2012-01-07

If Adam and Eve are metaphors why not . . . . ?

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by Neil Godfrey

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If my good nemesis can re-use one of my posts I suppose I can pinch from one of his that is recycled from James Spinti’s blog.

Whoever wrote the Adam and Eve story in Genesis was “clearly inviting” his readers to understand it as a metaphor.

[The names Adam and Eve] literally are ‘Humanity’ and ‘Life’. Few readers of the English Bible are aware of this connection, and thus they fail to realize how the text itself invites them to see these characters less as historical figures and more as metaphorical representations of the human race. Once one understands the driving metaphor we are expelled from paradise, however, suddenly the remainder of Genesis and even our own lives make much more sense.

Agreed wholeheartedly.

Now consider our earliest Gospel, that of Mark:

Jesus = Saviour / Healer (for full details see the article by classicist Professor John Moles linked from here)

Peter = Rock / Stone (See Mary Ann Tolbert’s “Sowing the Gospel” for Peter as leader of the twelve being a personification of the rocky soil of the parable of Sower)

Judas = Jew (that “treacherous race” that crucified our Lord)

Jairus = Awakened (whose daughter was awakened out of the sleep of death)

Capernaum = Village of Comfort (where Jesus performed his miracles of healing)

Bethany = House of Sorrow (where Jesus was anointed for his burial)

Bethphage = House of Unripe Figs (where Jesus cursed the fig tree)

Bethsaida = House of Fishing (where those Jesus called to be fishers of men were)

Bartimaeus = Various (Not all scholars take this blind man’s name as a real name and there are a variety of interpretations for it)

Some biblical scholars have published more detailed discussions of such puns than I list here (Miller et al, Tarazi) but you get the idea.

And when Mark writes a nonsense itinerary he is calling out to readers to see he is speaking of Isaiah’s prophetic announcement and not literal history: Mark failed Geography, but great Bible Student.

Kelber shows the metaphoric meaning behind Jesus’ crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee.

Mark does say after all that Jesus never spoke without a parable, and he even tells us the cross itself is something that needs to be taken up by all believers.

Did the author of this Gospel really believe he was writing history or was he signalling to readers that he was writing a metaphoric tale of Christian conversion and the way to enter the kingdom of God? A number of biblical scholars seem to lean to the latter being the case with at least several of the stories.

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6 Comments

  • John
    2012-01-07 23:53:40 GMT+0000 - 23:53 | Permalink

    In Jesus’ case we also have Paul’s letters, though whether Jesus is a metaphor or a human in them is also debatable.

  • 2012-01-08 06:42:42 GMT+0000 - 06:42 | Permalink

    (biblical scholar)These examples don’t count because every other gospel author uses all of those characters. Since the other gospels are independent witnesses to the historical Jesus, this means that none of those names are allegorical as they were part of authentic oral traditions.(/biblical scholar)

  • KevinC
    2012-01-10 22:47:04 GMT+0000 - 22:47 | Permalink

    Wouldn’t a historicist argue that:

    Judas = Jew (that “treacherous race” that crucified our Lord)

    points to a historical Jesus, since it refers to a crucifixion for which Jews were at least partially culpable? A mythicist Jesus crucified in the intermediate celestial realm by the Archons wouldn’t be the same thing. Maybe it could be argued that Jews who remained loyal to Yahweh/Ialdabaoth become identified metaphorically with him and his fellow Archons, and are thus metaphorically portrayed as demanding Jesus’ crucifixion, but that seems like it might be a bit of a stretch.

    • Michael W. N.
      2012-01-11 04:08:21 GMT+0000 - 04:08 | Permalink

      KevinC,

      Some names and stories may evoke multiple associations. Who was the greatest example of a denouncer, and who was the greatest example of a victim of a denouncer, until Jesus appeared on the scene? According to J. Duncan M. Derrett, the greatest victim of a denouncer was Joseph, who was handed over to the Ishmaelites by the “Twelve,” that is, by his brothers acting as a collective.

      Having put Joseph into the pit, the Twelve sat down to eat bread. During the meal, Judah said: “Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites…” Simeon negotiated the sale for thirty gold coins, and split the balance between himself and Gad (Test. Gad. 2:3).

      Derrett uses considerable space to argue that the story of Judas Iscariot is an allegory based on the tale of Joseph. See J. Duncan M. Derrett, Studies in the New Testament 3 (1982), 161-183.

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