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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ecclesiastes: Conversations with the Heart

I read a lot of books, and whatever I read I prefer to take on its own merits, which is to say that for me there is no distinction between a text which appears in scripture and any other text I might be reading, which for me makes all of literature a level playing field. This puts me in a different position from either the die-hard [1]atheist who might reject scripture in its entirety simply because it is scripture, and at the other end of the critical spectrum, the Christian Apologist who attempts to defend and excuse even the most recklessly immoral and inhuman episodes in scripture, and there sadly are enough of [2]these.

In dismissing scripture, I would suggest that the atheist misses much that is worthwhile. But in uncritically accepting it, the Apologist often-enough strives to justify the unjustifiable, and any innate sense of human moral worth is overruled by the mere fact that the offending (and offensive) events happen to appear ‘in scripture’. But what the stances of my hypothetical atheist and Apologist have in common is their lack of critical discrimination, of being unable to acknowledge either the merits or the shortcomings in such texts. 

One book in scripture that is a favourite of mine is Ecclesiastes: The Preacher. Of modest length (it easily can be read in one sitting), it brims with simple wisdom and sagacious advice about negotiating one’s way, both in the world and through life itself. It is truly a text with heart. Indeed, the unknown author of this text actually says to us that ‘I communed with mine own heart.’ And that is the way it feels to us, his readers.

Let me now take another personal favourite from my bookshelf: the Edward Fitzgerald translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Unlike Ecclesiastes, the identity of the author is not in doubt. As history informs us, he was the 11th-century Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar ben Ibrahim al-Khayyami, known in the West as [3]Omar Khayyám. Omar might at first seem a very different world away from Ecclesiastes, but it is their similarities that intrigue.

Both texts reveal a deep wisdom, a practical vision of life and of death, and the stance necessary to face both. Both contain [4]phrases to which we respond so powerfully that they have passed into the language. Both offer a sense of true consolation, of offering a way through the convoluted course of life. Both acknowledge the futility of worldly vanity, the ultimate meaninglessness of material titles and possessions. Both openly agree that wisdom itself has its own limitations, and should not be placed above simple human responses to situations. These are among their similarities, but what of the differences?

Excepting the obvious differences of time and place, what at first seems like a clear difference between Omar and Ecclesiastes is the latter’s piety. When compared with Ecclesiastes’ reverence, and his urging his readers to place God centrally in their lives, Omar seems positively worldly. It is Omar who urges us not to take things too seriously, and it is Ecclesiastes who concludes by urging us to “fear God and keep his commandments.” But does he? Scholarship now considers that these overtly reverend verses of Ecclesiastes were inserted by a later hand, to give the text a greater sense of piety. If such later additions are removed, then it is as if the two voices, the one Persian, the other Hebrew, speak as one.

Of course there still remains a very obvious difference indeed: one is in scripture, and the other is not. So how did Ecclesiastes come to be a part of scripture? Its worldly voice seems to be a very different one from those in the scriptural books around it. One tradition suggests that Solomon was himself its author, and the great king’s name and status carried enough gravitas to have it accepted, although this claim is an attribution with little weight in scholarship. It also could be that its tacked-on ‘fear God..’ conclusion gave it the necessary weight to make it canonical, although this and other such phrases, as mentioned above, almost certainly were not part of the original text. The fact is that we simply do not know how or why Ecclesiastes ended up being part of scripture. Its inclusion remains a mystery.

But Ecclesiastes nevertheless is in scripture, which in turn reasonably invites a comparison with Omar Khayyám on these terms. Is what one of these voices says any more or less valid or meaningful than the other for this reason? Of course not. Both voices have equal validity, both in what they say and in what they offer to us, their readers. Both show a great depth of humanity, and in that humanity, both reach out to us in a meaningful way across the intervening centuries. With this perspective before us, that we read Omar in a secular context and Ecclesiastes in a scriptural one seems in the end to be down to mere happenstance, to the chances of history and of place.

Both of these literary voices are in this sense very much ‘conversations with the heart’. Both reveal to us an essential humanity, and comment profoundly on the human condition. The [5]line which we have drawn between the scriptural and the secular is one which we ourselves have created, and – at least when considering the voices of Ecclesiastes and Omar Khayyám – there is not a cigarette paper’s thickness between them.

[1] I am of course aware that not accepting scriptural authority also includes any non-Christian belief or religion, and that Judaism accepts the first five books – the Torah – as its own authority. 

[2] Please see my post Frontier Justice in the Promised Land for chapter-and-verse references to some of these. The task of Christian Apologists is an unenviable one. They must excuse their way through a whole battery of atrocities which include the condoning of rape and slavery, the massacre of women and children, the agonizing death by stoning even for such trivial acts as your child's disobedience, and the actual human sacrifice to God of one's own child - and all of these in just the first seven of the sixty six books of scripture.

[3] For more about Omar and his verses, please see my posts Omar Khayyám and Through the Seventh Gate. It is often suggested that Fitzgerald’s translation is really more of a reinterpretation, more Fitzgerald’s own vision of things than Omar’s. If so, then for the purposes of my comparison in this post this simply puts it on the same footing as the English translation of Ecclesiastes, which has been filtered through Hebrew, Greek and Vulgate Latin to become the familiar resounding prose of the King James Version.   

[4] Among the sayings originating in Ecclesiastes we find: all is vanity; the sun also rises; all the rivers run into the sea; there is nothing new under the sun, and; to everything there is a season. Omar Khayyám most famously offers us: The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

[5] I have used Omar Khayyám as my example because to me his parallels with Ecclesiastes are so strikingly clear. But of course when considering such profound voices as Omar’s countrymen Rumi and Hafez, or the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (left), the whole idea that what is written in scripture is in some way inherently ‘better’, and has more to tell us than these and other such voices, simply becomes meaningless. The Golden Rule attributed to Jesus – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – was first uttered by Confucius three centuries before New Testament times.

Martin A. Shields: The End of Wisdom: A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes. Eisenbrauns, 2006.

Michael V. Fox: The JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes. Jewish Publication Society, 2004.

Jorge Luis Borges: The Enigma of Edward Fitzgerald, in Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952. University of Texas Press, 1964. Borges, usually so meticulous with literary facts, describes Omar Khayyám as an atheist. In fact, it has proven notoriously complex to unravel his personal beliefs, and he has been described as being everything from an agnostic hedonist to a Sufi mystic. I personally opt for the mystic. Fitzgerald might at times portray him as an earthy and wine-quaffing devil-may-care, but this particular Omar is largely one of Fitzgerald’s invention. Omar ben Ibrahim al-Khayyami also wrote a brilliant and ground-breaking treatise on algebra, as well as producing profound poetry and being an accomplished astronomer – hardly the profile of a drunken sot.

There are various editions of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation, several of them illustrated by noted artists. My own is: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Rendered into English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald, Illustrated in Colour and in Line by René Bull. Hodder and Stoughton, 1913. I bought this first edition many years ago for $33. An edition signed by the artist is now worth over $2,500.

The images for this post are adapted from the illustrations by Adelaide Hanscom Leeson for the 1905 edition of the Rubáiyát, published by Dodge. This American artist pioneered the use of photography as a medium for book illustration, and her originality in this field is more deserving of attention than it perhaps receives. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Suffer Little Children

Humans are fallible creatures. We all make mistakes at one time or another. Some mistakes might be trivial matters, but sometimes they can have dramatic consequences, as when someone is executed when subsequent evidence establishes that person’s innocence. In such tragic cases it is the innocent who are judged to be guilty. But how common a practice is it to consider that the innocent are actually inherently guilty?

Tainted with sin. Seriously?
In a previous [1]post I mentioned the origins of the developing Church doctrine of shame in the flesh, and the profound and far-reaching influence over the centuries which this has had upon believers and non-believers alike. Augustine, who seems to have been largely responsible for this doctrine in the 5th-century, saw no innocence even in the unborn, who, he reasoned, already were corrupted with the taint of the original sin committed by Adam and Eve in Eden. So for Augustine and the Church doctrine which he shaped, even the unborn were not innocent. Even the unborn were already guilty. But Augustine was making these bizarre claims a remote and pre-medieval fifteen hundred years ago, and surely we have moved on to a more enlightened mindset since then?

In the official [2]Catechism issued by the Vatican, and therefore still current, we read in passage #1250 that: “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness…” This is the reason why in Catholic doctrine the souls of stillborn – and therefore unbaptized – infants, or those who tragically die shortly after birth, are considered as not being allowed into Heaven, but are instead sent to the limbo of Purgatory, a sort of no-man’s-land between Heaven and Hell unmentioned in scripture.

When studying this point of Catholic doctrine for this post, I became aware that the conflict of opinion on the Church’s side is considerable, with the ball being fumbled wildly if not actually dropped. One hesitant Catholic voice concluded about the stillborn: “One cannot say with absolute certainty that they are in Heaven.” while another candidly admitted that: “We didn't dump the ‘Limbo nonsense’ it's still an option for those who wish to accept it.” Both of these responses are from the [3]Catholic Answers forum.

“Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness…” ~ from paragraph 1250, chapter 4 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
For anyone with a maturely developed sense of moral worth these reactions are chilling enough. But there is more. Reading further in the Catechism, we come to passage #1261, which goes no further than to cautiously suggest that the words of Jesus “allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.” But what specifically are these 'words of Jesus' to which the Catechism refers?

In the much-quoted passage from Matthew 19:14, Jesus says to his disciples who attempt to prevent the children from reaching him: [4]“Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” That sure reads clear enough to me. The confirmation is right there in scripture in Jesus’ own unambiguous words. So what part of the phrase "forbid them not" does the Vatican find unclear? And what reason is there for the Church to doubt, and in that doubt, to cause additional and totally unnecessary anguish to parents who already are grieving deeply, and who in their grief are deserving only of the unequivocal reassurance of the hierarchy which represents their faith?

But the Catechism holds a darker layer: it is in the unstated but clear implication that if you as a parent neglect to have your child baptized, then you are exposing your child’s soul to the possible hazard of being denied entry into heaven, because a stillborn child already runs that risk. If we have that sense of moral worth, then we recognize this as emotional manipulation through fear. In this case, it is the fear that you are being a bad parent if you do not have your child baptized, coupled with the sense of guilt which such ‘neglect’ invokes.

Church doctrine is not a part of scripture. It is devised by fallible humans, so it should not surprise us that on matters of doctrine any conclusive answers are generally up for grabs. But the issue of unbaptised infants is a doctrinal issue which involves actual bereavement. I would suggest that pussyfooting on such an issue is not merely bad Church policy. It is unnecessarily cruel, with bereaved parents already coping with acute grief and loss being forced additionally to shoulder the anguish of uncertainty. I took the trouble to read the entire Catholic Answers forum thread mentioned above, which included the wording of the Catechism on this subject.

"Never doubt that your infant's soul is safe in the world of the Spirit. Never doubt that loves reaches beyond all borders, and that your little one is close to you..." The words that should be said to grieving Catholic parents. Apparently the Church cannot articulate them, so I now have. ~ Hawkwood
Among the various back-and-forth (male) exchanges on the above thread about the finer points of this particular Catholic issue, I could find only one lone [5]voice which showed concern for the feelings of the bereaved parents in such a situation. That lone voice belonged to a bereaved mother whose sincere declaration of faith was promptly dismissed by a moderator as being mere "opinion" and "not the teachings of the Church". Such cavalier arrogance in the face of grief is shocking enough, but if you think I'm making all this up simply to load my argument, then you can follow the link in note 3 below and read all these comments at source for yourself.

The amount of dodging-and-weaving on the Catholic Answers forum thread even embraces the point as to whether what is at issue – in this case, the souls of unbaptized infants – is actual [6]doctrine or mere “theological speculation”. I can only say: when the emotions of mourning parents should be the first concern, who gives a toss?

[1] Please see my post Shame.

[2] If you wish to read the actual wording of the official Vatican Catechism on baptism, including the complete passages briefly quoted in this post, you can find it at the Vatican’s own website: The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[3] The forum thread can be found at: Catholic Answers. But if you decide to check this thread out for yourself, please be advised that reading through what its members discuss with each other, and the amount of thread space taken up with arguing the finer points of this particular doctrine, can be a numbing experience if for you simple human compassion is all that truly counts. One commenter on this forum quotes Pope Gregory X (left) as saying: "The souls of those who depart this life in... original sin alone, go straightaway to hell." and then this commenter adds that he "almost believes that the very existence of limbo is in contradiction to that statement." But there is no 'almost' about it. The Pope's statement (if it is genuine) directly contradicts the Vatican's own pronouncements on Purgatory. So much for Papal infallibility.
Please see my 'Note added' below.

[4] For my non-English speaking readers, the term ‘suffer’ in the King James Version simply means ‘allow’: “Allow the little children to come to me..”, although the title of my post acknowledges the irony of the more common meaning. The Revised Standard Version reads: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” There is no ambiguity in this statement. And yet Catholic doctrine is actually calling into question the unequivocal words of Jesus.

[5] It is worth posting this mother's statement in full here: "Does anyone get how extremely upsetting something like this is to a parent whose unborn baby died? My babies who died without baptism are in Heaven, with God. No one (or church) will ever, ever, ever convince me otherwise........ never. never. never. End of story. I don't need a scripture, I don't need some dead pope or saint. I cannot separate my belief that God exists with my belief that my little girls, who died without ever committing a sin, are anywhere else. I trust in God's goodness, in His mercy, and I trust Him to be just, especially to the innocent. God's love and mercy are not bound by rules." To me this statement is more impassioned, more heartfelt and more sincerely human than any Papal declaration, and puts all other pronouncements on this issue to shame.

[6] Since a catechism is a theological instruction of doctrine in question-and-answer form, arguing whether or not it is actual doctrine when bereavement is involved is demonstration enough of the way in which religious belief can at times cut itself adrift from being able to respond on a level of ordinary human compassion.

Note added August 27, 2014: I have now traced the source for the statement by Pope Gregory in note 3 above. It was actually stated by him at the Council of Basel, and is recorded as having been said in session 6 of the Council on July 6, 1439: "But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains." You can read the statement in the second last paragraph of session 6 at the official Papal Encyclicals Online website.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Mystic Marriage

Is all which I now see around me truly the result of my brief presence on Earth? Has all this truly been done in my name? I came among you with a single intent. Not, as you seem to think, to win redemption for all of you for the sin in Eden (how could you imagine such a thing?). There was no Fall in Eden. The Man and the Woman remained unblemished. So how could there be such a thing as universal redemption when there is no such thing as universal sin? No, the only sin is the personal sin of not being true to one’s own self. That is the greatest betrayal, for if we betray ourselves, then we also betray our true Selves.

But you do not need me to redeem you, for I tell you truly that each and every one of you has the spirit to redeem yourself, because each and every one of you is me, and I am each and every one of you. Why have you forgotten this? I will tell you why: you have forgotten this because you have placed me outside of yourselves. In your frenzy to banish bronze idols you have merely replaced them with another idol. And the idol which you have created is a monster, not of bronze, but of ideas, of doctrines and of dogmas which have served only to divide you against yourselves, and therefore from me also. That idol is myself as you have created me. You have so occupied yourselves with building a towering plinth for me to stand on that you have forgotten that if I am standing high above you then we no longer can look each other in the eye.

And this is not the only idol which you have created in my name. You have built another idol to worship: an idol of words. You have transformed something that shone with the light of my being, something bright with radiant change, into something harder than stone. For even stone, which seems unyielding, changes its form over time. You have taken it upon yourselves to decide what is or is not ‘holy’, and yet I say to you now that all which is thought or said or written with a pure heart is holy in my eyes, and whether something is or is not holy to me is not something for you to decide. And yet this is what you have done. I speak with many voices, and yet how many of my voices have lain in the dust of centuries, or which you even have consigned to the flames, because of the choices which you have claimed to make on my behalf, because of your folly in believing that such choices were yours to make?

Look at the footprints I leave behind in the soil. They are the footprints left by a mortal form who wore only simple woven sandals. And yet many of the footprints left by those who deign to place themselves nearer to me have sunk deep into my earth, weighed down by the finery of their wearers. Their footprints are heavier than my own, and I tell you that their weighty apparel, their jewelled rings and resplendent robes, distances them from me more than the pure of heart who must walk barefoot, for such earthly show is a greater barrier to drawing close to me than the simplest garments worn by those who leave footprints as light as my own. The footprints of the meek have trodden where I also have trodden, and their footprints and mine are therefore the same. Lightness is a virtue, and a crown of thorns weighs less than a crown of jewels and gold, both in this world and in the one to come.

But these robes of earthly glory are not all that in my eyes truly weighs down mortal flesh. If the blood of even one individual is shed in my name, I say to you that the death of that single individual is a matter of greater weight to me than my own mortal death, which was no death but a mere revealing of my true nature, as it is for you all. And yet the lives of millions have been offered up in my name. Where is the kingdom of heaven for those who have swung the sword, or caused conversion in my name by fear or by force, or torched the pyre beneath the stake? How can it ever be attained when all which I truly am has become so misshapen?

How could it have come to pass that so many innocent young souls so precious to me have been damaged by those who actually make claim to represent me, but who in truth only represent their own darkness? I, who have entrusted to the Woman the most difficult and the most sacred task of all, and who should only be honoured, now find Her damned by you. Do you seriously imagine that I will return in triumph when so much that has been done in my name has served only to create damage and division, and even a loss of life itself? Only a fool would think that I one day shall return. The pure of heart know that I have never left.

But why did I come to you at all, if not to redeem a sin of your own imaginings? If redemption exists in each and every moment (and it does), then my descent to earth, my entry into this world of coarse matter, must have been for another reason. And it was. Such events move on a stage greater than your imaginings. They arc across all of time and space, and from time to time these events emerge into your world, become momently visible to your histories, and you create messiahs and mythologies: stories and writings which are mere faint echoes of far larger truths.

So why did I come? Why, if not to redeem, did I descend into this flesh? I had been waiting. I had been waiting for my beloved Other Self, waiting for her arrival in the world so that I might join her and so on earth complete the sacred union of soul and spirit. I came, not for all, but only for one. You, my beloved one, who in these greater realities take the form of the clear voice of wisdom, my bride Sophia, were that One. You, who are the Ocean holding all life within your sacred womb. You, who trod the soil in the same place and at the same time as my own brief sojourn. You, who witnessed my mystic death and resurrection. You, who took me as husband at Cana in a marriage that was the earthly echo of our union which already had found place in the luminous Beyond. Mary, I came for you.

The drawings and paintings in this post have been adapted from the late 19th-early 20th-century works of Odilon Redon. From the top: Closed Eyes, Reflection, Christ, The Golden Cell, and Melancholy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Adam: The God who Failed

The story of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, as with all such texts, was inherited from earlier oral traditions: stories that were handed down by word-of-mouth. And since all stories begin somewhere, and must have varied with subsequent retellings before they were committed to writing, we need not be so surprised if we come across variations of these now-familiar stories.

We might consider this or that version of a story definitive, as being the ‘right’ version, simply because it might be the version which has become the most familiar to us. In reality, definitive versions of these stories seldom exist. With the stories in scripture, the reasons behind why one is accepted into scripture and another is left by the wayside have had more to do with the arbitrary happenstances of history and individual opinion than is usually realized. So it is with the story of Eden.

In the morning of the world, on the slopes of Ararat, the gods El and his consort Asherah live in an idyllic garden. All is peaceable, and would have gone on being so were it not for the dark ambitions of the evil god Horon. The dark god has his sights set on El’s position as the supreme creator god, and might have made his ambitions a reality were his schemes not discovered by El. Horon finds himself cast out and hurled down the mountain. Seething with jealous rage and thwarted ambition, the dark god cloaks the world in a poisonous fog, and turns the beautiful Tree of Life that grows on the lower slopes into a black and twisted Tree of Death. As a final measure, he transforms himself into a terrible serpent and twines his glittering coils around the Tree’s branches.

Horon. Jealousy and thwarted ambition can poison the mind. When that mind belongs to a god the world as well can become poisoned.
Seeing the terrible transformation, and wishing only to restore his creation to its former pristine state, El dispatches the god Adam to set things to rights. Accompanied by his wife Eve, Adam journeys down into the world to confront Horon. Reaching the Tree of Death, Adam, it seems, seriously underestimates the evil serpent’s intent. Instead of persuading Horon to leave, Adam finds himself attacked and bitten by the serpent, and so relinquishes his immortality in the tree’s twisted shadow. The precious task entrusted to the god Adam by El has failed, and the world is changed forever. From that moment, Adam and Eve must live in the world as mortals, knowing death as the end of their days.

We recognize the principal characters and elements in this story. What we experience as its strangeness emerges from those other elements unfamiliar to us. Whether the story is more or less ‘true’ than the [1]version in Genesis is a question with little hope of an answer. It is, after all, a story, not a historical event. What we instead can say is that, being centuries older than the Genesis version, and therefore having gone through fewer retellings, it is closer to the [2]original source. The story is found on recently-deciphered clay tablets from the site of the Canaanite city of Ugarit, and the tablets have been dated to the [3]late 13th-century BCE.

The influential port city of Ugarit was centrally situated among the surrounding kingdoms and empires.
But how could this be a story of the Canaanites and not the Israelites? In a previous [4]post I mention the likelihood of the Israelites emerging from the Canaanite diaspora displaced by the Egyptian conquest of Canaan. In other words: the Israelites originally were the Canaanites. When the Israelites made a drive to assert their own identity as a people, they changed the name of El to Yahweh (Jehovah). But this happened over an extended period of time. The word appearing in the original Genesis text as [5]elohim is plural: ‘gods’, referring to El (the first syllable of Elohim) and Asherah. Thus the first words of Genesis correctly read:

“In the beginning the gods created the heaven and the earth.”

As with all goddesses, Asherah was eventually banished from the Israelite pantheon to be replaced by a single male-only deity, although her shadowy presence survives in these plural terms. Through our familiarity with Genesis we are aware of the similarities in the older Canaanite version of the Eden story. It is the differences which are momentous.

The goddess Asherah, mother of life. The rise of the new all-male monotheism left no room for any female presence of authority, and Asherah - and Eve the goddess - were among its victims.
In this world of gods and goddesses no blame falls upon Eve. Eve the goddess is not a woman who succumbs to temptation and taints the whole of humanity with sin. Rather, she is a victim of her husband’s reckless mishandling of the situation. It is Adam who drops the ball. But in the all-male preserve of later Israelite beliefs, such a scenario would not wash, and the story was subsequently changed to become the scriptural version which has damned womankind ever since.

[1] Two Creations in Scripture: In fact, there are two different versions of the creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. The first chapter has an unnamed first man and woman being created simultaneously from the same prima materia. This unnamed couple appear after the creation of the animals. The second chapter contains the familiar version of Eve being created from a rib of the sleeping Adam, with Adam now being created before all the animals. From a scholastic perspective, this is a clear indication that the texts of Genesis were compiled from at least two different sources. Unlike science, there are no mechanisms in place within scripture which allow for correction and revision. Scripture is immutable, and contradictions and discrepancies in these texts, however obvious, remain unchanged for centuries.

[2] Stories from Exile: Original sources of scriptural stories often-enough lie in the lands of Hebrew exile, which principally were Egypt and Babylonia. Such stories would have been exported from these lands with the exiles’ return. The story of Noah’s Ark is Babylonian, the original version, as with the Ugaritic Eden story, pre-dating the scriptural version by several centuries. The clay tablets which relate the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh contain the story of Ut-napishtim, who is chosen with his family by the gods to be the sole survivor of a great flood. He builds a huge vessel and takes his animals on board with him. To discover whether the waters have abated, he releases in turn a dove and a raven to find signs of dry land. Coincidence? I think not. 

[3] As current scholarship dates the texts of Genesis to the 6th-5th-centuries BCE, the Ugaritic version of the Eden story is twice as old as these.

[4] Please see my post The Butcher of Canaan.

[5] Preserving Belief: In their annotation to Genesis 1:1, the editors of my King James Study Bible (pub. Zondervan) acknowledge the plural term, but explain that it indicates “intensification rather than number”. No, I don’t really understand what they mean by this either. Attempts to demonstrate the term as singular by coupling it to the singular verb (as the Zondervan editors further mention) offer little traction, as the term would then still refer to 'the god El'. Since academic opinion now accepts that early Hebrew beliefs, having been derived from Canaanite beliefs, were polytheistic, the Zondervan editors provide an unintentional example of the way in which a belief can at times only be preserved by wilfully omitting known evidence. 

Marjo Korpel & Johannes de Moor: Adam, Eve, and the Devil: A New Beginning. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014. The text of Professors’ Korpel and de Moor’s book provides the basis for this post. This earlier version of the Eden story, deciphered by these authors, and retold by myself here, is not a ‘what if?’ situation. The clay tablets exist, they have been deciphered, and they say what is said here.
The 'Horon' serpent is based upon a photo by Steve Gooch. The 'Tree of Death' background is my own. The map has been compiled from various sources. Other images of the gods Adam and Eve and Asherah are painted by Hawkwood for the © David Bergen Studio. All Rights Reserved.