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The Bible as Story

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

We must have some sense of the whole in order to grasp how it opens.  Countless readers have thought that if they simply pored over the first three chapters long enough they would be able to make sense of what is told therein.  To read later details back into the beginning is thought of as a violation of the interpretive process. But such an assumption goes against a basic principle we all employ when we read any book. To understand the first chapter or two of any literary work requires one to size up the shape and scope of the whole.

And it is exactly this sort of preunderstanding that informs all theological interpretations of Adam and Eve. Religious readers know where the story is heading before they have glossed even one word. Reading early Jewish and Christian interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve is like eavesdropping on a circle of friends who have rewound Saving Private Ryan and are watching it opening scene a second time.  Their memories of the film’s ending well up again and again to inform, and even overwhelm, the terse beginning.

From biblical scholar Gary Anderson’s The Genesis of Perfection, 2001 (in this outstanding book Anderson traces how Genesis 1-3 was retold by Jews and Christians in commentaries, midrash, theology and art in the first few centuries of the Common Era – I only hope that his latest book is as good).