In chapter two we have the very well-known story of Adam and Eve and their subsequent departure from Eden. The universality of the tale can be seen in Adam’s name, which means “humanity, humankind.” Adam participates with God in the Goodness of creation by naming the animals, cementing him as God’s mundane representative. Eve is created as a complement to Adam for whom paradise can only become more beautiful if he has someone with whom to enjoy it. Here we see the thoroughly communal nature of Genesis, for Eve, who is Adam’s wife, can also be seen as the personification of relationships more generally. We exist in relation to others and to God.
Adam and Eve are naked before one another: there is no barrier between them and they are free to love and honor each other without a second thought. Naked, in this context, has many connotations beyond physically naked: emotionally, spiritually, and mentally naked. Only in this innocence is one capable of participating, along with God, in the Goodness of the world. The serpent, however, undermines all that, for he says man can only know what is truly Good by knowing what is truly Bad. He therefore encourages the pair to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. This introduction of doubt into Eden is the beginning of the end.
Now, when the serpent said they wouldn’t die, he was kind of right. Indeed, they don’t die physically, but spiritually. They die to what it means to know the Goodness of the world, and with that begins mimetic rivalry. Adam and Eve accuse one another and lose the innocent nakedness they formally enjoyed. Furthermore, they doubt God and so they hide from Him when He goes out in search of them. It’s very important to note that God doesn’t sit by idly, but actively goes out to find them. When Adam and Eve blame one another and blame God we see the beginning of the scapegoat mechanism. It is at this point we should stop and consider the question: does God cast us out or do we cast out God? According to Genesis, we need to blame someone, so we often blame God, or God’s ostensible absence, when in reality man is the cause of his woes.
So how do we stop looking through “the lense of the serpent?” We see a glimpse in the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob steals his brother Esau’s inheritence and flees lest he kills him in anger. However, years later, Esau forgives Jacob because, after everything that’s happened, they are still brothers. Jacob sees God then and there, in that brotherly relationship made whole again through forgiveness. The story of Joseph and his brother further illustrates the salvific nature of forgiveness when Joseph forgives his brothers many years later for dumping him in a well and faking his death. Forgiveness, then, is one of the key themes of the Book of Genesis, and this serves to orient the reader to a very important question: how will we see life? Through the eyes of God or through the eyes of the serpent? Reading Genesis has taught me much about the human condition and about the importance of forgiving those who have wronged me, difficult as it may be.