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The Dawn of Humanity


The second and third chapters of the book of Genesis unfold a new theme; we can say that they begin a new book: the history of mankind. It is understandable why Moses speaks twice about the creation of man. It was necessary for him to speak of man in the first chapter as the crown of creation, in the general picture of the creation of the world. Now, after concluding the first theme: And the heavens and the earth were finished, and the whole world of them it is natural that he should begin the history of humanity by speaking again of the creation of the first man and of how woman was made for him. These are the contents of the second chapter, which also describes their life in Eden, in paradise. The third chapter tells of their fall into sin and their loss of paradise. In these accounts, together with the literal meaning, there is a symbolic meaning and we are not in a position to indicate where precisely events are related in their natural, literal sense, and where they are expressed figuratively, we are not in a position to separate the symbol from the simple fact. We only know that, in one form or another, we are being told of events of the most profound significance.

A symbol is a relative means of expression, which is convenient in that it is pictorial, and therefore makes an impression on the soul. It does not require great verbal means to express a thought. At the same time, it leaves a strong impression of the given concept. A symbol gives one the possibility of penetrating more deeply into the meaning of the thought. Thus, in quoting the Psalmic text, Thy hands have made me, Saint John of Kronstadt accompanies it with the remark: "Thy hands are the Son and the Spirit." The word "hands" in relation to God suggests to him the idea of the Most-holy Trinity (My Life in Christ). We read similar words in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons: "The Son and the Holy Spirit are, as it were, the hands of the Father" (Against Heresies, bk. 5, ch. 6).

It is essential to make a strict distinction between Biblical symbol and imagery, with the special meaning which is hidden within it, and the concept of myth. In the Bible there is no mythology. Mythology belongs to polytheism, which personifies as gods the phenomena of nature and has created fantastic tales on this basis. We are justified in saying that the book of Genesis is a "de-mythologizing" of ancient notions, the unmasking of mythology, that it was directed against myths.

It might be said that one can also see symbolism in mythology. This is true. But the difference here is that the truth often deeply mysterious lies behind Moses' figurative expressions; but mythological stories present fiction inspired by the phenomena of nature. These are symbols of the truth; the others are symbols of arbitrary fantasy. For an Orthodox Christian this is similar to the difference between an icon and an idol: the icon is the depiction of a real being, whereas an idol is a depiction of a fictitious creation of the mind.

The symbolic element is felt most strongly where there is the greatest need to reveal an essential point. Such, for example, is the account of the creation of the woman from Adam's rib. Saint John Chrysostom teaches us:

And He took, it says, one of his ribs. Do not understand these words in a human way, but know that crude expressions are used in adaptation to human infirmity. Indeed, if Scripture did not use these words, then how could we come to know the ineffable mysteries? Let us not, then, dwell only on the words, but let us take everything in an appropriate way, as relating to God. This expression 'took' and all similar expressions are used on account of our infirmity (loc. cit., pp. 120-1).

The moral conclusion of this story is comprehensible to us. Saint Paul points it out: woman is called to be in submission to man. The head of the woman is the man; the head of every man is Christ ... ; for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man (1 Cor. 11:3,8). But why did Moses speak specifically of the manner in which woman was created? He undoubtedly had the intention of protecting the minds of the Hebrews from the fictions of mythology and, in particular, from the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, the homeland of their ancestors. These sordid and morally corrupting tales tell of how the world of gods, the world of man and the world of animals are in some way merged together: goddesses and gods form unions with men and animals. We find a hint of this in the depictions of lions and bulls with human heads, which are so widespread in Chaldeo-Mesopotamian and Egyptian art.' The Biblical account of the creation of woman supports the concept that the human race has its own, absolutely unique, independent origin and keeps its physical nature pure and distinct from the beings of the supernatural world, and from the lower realm of animals. That this is so is evident from the preceding verses of the account: And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make for him a help suitable for him (Gen. 2:18). And He brought all the wild beasts to Adam, and Adam gave them names, but for Adam there was not found a helpmate like to himself (Gen. 2:20). Then it was that God put a trance upon Adam and made him a wife out of one of his ribs.

Thus, after the truth of the unity of God, the truth of the unity, independence, and distinctness of the human race is confirmed. It is with these two basic truths that Saint Paul begins his sermon on the Areopagus in Athens: God is one, and He hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26). The account of the creation of man and of the origin of the human race which is given in the book of Genesis deals just such a blow to polytheistic, mythological concepts, as did the story of the creation of the world.

The first people lived in paradise, in Eden, that most beautiful garden. The dawn of humanity is illumined by rays of the Sun of Grace in Moses' account. Now, under the influence of some cave discoveries, early man is usually depicted for us in the gloom of a cave, so as to make a repugnant impression with his animal-like shape, with a protruding lower jaw, with a threatening or frightened expression in his eyes, with a cudgel in his hand, hunting for raw meat. However, the Bible tells us that, although man was in a childlike state in the spiritual sense, he was still a noble creature of God from the beginning of his existence; that from the beginning, his countenance was not dark, not gloomy, but radiant and pure. He was always intellectually superior to other creatures. The gift of speech gave him the opportunity to develop his spiritual nature further. The riches of the vegetable kingdom presented him with an abundance of food. Life in this most beneficent climate did not require much labor. Moral purity gave him inner peace. The process of development could have taken on a higher form, one which is unknown to us.

In the animal world, although it stands lower than man, we observe many noble-featured, harmoniously built species in the kingdoms of fourlegged animals and birds which express beauty and grace in their external features. We observe so many gentle animals, prepared to show attachment and trust and, what is more important, to serve in almost a disinterested way. There is also much harmony and beauty before us in the plant world and, one could say, the plants compete to be of service with their fruits. Why then is it necessary to conceive of early man alone as deprived of all the attractive and beautiful features with which the animal and plant kingdoms are endowed?

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