What Do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Chapter 2, the Descent of Adam
“The most difficult and obscure of the Holy books, Genesis, contains as many secrets and mysteries as it does words, even concealing many mysteries under each word”. (Attributed to Saint Jerome, who was responsible for the translation of the Bible into Latin known as the Vulgate. I haven’t been able to establish where he wrote this; it probably comes from his Hebrew Questions on Genesis, but I don’t have a copy.)
This is the ninth article in a series, following on from an introduction. It will only make sense if you are familiar with at least some of what has preceded, the most relevant being part 5 and part 7. (For links to the whole series, please see this list.)
Having completed the interpretation of Genesis chapter 1 and its implications, I’ll move on to chapter 2. Here we find a description of how what existed previously only in potential is gradually brought into physical manifestation. Since this begins in the spiritual, heavenly realms, there is no question of any garden on Earth, no rivers, no human couple. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is absolutely no mention whatsoever in the original Hebrew of any word corresponding to ‘rib’ — verse 21 is perhaps the most unbelievable and ridiculous in the modern English versions of chapter 2.
The theme instead is the gradual descent into material form of the Adam of chapter 1, verses 26 and 27, who is not ‘humankind’, rather the original archetypal male-female heavenly being, the prospective creation of humankind, a universal soul, what Kabbalists call Adam-Kadmon. Some of the language and terminology in Best’s translation and interpretation are hard to penetrate to their depths; any attempt to describe in human language processes that are taking place beyond spacetime are bound to be difficult. The fundamental points are nevertheless clear.
In this article I won’t need to refer to all the sources from before, just:
- NRSV, the modern Bible in English that I’m using, the New Revised Standard Version
- B, Shabaz Britten Best’s translation
- BEI, his esoteric interpretation of the text
- R, Redfield’s translation.
Chapter 2 actually begins in a strange place, before the initial process of creation by Elohim is complete. This occurs in verse 3, the natural and most obvious place for chapter 1 to end. At this point the NRSV text continues: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…”
Readers of modern versions like this one may not even notice the change and, even if they do, may consider it insignificant. After all, from a Christian perspective, does it really matter whether we say ‘God’ or ‘the Lord God’? In the original texts, however, there was a crucial difference. The God of chapter 1 was called Elohim, while the God of chapter 2 was called Yahweh/Jehovah (translated misleadingly as the Lord God). This seems to be the main reason why scholars believe that these are two independent sources. Let’s hypothesise, however, that there is a single continuous text with one meaning. (I discussed the Elohim/Yahweh issue in more detail earlier in the series in part 7.)
According to BEI, verse 4 states that “the SUPREME BEING then produced His Cosmic Son, IHOAH, the ‘Being-Who-Is-Was-and-Who-Will-Be’, and appointed Him to act as the Great Builder and Creative Deity, to bring into objective manifestation all that HE had designed in Potentiality”. There is no significant difference in meaning between the three translations. However, B expresses the meaning most clearly: “Such is the symbolical narration of generating the Heavens and the Earth, being created in principle and potentiality in Light’s seven phenomenal manifestations and finally producing IHOAH, ‘The-Being-Who-Is-Who-Was-and-Who-Will-Be’ — God Manifest, the CREATIVE DEITY”. (Best believes that Ihoah is the most appropriate name for this deity otherwise known as Yahweh or Jehovah.)
Moving on to verse 5, BEI says that this “affirms that Adam, representing mankind, did not yet exist on the Earth. The literal meaning of the name Adam is ‘red earth’ and suggests the physical nature of man who was yet to come into being… We also see from V. 5 that Nature was not yet in active operation upon the earth, but like Adam had only been projected as a potential ideal by AELOHIM. It was only later that they came into physical manifestation under the supervision of the Creative Deity IHOAH”. (The full name of the spiritual Adam will be mentioned below.)
There are hints of this in NRSV without the deeper meaning being revealed: “…when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground”.
It is hard to know what to make of NRSV verse 7 if we try to interpret it literally: “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”. We are left to wonder what ‘the man’ was supposed to be before he became a living being. The answer seems to be that ‘living being’ means something else. B has: “and IHOAH fashioned the substance of Adam-Mankind* from the sublimation of the most subtle parts of the Adamic elements, and breathed into his intelligence an exalted essence of lives, and Adam became a similitude of the Universal Soul”. (*For Adam-Mankind R has ‘universal man’.) We therefore see that Adam is still nothing resembling a human being, rather something similar to the Hindu concept of Atman, which equals Brahman.
Further confirmation of this comes in verse 8, where B has: “And IHOAH appointed an organic enclosure — a body of action, in the sphere of temporal existence, extracted from the boundless space and foregoing time; there HE placed Adam-Man, whom He had fashioned for an everlasting end”. So the “garden in Eden” of NRSV is actually an enclosed ‘area’ in some spiritual realm, from where the gradual process of becoming material can begin.
Since there is no garden on Earth, there cannot be any rivers there, even though NRSV verse 10 says: “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches”, named as Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates. This has led various Christians and archaeologists to speculate where the actual Garden of Eden might have been, even to claim that they have found it! (See, for example, here.) In the light of this interpretation of Genesis, such claims would seem to be fanciful.
According to B, these are not rivers, rather “emanating and generative principles”. For verse 10, he has: “And a luminous emanation flowed from the sphere of temporal existence to vivify the organic body; and thence it divided and became four principles, suitable to its four-fold generative power”. Phishon represents “physical reality, that which encompasseth the whole body of Hawilah, the etheric body, the natural source of gold and light’s reflection”. (Compare NRSV: “it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold”.)
According to B, Gihon, the second emanating principle is “determining motion, that which encompasseth the whole body of Chush, igneous principle as mind”. Hiddekel, the third emanating principle, is “universal propagating fluid and spiritual influx, that which goeth forth as the vehicle of the eternal quality of harmony and happiness; and the fourth emanating principle was Phrath, the fecundating cause and the source of Divine Spirit”.
We see in these passages references to the etheric and mental bodies, other levels of a human being well known to esotericists. B also makes a reference to the “universal sublimation of spirit in matter”. We see therefore that what is being described is the gradual transformation of the universal soul known as Adam into individual physical humans.
An interesting detail is that BEI says that ‘Adam’ is merely an abbreviated form, and that the full name in its spiritual form is ‘Haadamah’, which is written as ‘Ha-Adam-Ah’. It is “a word very rich in the vowel ‘A’, which connotes Life and Spirit… It contains the inherent significance of Involution, in that affix ‘Ha’ as the Divine breath, then follows Evolution as Adam, and finally the return to GOD in the concluding syllable ‘Ah’. This name is a synonym for the spiritual ideal of Man, from his primordial creation to his ultimate perfection. The abbreviated form of ‘Adam’ is impoverished and shorn of its highest attributes, as it only represents earthly man deprived of the consciousness of his soul and spiritual nature”.
In the next article I’ll discuss the creation of Eve. As I mentioned above, unsurprisingly there is no mention of a ‘rib’ in the original text.
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