Frankenstein and Co.

Authors, I expect, don’t anticipate that their work will be annotated. Since I deal with annotated Bibles on a daily basis, I often ponder that the anonymous writers—we know of few biblical writers with any degree of certainty—had no idea that they were writing the Bible. Nor did they realize that some day many people would make their livelihood from interpreting that book. Among the interpreters are annotators. When my wife gave me Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Christmas I was at first puzzled. I have a copy of Frankenstein already. In fact, I read it again just last year. Then I realized it was an annotated edition: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. Edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert, the book contains the original text and an introduction, as well as the said annotations. Like a typical study Bible, it also contains essays. The editors joke that it’s kind of like a Frankenstein monster itself.

The “value added” material isn’t all about science. In fact, quite a lot of it has to do with human relationships, and particularly women’s rights. Mary Shelley was an early feminist and her novel shows what goes wrong when men try to reproduce without women. Another recurring theme that, amazingly, had never dawned on me while reading Frankenstein was the Adam and Eve story. Victor Frankenstein, like God, creates a man. Then he creates a woman. Well, almost. Afraid what might happen should his creature find a companion too companionable, he destroys the second creature before she’s finished. The biblical parallels are nevertheless there.

Originally subtitled The Modern Prometheus, the novel was based on pre-Christian myth as much as on Holy Writ. Nevertheless, the Bible suffused British culture in the nineteenth century just as it has continued to overwhelm American culture to the present day. We ignore it at our peril. Morality in science is a major focus of the essays in this volume, but I wondered how many scientists might be enticed to read a piece of feminist fiction in order to learn some ethics. The largest ethical conundrum we face in the United States is that so few people read for personal growth. Spending time with a book is a sacred activity for those committed to the principles of literacy. Frankenstein isn’t a prefect novel; the pacing is pretty slow even for a gothic masterpiece. There are loose ends left hanging. The protagonist is often insufferable. Still, as the editors and annotators have demonstrated, there’s much to learn from this old story. All it takes is the willingness to read and deeply reflect. And perhaps read the annotations.

Eve’s Apple

Rituals rely on unchanging circumstances. When we attended a grocery store that was not our usual one my ritual was challenged. First I have to confess (as is appropriate for a ritual): I am no foodie. Having grown up in humble circumstances where eating out was an unknown, eating in meant the basic food of the unsophisticated. Although college and subsequent years opened my appreciation for new, and sometimes exotic foods (before my vegetarian days I ate ostrich when taken for dinner on a job interview. I didn’t get the job and shortly became a vegetarian—some things just aren’t worth it) I’m still a pretty boring grazer. I take the same thing for lunch each day at work. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day—inspired by the Seventh Day Adventist predilection for cereal—and I imagine my wife finds grocery planning with a guy like me to be its own trial. I see the grocery bill and scream. I eat to live, and not vice-versa.

Eve

So we were in a different grocery store. I take the same fruit for lunch every day, but here my apple of choice was more expensive. I looked for something in the price-range that I feel is affordable for fruit. My eye fell on a variety of apple I’d never seen. It was called Eve. Apples are one of those staples that I’ve always appreciated. We still sometimes go apple picking in the autumn, but it’s difficult to eat them all up before they go bad. In the orchards they list the different apple varieties available for picking on any given weekend, and I had never seen an Eve apple. For my boring lunch (since I eat breakfast about 3:30 most days, by noon anything tastes good for breaking the second fast) I wondered if Eve would do. Would this be too exciting for work? I pondered the dilemma.

Although our culture is increasingly biblically illiterate, here was a breed of apple based on Genesis 3. The Bible, of course, does not name the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and the apple was likely chosen much later because of the similarity of its name in Latin to the word for evil. The image has, however, become iconic. Eve reaching for the apple is so well known that advertisers use it with abandon and nobody fails to get the reference. This story is deeply embedded within our culture. The Bible on the grocery store shelf. Still, I’m wondering—should I try something new? Thinking of the work week ahead, I’m tempted.

An Apple a Day

Corporate logos are among the most instantly recognizable symbols in the world. Even in “developing” countries, kids know what the golden arches represent. Not a real fan of large corporations, I still buy things not knowing who the manufacturer is, if it is something I need. I find the frenetic need of non-profit organizations—even colleges and universities—to “brand” themselves vulgar and distasteful. Why do those who truly have something to offer feel like they have to snuggle up to Wall Street and its resident demons? Still, the corporate logo has a way of drawing attention to products. And sometimes we look for more significance in them than they actually have. Keep in mind corporations’ goals are merely to separate you from your money. Often it doesn’t take much thought.

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When I was a child I thought the golden arches were supposed to be french fries. And when I started to use computers—always Apple—I wondered if their logo might not be the most infamous bitten apple of all, the apple of Eden. Forbidden knowledge. It seemed to fit perfectly. Too bad it’s incorrect. Interviews with Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and various marketing designers have revealed that the Bible had nothing to do with it. The original Apple logo was Isaac Newton under an apple tree with the apocryphal fruit falling toward his head. It was felt that this detailed and complex logo didn’t have the instant recognition that a trademark requires, and so a marketing firm came up with the apple we all recognize. Initially it was a rainbow apple, but now the mere outline tells us what we need to know.

But what’s with the bite mark? Surely that must be a throwback to Eden? No, apparently not. We don’t know that Newton ate his apple, but a stylized apple looks a lot like a stylized cherry. The bite mark was added to the logo for scale. You don’t want to confuse the buyer. Corporate logos are markers that say, “place your money here.” Non-profit organizations used to exist to provide valuable services—services that couldn’t be rendered in matters of dollars and cents. Now there is no other way to show value. We have followed the false idol of corporate thinking and the only way we can imagine to draw attention to what we offer is to brand ourselves. So it has always been with cattle, where branding was much more obvious. Yes, those who follow corporations should remember that the brand began with red-hot iron and it left an indelible scar. Of course, I’m writing this on an Apple computer.

Garden of Earthy Delights

AdmenEve I’ve self-identified as a feminist for as long as I’ve understood the word. I know that such a statement from a man must sound somewhat disingenuous, but I have never believed men are in any way superior to women. I suppose part of it may have been having men make such a poor showing in my early life, or maybe it was I simply realized people are all different from each other. Gender is just another one of those differing factors. It is always a surprise to me when I read, therefore, that feminism is no more. Some writers suggest that we are in second or third wave of feminism. I think we’re all just people, and that we should learn to treat each other that way.

I recently read Katie B. Edwards’ Admen and Eve: The Bible in Contemporary Advertising. Edwards identifies herself with the contemporary feminism that is associated with biblical study. Reading the Bible from a woman’s perspective can’t possibly come at a cheap price. Nevertheless, Edwards focuses on the character of Eve, and specifically how she is used in post-feminist advertising. Admen who are targeting the younger demographic of women about up to thirty present Eve as a strong female, sometimes next to an insipid Adam (good-looking, but essentially brainless). Even though Eve may appear undressed, she is self-objectified, according to Edwards, and therefore is not objectified by the viewer. Along the way, Edwards also does some hermeneutical work on Genesis 2-3, and showing how the story is recast in terms of a buyer’s market.

As interesting as I found Edwards’ analysis, what stood out most strongly was the fact that advertisers have no difficulty in using a biblical character for a biblically illiterate public. Many people in the western world recognize Jesus (whether Buddy or the regular one), but of Hebrew Bible characters perhaps the only ones that readily come to mind are Eve and Adam, Noah, Moses, and David and Goliath. Some still recognize Samson. These characters, however, are almost always lifted from their contexts—they are caricatures rather than the object lessons they were originally intended to be. What Edwards demonstrates, the admen have known all along: sects sells. If you want them to buy, make the marks feel like it is a religious act. And we can almost hear the advertisers say, “Let us prey.”

Priests, Queens, Goddesses and Fruit

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” So Genesis 3.6 summarizes the most expensive meal in the history of eating out. For centuries the literally minded have wondered what the exact species of fruit might have been. The apple was long favored because its Latin name sounded suspiciously like the word for evil. In the Bible the fruit with the most theological freight, however, was the pomegranate. The high priest’s robes were designed with dangling pomegranates alternating with silver bells along the hem. Some have speculated—and it can only be speculation—that the tree of life, rather than the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (the latter better abbreviated Totkogae) was a pomegranate. For the Greeks, however, the self-same fruit led to Persephone’s entrapment in the Underworld for half the year.

Although the Bible doesn’t specify this, the apparent reason for the pomegranate’s privileged religious meaning seems to have been its numerous edible seed casings, or arils. Over time it acquired the association with fertility—not surprising with its numerous seeds. Indeed, my first experience of pomegranate was in seminary, which, like its name implies, is a place of great fertility. It is one of the more labor-intensive fruits, however, having a tough skin and plenty of inedible membrane. Even with Christianity’s inimical disdain for all things reproductive, the pomegranate survived in Christian art and symbolism, becoming a symbol of—what else?—resurrection.

Today, POM Wonderful has claimed the life-giving qualities of the pomegranate as its signature for good health and long life. This California company even has a history lesson on its website, tracing the pomegranate back to the Early Bronze Age. Interestingly, the initial picture used to illustrate this early period is a goddess, Kubaba, who was perhaps an historical remembrance of the queen by that name. The Sumerian King List gives Kubaba, the only queen on this list, a reign of a century. Well-chosen for advocating the fruit! In a relief of her eponymous goddess from Carchemish, Kubaba is shown with a pomegranate in her right hand. POM Wonderful’s website does not show, nor even mention the pomegranate on the relief. Perhaps like the pomegranate itself, this is worthy of digging in a bit deeper. Any food website that draws attention to ancient Near Eastern goddesses is doing its job exceptionally well. Who would suppose that one fruit could unite an ancient queen, an obscure goddess, and an Israelite high priest shuffling around the temple? And of course, our mother, Eve.

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Genesis Gender-Bender

“Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam,” so reads Genesis 5.2 (5.2a, for those sticklers among the crowd). Long ago I lost track of how many times I’d read Genesis. It has a privileged place in the Bible partially because of our modern method of reading books. We assume that the beginning should be read first and that it should lay the groundwork for what follows. The Bible, however, was compiled over centuries and the story may begin at Genesis, but not all that follows is in agreement with it. “Called their name Adam” sent me scurrying back to dust off my Hebrew of the Bible. The King James Version, after all, was translated from manuscripts that are sometimes inferior to many that have been discovered since then, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. Maybe this was one of those strange Elizabethan passages, for after all, Queen Elizabeth I did have a bit of a reputation. To my surprise, however, “their name” remains plainly in the Hebrew, suggesting that the first couple were both Adam.

Since just a verse later Adam and Adam have a son called Seth (and since the genealogies seldom mention their women at all), presumably Adam here means Eve. Literalists beware! The creation story in Genesis 1, as opposed to Genesis 2.4b, pictures the genders created simultaneously. Women and men together are humanity. The second creation story offers Adam a generous dollop of primacy; he gets to be first and even gets to name the animals and the wife; he is the lord and master of his domain. And people refer to eating the fruit as a fall! Now at Genesis 5 we have humanity reunited in the person of Adam, the bi-gendered representation of humanity.

Of course Adam is a play on words. The Bible begins with humanity as a joke. Adam is just one syllable short of the word for “ground” (adamah), and so Adam is the original groundling, or earthling. Yet Adam is never given as a proper name until Eve appears. It is only with the creation of woman that man becomes man. I suspect that may be the underlying of logic (if it is even right to call it such) of the plural, “their name Adam.” It might be easier just to recognize that the Bible doesn’t give us the endpoint of the discussion of human nature, but the starting point. There are those who insist that the Bible has all the answers. In my experience it is primarily full of questions. And the questions require both female and male to answer them. Otherwise, humanity is indeed a joke.

“Adam, I’m Adam”

Razzing Cain

Generations of literalists who’ve had their eyes opened by reading what the Bible actually says have stumbled over Cain. His murder of Abel is fine—predictable even. The problem is what happens after that. Since he has murdered his brother, the only other human born so far, Cain seems prematurely concerned about “every one that findeth” him killing him. Seems unlikely that Eve, or even Adam, would like to kill the only surviving child they have. Yet God puts a mark on Cain. Presumably his parents would recognize him, so why is Cain literally a marked man? Rather than Omega Man survival techniques, Cain focuses his attention on kick-starting his love life.

Cain’s wife immediately raises the issue of where the girl comes from. Those who like to call themselves literalists have to back-peddle a little and suggest that since, according to Genesis 5 Adam and Eve had other children, this must be where she derives. Of course, she would in such a scenario, be his sister. Extraordinary circumstances call for extreme measures, but even so, literally, there are no other people yet. Cain is old enough to kill his brother and the next child born, according to the narrative, is Seth. Seth is explicitly a replacement for Abel, and really he doesn’t do Cain any favors in finding a wife. The story here simply slips out of character and gives us a world already partially populated.

As I was tweeting Genesis 4, it occurred to me that immediately after marrying, Cain builds a city. Cities only sprang into existence to allow for mutual protection with the diversification of labor, following on from the agricultural revolution. One of the main characteristics of cities is population. Genesis 4 has only Adam, Eve, Cain, his wife, and Enoch. It may be the smallest city in history since the entire human race could have easily fit into one modest house.

The stories of Genesis are etiologies—tales of origins that have no ties to historical incidents. Cain represents the urbanites, the city dwellers who will always somehow find ways of irritating God. In our urban culture where most people are born in towns or cities, we have lost touch with the life of the nomadic pastoralist. We are, however, merely following the literal path that the Bible lays out for us. As we shall shortly see, the children of Cain and Seth are the same.

Cain just can't figure it out