Section Three of The Breaking of the Day by O.G. Rose
The Failures of Heroes and Readers, and the Existential Solution Leading to Abraham
There is a story of a donkey caught between two equally sized piles of grain. Because the piles of grain are the same size, the donkey cannot decide which to eat from, and so the donkey starves to death. The donkey couldn’t make a rational choice: the donkey was paralyzed. Generally, many Greek heroes find themselves caught in similar situations (and their level of “perfection” doesn’t help), but Biblical heroes are different. Biblical heroes find themselves between what look like two equally sized piles of grains, but then thanks to God, they realize one pile is a little smaller than the other, and so they escape paralysis, make a choice, and eat from the larger pile. Additionally, for the Biblical hero, one of the piles of grains might be poisonous or contain an infectious disease that the Biblical hero might take back to loved ones, so it’s very important the Biblical hero chooses well under God’s guidance (and he or she must choose or starve to death). Unfortunately, the Biblical hero is sinful and has bad hearing.
Generally, the madness and existentialism of Greek tragedy emerges from the pressure of competing and equal goods. The madness and existentialism of Biblical “risk-taking,” on the other hand, emerges from the possibility of doing something evil in the name of good. These two sources of anxiety will naturally mix and combine throughout Western Literature, and the capacity of the West to manage and handle these anxieties will be deeply influenced by its belief in God (regardless if God Exists) and the success of its efforts to move from individual values to communal values, transcendent values (“God said”) to social values (“human rights’), etc. Western Literature describes this wrestling match, which takes place within “The Western Canon.” At the beginning, this conflict is generally external to the hero and found in the plot and setting, but with time this conflict moves inward (with its most supreme example being Hamlet). All the while, the Western Hero gradually becomes more of a combination of the Biblical Hero and the Greek Hero.
The Biblical hero emerges between “The Imperfect Hero Dilemma” and “The Interpretation Dilemma,” between the knowledge that the perfect man failed and that the only hope of doing good is understanding God (Who ultimately cannot be fully known and Who must act to be known). The Biblical hero is only good insomuch as he or she acts within God’s Will, which the hero might misunderstand. The Biblical hero is not good because of social values, but because of God’s approval (which may coincide with social values, but not necessarily), and the dilemmas of such a hero are not so much due to being caught between social goods (a “tragic” situation), but in risking “the relativism problem” and doing something that others won’t understand and that might not actually be good. Hamlet will be a blending of “tragedy” and “relativism,” split between and Athens and Jerusalem.
Thus, the Biblical hero is always at risk of being on a path that he or she only thinks is right, but oddly the stranger the path (in the eyes of society), the more the hero has reason to think it was God acting through the hero versus a person acting only thinking that God was on their side. For the Greek hero, glory and honor coincide with taking the right path, but for the Biblical hero, glory and honor coincide with self-deception and going the wrong way (and as Western literature will show, this creates a strange tension in the Western Hero and his or her relationship with glory). The Biblical hero can look like a madman or evil, which should be clear evidence that a person is on a wrong path, but the Bible robs us of the ability to judge, as it robs us of the assurance that glory and honor are positive and reassuring signs. Only God knows, while society doesn’t, and yet should society have no say at all? That possibility is left open, buried in seeds of existential anxiety which will take centuries to bloom.
The work of Erich Auerbach in Mimesis is extraordinary, and though we have elaborated on it before, it deserves revisiting. As discussed in “Odysseus’ Scar,” Auerbach points out ‘the need of the Homeric style to leave nothing which it mentions half in darkness and unexternalized.’¹ Suggesting the unique existential and psychological situation of Biblical heroes (as reflected in the style and form of the Torah), Auerbach writes:
‘With the utmost fullness, with an orderliness which even passion does not disturb, Homer’s personages vent their inmost hearts in speech; what they do not say to others, they speak in their own minds, so that the reader is informed of it. Much that is terrible takes place in the Homeric poems, but it seldom takes place wordlessly: Polyphemus talks to Odysseus; Odysseus talks to the suitors when he begins to kill them; Hector and Achilles talk at length, before battle and after; and no speech is so filled with anger or scorn that the particles which express logical and grammatical connections are lacking or out of place.’²
‘The personages speak in the Bible story too; but their speech does not serve, as does speech in Homer, to manifest, to externalize thoughts — on the contrary, it serves to indicate thoughts which remain unexpressed. God gives his command in direct discourse, but he leaves his motives and his purpose unexpressed; Abraham, receiving the command, says nothing and does what he has been told to do. The conversation between Abraham and Isaac on the way to the place of sacrifice is only an interruption of the heavy silence and makes it all the more burdensome. The two of them, Isaac carrying the wood and Abraham with fire and a knife, “went together.” Hesitantly, Isaac ventures to ask about the ram, and Abraham gives the well-known answer. Then the text repeats: “So they went both of them together.” Everything remains unexpressed.’³
Auerbach points out an interesting contrast between Homer and the Bible. Generally, Jewish literature embraces uncertainty and interpretation, while Greek literature embraces clarity. As Auerbach puts it, ‘Homer can be analyzed […] but he cannot be interpreted.’⁴ Jewish style, on the other hand, sets the reader up to be an “interpreter,” while Greek style sets the reader up to be a “follower.” Jewish literature views interpretation as either “good” or unavoidable, while Greek literature seems to view a need for the reader to interpret as a sign of an author’s failures.
Paradoxically, while the Bible must be interpreted, it is also considered “a container of truth,” making interpretation an extremely serious matter (for the Bible “is the Word of God”). Homer, on the other hand, generally avoids interpretation, but if Homer were misinterpreted, it’s not like the Divine Order of the universe would be missed. It would arguably make more sense if the opposite was the case, that interpretation accommodated arbitrariness versus gravity, but these are not the cards dealt to us by Western Literature.
Some contrasts and developments between the Torah and Homer worth noting:
1. Reading as interpreting versus “following along.”
2. Great literature can be “interpreted” without it suggesting a writer’s failure.
3. Interpretation can be a grave and serious undertaking versus a flippant expression of arbitrary preferences.
Other important developments:
1. Psychology becomes a major focus.
2. Living with uncertainty becomes a way of life.
3. A paradox of needing to understand God to do the right thing while being incapable of fully understanding God.
All this taken together brings into focus what I will call “The Biblical Hero Dilemma”:
With Adam, the perfect person/couple, having failed, what kind of hero can we possibly hope for?
If Adam fell, how can any heroes prove possible? And how especially can there be heroes if only God knows what constitutes “heroism” and we are incapable of fully understanding God? The seeds of madness seem to be the same seeds as heroism, with interpretation being our only hope to tell the difference. Unfortunately, we are ill-equipped to interpret well.
Derrida once said that “the sign is always a sign of the Fall,” and Kevin Hart notes in his book The Trespass of the Sign that there is a long Christian tradition of believing that ‘interpretation pose[d] no problem’ for Adam.⁵ Salvation was found in effacing ‘the difference between a sign and the sign of a sign,’ but because of the Fall, ‘the sign’s failure [became] structurally determined.’⁶ ⁷ ⁸ As a result, after the Fall, what emerged was a “Stockholm Syndrome”-like relationship with words: they are how we know God through the Bible, but also what keeps us from knowing God due to the difficulty of understanding and interpreting them. God used Words to create, but words keep us from knowing God’s Will, and yet God’s Will is only knowable through Words/words.⁹ We must attempting perfecting the skill of reading, when perfection is impossible after Adam: failure is inevitable, but not all failures are equal. Both Cain and Abel are sinners, but Abel is not Cain.
Note here that embedded into the understanding of reading and writing itself is a certain “sense of shortcoming” that will be reflected in the characters of the Bible themselves: the form and the meaning match. The reader must interpret the Bible as the hero must interpret God’s will: the reader and hero are in similar situations. As the Biblical hero is trying to reach Eden, the reader is trying to access “the absolute meaning of the text.” As the Biblical hero seeks “the right road,” the reader seeks “the right interpretation” (and determining “the right road” requires determining “the right understanding of God”). And do note that we learn in Genesis that the road back to Eden won’t be easy: building a tower like Babel won’t work, and God seems to prefer roundabout paths like we see in Joseph. As readers, we shouldn’t expect interpretation to be any different, easier, or straightforward.
This leads us to a structural equivalent of “The Biblical Hero Dilemma,” which I will call “The Interpretation Dilemma”:
With Eden gone — the place where signifiers and the signified united and interpretation wasn’t needed — how can we possibly determine God’s Will to return to Eden?
If the only way to return to Eden is through an understanding only possible in Eden, what hope remains?¹⁰ ¹¹
Adam fell from Eden because the couple (the man and woman, both named Adam before the Fall) didn’t listen to God’s command. Afterwards, throughout the Torah, the key to getting back into God’s good graces (perhaps because the first sin entailed disobedience, as all sin ultimately must) is by doing what God says. This means we cannot overcome the Hero’s Dilemma except by overcoming the Interpretation Dilemma, and for human beings with limited understanding, that seems impossible. The Fall of Man seems to be the Loss of the Heroic, but that said, there does seems to be a solution, as suggested by the formal structure of early Genesis. The solution is God Himself speaking and acting, which God does a lot until Abraham is tested, which is when it is unveiled that God can ask people to do terrible things (as elaborated on famously by Kierkegaard). At this point, God steps back and speaks and acts directly much less for the rest of Genesis. Once it is unveiled that “the Standard of Goodness” Himself can direct protagonists to enter a place where heroism and madness blur, God’s direct action is greatly reduced, and this is perhaps because “the key point” has been made (as will be elaborated on).
To return to Mimesis on Abraham:
‘A journey is made, because God has designated the place where the sacrifice is to be performed; but we are told nothing about the journey except that it took three days, and even that we are told in a mysterious way: Abraham and his followers rose “early in the morning” and “went unto” the place of which God had told him; on the third day he lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. That gesture is the only gesture, is indeed the only occurrence during the whole journey, of which we are told; and though its motivation lies in the fact that the place is elevated, its uniqueness still heightens the impression that the journey took place through a vacuum; it is as if, while he traveled on, Abraham had looked neither to the right nor to the left, had suppressed any sign of life in his followers and himself save only their footfalls.’¹²
Generally, we are presented with detail-thin plots in Genesis which follow a basic structure: God says do x, and x is done. There are those who disobey God and try to thwart x, and we have characters who don’t like x, but the plot basically follows from what God commands. If God doesn’t speak, there could be trouble. Genesis similarly begins with God speaking, and the formal structure of Genesis follows the same pattern, all of which suggests the solution to the Interpretation Dilemma, which must be solved to solve the Hero’s Dilemma. This in mind, I submit to you that, until Chapter 23 when Abraham nearly sacrifices “his only son Isaac” (which he does after telling Hagar and Ishmael to leave and God allows it, as if God is setting up the tension), the action of Genesis follows a formal logic:
If God speaks or acts first, the action of the chapter is positive for the main character(s).
If someone else speaks or acts first, the chapter is much messier and complex, with the severity of that complexity being relative to what degree the Lord is acknowledged by or involved in the opening action or speaking.
To make the case, consider the following:
A. God speaks first in (Genesis) 1:3 and 2:15.
B. Things are good for Adam and Eve.
A. In 3, the serpent speaks before God.
B. The Fall of Man happens.
A. Eve speaks first in 4:1.
B. Cain murders Abel.
Chapter 5 is a genealogy.
A. The sons of God sleep with the daughters of men (6:1–2).
B. God plans to flood the world.
C. However, the sons of God act first while God speaks first, so the chapter mixes things going wrong with God planning to fix them.
A. God tells Noah to enter the ark (7:1).
B. Noah and his family survive.
A. God remembers Noah and the wild animals (8:1).
B. Noah and his family discover dry land.
A. God tells Noah and his family to ‘be fruitful and multiple’ (9:1).
B. A covenant is established between God and Noah.
Chapter 10 is a genealogy.
A. The people of Babel say, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city’ (11:4).
B. The Lord scatters them across the face of the earth.
A. The Lord tells Abram to leave his country (12:1).
B. Abram escape Egypt safely.
A. Abram and Lot act and call on the name of the Lord versus the Lord speak (13:4).
B. Abram and Lot fight and part ways but eventually resolve. The Lord didn’t speak first, but Abram at least called on God, so action is a mix between good and bad.
A. God doesn’t speak at all in Chapter 14.
B. Abram fights Kedorlaomer, and though Abram wins, it’s a mixed bag, and he loses a tenth of his possessions.
A. God speaks (15:1).
B. Abram is promised a rich future with many descendants and great expansions of land.
A. Sarai speaks first (16:2).
B. Abram sleeps with Hagar who births Ishmael, a people who God blesses, but a people who will cause complications for the Jewish people later on. Also, there is conflict between Sarai and Abram.
A. God tells Abram that he will confirm his covenant with him (17:1).
B. Abraham follows God’s commands and is blessed.
A. The Lord appears to Abraham (18:1) but Abraham speaks first (18:3).
B. This chapter revolves around the question of if Sodom will be destroyed. The Lord promises to spare Sodom if there are ten righteous people, but ultimately we know Sodom is destroyed. This is a mixed bag of good and bad.
A. Lot speaks first to the Lord (19:2).
B. Lot survives, but the city is destroyed.
A. Abraham speaks first and says Sarah is his sister (20:2).
B. Abimelech is inflicted with curses, but the Lord intervenes to help Abimelech because he has ‘a clear conscience’ (20:6). It is a messy situation.
A. The Lord is first ‘gracious to Sarah’ (21:1) and she has a child. However, Sarah speaks first (21:7).
B. Hagar and Ishmael are sent away but Ishmael blessed. A treaty is also struck that benefits Abraham. Another mixed bag.
And now the pattern culminates with God speaking first for Abraham to do something terrible:
A. God calls Abraham’s name (22:1).
B. Isaac is almost sacrificed, but because Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his covenant with God is secured.
As hopefully clear, we are led by a formal logic in the literature to conclude that we need God to speak and act first in order to avoid difficulty and sin. The culmination of that formal logic is Chapter 22, when we are asked to imagine if we would be willing to kill a child for God’s sake. The formal logic suggests we should, but our hearts and minds will suggest we shouldn’t. But since we are “fallen” and poor interpreters, who are we to disobey God? Who are we to say we know what constitutes “the heroic?”
After Chapter 22, God’s action and speaking in Genesis greatly reduces in proportion to the speaking and acting of other characters: God’s activity becomes more indirect and quicker. God is still involved, yes, but it’s not the same and different in kind.¹³ God gives more blessings, shows up for a wrestling match (though it’s not completely clear if its God), uses angels, dreams, etc. — the way God is involved shifts after Abraham’s test.¹⁴ In my opinion, after Abraham, the listed above pattern breaks, for the point of the pattern has been taught:
God must speak and/or act first and humans respond accordingly, even if God commands something extreme and horrible. This dependency is especially vivid after the Fall.
Considering the first three sections, we are led to the following conclusion:
The Biblical Hero (after Adam) must overcome the Interpretation Dilemma to in fact be heroic. As suggested by the formal structure of early Genesis (and general Christian theology), this requires for God to speak and act first.
It’s clear in the Bible when God is speaking and acting, but what about future heroes or citizens like ourselves that want to do what’s right? What if we only think God wants us to sacrifice our son? This is “The Problem of Abraham” that will profoundly shape Western Literature, the possible blending of the heroic with the absurd, the separating of which requires rightly understanding God, an ability we lack the capacity to reliably do. And yet God would have us try.
Kierkegaard’s great and famous argument in Fear and Trembling was that in Abraham the reasonable and the absurd blur, and by extension so do the heroic and villainous. The meaning of Abraham’s actions were relative to if God actually told him to sacrifice his son (recall the first question the serpent asks Eve in Genesis 3:1). If God did speak, then Abraham acts morally; if God didn’t, then Abraham is monstrous. Yes, we know the ending, and we know God actually did speak (according to the story), but imagine being in Abraham’s shoes and not knowing the end of the story ahead of time. Imagine only being confident (as opposed to certain) that it was God speaking versus an imaginary friend. Imagine being someone watching Abraham who didn’t know Abraham’s relationship with God or if God existed. Imagine watching your neighbor bind his son to an altar. Existentially terrifying, yes?¹⁵ ¹⁶
In Western Literature, we are faced with “the relativity of goodness,” which is a different problem from simply knowing what’s good and struggling to do it. Yes, there are plenty of Western stories about defeating villains, but this problem sometimes overlaps with “the relativity problem” (for many characters don’t want to do what’s good in light of the risk of being perceived as crazy, immoral, etc. — take the disciples of Jesus). In the Bible, “the relativity problem” suggests the radical dependency of humans on God to determine right and wrong, but even if God speaks, following God requires correctly interpreting his words and risking being perceived as immoral by the larger society (take Jesus) — an act of which (considering the “Interpretation Problem”) human’s lack a capacity to do well (and why should we think anyone can interpret well if the perfect man fell?). Deconstructing God’s existence doesn’t erase this problem; in fact, the revelation in Genesis on the conditionality of goodness becomes all the more blatant if God dies, for the Divine support that could help us navigate the problem through acting and speaking first is no longer present. Worse yet, the possibility of separating goodness and madness with confidence is erased with God’s effacement, for there is no possibility of God speaking and acting directly to us. “Did God really say…?” the serpent asks (1:3). If God didn’t, Abraham is a lunatic, irrational — a demon. If God misspeaks or stays quiet in nonexistence, we are still at risk of ending up a demon-saint (the devil can appear as an angel of light, after all). If God doesn’t exist, we’re alone.
Kierkegaard argues that it’s clear that God’s authority transcends social norms and that God can at any point suspend them, and thus we can never be entirely comfortable. At any moment, God might break through and demand something of us that will look like madness to everyone else, and this point is reinforced by the strange ways God lifts up Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (along with many other Biblical characters). God tends to pick the younger children, and His covenants are fulfilled through trickery, wrestling matches, imprisonments — all socially questionable at the time and certainly not glorious. But if God wills these ways and methods, then these ways are good, heroic, and indeed glorious — all other ways would be wrong. And in fact, because God’s ways are not ways that would generally receive social approval, if they bear fruit, there’s all the more reason to think God was at work. As already mentioned, there is thus in the Bible a skepticism of society to rightly recognize God’s action, society being blinded by its own ideas of right and wrong (as especially brought out by Jesus in the New Testament), in favor of individual conviction. But the “checks and balances” of society can help keep a madman from claiming that he is acting on behalf of God — if the legitimacy of society is weakened, so too will weaken this “checks and balances.” A great risk is thus taken.¹⁷
God can break through and direct individuals at any moment to oppose the norms of society, and if God breaks through, it is imperative that we interpret what God says correctly, of which we probably lack the capacity to do well without God’s help. But if we follow the imperative and the conviction put on our hearts, we can be moral and heroic. In fact, if we don’t, we will disobey God and perhaps act on Satan’s behalf. Nonaction is action, but acting heroic and godly requires the risk of being villainous and demonic.¹⁸ ¹⁹
Taking all these points together, we can say that the individual is the source of right and wrong (over the society), given that the individual is actually listening to God, which only that individual can know (while the rest of the society perhaps witnesses a man trying to kill his son). Acknowledging this, the Bible would also have us keep in mind that not even the “perfect man” followed God well, and that if the individual gets it wrong, great and mad evil might be perpetuated in the name of God. If God doesn’t exist, in the West, then the individual is still the source of right and wrong, but lacks a way of telling right from wrong with certainty. We must judge something we cannot be sure we judge well, and we must act.
The existential and radically individual dilemma unveiled in Abraham directs the Western mind not to focus so much on the individual’s role and place in society, but the individual’s role and place relative to God (and society second), of which only God can judge and help individuals understand.²⁰ What is good is what God commands, regardless of what the social order thinks. The values of the social order are only legitimate to the degree they participate in God’s Will, but at any moment those values can shift if God’s Will “develops” versus changes (say when Jesus shows up). The values are not necessarily timeless, because they reflect an Eternal Person who can will different things at different times. Thus, society can at any second be uprooted by individuals; society is unstable and changeable (perhaps even progressive). What is constant is the (changeable) individual, and thus the individual — the temple of God — becomes the focus. But if the perfect man failed, surely no individual can handle this kind of responsibility? Well, it seems God is a risk-taker.²¹
Martha Nussbaum wrote an important book called The Fragility of Goodness, in which she argued that the Greek category of “tragedy” is missing from Western consciousness today. A tragedy is a tradeoff of competing goods, a situation when I must pick one good over the other. To quote Nussbaum directly:
‘I must constantly choose among competing and apparently incommensurable goods and that circumstances may force me to a position in which I cannot help being false to something or doing some wrong […] all these I take to be not just the material of tragedy, but everyday facts of living practical reason.’²²
‘Tragedy also, however, shows something more deeply disturbing: it shows good people doing bad things, things otherwise repugnant to their ethical character and commitments, because of circumstances whose origin does not lie with them.’²³
‘On the contrary, the situation seems to describe quite precisely a kind of interaction between external constraint and personal choice that is found to one degree or another in any ordinary situation of choice.’²⁴
In Greek tragedies like Antigone, the protagonist must choose between serving the gods or serving the family, serving a brother or serving a community — and there’s no way out of the choice. Since both acts are good, a wrong must be committed — there’s “no exit.”
On the other hand, in the Bible, the protagonist is not caught between competing goods but is rather forced to take a risk to do something right that ultimately might be wrong. The key is that if God wanted Abraham to kill Isaac and let Abraham go through with it, it wouldn’t have been wrong or repugnant. It would have been good, for God is Goodness Itself and God Willed it. Thus, Abraham is not caught between competing goods; Abraham is caught in having to risk being an evil madman in order to do good (God’s Will). If Abraham avoids the risk, Abraham will be in the wrong, for God wills the risk to be taken. Thus, we could generalize:
Greek dramas are tragedies.
Biblical dramas are risks.
Greek heroes are tragic figures.
Biblical heroes are risk-takers.
Greek heroes are caught “between a rock and a hard place.”
Biblical heroes are forced to make an existential choice.²⁵
Greek heroes must make a choice that is good in one way but bad in another.
Biblical heroes must risk doing something that might only “seem” all good.
In tragedy, a wrong must be done. There’s no escaping it or transforming one of the “apparent goods” into an actual wrong or ranking one good as better than the other (rationality is of no aid). A wrong must be done because an individual is caught between competing commitments, which is possible because of a social order. Tragedies are possible because of individuals in relation to other people, while the drama of the Biblical hero is possible because of a person’s relation to God (a wild card, per se).
Ostensible “tragedy” in the Bible is resolved by a realization that one of the conflicting goods is not actually good because God can’t will against Himself (and what God Wills is the only good). This option is not so readily available for Greek heroes, for there is not a single god, and often the gods are on conflicting sides, adding to the drama of the competition “goods” and demands on the protagonist. Yes, in the Bible, we must worry about God telling us to do something our parents will dislike, and thus having to choose between our parents and God. But note that if God tells us to leave our family, then it is not good for our family to be happy under the condition that we stay with them (an advantage and disadvantage of monotheism). This is not a choice between equal goods: this is a choice between right and wrong. But that dichotomy is only at play if God actually spoke. If God actually spoke, a simple dichotomy of right and wrong is at play (and so the existential terror of wondering “Did God really say…?”).
When God speaks, something that is normally good (honoring one’s family) can suddenly become wrong. And if God doesn’t speak or designate something as a reflection of His Will, only on subjective and questionable grounds can something be said to be good. Thus, when a person is caught between competing goods, the tension is weaker than for the Greek, and there is always the possibility of a Biblical hero escaping the tension by God speaking. A real tragedy for the Biblical hero would require the hero to be caught between two direct commands of God, but God by definition doesn’t speak against Himself. Thus, if there seems to be a “Biblical tragedy,” it must only be “an appearance of one” due to a failure to fully understand God: the tragedy cannot be substantive. Indeed, there can be competitions between “goods,” but not “equal goods,” and God always comes first. God cannot be balanced.
The possibility of “Biblical Tragedy” will not really emerge until the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ, but even then what seems to be a conflict between the goods of the Torah and goods of Jesus’ teachings are revealed not to be in conflict at all, but rather old values evolving into new values in Christ (and Jewish society “didn’t get the message,” per se, making social values a threat). “Biblical Tragedy” is a weak category versus “Biblical Risk-Taking,” but as Athens and Jerusalem merge, “Greek Tragedy” and “Biblical Risk-Taking” combine, and do so most supremely in Hamlet. But that is another story for another time.
The Biblical hero who overcomes “the interpretation problem” thanks to God overcomes the possibility of tragedy. Thus, with God’s help, there is never a need to make tradeoffs between competing goods, only a need to discern what is actually right. But what if God doesn’t speak or exist? Could we face shades of gray and make hard choices? Easily, and so we should hedge and develop both the skill to take risk and to make tradeoffs. But it is no easy task to hold inside of ourselves both Athens and Jerusalem. Hamlet certainly couldn’t, and he was far smarter than us.
¹Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, 2003: 5.
²Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, 2003: 6.
³Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, 2003: 11.
⁴Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, 2003: 13.
⁵Hart, Kevin. The Trespass of the Sign. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 3.
⁶Hart, Kevin. The Trespass of the Sign. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 4.
⁷Hart, Kevin. The Trespass of the Sign. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989: 12.
⁸For more on this topic, please also see The Fall of Interpretation by James K.A. Smith.
⁹“Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) — this sums up the whole dilemma.
¹⁰Please note that here, in the dilemma of interpretation, a seed is planted that will birth into the problem of madness that Shakespeare particularly explored with eloquence. Not the mad-ness of Achilles, but actual insanity, which Biblical heroes must risk being interpreted as being in order to do God’s will. As Kierkegaard famously pointed out, this is most clear in Abraham.
¹¹Also note that even if we happened to hold the right interpretation of x, we couldn’t be certain that x was the right interpretation (think Gödel), and thus the Interpretation Dilemma is unresolvable unless God speaks directly. And even if God does, can we be sure?
¹²Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton University Press, 2003: 9–10.
¹³If Jack Miles is correct in God: A Biography, this means Genesis reflects the entire structure of the Torah: according to Miles, God becomes increasingly less active as the Torah progresses, increasing existential concerns, as culminated in Job.
¹⁴Actions of God after Genesis 22:
31:3 (A direct command)
31: 24 (Direct but quick and vague)
32 (Jacob wrestles with God and just gives Jacob a name).
35:1 (Directs on building an altar but quick.)
35:10 (Another renaming).
35: 11 (Blessing)
37:5 (Dream, might be or not be God.)
40–41 (More dreams, but it isn’t clear if the dreams are from God until unveiled in Joseph.)
¹⁵This brings to mind the radical controversy over what Islam calls “the satanic verses,” those parts of the Quran that were considered authoritative scripture until Muhammad supposedly claimed he was wrong about them, that it was actually Iblis speaking when he thought it was Allah. But of course, if Muhammad could make this mistake about some verses, why not all of them? An existential terror thus sprung alive.
¹⁶Imagine Abraham as a character in a modern novel, and it’s not hard to imagine how the story would unfold: it would be much more Kafkaesque, there would be many more flirtations with anxiety and madness, etc. Well, thanks in part to Abraham, the trajectory for the Modern Novel was set.
¹⁷Interestingly, Kierkegaard was concerned about Christian societies precisely because they seemed to make God’s will and social will identical, making it harder to tell if God’s Will was clearly at work. But this blurring also stopped madness from passing as saintly, a supposed evolution, but perhaps not if this “possible risk” is essential to being a “Biblical hero.”
¹⁸Kierkegaard argued that Abraham believed that if he killed Isaac, God would bring Isaac back by bodily resurrection (note that Abraham says to his servants that “we will come back to you” (22:5)), for God could not will something that negated God’s covenant. But how could Abraham have been so sure? What if we were Abraham today and we thought God told us to kill our child? What if we committed the act, and the body didn’t spring alive again? Then suddenly an act of “goodness according to Objectivity Himself” would unveil itself to be evil madness. And many would say afterwards that had we listened to God closer, we wouldn’t have made such an “obvious” mistake.
¹⁹If God asks us to do something, on what grounds can we argue with God? We have finite understanding, and God alone is the only standard by which we can determine the good from the bad (God commits no Nietzschean “transvaluation of all values,” for what God says is that which has value). If God tells us to do something crazy, who are we to argue? In fact, it can’t be crazy if God has commanded it: we must be crazy for thinking it is crazy. But are we crazy to wonder if we misunderstood God? It would be crazy not to be worried about that, seeing how dire the consequences can be — and so a very heavy existential weight is unveiled, a collection of dilemmas that will be explored and expounded on for centuries to come, a task Western Literature will set itself up to attempt.
²⁰The Western hero is thus often an outsider who the society rejects but ultimately there is a happy ending: against the social order, the Western hero is revealed to be right all along. As Western Literature advances though, eventually the happy ending isn’t so guaranteed, and so emerge antiheroes, failed heroes, and protagonists who started good but perhaps were never really good in the first place. Things change.
²¹Does Biblical risk-taking contribute to American entrepreneurship? Are the focuses on risk and the individual keys for the rise of the entrepreneurial spirit? Whereas “tragedy” kills it, for if at the end of the day, all we will find ourselves in is trade-offs, why bother trying?
²²Nussbaum, Martha. The Fragility of Goodness. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 5.
²³Nussbaum, Martha. The Fragility of Goodness. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 25.
²⁴Nussbaum, Martha. The Fragility of Goodness. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 34.
²⁵And if the Biblical hero chooses wrong, it’s as if the choice reaches back in time (“a flip moment”) and makes the hero “always crazy, evil, and/or the like.”
1. Please note that though the Torah seems long, compared to The Mahabharata or Upanishads, it is extremely short. This suggests validity to Auerbach’s point that the Bible “leaves out a lot” compared to other ancient works.
2. As the West advances and loses faith in God, the truth of the conditionality of goodness lingers, but the solution of God’s direct action increasingly fades, and no one seems to have come up with a new solution to replace the old one. The stories that emerges in the West gradually reflect a growing sense of this loss, but the Eastern solution of accenting to social goods like dharma or karma never take root in the West. This saves Western heroes from the “tragedies” of Oedipus and Arjuna, but at the cost of having to deal with “the relativism problem” (heroism/absurdism).
3. The individual is the primary source of metaphysical realities, which the individual may misunderstand and likely does the more the individual tries to understand them on his or her own.
4. We also have the codification of the underdog narrative: we can no longer assume “the best” is in fact “the best.”
5. Skepticism of appearances can be good, but madman can use that to claim, “I look mad, but maybe I only look mad?”
6. Generally, it seems God calls individuals out from families to make “people” versus call individuals to fit within pre-existing social structures. God picks a people through an individual versus an individual in a people.
7. Comparing Abraham, Antigone, and Arjuna could be a fruitful enterprise.
8. The best lecture that describes the point I want to describe in Section IV is done by Merold Westphal and can be found here, “Kierkegaard on Faith and Reason.”
9. Note that what constitutes rationality is deeply linked to what is considered ethical, because something is rational if it is “good” (a point elaborated on throughout The True Isn’t the Rational). Thus, if God says, “Do x,” since God is good, it is rational/good to do x, even if x is genocide. “But did God really say…?” asks the serpent.
10. It is hard to imagine Abraham sacrificing Isaac in the style of Homer.
11. Genesis gradually moves from a macro-picture to micro-focuses and micro-answers, from a cosmic narrative all the way down to the particular story of a boy sold into slavery because his brothers were jealous of his beautiful attire.
12. Heidegger seems to believe that the Greek language was the truest language, that the divide between the signifier and signified was smallest in Greek. Perhaps this is suggested by the Homeric style of “leaving nothing unsaid,” for if we use a language that need not be interpreted, we don’t have to worry about leaving anything out. Following Mimesis, the Jews though knew language was always a failure and embraced that failure by intentionally omitting.
13. Paradoxically, the formal structure of Genesis suggests that God can become indirect and trust us after we prove ourselves willing to do the most horrible of things. Alternatively, perhaps God becomes ashamed of us?
14. The Western Hero by the 20th and 21st century will emerge as a combination of tragedy and risk, especially as Pluralization and Globalization increase in scope. Nietzsche desires a return to Greek values, and he will get his wish, but Nietzsche may not realize this entails a return of “tragedy.”
15. The Western Hero stands outside of society, ideology, power structures, etc., and must risk insanity thus.
16. Even if the characters in the Bible are confident God spoke, Western people and future literary characters who live according to — or been influenced by — the Bible might not be so sure, and thus all the dilemmas outlined in this work come into full force, especially in writers like Camus and Dostoevsky. It will ultimately not just be the Biblical hero who vulnerably flirts with madness/evil to be rational/good, but the Western hero in general.
17. The Bible starts with disappointment more than a problem. Yes, it is a problem that Adam and Eve are outside of Eden, but they didn’t start with a problem; rather, they created it for themselves.
18. Biblical heroes follow convictions more than duties — what only an individual can fully understand versus a social order.
19. If God in fact spoke, it is rational and good for the individual to act accordingly, even if in the eyes of society, the act is irrational and evil. But a Christian society knows about this problem, so it may make room for the individual to act on his or her convictions, even if the individual may threaten the social order. Thus, a tension emerges in Western life, one that could incentivize smaller nation states.
20. For Kierkegaard, a Christian society is one that will struggle to recognize the Biblical hero, for the social goods will blur with individual goals (hinting at the Bible’s love/hate relationship with the Law which Mosses brings down). Additionally, if a society accepts the Biblical hero, the Biblical hero doesn’t have to risk so much for God, lessening the meaning and power of the Biblical conviction.
21. Social values can threaten the Biblical hero (though not necessarily), but they can also help stop madness from being moralized. When madness is moralized, its damages are not only hard to stop but likely to intensify and spread. This is a dilemma recognized by many great sociologists like Rieff, Hunter, and Berger.
22. Please note that even Atheist writers in Western Literature will operate under many of the assumptions and ideas they inherent (like secondhand smoke) from the Bible, such as its notions of individualism and individual conviction. It is hard to find an Eastern Kierkegaard (especially before the 20th century), and this might be due to the general Eastern emphasis of the social over the individual (though this is no way means the East is worse off than us; today, many Westerners idealize the East).
Please note that Buddhism can be viewed as a counter to my generality on the East, but I’m not so sure: Buddhism is generally a departure from the social order versus a radical complexifying of it. To become existential, we must be in a social order that we are challenged by, though I don’t mean to suggest the Buddhists are necessarily wrong: my point is only to highlight reasons why existentialism (at the start at least) is generally most Western than Eastern. Furthermore, assuming only a minority do it, leaving a social order helps maintain that social order.
In Western civilizations being Christian, they social orders themselves have had to somehow incorporate a skepticism against social orders in favor of the individual. This is a unique and complex problem that might hint at the secret to Western greatness and Western dysfunction. The West is uniquely dialectical, and dialectics are strange.
23. Where there is interpretation, there must be not just subjectivity but multiple subjectivities, and if the problem of subjectivity/interpretation that these subjectivities poise to themselves isn’t resolved, God’s Will shall not readily be known, and the heroic will prove unlikely if not impossible. And yet is only through subjectivities and individuals that God is known.
24. Derrida points out a strange tension: Rousseau claimed writing failed compared to speaking, and yet proceeded to write a book to explain his point. It’s as if Rousseau wanted to be Homer but ended up Jewish (caught between writing and speaking, a lexiconic Hamlet).
25. Following Derrida, metaphysics is born out of the divide between the signified and signifier, a problem that writing brings into sharp focus. Western writers try to escape this problem through speech, but they ultimately fall back onto writing. Please note that, for Derrida, the birth of metaphysics and problem of interpretation arise from the same source (they are siblings).
26. In Biblical thinking, there is a radical problem of subjectivity that a robust social order helps us avoid being anxious over, but that social order is at the same time a threat to God (even if inspired by God).
27. Western heroes often risk doing the absurd to be righteous, but usually things work out. But things change with the 20th century and waning belief in God: antiheroes and tragic heroes become more common, for there is no possibility of their “absurd” actions being “flipped over” and redeemed.
28. As the Biblical hero might be deluded, so the reader might be deluded in thinking their interpretation is correct.
29. Kierkegaard argued that Abraham was not supported by social values, that his mere possibility was a significant threat to social values through revealing the possibility of values being radically conditioned by God and His Will (similar to Jesus). Nothing must always be stable, and so nothing is truly stable except God’s Will, and thus it’s very important to know God’s Will, but humans lack facilities to know God well. Faced with this unstableness and radical possibility, we should feel “fear and trembling.” In this context, the Western hero will develop with ever-greater awareness of his “contingent” situation.
30. There’s a ditch on both sides of the road: we need to remember both the lessons of the Bible and the Greeks. Today, we seem to recall the teachings of the Bible, but as Nussbaum points out, we’ve lost sight of “tragedy” as a useful category.
31. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Indeed, but if this is so, can’t we intended something for good, and God know it is evil?
32. Homer’s eternity seems to be honor, while God’s eternity seems to be tied to humility.
33. The Biblical hero lacks social backing and is alone with God, while the Greek hero is caught between social commitments.
34. Abraham brings to light “the problem of pluralizing subjectivity” that is “practicality” not there until God’s existence begins to fade, at which point a vacuum appears that nature and psychology abhor.
35. Myths entail timeless lessons, assuming there is such thing as human nature (please note “myth” and “fantasy” are not similes). Also, there is only imperative to care about interpretation if we believe there is a truth that is knowable.
36. If we’re not God’s child, we’re a sinner, and to be God’s child, Abraham was called to murder.
37. Note that God says, “Let there…” as if things preexist but are unwilling to “let their existence be.” In Genesis 1, God does not say “I now make” or something that suggests He creates ex nihilo (even though theologically we may know this follows).
38. God names parts of creation “sky,” “land,” “day,” and “night,” but stops naming midway through Day Four. From that point on, Adam does the naming. This suggests the words “sky” etc. are directly from God, similar perhaps to how Muslims think of the Quran as being Allah’s direct voice. Also, the fact Adam is provided animals to name suggests Adam “co-labors” with God, and yet God speaks as if He Himself is not a “suitable partner” for Adam. And how can God ever not be suitable for anything? Is not God perfect? This suggests that not even God can defy what is “fitting” (a condition perhaps God chose to impose on Himself with the choice to Create).
39. Perhaps the fact God names “sky,” “land,” “day,” and “night” suggests God has dominion over the heavens while people are given dominion over the world (a created order humanity threatened with the Tower of Babel)?
40. There is a stress on “according to their kinds,” and perhaps if humans ontologically change after the Fall, it is no longer possible for them to be/mate/etc., “according to their kind.” Also, the fact that God Himself does not view Himself as a “suitable co-laborer” for Adam suggests there is something sexual involved, which hits at why the story of the Nephites (“half gods”) mating with mankind is problematic. God will not interact with human beings in a similar way: the birth of God’s son will be through a virgin.
41. God says, “Let us,” which suggests God is amongst many, perhaps the Trinity.
42. God says, “Let us make man in our image and likeness,” which suggests there might be a distinction between “image” and “likeness.” Following Christology, perhaps we can say everyone is made in the image of God, but without Christ, we cannot have the likeness? Very important to note, as reinforced by Chapter 5, the image of God “is male and female” and named “man” (1:27). Thus, humans are only themselves “as male and female.” Note also that Adam and Eve were not named “Adam and Eve” until after the Fall, suggesting beforehand that they shared a profound unity. Naming in the Bible bears ontological significance. Fallen, marriage is an attempt of humans to return to a state of wholeness that must necessarily fall short until perhaps the final “marriage” of the Church with God.
43. “Adam” refers to both the man and woman until after The Fall; then, “Adam” becomes “Adam and Eve.” This suggests that before the Fall, like The Trinity, Adam was “two people one essence” — a community.
44. God tells Adam to “subdue” nature, but why does Paradise need to be subdued? If it’s perfect, it should not need to be controlled or even managed. I think Vigen Guroian is correct that “subdue” does not mean “domination,” but “enable it to be its fullest self” — something more like “direct it.” This would suggest that “the perfect” is “something becoming,” that perfection isn’t a state.
45. If Adam can eat “from every tree that has fruit with seeds in it,” we have reason to think that the Tree of Knowledge was the only tree without fruit that contained seeds. This perhaps suggests the knowledge gained from that tree “could not birth” or reproduce according to the right kind. Not all knowledge is procreative, it seems: some knowledge is regressive.
46. Note that God specifically makes a point to say plants are for eating but not animals. However, God will tell Noah that animals can be eaten. Are we only to eat what contains seeds that have all they need to grow (assuming the environmental conditions are right, as they always were in Eden)?
47. God does not say “very good” until he sees “everything that He had made,” suggesting that things can only be “good” until they exist in a harmony with many parts, which is when they can then be “very good.”
48. Note God becomes “Lord God” at the start of Chapter 2, and this is because when God “rests” and so “takes a seat upon the throne to rule” (as N.T. Wright describes the Seventh Day — God doesn’t sleep). At this point, it’s as if creation is birthed out of a womb and everything beforehand was like speaking to and blessing an unborn baby. When God becomes “Lord God,” it’s as if creation becomes animated, that there is thus something to rule.
49. God creates humans, and since they bear his “image and likeness,” they are God’s “idols,” per se, a way to communicate and commune with creation. Humans are divine and have direct access to God: the making of idols like “the golden calf” is for humans to suggest this is not the case.
50. God takes man and “puts him” in the Garden, which begs the question: “Where was Adam before?”
51. Adam does not speak back to God until after the Fall.
52. Did God create humanity to be surprised?
53. God makes woman, but Adam names woman “woman.”
54. If man is made in God’s image, are animals made in man’s image? By extension, is there a degree of “divine image” in animals?
55. The Tower of Babel is a problem because humans want to reach heaven and establish dominion there, when God only gave the earth to humans over which to have dominion. Humanity is not supposed to be unified by a single language until Pentecost, and in a sense, the Tower of Babel is an effort to eat from the Tree of Life after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Humans are to procreate across the world, but not sit on a throne in heaven.
56. Who is the writer interjecting in Genesis 2:24 (“For this reason a man…and they felt no shame.”)?
57. Genesis 5:1–2 says that “God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He creates them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man’ ” — all this suggests that the “he” in verse 1 refers to both a male and female. When we call God “he,” is something similar at play? Do we refer to a community (like a “singular they”)?
58. Who are “the heroes of old, men of renown” Genesis 6 discusses? The world is very new: how can heroes be “old?”
59. Those who build the Tower of Babel also “want to make a name for themselves,” which perhaps humanity is only allowed to do in Eden before the Fall (through Adam naming the animals). Fallen, perhaps we are only allowed to “give names to things,” (ultimately arbitrary), whereas before the Fall we could name them (essential).
60. God’s rejection of Babel might suggest a rejection of an “Empire strategy” for bringing back Paradise.
61. Eden consisted of a single tongue in a state of Sabbath — God ruled — a unity that the Fall broke up, and only where God “is” can there be a single tongue again (say with Pentecost). We often say people “speak in tongues” under the Holy Spirit, but I submit to you that “tongues” should be “the tongue,” for it is not a multiplicity, but God’s unified word. The Holy Spirit comes after Jesus ascends into heaven, for now “the Sabbath” has been restored and the next step is a recreation of the singular tongue.
62. Genesis seems divided into two parts, marked by Chapter 12.
63. Isaac was not a young child and probably could have fought against Abraham to escape if he wasn’t willing to submit.
64. Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (23:8), which perhaps suggests Abraham is blaming God for sacrificing Isaac? Or does Abraham expect God to send a lamb before the fatal stab?
65. Note that God already promised to make Abraham a great nation, and yet says in 23:18 that “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.” Does this mean the covenant wouldn’t have come to pass if Abraham failed? Perhaps this suggests why God acts and speaks less and differently after Abraham is tested: perhaps the deal is done.
66. Genesis 24:67 suggests that sex was marriage, for Isaac brings Rebekah “into the tent of his mother Sarah and married Rebekah.”
67. God tells Rebekah that “the older will serve the younger” in Genesis 26:21 — does this mean she was justified to devise a plot for Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing over Esau? Perhaps as Jacob raised his hand to bless Esau, as with Abraham, an angel would have at the last minute stayed Abraham’s hand and unveiled to him that the blessing was to be given to Jacob? Perhaps Rebekah lacked faith? Then again, perhaps she showed faith in devising her plan, for she believed it would work and that what God said would come to pass.
68. Note that the opening two lines of Chapter 27 and Chapter 22 are similar, but this time instead of God speaking to Abraham, Isaac calls out Esau. In the formal logic of Genesis, when another character acts or speaks before God, there is trouble: perhaps Chapter 27 is an example of how Chapter 22 could have gone if Abraham had less faith? Perhaps Abraham could have tried to disguise a slave child as Isaac to trick God?
69. Jacob tells some extreme lies in Chapter 22. When Isaac asks how he found the food so quick, he says “the Lord your God gave me success” (27:20) — to use God’s name to tell a lie is quite foul.
70. As Jacob tricks Isaac, so Jacob is similarly tricked by Laban to marry Leah before Rachel — a just symmetry, perhaps.
71. Esau claims that Jacob deceived him twice (27:36), but wasn’t it only once?
72. Isaac speaks as if his blessing is magic and cannot be reversed. He tells Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants” (27:37), and yet Isaac trembles violently over this, as if he wishes he could reverse what he has done. Spoken contracts in the Bible seem final.
73. Though Jacob had the birthright, it seems he needed the blessing to “put the seal on the deal,” per se.
74. Isaac blesses Esau: “But when you grow restless / you will throw his yoke / from off your neck.” Yet when Esau and Isaac come together again, Esau embraces Isaac in love and kindness. Is this an example of Esau rejecting his blessing?
75. After Abraham is tested, God provides more (indirect) blessings than direct guidance.
76. The first thing we learn about Leah is that she had “weak eyes” (29:17), while Rachel was ‘lovely in form, and beautiful.’ Ironically, Jacob was able to take the blessing from his brother Esau because Isaac’s eyesight was weak, and yet the formal structure of the chapter suggests that “weak eyes” was a reason he rejected Leah. Also of note, we are told Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah,” not that he didn’t love Leah at all.
77. In Genesis 30:20, it is said that “Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her,” yet in Genesis 31:28–42 he speaks to Laban as if he has been a slave for centuries.
78. Also, it is interesting that the Lord opens Leah’s womb because she “was not loved” (30:31), as if Jacob mistreated her and held her accountable for something that wasn’t her fault. It does not seem that God is intentionally causing trouble for Jacob, but instead enacting justice. And yet Jacob was tricked to marry Leah — should Jacob be held so accountable? And perhaps Leah should be punished for going along with Laban’s plan, as Jacob went along with Rebecca’s?
79. Genesis 30:15 suggests that Rachel is willing to give up something precious to Leah for mere food just like Esau, further evidence that the Bible doesn’t seem to think Jacob, Leah, and Rachel are necessarily better people than Esau. In fact, they seem equally impulsive and foolish, suggesting that if God makes a people through them, it is thanks to God’s Providence.
80. Leah is desperate for Jacob ‘to treat [her] with honor’ (30:20), which suggests that Jacob is not the best of people. He tricked his father and was honored with a blessing, but he will not return the favor.
81. In Genesis 32, Jacob splits up his group into two parties, and asks God to “Save me…” (32:11). Does this mean Jacob wants God to save both groups or just his? This could be a sign of cowardliness.
82. Perhaps Jacob must wrestle God to prove himself worthy again after tricking his father and acting fearful?
83. When Jacob is to see Esau again, he calls himself before Esau “your servant” and calls Esau “my lord” (33:4, 5). Does this mean Jacob is willing to give back the birthright and blessing that he stole from Esau? In his fear, he might be committing the same mistake Esau committed, but, as if Esau is through who God’s grace works, Esau denies the gesture. Again, this would suggest it is by God’s hand that Jacob rises in prominence, not just by Jacob’s own power.
84. If a character does something in the Bible, it does not necessarily follow that God approves of it.
85. Perhaps the Greek gods would be easier to replace with natural forces than the God of Abraham, for Yahweh is a radical person who is not bound by fate. Since Yahweh is more personal, knowing him may require more faith: we cannot get around Yahweh’s demands by figuring out how nature works.
86. The Biblical hero is a person versus a society, while a Greek hero is more so a person caught in a society.
87. Genesis 34 describes a strange episode in which the children of Jacob ultimately strike a deal that they break. Is this acceptable? Perhaps had this happened before the covenant with Noah, God would have destroyed the world again, but God is bound by his covenant like Isaac?
88. When Joseph tells his brothers about his dream, Joseph could easily be bragging. If God blessed Joseph with a dream, that doesn’t mean he was necessarily justified to brag. A tension of Genesis seems to be God telling people that they will be blessed in a certain way, and they taking that into their own power to decide how that blessing comes into being.
89. If we cannot return to Eden, we must learn how to live as aliens. Only aliens can be saved.