Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parsha notes Berayshis

(from last year with some modifications)

Moments of Majesty: The first creation story, with its grand symmetries. Lovely, timeless, powerful writing. [I like it better then the second creation story because parataxis is nicer than hypotaxis.

Things everyone should know:
(1) There are two creation stories, stories that differ in matters large and small. This, it must be noted, does not rule out the possibility of a divine author, but the fact that God is said to create (barah) in the first story and fashion (yotzar) in the second cries out for commentary. Among the many other differences: the theology of God (cosmic diety vs. hands on craftsmen) and the order of the creation itself (in Gen 1 man and woman are last; in Gen 2 man is first, before plants and animals, and the woman is last.) 
(2) In this Parsha, Rashi announces his mission statement: (Genesis 3:8) "I have come only to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible.” This is a useful reminder for those who treat Rashi like an anthology of midrashim.

Kefira moments:
(1) The first woman is called ChaVa, though ChaYA would be a better name for the mother of all things,אֵם כָּל-חָי. As I said here, ChaVa sounds like ChiVya, the Aramaic for serpent, and scholars have recognized an old Mesopotamian myth in which a serpent is imagined to be the progenitor of all things, or, in other words, the אֵם כָּל-חָי.
(2) The MT says (Gen 4:8) "And Cain said to Abel his brother" but doesn't tell us what was said. The LXX, Syriac and Aramaic all provide Cain's words: "Let us go out to the field."
(3) Enoch, the man who "walked with God" and "was no more" after God "took" him, is the seventh generation from Adam. In a list of pre-flood Mesopotamian kings, the seventh one is taken by the Sun God. In the Torah Enoch lives 365 years, the number of days in the solar year.

(4) The whole story of Abel's murder and Cain's subsequent curse is taken by scholars as a schematic tale written to explain why the Kenites, a rival tribe,  were especially vicious. Perhaps the Kenites would kill seven enemies for every dead of their own? Alternatively, the Kenites may have worshiped the Israelite God and the Cain story is meant to tell us why. What seems odd is that after the murder Cain frets that "anyone who finds me may kill me" at a time when the whole world would have consisted of just  him and his parents.  This is an indication that the present pre-flood location of the story is artificial.

Cool beans:
(1) Lemach is the seventh name of the first genealogy list, and he is said to have lived 777 years. Seven, of course, is a magic number in Judaism, and elsewhere.
(2) In the second genealogy list ten names are given. Ten is also a magic Jewish number.

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