The Beginning--God the Supreme Artist--The Fourth Day--The River--Adam and Eve--The Power of Choice--The Triple Curse--Cain and Abel--Long-lived Ancestors--Methuselah--The Flood--Noah-- Noah's Wife--Drunkenness of Noah--His Curse
The early chapters of Genesis are a kind of Outline of History, like that by H. G. Wells, only better written. They are even more condensed than his, and like his book, they attempt to account for the things we see: light, the sun, moon, stars, land, water, animals, and man. No one knows how any of these came into existence, but the Bible account is sublime in its simple dignity, and begins in a reasonable and orderly manner by putting the First Cause first. I have read accounts of the origin of the world in the bibles of other religions, and they all, while containing some fine and interesting remarks, seem to have much that is trivial and silly. There is nothing childish or silly in our Bible. The narrative opens like a great symphony:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.
Lotze said that the Mosaic cosmogony was more sublime than any other, and he was right. It repre-
sents physical changes coming from the Divine Will, coming easily and immediately. The control of mind over matter seems to me more natural and reasonable than the other way around, in spite of the fact that some reasonable men are materialists. In the last analysis the idea that the human mind developed out of matter seems to me as curious as the idea that an automobile should make a man, rather than a man make an automobile. I wonder if those who believe that thought, imagination, poetry and music were made by matter do not fall into a vicious circle by somehow thinking that the creative matter had mind in it.
Although it is impossible for the mind of man to understand the mind of God, I can, in a minute fashion, appreciate the happiness of God as He surveyed each day's achievement. "God saw that it was good," and rejoiced. Of course He did. One of the features of the Bible account of creation is that it represents God as the Supreme Artist. The world has always loved great artists--In books, paintings, buildings, statues, and music. One reason why I love God is because the beauty of the universe came from Him. He made the sun and stars, the mountains, the sea, the trees, and the flowers. Joyce Kilmer said:
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God could make a tree.
The first chapter of Genesis represents the Artist
in the full glow of creation. As He made Light, Water, and Land, He stopped to survey His work, and He felt a thrill of joy. There is no doubt that some of the highest and purest happiness known to man is when he finishes a painting or a poem or a symphony that he knows is good; and the Bible is undoubtedly right when it represents the greatest of all Artists looking on His creations with delight. As Aprile said to Paracelsus:
God is the perfect poet,
Who in His person acts His own creations.
Aprile was a poet and knew what he was talking about. After a life of dissipation he found his way to God through beauty as others have found it through character. Furthermore, there is something divine in the act of creation. Beethoven, Raphael, and Shakespeare seem in some mysterious manner to approach divinity.
As a representation of continuous masterpieces in art, such as an artist throws off in his happiest moods, the first chapter in the Bible has a magnificence all its own; from the point of view of science it marks the procession from the inorganic to the organic; the waters were divided, the lower waters receded, and the dry land appeared; then came vegetation, luxurious, abundant--the third day. Fish and fowl appeared on the fifth day; on the sixth came the beasts of the earth, running and creeping flat, followed by the upright figure of man.
The only thing in the six days' progression which seems to me strange is the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. In Dostoevski's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, this is mentioned, together with an illustration of how obedience in a pupil used to be more highly regarded than intelligence. When Smerdyakov was twelve years old, Grigory began to teach him the Bible. "But the teaching came to nothing. At the second or third lesson the boy suddenly grinned. 'What's that for?' asked Grigory, looking at him threateningly from under his spectacles. 'Oh, nothing. God created light on the first day and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. Where did the light come from on the first day?'.....'I'll show you where!' he cried, and gave the boy a violent slap on the cheek."
Doubtless the boy then saw more stars than were in the lesson. Violence is a convenient but not permanent method of silencing questions. Furthermore, there have been plausible answers to Smerdyakov's query.
I remember in studying Latin grammar at school I exclaimed: "I don't see the use of learning these strings of exceptions by rote."
The teacher flew into a rage and shouted: "Your business is not to ask questions, but to do the work assigned to you."
I then believed the teacher to be mistaken; now I know he was.
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden.
I can see the pleasant river flowing through the greenery. It is interesting to remember that the Bible begins and ends with a river. The earthly paradise and the heavenly were each beautified by a noble river; see the first verse of the last chapter in the Bible. Curious that so many Christians have believed in a river of death, when there is no suggestion of it in the Bible, where is described the river of life. The Styx has no place in Christian theology; yet many Christians talk of crossing the river of death, perhaps because Bunyan made such a dramatic scene of it in the Pilgrim's Progress. It may have annoyed him that he could not give chapter and verse for it, his usual method of fortifying his pictures and anecdotes.
Adam does not appear to have been remarkable either for intelligence or for courage; but he must have been extraordinarily ingenious. He named all the animals. In language he must have had creative ability and a large vocabulary. Anyone who wishes to know what a mental feat this literary branding was has only to try to name six things in a row. The late Mr. Pullman gave one of his daughters a
large salary simply for naming each new Pullman car. Was it she who made them sound like a list of dramatis personae in Shakespeare?
John Donne, who was Dean of St. Paul's three hundred years ago, seems to have admired Adam's verbal skill, for in his Fourth Satire, describing a man he met at court, he says he saw
A thing it would have posed Adam to name.
The creation of Eve completed the beauty of the scene, for there is nothing lovelier than a lovely woman in a lovely garden.
Hir yelow heer was broyded in a tresse,
Bihynde hir bak, a yerde long, I gesse,
And in the gardin, at the sonne up-riste,
She walketh up and doun, and as her liste
She gadereth floures, party whyte and rede,
To make a sotil gerland for hir hede,
And as an aungel hevenly she song.
Between them, and with some prompting, Adam and Eve managed to ruin the garden, as has been man's way with Nature ever since. Browning said, "Heaven's gift takes earth's abatement." One does not have to read ancient history to see what man has done with Nature's gifts of richness and beauty. Look around now and consider.
Regarding the old story, perhaps the most amazing thing bestowed on our first parents was the gift of choice. It seems astounding that they had it entirely within their own power to destroy their happiness. They were as unfitted for the elective system
in life as most of their descendants have been, but their destiny was placed within their control, and they naturally chose wrong. To put the tree of life and the tree of knowledge within their reach seems like putting sugar and arsenic within the grasp of children; the situation has not materially changed within the last six thousand years. Adam and Eve were distinctly warned in advance, which had the natural effect; today moderns have all the advantages that come from humanity's collective wisdom, and with what result?
Adam and Eve did not know by previous experience what would happen. How much wiser are we? Every commencement essay in schools and colleges upholds a sufficient number of moral ideals to save the world, based on knowledge, and are all graduates saints? We know exactly what is bad for us, and then we take it.
Recently we have been taught something of the results of war on a large scale, although we are only beginning to feel them. We are solemnly warned what the "next war" will mean. Now does anybody seriously believe that there will not be another war?
What the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field looked like in the Garden of Eden I really do not know, but it is impossible to mistake Adam and Eve. They were one hundred percent human. They were the average man and woman of 1922. The American poet, Vachel Lindsay, impliedly defines Democracy in the phrase, "The people have a right
to make their own mistakes." Well, no development is possible without the power of choice; and human history begins with it.
The snake was a practiced liar; but his chief lie was not in saying, "Ye shall not surely die," although this was, like everything else he said, a lie; his chief lie was in the remark, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," the very passage that Mephistopheles, disguised as the Doctor, wrote in the student's book in Faust. We should substitute the words "men and women" for "gods"; for it is humanity that knows by sad experience the difference between good and evil, whereas the serene gods of most nations have been either beyond all such boundaries or indifferent to their possible import.
The garden of Eden resembled modern society both in the existence of sin and in its punishment. There the punishment was not long delayed. When the sin was discovered, it must be confessed that Adam did not present a very chivalrous attitude; he "told on" his wife immediately, like a coward at school. "And the man said, The woman thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Is it possible that in the first clause of Adam's reply there is a hint of irony as well as of plaintiveness?
What was the punishment? What was the curse? To Adam hard labour. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." He must become a farmer, which is in the twentieth century not a popular pro-
fession. Furthermore, he would get his food with difficulty. The earth would yield a good crop only by toil and eternal vigilance; whereas weeds would rise spontaneously. "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This curse has not yet been lifted.
The curse to Eve? She will bear children in bodily anguish, and she will be subordinate to her husband: "he shall rule over thee." Apparently in the garden of Eden, before they ate of the tree, Adam and Eve enjoyed absolute equality. During the last century the daughters of Eve have made strenuous efforts to nullify this part of the curse. Partly owing to inferiority in physical strength, they have not yet wholly succeeded. Physical inferiority was a curse apparently provided particularly for women; in animal life females are often on a par with males in speed and strength, and there are those who believe they are even more deadly.
The curse to the snake? He was to become an object of eternal loathing to men and women. And, except to professional snake-charmers and to some strange-minded children, he is still an object inspiring horror, dread, and hate.
It is always tragic to leave one's home forever, much harder on the woman than on the man. I am sure that Eve felt worse than Adam as they fared forth into the wilderness. Perhaps the emotions of both were accurately guessed by Milton in the noble close of Paradise Lost:
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming brand; the gate
With dreadful faces throng'd, and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropt, but wip'd them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
History is largely the record of the killing of man by man; birds are protected by law, and a few of them may be shot only in the open season; whereas just as many men are killed in one month as in another. And in times of war there is no closed season. The first murder occurs in the fourth chapter of the Bible, indicating again how speedily man began to be true to himself. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. No wonder Cain was ill-tempered. He had to drive oxen, whereas Abel merely sat and watched the peaceful sheep. It is said by professional plowmen that it is almost impossible to drive oxen without swearing; and certainly tillers of the soil often become fluent in this manner of speech. Cain seems to have had a violent temper anyhow, which was not improved by the day's work. He also had a Tom Sawyer hatred for good little boys; and perhaps Abel's piety and blamelessness became insufferable. Apparently the murder was not deliberately planned, but was the result of a sudden, overmastering impulse. It is interesting to observe that Cain was permitted to
live, branded as much for safety as for disgrace; and it is still more interesting to note that his great-great-great grandson, Lamech, was also a murderer. Whom he killed or why he did it we shall never know; but he regretted it, for he remarked to his two wives: "I have slain a man to my wounding and a young man to my hurt."
Human responsibility was the law that Cain broke: his surly remark, "Am I my brother's keeper?" has come echoing down the ages, and received a final answer in our Lord's parable of the Good Samaritan. The rebellious element in Cain's nature has made him a hot favourite with many poets, who turned him into a hero of drama, Byron's Cain arousing the attention of Europe. But Cain was really no hero; he was simply very human. He seems more real than his mild brother. Cain's descendants were important pioneers; the murderer Lamech had three sons--Jabal, the cowboy; Jubal, the musician; Tubal-Cain, the smith. It is pleasant to see, so early in history, music placed on an apparent equality with more "useful" and philistine work.
The patriarchs that followed our first parents seem to have lived long. Adam set a good example by living nine hundred and thirty years; hard work and plenty of fresh air were no doubt good for him. Perhaps they did not begin to feel old till they had passed their eighth century; I have a suspicion that when they were about eight hundred and fifty they
resented the attitude of striplings of three hundred-and-so, who tried to help them on with their cloaks --"I'm just as young as I ever was." Methuselah was the champion, living to be nine hundred and sixty-nine; but, after all, in excitement his life may have been shorter than Rupert Brooke's.
When I was a child I heard Mark Twain deliver a graduating address at school. He said: "The subject of my remarks is Methuselah; he lived to be nine hundred and sixty-nine years; but what of that? There was nothing doing." Methuselah would have been interested could he have known that when he passed the record set by Jared, who lived nine hundred and sixty-two years, he would be famous so long as there is a man left on the earth. Few men in history are more of a household word today; and Bernard Shaw is the latest to make use of his name in literature. I suppose the women lived as long as the men, though their ages are not recorded. Sarah's age was given much later and for a special reason.
There were giants in the earth in those days, mighty men which were of old, men of renown; so we learn in the sixth chapter of Genesis; but from the moral point of view they were not mighty at all.
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
The first of these two verses is not an exaggera-
tion and--with reservations--would do fairly well for any period of human history; the second takes us back to the First Day, when God saw that it was good. Nature was splendid, human nature evil-- where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile. The earth needed a bath, and got it.
The story of the Flood, as given in Genesis, is dramatic in its simplicity. It is one of the best short stories ever written; no child, hearing or reading it once, will forget it in maturer years--the building of the dreadnought ark; the entrance of Noah, his wife, his three sons--Shem, Ham, Japheth--with their wives; the dignified procession of animals, two by two.
In the Bible account there seem to have been no domestic difficulties when the rain began to fall; Noah, his wife and family, all entered the ark without any urging. But in the mediaeval Mystery Plays, where the flood was naturally a favourite scene, humour was injected into the story. Noah's wife had an unpleasant disposition, and emphatically refused to have anything to do with the ship. She finally consented to enter if the ladies' club to which she belonged might come in too; Noah was naturally unable to comply with this demand. While Shem, Ham, and Japheth are leading all the animals into the steerage, Noah's wife, although the waters are rising and the situation seems desperate, regards the exertions of her husband and sons with cynical disdain.
Noye. Wiffe, come in: why standes thou their?
Thou arte ever frowarde, I dare well sweare;
Come in, one Codes name! halfe tyme yt were,
For feare leste that we drowne.
Noyes Wiffe. Yea, sir, sette up youer saile
And rowe fourth with evill haile,
For withouten fayle
I will not oute of this towne;
But I have my gossippes everechone
One foote further I will not gone;
The shall not drowne, by Sante John!
And I may save ther life.
Noah is perplexed and evidently not for the first time; the sons speak rather roughly to their mother, except Japheth, the gentleman, who entreats; all to no avail. Then Shem picks her up, throws her into the boat, and as Noah says doubtfully, "Welcome, wife, into this boat," she strikes him with her fist. This slap-stick farce delighted our British ancestors.
In a time when few could read, the mediæval stage helped to keep the Bible alive.
At the deluge Noah was in the prime of life, a middle-aged man, un homme mur, being six hundred years old. After the event he lived three hundred and fifty years, dying at the age of nine hundred and fifty. How frequently during those remaining three centuries and a half Noah and his family must have talked about the flood! It could hardly be said to have been a landmark in their history, but I can imagine them using it as a great date. "That happened before the flood." "Do you remember three
hundred years after the deluge, when I broke my hip?"
I wonder what the constitution of the water was during the complete submersion. Did the ocean make the whole expanse salt, or did the mighty rain make the sea fresh? This, like the song of the Sirens, or what name Achilles took at the girls' school, we shall never know.
No child brought up on the Bible--as all children should be--ever forgets the happy moment when the waters "asswaged"; and "in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen." The sending out of the raven and then the dove appeals to the imagination; I have often wondered how long it took the mates of these two birds to find them. On the second trip of the dove her fluttering at the window of the ark in the evening, bearing the olive leaf in her mouth, must have caused enormous conversation within the family circle inside. After six days on the water, green fields are a thrilling sight; what must this olive leaf have signified to the weary voyagers?
The absolute persistence of sin on the earth is the cardinal fact in human history; all the ocean and all the rain could not wash wickedness off the land. Although Noah knew that the inhabitants had been slain because of their evil doing, and although he and his family had been miraculously spared, and although he had built an altar and worshipped as soon as he touched the ground, almost his next re-
corded act was to get drunk. It was like going to church in the morning and getting drunk in the afternoon--still a familiar sight in certain parts of the world. Perhaps after so much water, wine seemed attractive.
Ham had the misfortune to see his father dead drunk; and Noah, when he awaked, instead of being penitent for his disgrace, cursed his son for seeing him. Noah is not the only person in history who felt worse about being caught than about doing wrong. I never was favourably impressed by Noah's cursing his own son; of course he was in a bad temper when he woke up and probably had a desperate headache; but if he had said, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!" I should have had more respect for him than when he added to the sin of drunkenness the sin of cursing his own child, just like a drunken paterfamilias! His cursing his son did more harm than he intended; for the text, "Cursed be Canaan," was a favourite basis for many sermons in Southern churches in America, eloquently delivered in support of the institution of human slavery. I wonder why so many ministers deem it their duty to support the dominant political party from the pulpit, instead of preaching the gospel.