Another Account of the Creation
Part of my series “A Satanist Reads the Bible,” in which I explore the Bible, Christianity, and other religions and their sacred texts through the lens of Satanism in order to reinvent religion for myself.
As mentioned in the previous essay on the Book of Genesis, there are two distinct creation narratives present at the beginning of the book, both well-known in popular culture. The second continues from the first — starting in the middle of chapter 2, verse 4 — but immediately distinguishes itself from the first in several ways:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth and water the whole face of the ground — then the Lord God formed man¹ from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Genesis 2:4–7, NRSV
The “day” that God made the earth and the heavens was, according to the first narrative, three days, the first through the third, and in this narrative he is creating humans no later than that, in contrast to that happening on the sixth day in the first narrative. Vegetation was not created ex nihilo but rather would be a consequence of God causing it to rain. There is only a single man created rather than all of humankind. And the name for God is different as well; אֱלֹהִים, Elohim, “God”² in the first chapter, and יהוה in the second. This second name is traditionally transliterated as YHWH, written without vowels because it is considered too sacred to write or pronounce in full, replaced in speech by “Lord” (אֲדֹנָי, adonai, lit. “my Lords”, with the pluralis maiestatis again) or some other substitution. Rather than a title, this Name is an actual name, as a person would have.³
As much as this might give one a reason to throw the book out as failing right out of the gate to maintain any consistency with itself, I find that it makes for a more interesting and more meaningful read when viewed in the context in which these narratives were written, and when the contradictions are seen as signifiers of semiotic meaning rather than symbolic (cf. Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language). It’s entirely possible that the authors did not intend to represent a literal account of creation in either case, but rather intended a poetic expression of a god who encompasses the myriad cultures, traditions, and (sometimes contradictory) beliefs which had consolidated into the religion of the ancient Hebrews across the last two millennia BCE. Those who have transcribed and compiled these texts into the form that we know today do not seem at all wary of contradictions; rather, they seem to have embraced them. I particularly appreciate de Souzenelle’s words on this matter:
Just as a blueprint will give us a sectional view of a volume, one could say that myths inscribe in the phenomenal world the world of primeval forms. I disagree with those authors who are unable to break loose from their time-space continuum and see in myth a story happening at the dawn of time. In reality myth is a metahistory, forever present.
The Body and its Symbolism, 1974, translation Chaplin and James
“Breath” is here that which gives life to the first man: נשמה, neshama, which can also, as with ruach (“wind”, cf. Genesis 1:2), be translated as “spirit.” And rather than simply creating humans ex nihilo, as in the first account, God is present in the world and creates the first man by hand. And in the subsequent verses he plants the garden of Eden — -again, rather than simply causing vegetation to appear — -and in the next chapter he walks through the garden, creating sound as he moves. This is a very different picture of God than the literalists often present, and a very different picture from the God of the first chapter. YHWH is immanent rather than transcendent, in and of the world rather than apart from and above it. And as well, rather than creating in bulk, he’s doing some very specific and enigmatic things.
Out of the ground the Lord God made 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 the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:9, NRSV
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Genesis 2:15–17, NRSV
Curious. Why then create the tree in the first place, especially given what follows, which an omniscient god would have foreseen? A literal reading requires a reconciliation, my favorite of which is from Leibniz:
Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best. For as a lesser evil is a kind of good, even so a lesser good is a kind of evil if it stands in the way of a greater good; and there would be something to correct in the actions of God if it were possible to do better. As in mathematics, when there is no maximum nor minimum, in short nothing distinguished, everything is done equally, or when that is not possible nothing at all is done: so it may be said likewise in respect of perfect wisdom, which is no less orderly than mathematics, that if there were not the best (optimum) among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any.
Theodicy, 1710, translation E.M. Huggard
…but I believe that his attempt to rationalize away an apparent contradiction overlooks something more valuable.
God creates woman from Adam’s rib, and then the serpent comes to them to tempt them to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God⁴, knowing good and evil.”
Genesis 3:1–5, NRSV
In “Satan the Accuser,” I describe how the serpent was retconned into a manifestation of Satan the Adversary; this conception is not reflected in the text, in which the serpent is among the general host of wild animals created by God. But for what reason does the serpent tempt Eve?
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Genesis 3:6–7, NRSV
Eve was not present — was not even yet created — when God gave the command to Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Did she hear of this from Adam?
The serpent was, in the end, correct, and God is proved to have deceived Adam in telling him the consequences of eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Just as the serpent said: having eaten of the fruit, Adam and Eve did not die, but their eyes were opened, and they became like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22, NRSV: “Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us…’”). Given a literal reading, God had deceived them, and if we are to identify the serpent with Satan, then it is Satan the Accuser, who prosecutes and rectifies this deception. Eve, too, is laudable here, using her knowledge, reason, and experience to evaluate and question what God has commanded, and if Satan the Adversary is our luminary for his rebellion against the injustice of God, then so too should Eve serve as exemplar to the Satanist.
This is also another distinction from what is told of the Bible by the literalists, who say that Eve tempted Adam to eat the fruit. According to the text, Adam was with her the entire time, and was as much a party to the conversation with the serpent as Eve. Eve said nothing to entice Adam; she simply handed him the fruit, and he ate.
But returning to the tree itself: having created a tree in the center of the garden and then having forbidden only of Adam to eat of it, and having created a serpent who is crafty and who knows the truth of the tree, God curses all three of them and casts them out, making him seem a malevolent trickster or a cruel tyrant. To such a degree as the literalists have emerged as individualistic Cartesians, this would seem a thorough refutation, as Descartes’ metaphysics relied wholly on the honesty of God. But de Souzenelle has a different interpretation of what the tree represents in the first place:
Total immobility and absolute movement are one and the same reality conveyed in the biblical myth by developing the primordial unity of the Tree, the yod, the root of the Tree, into two apparently contradictory terms. Neither excluding each other nor making concessions, they express completely at once what is beyond each of them.
The Body and its Symbolism, 1974, translation Chaplin and James
A tree is a bridge between earth and sky, and between motion (of the branches) and stillness (of the trunk). And so then to Kristeva and her description of the semiotic chora, “…a modality of significance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of an object and as the distinction between real and symbolic” (and which is itself a reference to the χώρα (khôra) of Plato, which exists beyond being and not-being⁵):
…the term “drive” denotes waves of attack against stases, which are themselves constituted by the repetition of these charges; together, charges and stases lead to no identity… that could be seen as a result of their functioning. This is to say that the semiotic chora is no more than the place where the subject is both generated and negated, the place where his unity succumbs before the process of charges and stases that produce him.
Revolution in Poetic Language, 1974, translation Waller
And so then to the Dialectic of God and the ontologies of God, Satan the Accuser, and the Creation, and also again to William Blake: “Good is the passive that obeys reason; Evil is the active springing from Energy” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790). De Souzenelle sees the dialectic between good and evil as being that between perfect and not-yet-perfect, and there I must differ. For perfection can only be a totality; it would be nullified by the not-yet-perfect rather than sublated by it. Evil would have nothing to Be, nothing not-Evil by which it would be defined, and there would be only nothing.
Combining the three sources: Good, which is static, rational, and immobile, is constituted by the repetition of the Energy (Evil) directed against it. Good exists in terms of Evil, and Evil in terms of Good, and the source of both is the chora in which the self arises (the stasis of Being) and is destroyed (the Energy of not-Being). The tree is both symbolic of and the passage into the dialectic therein and therefrom; God has planted it and given clues (via the serpent) to its purpose, though has not mandated that the dialectic continue except through autopoeisis, which is initiated when Eve eats the fruit, and this is indeed a symbolic death, the end of unanswered stasis.
One wouldn’t be wrong to ask whether the above paragraph has any meaning whatsoever. I begin to see why Hegel and Derrida and others wrote as they did: I find myself writing about a process in which I myself am engaged (indeed, in which I myself am, with regards to the process of Being), and that intra-process-ness is also itself part of the process about which I am writing and part of my being within it. It’s like two snakes who are each both mating with and eating the tail of the other snake; or like the double helix of DNA, and at no point is there a transcendental signified which would constitute the fixed point of meaning to which this chain of significations is anchored.
- אָדָם, adam, etymologically related to אדמה, adamah, “soil,” from which the first man was created
- Actually “Gods;” it’s the pluralis maiestatis, the royal “we”
- And coincides neatly with the name Yahweh, which matches the likely pronunciation of YHWH, who was one among a pantheon of the Iron Age gods of Israel
- Lit. “gods,” but it is unclear whether this is the pluralis maiestatis again or an actual intentional use of the plural
- Cf. The Book of Lies, Crowley 1912: “Nothing is. Nothing becomes. Nothing is not.”, mirroring Maybee’s (Picturing Hegel, 2009) diagrams of Being and Nothing within the Hegelian dialectic, and also the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom sutra of Mahayana Buddhism: “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form; form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form.”
Originally published at asatanistreadsthebible.com on December 8, 2018.