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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Coats of Skins

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” This statement (Genesis 3:21) is made immediately after Adam has named his wife Eve. Before this we read of the terrible consequences of the Fall, of the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God’s curse upon the Eden couple and the serpent. What follows is the expulsion from Eden, before Adam and Eve can reach the tree of life, eat its fruit (which apparently is the antidote), and so regain their immortality.

Artists' interpretations can have a profound influence upon our thinking. This 20th-century version by Stephen Gjertson of the expulsion from Eden perpetuates the misinterpretation of the original Hebrew texts and keeps the coats of skins determinedly literal.
In all different versions of the text in English, the phrase is either ‘coats of skins’ or ‘garments of skins’. And in this single three-word phrase is a world of difference: the difference between a pedantic [1]literal reading of scripture and a seeking for deeper meanings, for a greater understanding of what is actually being expressed. A pastor’s comment which I came across on a [2]webpage makes it clear that the pastor is left rather puzzled about what kind of nakedness is being referred to. He presumes that, being post-Fall, God covers their shame with those coats of skins before sending the couple out into the hostile world. But this puzzlement arises from a literal reading of the words – and from ignoring what the original Hebrew text says.

This picture postcard of the expulsion from Eden also follows the literal scriptural text.
If we take the phrase at its most literal, what we are asked to believe is that God slaughtered one or two of the animals which he had recently created (thus promptly making them extinct, because this was before they went forth into the world and multiplied), dressed the hides, and did a spot of bespoke tailoring in order to clothe Adam and his wife in suitable cave-man attire. Really? But ‘coats of skins’ is not what the original Hebrew texts actually say.

The 19th-century symbolist Franz von Stuck shows us a line in the sand which cannot be recrossed, and an Eden couple wearing their own 'coats of skin'.
The original Hebrew word used is not ‘coats’. It is kethorneth, conveying the idea of an all-covering tunic-like garment of some description. The word lavash implies an act of covering. Already things are looking rather different from the cave-man clothes scenario. The couple’s own solution to the awareness of their nakedness – the ‘aprons of fig leaves’ (Genesis 3:7) – apparently was an inadequate penance for their transgression (think about it: fig leaves are pretty scratchy things with which to cover one’s genitals). God’s solution was infinitely more final, and more profound. He equipped the couple with some sort of all-covering apparel that was fundamentally different from their appearance while in Eden. Their actual appearance – their very state of being – was altered in some way.

Another 19th-century symbolist, Max Klinger, powerfully conveys the expulsion as it is intended: a stony road into the world which now must be trodden. Radically original as always, Klinger shows us an Adam supporting a swooning Eve as they both struggle to come to terms with their new bodies of flesh.
Eden was not in the world. It was a state [3]beyond the physical realm, in which Adam and Eve were immortal as long as they did not eat of that forbidden fruit. Their transgression denied them their immortality. They now had no option but to live out an earthly life, with death waiting at the end. The bodies which they had in Eden were now changed. But what was this change? Only one letter’s difference separates the Hebrew words for ‘light’ (rut) and [4]‘skin’ (rug). The first couple’s transgression in Eden ensured their descent into the world of matter, of an incarnation into an earthly existence. Their non-material light bodies became transfigured into material bodies covered in skin, and all the joys and sorrows, all the pains and ecstasies of a life on Earth were now theirs to experience.
Hawkwood


Notes: 
[1] When it comes to uncritical statements of faith on which I can shine a questioning spotlight, my Zondevan King James Study Bible is a gift which just keeps giving. In the editors’ annotation to Genesis 3:21, page 9, they explain that: “God graciously provided Adam and Eve with more effective clothing to cover their shame. God’s act of clothing them with skins, thus requiring the deaths of innocent animals, is symbolic of the merits of Christ’s future sacrifice… It is possible that it is here that God instructed Adam and Eve concerning the need of animal sacrifice as a part of worship.” WTF?? So let’s get this straight: God actually appreciates us killing the animals he has created, as long as such killing is done as a needful part of an act of worship to him. We know this, because God himself set an example of animal sacrifice when he clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins. Seriously?

[2] http://m.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-3-21/

[3] Whole books have been written about the possible location of Eden, and many theories have been put forward. Scripture appears to tease us with a specific geographical location. The four rivers which flow out of Eden are named, two of which are given as the Hidekel (Tigris) and the Euphrates. It must then be somewhere in the Middle East. Other theories place it in the Hindu Kush, or in a location which is now underwater, or in the Persian Gulf region, or even in the Americas. Still others (clinging to literalism) reason that it cannot be found because it would have been covered by the waters of the Flood. I would maintain that it cannot be found because it never was an earthly location in the first place. One cannot have a non-corporeal immortal body and live a life in the material world.

[4] The familiar phrase 'coats of skins' is therefore more accurately translated as; 'covering of skin', and the change from the plural ('skins') to the singular ('skin') becomes critical.


Sources:
The top image is a detail from the painting So He Drove The Man Out, by Stephen Gjertson, private collection, 1982. The artist with the initials R.L. for the postcard is unidentified. The Expulsion from Paradise, by Franz von Stuck, 1891, is in a private collection. The work by Max Klinger comes from his Eve and the Future cycle of etchings of 1880, appearing in Graphic Works of Max Klinger, Dover Publications.

8 comments:

  1. I have to point out quite a few discrepancies in your research.

    First problem: You assume that the animals in the Garden would have gone extinct if God had killed them to make coats. You assume the animals were only able to multiply after they left the Garden, when God clearly blessed them to multiply on the 5th and 6th days of creation, BEFORE God put Adam in the Garden. You assume they had no time to multiply in the Garden, correct? Well Genesis doesn't tell us the much time Adam and Eve were actually in the Garden. If you've ever read Jubilees(which used to be part of the Bible) it tells us they were in the Garden for about 7 years. Enough time for animals to multiply. However, Eve did not conceive during this time because her conception(ovulation cycle) was slower, and wasn't multiplied until Gen.3:16 when God multiplies her labor pains AND conception as punishment for her transgression!

    Second problem: you assume God wouldn't slaughter animals to make them coats, why? Do you think Adam and Eve knew what death looked like? Of course not! So God had to show them what the consequences of their actions would look like, DEATH! Do you know how hard it is to watch an animal you raised and named be killed befoe you?(imagine how Adam felt!)I do, I assisted in killing our chickens and was devastated. But I also chose to eat the soup we made, so their sacrifice would not be in vain!

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  2. Third problem: you assume that Adam and Eve had spiritual bodies of light, correct? If so, they would have no bones, muscles, or skin, correct? So, if they became "ashamed" of their "light private parts" after eating the forbidden fruit, how would they be able to FEEL the "scratchiness of the fig leaves" as you suggest, without having skin with which to feel?Also, at what point would they have felt REAL SHAME? I mean, if God gave them the skin which we all have, they would have STILL BEEN NAKED! So at what point did they decide to wear clothing?

    Fourth problem: you claim Eden was not in the physical world. Clearly, you're ignoring the descriptions of the Four rivers, as well as the lands they encompass: Havilah, Ethiopia and Assyria. As well as when God sends Cain to wander in the land East of EDEN!

    Fifth problem: if your whole theory lies in the misspelling of "rut"(light) as "rug" (skin), then you have nothing. The word used was not "rug" or "rut", but "or" pronounced (ore) meaning "skin, hide, or leather". Look it up on Biblehub.com in the Interlinear Verses for Gen. 3:21.

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  3. Sixth problem: Who are we to assume what God does and does not appreciate? Clearly God favored Abel's sacrifice of a lamb, over Cain's offering of the fruit of the ground, correct? So we know at one point animal sacrifice was favorable to God, for certain reasons and in certain situations. However, we also know that the love and blood of Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, and the need for sacrificial offerings was done away with!

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  4. So what's wrong with literalism? The Bible is very clear on which parts are to be taken literally, and which ones aren't. Anyhow, I hope I didn't sound rude, or offend you in any way. That wasn't my intent. I'm just trying to show you where your theory has some major holes. I hope you know that even if our bodies weren't made of light, we are still children of light, and we have a promise that one day our bodies will be transformed into glorified, and incorruptible bodies!

    1 Corinthians 15:44 "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 15:46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 15:47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. 15:48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 15:49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 15:55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

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    Replies
    1. Priscilla, I assure you that not only am I not offended by what you say, I most appreciate the time you took to write as you have, and constructive criticism is always welcome here. As you divide your comment into six parts, I’ll respond to those parts individually:

      [1] I have not read the Book of Jubilees (yet), although I have read both the Book of Enoch and most of the many Gnostic texts. I should make it clear that all texts, whether scriptural or non-scriptural, are to me on an equal footing, and I make no claim for scripture being in a special category of its own which exempts it from critical scrutiny. I have read much poetry and other texts which I would consider to be ‘divinely inspired’, and much in scripture which to me clearly is not. My ‘assumption’ about Genesis is that it is what it is: a story. We can haggle about the details, but in the end whether the time in Eden was seven years or seven weeks, it’s still part of a story. It is not history. Eden belongs to that category of story in which minds unable to comprehend ‘the way things are’ attempt to explain them with such stories. It is a ‘how things came to be’ story, and needs to be looked at on that level. You mention that “God multiplies her (Eve’s) labour pains and conception as punishment for her transgression.” This is the reason why I vigorously reject this passage as being ‘divinely inspired’! The hand that wrote this clearly was both male and chauvinist, and to believe this is to buy into the idea of saddling womankind with the biggest of all guilt trips.

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    2. [2] I assume that God wouldn’t slaughter animals to make coats for Adam and Eve because this just does not tally with how I feel about God. To get involved in these kinds of details reveals literalism for what it is. The mindset of those times was attempting to make sense of the world as it was then, and a god who slaughtered animals was a part of that mindset – if, of course, one sticks only to the literal meaning.

      [3] You seem to see a contradiction in what I say about the ‘light bodies’, but I am dealing with two distinct stories: the literal story of the Fall as related in Genesis, and the esoteric story which lies beneath it (and for me what makes it so powerful).

      [4] I’m not ignoring the description of the four rivers, but clearly the fact that writers on this subject cannot agree on the physical location of Eden should give us pause for thought. It’s in the Hindu Kush, it’s in the Persian Gulf – or even somewhere in the New World. We no more can pinpoint Eden’s location than we can the land of Nod of Cain’s wanderings (the land of Nod in Hebrew is apparently a euphemism for a wandering existence).

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    3. [5] I stand by my point about the mistranslation of ‘rug’ and ‘rut’. I do not speak Ancient Hebrew, so my go-to sources for such critical points of translation are not Christian (although I did check the Biblehub site you mention), but Hebrew sources. The ‘or’ you mention is only half the story. The following extract is from the Judaism 101 website (http://www.yashanet.com/studies/judaism101/sidebars/ohr.htm):

      "There are a number of people who believe that before Adam and Chava (Eve) sinned, they had bodies of light or bodies clothed with light, and that as a result of their sin, they lost their body/clothing of light. When examining the Hebrew language, this is not hard to see.

      "The Hebrew word for "Light" is "OR" (variant: 'or), spelled "aleph vav resh" – rut (Remember, Hebrew is written from right to left).
      “The Hebrew word for "Skin" is also "OR" (variant: 'or), but is spelled "ayin vav resh" – rug.

      "The concept of man having a body clothed with light is not unfamiliar within Judaism as we can see in the passages of the Midrash Rabbah and Zohar shown below. The most pertinent portions are highlighted in bold except in the Midrash passage which is entirely about this subject." (These can be read in full on the website.)

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    4. [6] You say: “Who are we to assume what God does and does not appreciate?” Exactly!! We cannot, which is why such assumptions can only ever be a matter of personal belief. It is all speculation. So what’s wrong with literalism? Nothing, as long as we remain aware that it IS literalism, and literalism has severe limitations. Only to accept a literalist reading of such a text is to ignore the richer undercurrents which it contains. In mainstream Christianity mystical and esoteric readings of such texts seems to have become something of a heresy, but in older cultural contexts (the quote above mentions the Zohar) such determined literalism would have been seen as both foolish and depreciating.

      So to come back to my own beginning: I stand by the conclusions which I have reached in this post about the esoteric reading of Eden. Eden was not a physical place, Eve was the ‘Spirit’ to Adam’s ‘Soul’ through whose wisdom Adam ‘fell’ into time and so into an earthly existence: a human life with death as the end (I discuss this more fully in my post ‘Eve’s Story’). And those ‘coats of skins’ were their own corporeal flesh. We might disagree about these meanings, but I do assure you that your thoughtful and insightful comments are most appreciated.

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