Sister Christian

“They heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his woman hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.” That’s what the verse says. Perhaps it is just one of the dangers of a literalist upbringing, but when I saw the above ad in today’s newspaper I automatically took it as a scriptural reference. There were, however, no books of Accent, Elantra, or Santa Fe (the last nevertheless being named after a saint). Genesis has become a secular word. In fact, all words are secular, but many have been co-opted by their biblical context.

Every year I ask my students what Genesis is about. Every year the first answer is “creation.” This is, naturally, incorrect. Genesis is the story of Israel’s ancestors. 39 of the 50 chapters in the book are concerned with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The creation takes up only three chapters at the beginning. It is the Bible’s “once upon a time,” not the whole story. In an over-stimulated society, however, glib responses are mandatory. Genesis means creation and let’s just tell our kids about intelligent design and evolution and let them make up their own minds – I’ve got an important text to respond to! How far the Bible has fallen!

“Genesis” is a Greek translation of the very roughly “in the beginning” (translation issues abound here, but I’m just trying to make a point) in Hebrew that opens the book of Genesis. It was the convention in olden days to entitle books after their incipits; all fairy tales would have been titled “A Long Time Ago” under this rubric. And yet we are perfectly content, in the context of a “Christian nation” to go about misunderstanding the Bible from the very beginning. The Bible need not be understood as long as it can be thumped. And if you’re looking for a good deal on a Hyundai, why not make it biblical? Naked man and woman hiding behind the tree, however, will cost you extra.

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