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Stories of Jesus
Part Two: Easter Jesus in old stories
Two Original Sin Stories
If Girard is right, humans got started off on the wrong foot very early in their career on earth. The Bible says the same thing in story form. What points of contact could there be between Girard’s theory and the Bible’s story? Here’s a story that’s not exactly in the Bible:
God had everything anybody could possibly want, but he still wasn’t happy. There was no one to admire his greatness. So he decided to make a world. He would share much of his wealth but not all of it. God planted a garden and put a woman there. He told her she could eat all the food she wanted except the fruit of one tree, placed right in the loveliest spot in the garden so the woman would be sure to see it often and be reminded that he was God and she was not.
Eve—that was the woman’s name—liked pretty things and often wandered in that part of the garden where the forbidden tree grew. She really wanted some of the fruit of that tree, but she was afraid to touch it because God had told her if she did she would die. She didn’t understand why she wanted the fruit so badly. All she could think of was how beautiful the tree was and how delicious the fruit looked. If the snake had been around, he would have told her the truth, but he’s really beautiful, too, and also vain. He stays away from other beautiful things because he doesn’t want any rivals. The snake, being also an amateur psychologist, knows a lot about motivations. He could have told Eve, “You’re mad at God, and you should be. God knows if you eat from that tree you’ll be like God. You feel it in your gut. God is just using your fear of death to keep you in your place.”
But the snake never told Eve this so she didn’t know the real reason why one day she boldly reached up and touched, then picked, and ate the fruit of that tree. Then her eyes were opened. She didn’t die; instead she realized what God had been doing to her. She left God’s garden and would have nothing to do with God from that day on. Life suddenly got a great deal harder for Eve as God found ways to take revenge, but she didn’t care.
This is a story about rivalry between a deity and a human being. It projects feelings humans often feel (and nearly always deny that they feel them) onto God and says to God, “You started it.” It exposes the lie of the god of petty rules and arbitrary consequences. I ended this made-up story with an unchastened Eve escaping the prison imposed by the god—probably the best way a story about that god could end.
A famous story in the Bible also contains the idea that God is a rival for the humans, but it’s the snake, not the narrator, who says it; and the snake is lying. Adam and Eve set themselves up as God’s rivals because they believe the snake and misunderstand God.
The Bible’s story criticizes the just mentioned type of religion. It starts out by placing two people in the garden, a man and a woman, who exist in harmony without any hierarchy. They’re naked. Without ranks they don’t need the signals of rank that clothes often send. At the end, when the husband outranks the wife, the reader sees clearly that it’s not meant to be. And God, like a woman, like one in the lower place, sews some decent clothes for the couple before sending them out into the wilder world. God sacrifices some of his own animal creatures to do so. This is not a god who is anyone’s rival. (Genesis, Chapter 3)
Imagine Jesus placing himself in this story as he interprets Scripture on the way to Emmaus. I think Jesus would be the innocent animals that gave themselves up to clothe the two wayward but still loved humans. A friend who is pastor at the local Assembly of God Church takes the whole story as literal history. He believes that these animals were the very first living things on earth ever to die, the first blood that was ever shed. Most of us would find that incredible scientifically, but I like the symbolism of it. Nature gives herself and keeps on giving even though we continually abuse her. This story makes me see Nature, represented by the animals who gave their skins, as Jesus.
The Church has always found hints of the Gospel in the Adam and Eve story. It is seen in a curse God invokes on the snake. But that curse is really indefinite, especially in modern, more accurate translation: The descendant of the woman “will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) For a positive outcome it doesn’t say much. You have to do a lot of reading-in to see Jesus’ victory over Satan there. Where I see good news in this story is where God and the animals provide new clothes for the two sinners. You could call that a sacrifice, but it’s about the opposite of a violent, sacred offering that is supposed to restore friendship with God. The offering isn’t to God; it’s to the people. And God’s friendship doesn’t have to be restored because God always loved Adam and Eve.
Thinking about the main point: We call Jesus’ death on the cross a sacrifice, but can we think of it as an offering to human beings rather than to God, an offering that God makes?