I. Introduction to this chapter
From my point of view, it is impossible that the first 11 chapters from the book of Genesis represent an accurate description of what had happened at the beginning of the existence of our universe and of humankind. There are much too many contradictions in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis and the stories found there are obviously mythological in their character and not scientific or historic. For me, that doesn’t mean the loss of my faith in God because it isn’t based on the factuality of all stories from the Bible, but it stands on a personal experience with Him. At the same time, the conclusion that the book of Genesis cannot offer a solid base for the understanding of our world carries important consequences.
If one doesn’t believe that the biblical record of the book of Genesis is scientifically accurate what remains from the Christian teachings about salvation? What happens with an authentic Christian faith if one accepts that the universe had come in place through the Big Bang and human beings evolved from other forms of life? If Adam and Eve aren’t historical personages and they didn’t disobey God everything changes in the Christian doctrines.
If Adam and Eve are not real personages but only legendary ones, how did humankind come into existence? The answer would be that humankind has a common origin with all forms of life and up to a point all developed in the same direction through the evolution of species. Human beings took another path under the influence of the internal and possibly external factors and we became what we are today.
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It isn’t impossible that the original evolution of humankind would have been determined by contact with an extra-terrestrial civilization. It is wrong to affirm that human beings have evolved from “monkeys” because they started to evolve from much more primitive forms of life together with the entirety of biological nature. Between human beings and the most evolved primates there are many common points and the genetic resemblances are astonishing, but our unique ancestor is to be found farther in the past. We have evolved together with all nature from the first living organisms on Earth which appeared billions of years ago.
After hundreds of thousands of years of evolution of the first humanoids, God had chosen to reveal Himself to humankind. Who were the human beings to whom God had revealed Himself for the first time? It couldn’t have been Adam and Eve because they didn’t exist in real life, and also it couldn’t have been Noah, another legendary personage. We have to take it that Abraham would have been the first human being to whom God would have revealed His existence directly, if we take the life of Abraham being less mythological and more real than that of his predecessors from the book of Genesis.
After concluding that the narratives of creation from the book of Genesis are too absurd and contradictory to be the representation of real facts, one has two possibilities. One is to consider the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis a series of mythological stories which weren’t inspired by God and which don’t have any relation to reality and any spiritual meanings. The other one is to see the accounts of the creation not being faithful to reality but being full of spiritual meanings and being inspired by God as parables, not as historical facts. In the first case the book of Genesis has to be judged in connection with the universal mythological context at the time in which its narratives have been written, and in the second case one has to figure out how and when God had inspired these parables to humankind and what are their spiritual meanings. The problem of the multiple authorship of the texts still remains and has to be solved together with this analysis.
If someone concludes that the book of Genesis is a series of parables and not the exact description of historical events, that conclusion will shake considerably the foundation of the Christian faith such as it had been laid by the official religious institutions which insist on biblical accuracy and factuality.
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The faith in God is still not restricted but the biblical narratives and the interpretations given to them by the classical theistic views are in doubt.
The Christian official doctrines teach us that Adam and Eve, two real personages and the first human beings created by God, disobeyed Him, and their disobedience was a sin with consequences for all humankind. We all are sinners and need redemption through Christ’s sacrifice in order to be saved. In point of fact, because God didn’t directly create the earth, the light, the sun and the stars, Adam and Eve, or plants and animals on Earth, the original sin is a myth. Not being real, Adam and Eve didn’t disobey God and they committed no sin.
We cannot deny the possibility that the universal Consciousness of existence per se would create things within the reality of existence, but if He created our universe He surely didn’t do it in the way which is described by the book of Genesis. All absurdities and inconsistencies found in the creation stories from the book of Genesis are peremptory arguments which support the affirmation according to which that part of the Bible is not a collection of writings about facts but a compilation of myths.
Without original sin, without human nature being degraded beyond recognition by the sin as the classical theism maintains, without the theory which states that human beings cannot by themselves separate good from evil and without God as a direct Creator of humankind, the entire Christian theology looks very different from what we know it to be.
God didn’t create humankind as it is. He only, at best, had created the right conditions for the apparition of intelligent life somewhere inside the cosmos, on our planet. Nevertheless, life on Earth took its particularities from the way in which it evolved during millions of years and not directly from the way in which it would have been created by God.
There are several possibilities regarding the relationship between God and the world and His quality of Creator, from which one has to choose and which would determine and define one’s religious faith.
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The theist creationist view:
God is the Creator of the entire existence. He created all that is; the universe with the celestial bodies and the earth with all that it contains including humankind. God had created all these either in six literal days (young creationists) or in six historical periods, each much longer than a physical day. God isn’t responsible for the evil in the world and the responsibility for what goes wrong lies with an angel created by Him and who disobeyed Him, and this is Satan. If God had created Satan and he could have destroyed him but He didn’t, He cannot be exonerated of any responsibility for the evil in the world.
The theist evolution view:
God was not directly involved in the origin of life. He created the building blocks and the natural laws but at some point He stepped back and let His creation take over. He let it do what it does and life eventually emerged from non-living material.
Once they are set in place the laws of nature determine the apparition of life from inorganic matter and through evolution the emergence of human beings. This vision doesn’t exclude God’s intervention during human history or miracles. In this view, the revelation from God also has an important function to fulfil.
God is partially responsible for the evil in the world because He initiated the existence of the life on Earth. God didn’t create the universe, the earth, the sun, the life on Earth or the humankind directly. God only created matter and the laws of nature and they were working by the power of their inherent potential. God cannot be responsible entirely for death and suffering on Earth because they are determined by how things are and how they evolve. Death and suffering are the price to pay for the existence of intelligent life in biological form, for the union of spirit and matter and even God has paid this price in the Person of Christ.
God didn’t directly create the carnivorous animals and they emerged on Earth through evolution, consequently killing other animals wouldn’t have been His idea but was unavoidable for the apparition of an ecosystem which could have supported intelligent life.
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God also isn’t responsible for the natural disasters because they are part of the natural world which permits the apparition of life on Earth.
The deist view:
In the deist view, similar to the theistic evolution principle God created the building blocks of creation and the laws of physics but He didn’t generate this universe or humankind directly. Once set in place nature works its way and what resulted on our planet is humankind. The difference with the theistic evolution view is that in the deistic vision God’s miracles or revelation are excluded. All we can know about God comes through rationality and through the study of nature. This is a natural religion with no place for the supernatural in the course of the development of natural phenomena. God had intervened only when He set in place the all necessary ingredients for the existence of the universe but after that He completely retracted from His creation.
Christian Deists believe that it is never “God’s will” for anything “bad” to happen to human beings. These bad things may be caused by accident or by human action but are never determined by God. For example, an illness may be caused by an accidental infection or may be caused by a person choosing to ingest unhealthy food or liquids. God does not make a person sick or well by intervening in matters connected to his or her health.
The panentheistic view:
God is one with the universe but is greater than it. This is similar to the consciousness which is more than the sum of all cells of the brain. The following quotation summarises well what panentheism is:
“Panentheism is essentially a combination of theism (God is the supreme being) and pantheism (God is everything). While pantheism says that God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism claims the God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme effect” of the universe. God is everything in the universe, but God also is greater than the universe. Events and changes in the universe affect and change God. As the universe grows and learns, God also increases in knowledge and being.”
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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. God is responsible for the evil in the world only in direct proportion with His involvement in its development. God being a complex Reality and not a simple one, He influences the world from the top down and in this way He is a Creator. It is wrong to understand causation only from simple to complex because there is also causation from what is more complex to what is simpler. Consciousness influences matter and energy.
If someone rejects the factuality of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis he or she cannot hold a theistic creationist view of God any more. The theistic creationist view is inextricably bound with a literal reading of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. In the Bible God is the Almighty Creator of the universe, of the heavens, the earth, humankind, the animals and plants. In the book of Genesis God would have created everything directly, not indirectly through evolution, not intermediated by nature. As a matter of fact, the natural world, meaning plants and animals, would have been created after the creation of man in Genesis chapter 2. In this situation, there is no place for a common ancestor for all living beings and God would have created nature randomly in an order which doesn’t have anything to do with our reality such as it is described by modern sciences. The order of creation from Genesis chapter 2 is absurd, hence irrational, and disqualifies completely the value of the texts.
The book of Genesis isn’t a book of science or of history and at the best can be understood as a series of parables but with a mixed message. In these parables, the details are presented in an irrational order and for this reason they contradict each other and the spiritual meaning can be the opposite of what is commonly preached. For example, in the story of Adam and Eve the serpent isn’t a malefic personage but a good one who tells the truth, contrary to God who isn’t exact in all His statements.
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The serpent wanted to bring knowledge to humankind contrary to God who tried to prevent humankind getting it. The parable of the tree of knowledge isn’t only about human beings’ obedience to God as it is usually presented but is also about the importance of knowledge for humankind and the conflict generated by it. In my view the latter interpretation is much more important than the former but the idea of disobedience to God which in the parable is an act of courage is interpreted as the original sin. Pursuing knowledge even against God’s will is what gives humankind a heroic dimension and its special status, and which differentiates it from animals which couldn’t consciously disobey Him. Nevertheless, even if they didn’t disobey God, animals were also punished through the waters of the Flood and their only chance to survive was the knowledge acquired by humankind in building the ark.
Adam and Eve were in a way less than human when they were created by God because they couldn’t have known the difference between good and evil. The first two human beings became human only when they ate from the tree of knowledge, but this human dimension would have been gained in contradiction to God’s will.
The courage of humankind was falsely interpreted and perverted by religions in the biggest possible sin and that without keeping a proper balance. The initial meaning of the story of Adam and Eve didn’t condemn in any way human behaviour toward knowledge and saw God as an authoritarian divinity who wanted to keep knowledge only for Him, because if human beings got it they would have become like Him. God’s attitude toward humankind is criticised by the parable because He is described as changing His words told to them, in contrast with the serpent who spoke only the truth. The parabolic messages of the book of Genesis give a particular image about God different than what is preached about Him. If in reality God would have created humankind in His likeness, He wouldn’t have become upset when human beings eating from the tree of knowledge became like Him, knowing the difference between good and evil. It is absurd to create humankind in God’s likeness but, at the same time, stopping them from being like Him, knowing good and evil. This is a contradiction contained by the book of Genesis.
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Many parables from the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis don’t make any spiritual sense unless we understand God as a Force hostile to humankind, the existence of whom explains some disasters on Earth. God had created humankind and declared it good and the entire creation would have been qualified as very good, but after a while He regretted His creation and destroyed the majority of the population of the earth together with all animals and almost all plants. He, again, was sorry for the destruction of the earth through the Flood and He promised that another Deluge would not happen. In spite of the mayhem that would have been produced by the Flood, it didn’t solve any problems. The violence of all flesh would have been greater after the Flood than before it, because when the Deluge was gone meat consumption was allowed.
If the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis don’t make any sense neither as a description of real events nor as parables with a high spiritual message; what remains is a pure interest in the way in which they used mythological symbols which can also be found in other mythologies or stories of creation from the ancient world.
The biblical narratives are not as original as is commonly thought because they contain motives widely found in other Near-Eastern mythologies and other religions of the world such as the motives of the serpent, of the tree of life, of the number seven, of the primeval sea, chaos and so on. The biblical accounts used many of these symbols in a relatively new perspective but the latter don’t appear for the first time in the book of Genesis. The internal inconsistencies and the resemblances to other religions show that the narratives from the book of Genesis are not a unique revelation from the heavens and surely not a discovery from the point of view of facts.
The serpent has a mixed symbolism in the biblical accounts. On the one side, it is the symbol of evil, of the devil who is the old serpent, but on the other side Moses had been asked by God to raise a serpent in the desert as a symbol for Jewish salvation. In other words, in Moses’ times the serpent symbolised Jesus because whoever saw him would have been healed.
“In the Gospel of John 3:14–15, Jesus makes direct comparison between the raising up of the Son of Man and the act of Moses in raising up the serpent as a sign, using it as a symbol associatedwith salvation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” 
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In many religions of the world the serpent is an important symbolism of wisdom:
“Because of its herbal knowledge and entheogenic association the snake was often considered one of the wisest animals, being (close to the) divine. Its divine aspect combined with its habitat in the earth between the roots of plants made it an animal with chthonic properties connected to the afterlife and immortality. Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing, carried a staff with one serpent wrapped around it, which has become the symbol of modern medicine.”
Sometimes the symbolism of the serpent is mixed with another mythical symbol which is the tree:
“In many myths the chthonic serpent (sometimes a pair) lives in or is coiled around a Tree of Life situated in a divine garden. In the Genesis story of the Torah and Biblical Old Testament, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is situated in the Garden of Eden together with the tree of life and the Serpent. In Greek mythology Ladon coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the entheogenic golden apples… Similarly Níðhöggr (Nidhogg Nagar) the dragon of Norse mythology eats from the roots of the Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Under yet another Tree (the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment), the Buddha sat in ecstatic meditation. When a storm arose, the mighty serpent king Mucalinda rose up from his place beneath the earth and enveloped the Buddha in seven coils for seven days, not to break his ecstatic state.”
In connection to Buddha, the symbolism of the serpent and of the tree is completed with the symbol of the number seven found also in the book of Genesis.
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Another reference to the symbolic number seven is the one referred to by Joseph Campbell:
“It has been suggested by Joseph Campbell that the symbol of snakes coiled around a staff is an ancient representation of Kundalini physiology. The staff represents the spinal column with the snake(s) being energy channels. In the case of two coiled snakes they usually cross each other seven times, a possible reference to the seven energy centers called chakras.” 
In other Near-Eastern religions such is the Egyptian one, the serpent is also very present:
“In Ancient Egypt, where the earliest written cultural records exist, the serpent appears from the beginning to the end of their mythology. Ra and Atum (“he who completes or perfects”) became the same god, Atum, the “counter-Ra,” was associated with earth animals, including the serpent: Nehebkau (“he who harnesses the souls”) was the two headed serpent deity who guarded the entrance to the underworld. He is often seen as the son of the snake goddess Renenutet.”
In Gnosticism the symbol of the serpent is important but in another sense than in orthodox Christianity:
“The image of the serpent as the embodiment of the wisdom transmitted by Sophia was an emblem used by gnosticism, especially those sects that the more orthodox characterized as “Ophites” (“Serpent People”). The chthonic serpent was one of the earth-animals associated with the cult of Mithras. The Basilisk, the venomous “king of serpents” with the glance that kills, was hatched by a serpent, Pliny the Elder and others thought, from the egg of a cock.”
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The tree of life is a symbol found in the book of Genesis but also in other mythologies all over the world:
“A stylized tree with obvious religious significance already occurs as an art motif in fourth-millennium Mesopotamia, and, by the second millennium B.C., it is found everywhere within the orbit of the ancient Near Eastern oikumene, including Egypt, Greece, and the Indus civilization. The meaning of the motif is not clear, but its over- all composition strikingly recalls the Tree of Life of later Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist art. The question of whether the concept of the Tree of Life actually existed in ancient Mesopotamia has been debated, however, and thus many scholars today prefer the more neutral term “sacred tree” when referring to the Mesopotamian Tree.”
The motif of the tree of life is not original or unique in the Bible and doesn’t particularise this book from any other texts in the ancient world – quite the contrary; it is proof that the book of Genesis belongs to a wider cultural tradition.
The number seven is also an important symbol which is used by the book of Genesis. Number seven recurs throughout religious texts as a special number. The Babylonians divided weeks into seven days. Having this close relationship with the calendar the number seven gained a religious significance over the time.
In her book “A Four Thousand Year History” Patricia Fara writes:
“Seven has always been a very special number. Sanskrit’s most ancient holy book, the Rig Vega, describes seven stars, seven concentric continents, and seven streams of soma, the drink of the gods. According to the Jewish and Christian Old Testament, the world was created in seven days and Noah’s dove returned seven days after the Flood. Similarly, the Egyptians mapped seven paths to heaven, Allah created a seven-layered Islamic heaven and earth, and the newborn Buddha took seven strides.”
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The book of Genesis isn’t in any way original by using the principle of creation in seven days. The primeval sea and the chaos are another two symbols already referred to in this study which are also used by the book of Genesis. The Bible utilises the same symbolism as other religions and its description of creation is not a unique revelation coming from the sky, in which some unknown facts had been discovered by humankind.
Probably the most striking resemblance between the book of Genesis and almost all religions on Earth is the idea of the sacrifice of animals for religious rituals. Almost all religions of the world use sacrifice as a means to appease gods. The book of Genesis doesn’t make an exception to this norm based on the principle that God hasn’t been happy with humankind. In order to obtain God’s benevolence human beings in the O.T. had to atone for their sins by making offerings to Him.
In other words, the book of Genesis utilizes the same symbols which were used by the narratives coming from cultures other than Jewish and which didn’t have the pretention to be inspired by God. These symbols reflect a cultural influence and not a divine inspiration.
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 The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy Author(s): Simo Parpola Source: Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 161-208 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/545436