Sunday, June 26, 2005

Bible Series: Eve confronts the world's first shysters

The first real myth in the Bible that contains human elements is that of Adam and Eve. In this myth, God creates Man, and then he creates Woman out of part of Man. The man and woman then live in a place called the Garden of Eden. There they have a good life, although not too exciting. They have most of what they want. They then confront two beings who want to distract them and get them to do their bidding.

The first was God. He threatened Adam and Eve. He said that you can partake of any of the food in the garden, but you may not partake of the Tree of Knowledge, as if you do so then you will die. The fruit there did look tempting. I don't know whether they were apples or not. Somehow the idea has gotten to be that if a tree bears fruit, then that fruit must be apples. But for the sake of argument, let's call them apples. Naturally Adam and Eve were fearful of God because he made the threat and because he was the one who created them.

Shortly after this, Adam and Eve encountered the other shyster, the Serpent. The Serpent made the grandiose claim that if you eat the fruit, you will attain knowledge of the world, and will therefore be like gods. Now that really seemed appealing. But they remembered that God warned them not to do that or they will die. For some reason, they never confronted the Serpent with God's word.

So what were Adam and Eve to do? Eve must have thought that the main effect of eating the fruit is gaining knowledge of the world. She was leading a comfortable life, but she did not really understand it at all. She felt she needed the understanding to be able to lead a decent life. She knew that God threatened her with death, but that really did not matter much to her. She was going to die, anyway, being a mortal human, although not right away. As far as the Serpent's claim was concerned, she felt that there was no way she could be God of a realm that she really did not understand now. She felt that both God and the Serpent were a pair of conniving shysters. So which should she select?

Neither. She made up her own mind. She felt that she needed to know about this world in order to live in it. So she ignored what God said, ignored what the Serpent said, made her own decision, and partook of the fruit. And so did Adam, but it was Eve who did so first, and feminists can use this as an argument that the myth suggests that female is the superior sex. God retaliated by throwing her and Adam out of Eden, but there wasn't much more that he could do, outside of destroying what he created.

Since then humans have used the knowledge to their advantage, according to the myth and future Bible stories.

There are other shyster myths in world culture. One of these is the Quileute myth about Tuscobuk, a medicine man who was the youngest of six brothers. One day the other five brothers went up a stream to catch elk. They ran into a smooth-talking man who said that he would scare up an elk for them to shoot. But first he looked at the brothers' arrows. He said they were no good and that his arrows were better, knowing fully well that they were made of flexible salal, and so were worthless. But the brothers believed him. So they traded arrows. The man disappeared into the woods. Shortly after that, an elk came out of the woods. The brothers began shooting away at the elk, but the arrows bounced off. The elk charged them all and killed them.

After a while, Tuscobuk got worried about his brothers. So he went upstream, and met the same shyster. Again he wanted Tuscobuk to trade arrows, but he knoew fully well, with tehe knowledge of a medicine man, that the man's arrows were worthless. He said that he would stick with his arrows. After a while, the man left, and once again the elk appeared. Tuscobuk shot four arrows at him and injured him severely. The elk charged, resulting in a ferocious wrestling match in which Tuscobuk eventually killed the elk. He then put the elk's skin in the sky, in a place which the Greeks and Romans call Cassiopeia.

The tales of Adam and Eve, and of Tuscobuk, and also of the Lorelei and Sirens, remind us of the people in the world who lie to us to get what they want from us. They are all over the place. There are not that many Gods. You don't get far by threatening people. But there are some who do that, saying that, for example, if you have an unregistered gun, you get five years. Most of the shysters we meet in our society are Serpents. They are all over the place, these positive inducers. There are spammers, telemarketers, government spokespeople who tell only what the people want to hear, political candidates who do the same thing, car salesmen and repair people, and so forth. The prevalence of these Serpents are one reason why people, including myself, have lost trust in institutions in our society.

Another way of reading the myth is to say that it represented a golden age - that of Eden. A similar golden age appears in Greek and Roman myth as the Age of the Titans. But to me we need to live our lives the best we can, instead of searching for an age that has long gone.

Instead, to me, this myth reminds us of the flim-flam artists in our life and remind us to be vigilant of their enticements and remind us to make our own decisions no matter what any God or Serpent may say.


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