Editor's Reflections | Spring 2009 (23.2) | CBE International

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Editor's Reflections | Spring 2009 (23.2)

Among the most beautiful passages in the Bible are those precious glimpses of life before the fall, when God plants a garden in the eastern land called “Eden,” graces it with flowering fruit-bearing trees, and waters it all with a river that flows out of Eden and winds through lands of gold, onyx, and pearls (Gen. 2:8–14).1 Into this natural paradise, placed as the central jewel in a setting of green and gold and black and white, God settles the first humans, entrusting them with its care (Gen. 1:26; 2:15, 22), blessing them (Gen. 1:28), and delighting both in their company and in strolling through the exquisite, pristine orchards in the airy (ruah) part of the day (Gen. 3:8). This last phrase is often translated “the cool” of the day, and I assume it means dusk, when our first parents’ daily work was done and their heavenly Parent visited them and enjoyed their reports of what they had done. Some of us might think of our own families, as we look forward to arriving home and catching up in the evening with our children. This primal image is a beautiful one to savor, the last pure moment, as it is, before the night of misery falls and humanity suffers through the consequences of the curse, longing down the ages for what was lost, as millennia pile upon millennia. For now, just as the Lord God, we sometimes arrive at home to our children and find instead not sweet communion, but the need to mete out punishment.

In the early church, the plight of our first parents was of particular interest to the extra-canonical writers of pseudepigraphical books, so popular as so many of these became with early Christians. One well distributed example was called The Book of Adam and Eve. We find it in several versions in Greek, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, and Slavonic, with some scholars supposing a lost Hebrew original. None of the extant versions invests time in the pre-fall state of bliss of our progenitors, but begin right with the expulsion:

It came to pass, when Adam went forth from the Garden with his wife, outside, to the east of the Garden, they made themselves a hut to live in and went inside. Their tears fell ceaselessly and they spent their days in unison of mind, weeping and saddened, and they said to one another, “We are far from life.”2

While it is pathetically commendable that our first parents finally recovered their unity after its dissolution in their battle of accusations at their judgment, it is still heartrending to imagine their moaning self-recriminations as they mourned the impact on themselves and their children.3 Had they any inkling of the many-faceted misery we would all suffer in a world gone so wrong, a world where war, persecution, famine, and natural disaster shorten or blight so many lives? For instance, recently, in the wake of the film Amazing Grace and articles in periodicals from Christianity Today to our own Priscilla Papers,4 we have all become aware that trafficking of young women has reached enormous proportions, striking even the United States, the legendary land of the free. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that one hundred thousand young women and children with an average age of eleven are clandestinely enslaved in the USA, and three hundred thousand more are at current risk.5 This figure adds to the enormous number of adult men and women also enslaved both in the States and around the world. Given such consequences of life in a fallen world, we can understand why so many have resonated, and still resonate, with the tragedy of Adam and Eve and the ramifications of the aftermath of their actions.

Another first- to fourth-century gnostic rewriting of the fall, The Apocalypse of Adam, sought to elevate Adam and Eve, having Adam tell his son Seth, “When God created me out of earth along with Eve your mother, I used to go about with her in a glory which she had seen in the aeon from which we had come. She taught me a word of knowledge of the eternal God. And we were like the great eternal angels.”6 But, this elevation of Adam, and especially Eve, is short-lived, as the god whom the gnostics posit was the creator of this world then seduces Eve and they produce a son. Jealousy overtakes Adam, and his desire for Eve kills “the vigor of our eternal knowledge” within them.7 Who then is responsible for the fall of humanity? Adam puts the blame on the god who created them, who, as a lower demiurge and not the Eternal God, who does not deal with matter, made these first humans “loftier than the God who created us and the powers that were with him,” so that “God, the ruler of the aeons and the powers, separated us wrathfully.”8 The cost of absolving humanity from responsibility for the fall is to blame God for it all.

Yet another Jewish/Christian document, The Testament of Our Father Adam, whose composition may span the second to fifth centuries a.d., fills Adam with reminiscence and regret as he counts off the hours of the day and night, musing:

The fourth hour is the “holy, holy, holy” praise of the seraphim. And so I used to hear, before I sinned, the sound of their wings in Paradise when the seraphim would beat them to the sound of their triple praise. But after I transgressed against the law, I no longer heard that sound. The fifth hour is the praise of the waters that are above heaven. And so I, together with the angels, used to hear the sound of mighty waves, a sign which would prompt them to lift a hymn of praise to the Creator. . . .

The book even has God comforting him: “Adam, Adam, do not fear. You wanted to be a god; I will make you a god, not right now, but after a space of many years,” at the resurrection of the dead.9

Today, people have gravitated toward all these options, some dwelling on their miseries, others blaming God for all their suffering, and still others longing for a better life than the one they have salvaged out.

However, Christians do not have to settle for any of these responses. God came in Jesus Christ, entering this fallen world to begin a universal restoration that can help us glimpse both backward and forward beyond a world predicated on the consequences of the fall and its curse. United with Christ, we can see that God intended for humanity to be grateful to our Creator and fair and kind to one another, and for men and women to share in joint rule, in multinational, multi-ethnic equality. Our task is nothing less than to help Jesus set things right again, since we are joint heirs with Christ, working to bring his rule to all the earth.

Since orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be tied together, right doctrine flowing out into right practice, we decided to dedicate this issue to the theme of “Eden and its Implications.” Tim Lanigan, who serves on the board of Doorway to Hope, a ministry that runs a school for poor children in Haiti, snapped our beautiful cover picture this past summer in the Dominican Republic at the wedding of one of the former schoolchildren. Priscilla Papers associate editor Deb Beatty Mel has given it a watercolor look to depict the memory of Eden, but our opening article on the ordination of women and Paul’s use of the creation narratives by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor John Jefferson Davis brings the effects and uses of that memory immediately into the present. Princeton Seminary M.Div. candidate Allison Young follows with an analysis of the creation order fallacy that has been so used to subjugate women and limit the use of their gifts. Next, those intrigued by some of the theology in the extra-canonical books mentioned in this editorial will enjoy Marquette University Ph.D. candidate Megan DeFranza’s thorough critique of the reworking of the figure of Eve, and especially the redefinition of the nature of her deception, in another prominent early pseudepigraphical book, the Apocalypse of Abraham. Then, Bethel College, Indiana, Assistant Professor Elizabeth McLaughlin demonstrates how the imago Dei, imparted to us in Eden, today gives us a powerful story through which we can orient our lives. Pastor John Lathrop reviews a new book by a prolific author whose own ministry serves Eve’s daughters in literal prison, Orange County Jail Senior Chaplain of Women Margaret English de Alimana. And Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Th.M. candidate Michelle Sanchez targets another kind of chaining, freeing the ministry of called women to preach in her powerful poem that concludes the issue.

In the final analysis, Eden is gone. No amount of longing, sighing, crying, blaming, or dreaming can bring it back. We look forward no longer to the restoration of a garden, but to the establishment of a city, the New Jerusalem, where God will dwell with us forever (Rev. 21:3). Our task is to do search and rescue among the daughters and sons of Eve and Adam, guiding them into the freedom that comes from living in the reign of Jesus Christ, who came to restore the communion with God that was lost, a restoration that will both fulfill our God-appointed destinies and finally dry those ancient tears shed on the outskirts of Eden.

Blessings,

Notes

  1. All Bible translations are my own. Bedolah, by the way, the word used in Gen. 2:12, can also be translated as bdellium, an aromatic resin, according to Karl Feyerabend, Langenscheidt Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament (Duncan, S.C.: Langenscheidt, 1969), 35. “Pearls,” he notes, is a translation “according to the Rabbins.” Herbert Danby, in his “Glossary of Untranslated Hebrew Terms” that serves as Appendix 1 in his translation of The Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), defines Rabb[i]n as, “Lit. ‘our master,’ ‘our lord.’ A title of honour given in the Mishnah to most of the presidents of the Rabbinical Court after the time of Hillel,” 796.
  2. Gary A. Anderson and Michael E. Stone, eds., A Synopsis of the Books of Adam and Eve (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1994), 1. This is a translation of the Armenian version by M. E. Stone.
  3. As a sort of performatory utterance, an apt context in which to discuss the personal ramifications of the fall, as I write this editorial, my face happens to be bound up with an ice pack to free my hands, as the anesthesia is just wearing off my jaw from dental skin graft surgery this morning.
  4. Vol. 21, no. 2 (Spring 2007).
  5. “Teen girls’ Stories of Sex Trafficking in U.S.,” ABC News, 9 Feb. 2006 [cited 17 Oct. 2008]. Online: http://a.abcnews.com/Primetime/story?id=1596778&page=1. Also, “Report: Human Trafficking an Ohio Issue,” WBNS-TV, Columbus, Ohio, 9 July 2008 [cited 17 Oct. 2008]. Online: http://www.10tv.com/live/content/local/stories/2008/07/09/human trafficking.html. Cited in Mitzi J. Smith, “Terror in the Night,” in an excellent article on the topic in The Table (Winter 2009), the publication of Ashland Theological Seminary, 6–9.
  6. The Apocalypse of Adam in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, I (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 1:2–3.
  7. The Apocalypse of Adam 2:6–9.
  8. The Apocalypse of Adam, 1:3–4.
  9. The Testament of Adam, James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha I, 1:4–5, 3:2.

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