The Book of Shem: On Genesis before Abraham 1503606767, 9781503606760

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The Book of Shem: On Genesis before Abraham
 1503606767, 9781503606760

Table of contents :
Day Zero: Rereading — On Textual Proliferation
Day One: Bereshit — On Genesis 1:1-2:4
Day Two: Barely — On Genesis 2:5-3:24
Day Three: Abelism — On Genesis 4:1-6:8
Day Four: Biocide — On Genesis 6:9-7:24
Day Five: Blood — On Genesis 8:1-9:17
Day Six: Babble — On Genesis 9:18-11:32
Day Seven: Sabbath — On the Rest of the World
Appendix: 1-11 — The Pre-Abrahamic Bible

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On Genesis before Abraham



Stanford University Press Stanford, California © 2018 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Stanford University Press. Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Kishik, David, author. Title: The Book of Shem : on Genesis before Abraham / David Kishik. (To imagine a form of life, IV) Description: Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2018. | Includes index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018009496 (print) | LCCN 2018012063 (ebook) | ISBN 9781503606760 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781503607347 (pbk. : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781503607354 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Bible. Genesis, I-XI—Criticism, interpretation, etc. | Philosophical theology. Classification: LCC BS1235.52 (ebook) | LCC BS1235.52 .K57 2018 (print) | DDC 222/.1106—dc23 LC record available at Cover design: Rob Ehle Cover background: from cardboard back panel of Ergebnisse der Südsee-Expedition 1908–1910, Vol. 2, Paul Hambruch, via Wikimedia Commons Book design: Bruce Lundquist Typeset at Stanford University Press in 9/14 Adobe Garamond

day zero REREADING

On Textual Proliferation


day one BERESHIT

On Genesis 1:1-2:4


day two BARELY

On Genesis 2:5-3:24


day three ABELISM

On Genesis 4:1-6:8


day four BIOCIDE

On Genesis 6:9-7:24


day five BLOOD

On Genesis 8:1-9:17


day six BABBLE

On Genesis 9:18-11:32


day seven  SABBATH

On the Rest of the World


appendix 1-11

The Pre-Abrahamic Bible


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1 Interpreting the book of Genesis is such a thankless task. Even if God were to break his silence and explain his authorial intentions, there is no guarantee that his word would be the last in this endless debate. More than two millennia of relentless biblical analysis have amounted to the same kind of disservice as done by La Fontaine’s bear, who smashed a rock over his sleeping friend’s nose in a clumsy attempt to get rid of a pesky fly. But even though the most scrutinized text in human history seems squashed by the weight of so much exegetical overdetermination, it is still possible that, like the fly, its hidden meaning will escape unharmed. 2 In other words, a bookcase can easily double as a casket. Textual proliferation might very well be the primary reason for our corrupted understanding of the primeval story, which extends from the creation of heaven and earth to the destruction of the tower of Babel. As an antidote, consider monogramism rather than monotheism: there is only one text, and it is much shorter than what we have been led to believe (3,792 words to be exact). This navel of world literature ends when Abraham enters the biblical stage and the narrative zooms in on a

d ay ze ro


day zero

particular people, their promised land, and the special treatment they receive at the hands of God. 3 Genesis can be divided into three distinct parts. First, the mythological protohistory: creation, Eden, Cain, the flood, Babel, and a few genealogies in between (chapters 1-11). Second, the account of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (12-36). Finally, the selfcontained story of Joseph (37-50). Their fusion into a single book hides some deep rifts. Every step forward that does not question these editorial stitches requires a leap of faith. But in the same way as a Jew does not embrace the New Testament, a Christian does not follow the Quran, and a Muslim does not accept the Book of Mormon, there is no obligation to take even the first leap into the arms of the patriarchs. 4 The Hebrew Bible is itself divided into three parts. Only the first, the Torah, is usually considered the bedrock of the Jewish faith. Using a similar tactic of textual distillation, or nonproliferation, this short treatise on the pre-­ Abrahamic Genesis begins with a hypothesis: what if everything that follows the last verse in the book’s eleventh chapter were apocryphal? What if anything beyond that point were at best a distraction and at worst sacrilege? What if Abraham and Moses were not the pilots of the spiritual ship but its hijackers? What if the biblical priests and prophets were not the couriers of the divine word but its manufacturers?

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5 Running commentaries on the first eleven chapters of Genesis tend to resemble philosophical meditations more than religious doctrines, and the present book is no exception. Nevertheless, religion can still be charitably understood as the continuous and scrupulous ­rereading of a sacred text (relegere in Latin, from which some believe that religio may have derived) in an attempt to be released from superstitions, prescriptions, and institutions. 6 The anti-Abrahamic (or, more accurately, ante-Abrahamic) result can be described as a strange mix of mythical metaphysics, theocratic anarchism, and minimal theology. Named after Noah’s firstborn, The Book of Shem can be read one section per day over the course of a single week, at the end of which the aforementioned fly will still remain free, while the bear, like ­Goliath, will hopefully have been hit smack in the head by a small pebble hurled from David’s sling. 7 This radical rereading of Genesis 1-11 is propelled by the old problem of anthropogenesis: how does one become the human being that one is? Another, closely related concern has made its way into the title of the second chapter: what is a life that is lived, but only barely? Which leads to a more fashionable question: how can one imagine a post-human existence by examining the pre-Abrahamic world? After all, what is apocalypse other than the flip side of Genesis?



day zero

8 One way to access these fundamental issues is to play with the ancient text, while always remaining within the elastic boundaries of hermeneutics. Every semantic or syntactic assumption about the Hebrew document at hand can be questioned, down to its smallest diacritical sign. Still, the resulting reinterpretation is very much indebted to many canonical approaches to Genesis, as it excavates ideas from each of the four levels of medieval exegesis: literal, allegorical, moral, and mystical. 9 This treatise is also informed by modern biblical criticism, though the academic obsession with the question of who wrote the Bible does not hinder the present approach to chapters 1-11 as a complete literary composition, rather than a tangled bricolage. As a consequence, neither the light of reason nor the light of faith fully shines through the following pages. Their pre-­Abrahamic stance may even be labeled post-secular. 10 Stylistically, this creative commentary complements its close reading of the text with what may be called close writing. Like other studies of the incipit of The Book and the inception of the world, this small treatise is a somewhat esoteric composition that resists full explication. It was designed to safeguard the vulnerable (or even wounded) heart of the matter (not to mention its author’s own heart). If for the Greeks the truth calls for uncovering, for the Hebrews it pleads to stay in hiding.

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11 The mystics warn that those who dare to investigate the secrets of the primordial creation incur great personal risk. They recommend it only to the select few, and even then only after years of studious preparation and as long as it is conducted in solitude. In the end, I must admit that dwelling on this thorny subject did, once again, prove pernicious. The strange fruits of this impossible labor are made public for those able to see that the world born in Genesis is disintegrating before our very eyes. 12 A final note on the text. Naturally, all references are to verses in the book of Genesis, unless otherwise indicated. An amalgam of different translations has been used: the New Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, the King James Version, Robert Alter’s rendition, and the author’s own. A full translation of all eleven chapters is provided in the appendix. Wherever needed, the original quotations, plus a few illustrations, have been added alongside the commentary (as handnotes, rather than footnotes). Citing secondary literature, though, turned out to be unnecessary. This work has little pretense to scholarly authority, narrowly conceived. And to remove all doubt: it is devoid of any divine inspiration. It is only a lay retelling of some old stories that still offer “counsel woven into the fabric of real life,” which is how Walter Benjamin defines wisdom.

Rat, in den Stoff gelebten Lebens eingewebt, ist Weis­ heit

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13 Much ink has been spilled over the first verse of Genesis, even though the first words appear fairly basic: bereshit (in the beginning) bara (created) elohim (God). Their order is what complicates everything. Presumably, the marker of time precedes the deed, and only then does the doer make a belated entrance. The deity stands at a suspicious distance from the beginning. This is an odd grammatical construction, not only in English (compare “Yesterday walked Joseph”) but also in Hebrew. There is, however, a different, more straight­forward way to understand this opening statement. 14 Allow Bereshit to introduce itself as the clandestine subject of the sentence, the one who is responsible for the initial work of creation. Such a move makes God the sentence’s object. Put simply, and probably shockingly, “Bereshit created God.” This is not to suggest that Bereshit is another metaphysical entity—a god or goddess—operating above nature. It is not meant as a challenge to monotheism. Instead, think of Bereshit as

‫בראשית ברא אלהים‬


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‫אלהית‬-‫הויה על‬

what is called a “meta-divine” realm that exists beyond God. Start by imagining some ancient and shadowy force that precedes and transcends the single deity. 15 This heterodox reading gives the impression that Bereshit went missing in action soon after the creation of God. We never again hear about this realm. The word is used only this once in the entire Torah. After Genesis 1:1, Bereshit seems to be inoperative, at rest, or in some kind of retirement. Perhaps it exists in deep, tranquil sleep for what feels like eternity. Maybe it merely stares blankly at the world and wonders about its mysterious ways. This meta-divine being appears to have nothing to do with doing, not to mention legislating, judging, governing, punishing, or forgiving. 16 Grammatical gender is pervasive in Hebrew. When Bereshit is used as a name, it is naturally treated as a feminine noun. Nevertheless, the creative deed appears

‫בראשית ברא‬

in the first verse of Genesis as a masculine verb. This discrepancy or tension between the actor and the act is not necessarily a contradiction. There is something queer about the first two biblical words: because they display both masculine and feminine features, they do not give in to an either/or logic. By contrast, virtually every mention of God in a Hebrew sentence must fixate, and hence limit, his identity—as just happened in this sentence through the use of the word his.

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17 Granted, we have almost lost track of Bereshit’s existence, just as Bereshit has almost lost track of ours. At the same time, the God who was put in charge of maintaining the order of the created world, the God who may or may not be an image and likeness of this meta-divine realm, is the one who receives the ultimate praise of much of humanity. Though Bereshit is the first cause, it has been almost completely eclipsed by the divine effect. 18 There is, however, no need for repentance. This argument is not a request for a new sacrifice, or the recitation of a new prayer, or the observance of a new law. Bereshit does not await the construction of some spiritual home in physical form. Its commemoration can only be dedicated to the inevitable failure to recall what was and no longer is. Bereshit represents this sealed, inaccessible, and incomprehensible past that exists beyond the limits of language. 19 Genesis 1-11 is the product of a culture that cherished the tireless work of memory as a central pillar of its shared existence. Nevertheless, this form of life points to the bottomless pit, or black hole, from which it came. This lacuna, or its remnant, is named Bereshit once and for all. Bereshit is not an actor with agency or will. It is simply a time that left a pale trail. Bereshit, in a nutshell, is the immemorable. Hence, an inconvenient necessity presents itself: to remember that so much was forgotten, rather than just to let it go. It is ultimately a doomed attempt to bear witness to the failure of testimony.



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20 The composition of Genesis did not begin with a blank slate. Whoever fashioned this text in its written form used existing mythologies whose exact origin was mostly unknown, repurposing familiar stories that even at the time seemed ancient. Yet people surely wondered where these tales had come from. One possible reply is that they came from an immemorial past, that is, from Bereshit. 21 Bereshit, then, which is the Hebrew name of the first book of the Bible (Genesis), and possibly the name of its hidden protagonist, turns out to be the code name for its anonymous author(s) as well. Early readers did not necessarily think that the text evolved from an oral tradition, but from a tradition out of memory’s reach. It is conceivable that the text was treated as the word not of God, but of Bereshit. 22 As a consequence, the most rudimentary faith could have pertained to Bereshit, to the genesis of Genesis, which is where the words in the book come from. What a potent way to substantiate the authority and ineluctability of this text. A belief in a deity can only be secondary, since its force can be traced back to its primordial origin, to the tacit understanding that it is Bereshit that begot God. 23 Imagine God meditating day and night on 1-11, studiously pondering the different interpretations of each verse, because in a way his very existence depends on

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these words. They give him life, and not vice versa. For a culture shaped by the invention of writing, the pre-Abrahamic Genesis may prescribe God, rather than merely describe him. For the people who treat this ancient text as a founding document, what we call Bereshit, which is the source of the one and only deity, may also simply be understood as the book itself. 24 There is no access to the beginning, but there are still ways to get closer to the origin. The originality of 1-11 has little to do with novelty. Everything has already been said, and there is nothing new under the sun. To be original means to linger by the origin and insist on it. The task is to avoid the progression toward a future or an end, and to stop the narrative before it develops any further. In this sense, and in this sense alone, the origin is a worthwhile goal. Hence in Hebrew forward (kadima) is related to what is ancient (kadum), just as backward (achora) is linked to what is last (acharon). 25 Bereshit is not a constituent power that can establish a new world order. Genesis 1-11 teaches that the basis of everything is an abyss. Bereshit is not the ground on which things stand but the hand that pulls the rug out from under them. The first chapters of Genesis do not resemble a constitution of any sort. On the contrary, they convey a distinct sense of destitution. Consequently, an organized religion runs a considerable risk by acknowledging Bereshit as its groundless ground. Under Bereshit’s spell, the religious apparatus

‫ קדום‬/ ‫קדימה‬ ‫ אחרון‬/ ‫אחורה‬


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that purports to bind together (religare) the human and the divine can easily fizzle out. 26 The beginning is not a sovereign demand, such as ‫יהי אור‬

“Let there be light” (1:3), but a pregnant silence. This is not where time begins but the realm from which wisdom  hails. Wisdom can still be attained, even in these shallow times, by getting frighteningly close to

‫ראשית חכמה יראת ה׳‬

the unspeakable. Hence, just as, in the Psalms (111:10), human wisdom entails a fear of God, it appears that God himself must be Bereshit-fearing, which explains his superior wisdom. Humanity’s more restricted access to wisdom also depends on grasping that the beginning has vanished. Wisdom comes from an acknowledgment of this erasure and an acceptance of some lack. It cannot arise from propositions about what is or should be. In fact, knowledge tends to drown out wisdom, just as information usually drowns out knowledge. 27 Like a drawing of footsteps on a beach that have been washed away by the waves, Bereshit’s forgotten biography can begin with the words, “It brought God about.” The genesis story then ends rather abruptly with the further generation of “heaven and earth.” This is a figure of speech meant to indicate everything that there is, from one extreme end to the other. In sum, the most

‫בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים‬ ‫ואת הארץ‬

minimalist rereading of the first verse can be reconstructed thus: “Bereshit created God and the world.”

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28 Unlike “creation” in English, which has artistic and other connotations, the Hebrew word only applies to the creation of the world. After the conclusion of the seventh day, it is said that heaven and earth “were created” (be’hibaram), in the passive voice (2:4). But there is no indication as to who should get the credit for this

‫אלה תולדות השמים והארץ‬ ‫בהבראם ביום עשות ה׳ אלהים‬ ‫ארץ ושמים‬

creative act. The only thing for certain in this verse is that God “made” both earth and heaven (asot is a much weaker verb that is also freely used outside the cosmogenic context). But it is never explicitly stated, either here or anywhere else in Genesis, that God was indeed the creator of the world. 29 This subtle evasion also explains why God’s four-letter name (usually rendered in English as Lord ) is first introduced in the canonical text at this very moment. After the seventh day comes to a close, God’s special name is announced on what could be the eighth day since he came into existence. Is it only a coincidence that this is also the traditional day of circumcision, when the infant is given his proper name? 30 It has been observed that the days of creation are or-

0. Bereshit’s work

dered in perfect symmetry: the first corresponds to

1. light, darkness

the fourth (light and darkness—sun and moon), the

2. sea, sky

second parallels the fifth (sea and sky—fish and birds),

3. dry land, vegetation

and the third mirrors the sixth (dry land and vegetation—land animals and humans). In each couple, the formation of a setting prepares the way for the establishment of the actors who will come to occupy this

4. sun, moon 5. fish, birds 6. land animals, humans 7. God’s rest


day o ne

set. Now is the time to add that the seventh day echoes day zero (whatever happened before the introduction of light in 1:3). God’s rest on the Sabbath does not glorify his own work but Bereshit’s deed (what the mystics ‫מעשה בראשית‬

slyly call ma’aseh bereshit.) 31 It is also argued that the reason why the first letter


in Genesis is not aleph is that the shape of that let-


ter points in four different directions, while bet has a single opening forward in the right-to-left script. The other three directions symbolize proscribed paths of investigation: what lies above, what lurks below, and what came before. But consider the possibility that, like virtually every other exposition throughout the text (2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27), once upon a time it all began with three additional words, now lost, the first of which indeed begins with the first letter: “This

‫אלה תולדות בראשית‬

is the genealogy of Bereshit” (eleh toldot bereshit, 1:0): “Bereshit created God, the heavens and the earth” (1:1), and so on. 32 In the beginning was formless life. Instead of creating the universe, God finds himself in a position to give it some order. He does not bring about ex nihilo, out of nothing, a world external to his divine being. Rather, he imagines ex anihilo, out of the abysmal and chaotic rubble with which he was entrusted, a cosmos, an organized and articulated form, mainly through a series of divisions, distinctions, and definitions. This process, as described in the first chapter of Genesis, is surprisingly

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akin to what contemporary biologists aptly call ontogenesis: the organism’s development through cell division. The first sentence alone already differentiates Bereshit from God, God from the world, while the world is separated into heaven and earth. 33 Structurally, the cosmogenic story does not give an impression of either progress or regress, expansion or contraction. There is also no apparent movement in


any specific direction. Every new concept introduced by the text can be represented schematically as either a bifurcation (the splitting of a single point into two) or an interpolation (the marking of an additional point in between the already existing ones). This rule allows the foundational starting points—Bereshit and God— to persist as the fixed, outer limits of every possible thought. 34 The book of Genesis sparks the monotheistic revolution not by canceling or refuting the pagan system, but by converting it into a new conceptual scheme. Hege­ monic ways of thinking are rarely toppled through critique but, rather, via translation. The basic principles are replaced by another set, although what was continues to haunt what is. In this way, the old matrix of thought becomes a shadow of its former self, like a discarded coin that has lost its face value and is no longer in circulation. In short, the thing that fades away is not truthfulness but usefulness.




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35 First in line is the meta-divine realm that is prior to the gods and above them. In many mythologies, it is described as a kind of womb that contains the seeds of all being. For the ancient Greeks, for example, the meta-divine was the idea of fate, by which everything and everyone with no exception—even the almighty ­Olympians—must abide. But the seat previously reserved for this hallmark of paganism is not abolished in 1-11 ( as Yehezkel Kaufmann claims). The meta-divine realm is now occupied by Bereshit: the idea of a vacant, looming past. 36 Prior to Genesis, different natural forces were identical to or imbued with different divinities. Nature was neither mute nor dead. Everything was alive. Monotheism’s second move concerns the exchange of this multiplicity of deities that animate every corner of the universe for a single one that contains them all. But although the Hebrew God encompasses or monopolizes the entirety of nature, he is not equivalent to it. Instead of being the life of the sun or the sea, he now functions as the life of the whole world: he is how the world is; the fact that it exists is beyond him. Only Bereshit can rightly be called the origin of this world. 37 The strong polytheistic tendency to approach the creation of the universe as a mythical battle also left its distinct mark on Genesis. Heaven and earth can be seen as two belligerent military forces ready to engage in a war for world domination. After the sixth day, the two an-

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tagonistic realms are explicitly depicted as troops readied in their set positions before the fight commences: “the heavens and the earth were completed, with all their armies (zva’am)” (2:1). The heavenly host is said to include the sun, the moon, and the stars (1:16). With a striking symmetry, the earthly host consists of the first human couple and the rest of the animal kingdom.

‫ויכלו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם‬ ‫את המאור הגדל לממשלת היום‬ ‫ואת המאור הקטן לממשלת‬ ‫הלילה ואת הכוכבים‬

38 Nevertheless, the winner of this world war was already decided upon much earlier, even before the first day. It is as if time were flowing backwards and the fighting taking place in reverse. The chapter begins with its a priori conclusion: heaven triumphed and earth was destroyed. The anguished earth is therefore described as a devastated battlefield: “unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep” (1:2).

‫והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך‬ ‫על פני תהום‬

39 Despite this destruction, “God’s wind” still prefers to sweep over the water (1:2). It does not ascend to heaven. It is earthbound. The divine being identifies with the vanquished while snubbing the victor. Soon after, God will separate the seas from dry land in order to rehabilitate the earth, which appears to be weak, confused, and even shell-shocked. But as the narrative of 1-11 unfolds, God comes to regret these acts of early compassion, even though his commitment to the earth never falters, not even during the flood. 40 The defeat of the earth by heaven means that humans, animals, and plants all have one thing in common:

‫ורוח אלהים מרחפת על פני‬ ‫המים‬


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their surrender to the “enlightened” enemy of celestial bodies. Although certain living beings have power over others, no one has a cure for being here on this miserable earth. Every yearning for heaven is a case of identification with the aggressor. The rumor that God built an ethereal city there is unfounded. Frankly, it verges on propaganda. 41 The earthly kingdom may be under the custody of humanity, but the one in the sky does not belong to God. In the sole possible allusion in 1-11 to his heavenly abode, it is indeed written that God “came down” ‫וירד ה׳ לראת את העיר‬

to survey Babel (11:5). But it is also plainly mentioned

‫וימצאו בקעה בארץ שנער‬

that the city was located in a valley (11:2). From this perspective, his decision to destroy its tower is meant to punish the builders, as well as the readers, for wrongly assuming that he resides high above. 42 The simplistic assumption that God is beyond the world, as if looking at it from a distance, stems from misunderstanding the idea that he is the life of the world. Life in this context has nothing to do with vitalism or animism. Life is not some nebulous force but simply the way the world is. So now is the time to correct a possible earlier misconception: the only truly metaphysical entity above nature is Bereshit, whose proper expression is stupefaction. Any attempt to speak about it, such as the present one, must hit a wall. But isn’t there some value in the bruises we procure while trying to explain the inexplicable?

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43 The eventual transformation of God from a figure immanent to the world into an abstract, ineffable, and transcendent being that is utterly distinct from nature was meant to make him more Bereshit-like. It also helped keep Bereshit under wraps. However, to borrow a phrase, you can take God out of the world but you can’t take the world out of God. Only the meta-divine is truly and fully not of this world. 44 At this point, it becomes clearer why the only day on which God does not express his satisfaction with his own work is the second, which is when heaven was established by name (1:8). On the fourth day, he out-

‫ויקרא אלהים לרקיע שמים‬

sources to the heavenly bodies the task of governing

‫ולמשל ביום ובלילה‬

night and day (1:18). From that moment on, the basic polarity in the world is not that between light and darkness, or between life and death. The deeper conflict is the one between lights and lives, which reflects the opposition between heaven and earth (which devolves over time into the antithesis between heaven and hell). To repeat, life is not light, but its diametric opposite. 45 The fundamental concepts in the first verse of Genesis make an appearance according to their rank. The number of letters in each Hebrew word is telling: six


in Bereshit, five in God, four in heaven, and three in


earth. The primordial pecking order, which God pre-


fers to undermine by tending to the earth and letting


heaven  be, is the first indication that birthright is a privilege, rather than a biological, chronological, or


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hierarchical given. It can also signify a divine decision that challenges the preordained laws of nature. Such a reversal of fate is a recurring biblical theme: an exception becomes the rule, the last becomes first, and the premonition of an approaching disaster intensifies. And don’t forget: humans worship God, not Bereshit. 46 Reading through the pre-Abrahamic book of Genesis can give an impression that it is written from the position of the oppressed; that its deepest interest is neither in God nor in man but in the stage on which they both act: the earth. The earth’s suffering knows no bounds, and the deeper its pain, the stronger the temptation of its inhabitants to escape to some higher and lighter realm. But please be patient. The coming flood will offer a modicum of catharsis. 47 Nevertheless, the underlying problem remains: heaven and earth, a blessed realm and a cursed one, were set before God. And he chose the earth, which henceforth receives his (and the text’s) undivided attention. It is ‫ויברא אלהים את התנינם‬

where he preferred to create life, in the form of fish and

‫ויברא אלהים את האדם‬

birds (1:21) and finally humans (1:27). Only those three were brought into being through the distinct act of creation, which is an exclusive power that God borrowed from Bereshit. 48 The Hebrew bara, created, was meant to signify a oneoff action reserved only for Bereshit. This can be surmised by glossing on the fact that Bereshit’s first three

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letters (bet, resh, aleph) are identical to this verb. So


when God is said to create life, a job for which he seems


to be unqualified, it should be understood as a sort of overreaching or even mutiny on his part. It can be compared to humanity’s occasional attempts to act like the deity. Divine creation, which should not be conflated with meta-divine creation, may therefore be perceived as the original original sin. 49 The living beings on earth do not wait long before they demonstrate the deeply problematic nature of their existence. It is their very creation on the fifth and sixth days, not their subsequent compromised actions in Eden and beyond, that is the true source of their continuous suffering. It is the creation in the “image of God” (1:27) that makes human life particularly dif-

‫בצלם אלהים ברא אתו‬

ficult. This is less a badge of honor than a price tag; humanity is about to pay dearly for its special inception. God concurs: “As such, it is not good to be human” (2:18). 50 The likeness between divinity and humanity is also a reminder that both are first and foremost subordinate to Bereshit. The evolution of the complicated relationship between God and man is secondary. Since the two are answering the same mute call, their being remains indeterminate and their identity is destined to be indistinct. Humans, like God, have no definite end (in the sense of goal).

‫לא טוב היות האדם לבדו‬


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51 Whenever God uses the first-person plural—for ex‫נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו‬

ample, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26)—he is not talking to other divinities, nor is he speaking to himself with the royal “we.” Since there is only one God, he must be addressing Bereshit. But God knows perfectly well that his prayers fall on deaf ears. So without waiting for a reply, which will never come, he proceeds with his risky plan and produces the first human couple. Here and elsewhere, his actions can be seen against the background of his tenuous, unresolved relationship with Bereshit. 52 The absence from divine life of the meta-divine being, which can lead to a sense of abandonment and groundlessness, may elucidate God’s uneasy relationship with the world in general and humanity in particular. With this in mind, consider the seven occasions in the first chapter where he feels the need to reassure himself that

‫וירא אלהים כי טוב‬

his own work is good (1:10, for example). Notice as well his excessive involvement with the lives of certain humans throughout Genesis. Also note his prolonged withdrawals. Those partial to psychological explanations for theological quandaries may detect here manifestations of troubled object relations. Are God’s efforts hampered by the retreat of Bereshit? Do humans carry a transgenerational trauma inherited from their creator?


53 As diverse as the commentaries on Genesis get, one of the most commonsensical lines of interpretation does not receive the attention it deserves. This approach goes against the prevalent view that the book opens with two separate tales about the way the world began, and that the only question worth considering is whether these are parallel or alternative stories, whether they are complementary or contradictory. 54 The real challenge, by contrast, is to find a way to read the opening chapters as a single, continuous narrative in two consecutive acts. Though a second chapter begins with a seemingly different voice, the biblical plot only thickens by picking up exactly where we left off: after the end of the Sabbath rest, following the completion of the seven days of creation (2:4). The story of the Garden of Eden can then begin in the second week, according to the simplest chronological flow. 55 It is difficult to overestimate the implications of this consecutive approach to the text. First, it appears that, until the supposed shift from the first to the second cosmogenic story, God was content with his creative work, which he had repeatedly assessed as good. Now for the first time doubt creeps in. He admits to two

d ay t wo


day t wo

fatal oversights: he had not brought about any rain, ‫כי לא המטיר ה׳ אלהים על‬ ‫הארץ ואדם אין לעבד את‬ ‫האדמה‬

and he had not commanded man to till the soil (2:5). The consequence can be immediately predicted by any reader with minimal agricultural knowledge: the vegetation withered and the land turned into a desert. Yet despite this detrimental false start that puts all life on earth in jeopardy, God does not give up. 56 So a universal creation clears the way for an ad hoc affair. A local garden is built on global ruins, as God takes a second chance to amend his original failure. The flora and fauna introduced in the first week, which have barely managed to survive in the desolation outside the newly established boundaries of Eden, cannot enter this secured, controlled, and exclusive zone, where God

‫ויטע ה׳ אלהים גן בעדן‬

resolves to start over with a brand new breed of living

‫וישם שם את האדם אשר יצר‬

beings. Above all, he “placed there the human he had formed” from the soil in the second week (2:8), not the one he had created in his image on the sixth day. 57 Even God does not seem able to change and certainly not to remake the world in its entirety. The way it was established during the first week remains intact. Instead, God chooses to cultivate his own perfectyet-limited garden and forsake the unmanageable wasteland that has spread all around. The bitter truth that lies beyond the gate of Eden is set aside so that

‫ויצמח ה׳ אלהים מן האדמה כל‬ ‫עץ נחמד למראה וטוב למאכל‬

he can focus on the fantastic fruits that grow within (2:9). As with the strategy of building an ark to fend off a flood, God seems to prefer gestures of withdrawal,

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insulation, and protection over his assumed desire for universal mastery. 58 One of the main reasons it makes more sense to read Genesis 1 and 2 as consecutive scenes, rather than as distinct versions of the same event, is that the world and the garden are said to come into being in radically different ways, with completely divergent accounts of the order of creation. In the first story we begin with plants, continue with fish, birds, and land animals, and then end with the human couple. The second story opens with man, followed by trees, land animals, birds, and finally woman. The dissimilarity between the lives that populate the two stories may therefore resemble the difference between a horse and a dinosaur, or a Homo sapiens and a Neanderthal. These could be different species, perhaps even different genera, occupying distinct branches of the evolutionary tree, in line with the present scientific consensus. 59 It is no surprise that the second, Edenic Adam is considered the first human being. A closer look shows that he is merely the first privileged man. Those who possess special prerogatives and see themselves as the pinnacle of creation have always been busy erasing both the existence and the memory of the less fortunate ones. Since the beginning they have also repeatedly squandered the good life that was granted to them as a gift. Their exceptional position is not guaranteed forever—as the e­ xpulsion from the garden is about to demonstrate.



day t wo

There is therefore a pressing need to commemorate the forgotten humanoids from the first chapter. These are the pre-Adamites, as they are called in the esoteric tradition that recognizes their separate existence. 60 Here are some questions that must nag any inquisitive reader of the post-Edenic story: Where did the wives of Adam and Eve’s sons come from? Who was there to avenge the murder of Abel? What multitude of people settled in the first city built by Cain? Only the existence of an extensive human population unrelated to the genealogy of Adam and Eve can supply satisfactory answers to these queries. Otherwise one must choose between a violation of the incest taboo or the invention of miracles that are not supported by the canonical text. 61 The Edenic couple lives a beatific life of worry-free comfort. There is, however, a trade-off, or a caveat, that separates them from the despondent humans who continue to roam outside the garden’s walls. God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of one particular tree means that Adam and Eve cannot consummate their ‫ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל‬

relationship (2:17). They cannot “be fertile and multi-

‫פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ‬ ‫וכבשה‬

ply, fill the earth and master it,” as the pre-Adamites did (1:28). The so-called tree of knowledge is in fact the tree of sex. The obvious clue to this familiar interpretation can be found in the beginning of the fourth chap-

‫והאדם ידע את חוה‬

ter: “Now the man knew ( yada) Eve” (4:1; see also 4:17 and 4:25).

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62 The ambivalent meaning of to know turns the story into a word game. The serpent (nachash), who sparks the


guesswork (nichush), is also the one who advances the


false thesis that the tree stands for divine knowledge (3:5).

‫והייתם כאלהים ידעי טוב ורע‬

Whoever believes that eating its magical fruit gave humanity some supreme cognitive power of judgment, or some moral sense that emerges with self-consciousness, has fallen into the trap set by the archetypal deceiver, or malicious demon. 63 Genesis is not a theogony. God has no offspring. Being the one and only divinity means that he may be a creator and a molder of lives, but he cannot be their father (except in a metaphorical sense). Is God’s monistic loneliness what guarantees his immortality? Will anyone who begets eventually be gone? The pagans’ evolving dynasty of gods implies as much. At first, God did not consider the Edenic Adam and Eve as potential parents. More than anything else, their infertility is what established their close affinity to their maker, in contrast to the pre-Adamites, who continued to propagate their species just as God told them to do. 64 The Edenic couple’s proximity to God is undermined once they disobey his special command and eat from the tree of sex. But this fraught relationship has even deeper roots. God tried to offer Adam different animals as potential mates (2:18). This zoological parade could be the moment alienation begins to snowball: the failed matchmaking portrays a creator who is oblivious to the

‫אעשה לו עזר כנגדו‬


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pressing needs and intimate desires of his creatures. The sense of disconnection and misunderstanding is mutual: Adam and Eve fail to abide by God’s single prohibition despite its simplicity. Hence the inclination ‫ודבק באשתו‬

of humans to “cling” to each other (2:24) can be read as their (not necessarily sexual) way of compensating for the growing distance from their maker. Perhaps the Edenic humans also sense that, unlike the pre-­ Adamites, they were not made in God’s image. 65 The assumption is that after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve came to know that they were naked

‫ותפקחנה עיני שניהם וידעו כי‬ ‫עירמם הם‬

(3:7). Yet again the word for knowledge ( yadu) can also be understood as sexual awakening. Hence a better translation may be, “They were aroused because they were naked.” Nudity is not the object of knowledge but the cause of attraction. The claim in the same verse that “the eyes of both of them were opened” is also supposed to convey their raging libido. It is not a piercing gaze that comes from some deep comprehension. It is an instinctive ogling that results from the revelation of mutual desire. 66 One startling implication of this rereading is that the conventional quest for knowledge cannot rely on 1-11 for inspiration or validation. The most this narrative can teach us is that the appropriation of reason as a special possession reserved solely for the human race is a consequence of a basic, almost comic misunderstanding: the tree’s knowledge is of a very different,

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carnal kind. Rationality, self-consciousness, soul: these are not the essence of human beings, but rather their pretense. Is it education that should be considered our true temptation, given the association of knowing and dominating? The accumulation of knowledge or the revelation of gnosis cannot save or redeem Homo ­sapiens, whose very name is a vain mistake, or an ironic commentary on the inescapability of ignorance. 67 Another implication is that the belief in God as a supreme and pure intellect is also a fabrication, one that many believe to be supported by the words of the lying serpent. The Aristotelian conception of God as a thought that thinks itself is foreign to the biblical mindset. Even if one assumes that the deity in the first chapters of Genesis is omnipotent (which is not necessarily true), it is only the narrator who is truly omniscient. Given God’s handling of the string of tragedies that unfolds throughout 1-11, one may wonder whether even the specific knowledge of good and evil is a field in which he particularly excels. 68 Without humanity’s firm ability to distinctly discern between good and evil, it becomes harder to defend the legitimacy of any juridical order or sovereign decision. Even personal judgments begin to come across as sleights of hand by creatures playing an idealized version of God. Cognizant of this ethical uncertainty, the pre-Abrahamic Genesis does not promote normative behavior or a moral religion of dos and don’ts. If any-


3 0

day t wo

thing, it aims at a religion within the bounds of bare life. However, to speak about religion in the context of 1-11 is to miss the point. And to allude to a life that is totally bare is like visualizing a one-dimensional square. So let us approach the same point from a slightly different angle. 69 When Adam and Eve were naked but “felt unashamed” ‫ויהיו שניהם ערומים האדם‬ ‫ואשתו ולא יתבששו‬

(2:25), they were not acting like careless children; instead, they resembled the clueless emperor in his “new clothes.” It is the first couple’s eventual sense of shame, not their alleged acquisition of reason, that may very well be their (and our) real enlightenment. Since man is the only naked animal (rather than the only rational one), being bare is of the essence of being human, not a contingent circumstance that clothes can prevent. This flesh that therefore I am is surely vulnerable and decaying, and probably lonely and lustful. But the assumption that it is necessarily sinful and uncontrollable finds the flimsiest support in the biblical text. 70 God’s claim that “this human has become like one of

‫האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב‬ ‫ורע‬

us, knowing good and bad” (3:22) appears to suggest a double heresy: at once implying that there are multiple deities and that humans are godlike. But this is very likely a misreading. There is another legitimate way to understand the Hebrew. What God meant to say is that the Edenic Adam became “like the rest of his kind (mi’mino),” like the pre-Adamites who survived in the abandoned world outside the garden’s perimeter.

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71 The verse therefore claims that the Edenic couple who used to be exceptional will now be like everyone else: they will also have sex (lada’at is once again misunderstood as knowledge). Hence they will also breed, spread across the land, and rule over it. They will also give birth and they will also die, for better or for worse. Curiously, God curses Adam and Eve with the pre-­Adamites’ blessing. The expulsion from Eden is thus not an abandonment of an original state, but a return to it. 72 Good and bad are for a human being what heaven and earth are for a divine being: an expression that is meant to denote the entire possible range of human experience from one end of the scale to the other. It is the fullness of life, or life in its entirety. Eating from the forbidden tree may close the gate to Eden, but in so doing it opens the way to a much wider world. In the garden, everything is serene and satisfactory, but it is also one-dimensional and skin-deep, even boring and provincial. 73 God created a place devoid of pain and mourning, suffering and evil. But it is also a place without true pleasure or celebration, without real happiness or goodness. No one dies, but nobody is born, either. The reader, just like Adam and Eve, thus faces an interesting dilemma: choose between the luxury of Eden or the excitement of sex, a life of innocent repose or of dangerous experimentation, a strategy of defensive withdrawal or of uncertain exposure (assuming we cannot have both).


3 2

day t wo

74 The biblical link between lovemaking and lifemaking is a troubled one. The animals created by God in the first chapter of Genesis are promised that they will be “fer‫פרו ורבו‬

tile and multiply” on this earth ( pru urvu, 1:22). This

‫תהו ובהו‬

compound phrase is a Hebrew cipher that may connect

‫מות תמות‬

it to the primeval state of being “unformed and void” (tohu vavohu, 1:2), as well as to the later realization that humans are “doomed to death” (mot tamut, 2:17). These three expressions are called hendiadyses: they are saying one (hen) thing by means (dia) of two (duoin) words. 75 In biblical Hebrew such pairs often emphasize through doubling, like ancient italics. In so doing, the three expressions echo each other in the original language, both spoken and written. Perhaps it is a way to say that carnal knowledge can shake the foundations of our structured existence and destabilize habitual distinctions. Birth must be haunted by sorrow and pain long before the expulsion from Eden. To procreate is also to propagate chaos and death. This has been the case ever since Bereshit begot God, and the world was a wreck. 76 Although sexuality is a clear axis around which 1-11 revolves, this leitmotif is too often suppressed, not because of prudishness but because of the threat that it poses to the established order. Just as Shem and Japheth covered

‫וילכו אחרנית ויכסו את ערות‬ ‫אביהם‬

Noah’s nakedness after he got drunk (9:23), the Abrahamic tradition walked backward (toward the past), with its face turned the other way (to the future), in a reactionary attempt to hide the nudity of its biblical fore-

d ay t wo


fathers. Nevertheless, the truth is not only naked but also carnal. Bodies are not only observed in the external world or theorized from afar. Touch has priority over vision: the Other is not a face but “flesh of my flesh” (basar mi’bsari), which is yet another hendiadys (2:23). 77 A certain bareness is inherent in the form of life shared by all the biblical characters stretching from Adam to Abraham. The very fact that they are alive, with no veils, is at stake. Without laws, institutions, society, community, or culture—that which gives humans sense and security—all bodies are in principle exposed and precarious. No name in this sacred text possesses dignity or recognition, not to mention rights or property. Even God himself must feel destitute until he is glorified by his subsequent mass of adoring believers. In other words, everyone in the pre-Abrahamic book exists, but only barely. As grim as this poverty may sound, another element in the story makes it considerably less so. 78 The tree of life, just like the tree of knowledge, is essentially a riddle. Solving it releases the alert reader from a futile endeavor. In Genesis, vanity is a two-sided coin: the first has to do with the Greek quest for knowledge and the second with the Egyptian search for eternity. A careful examination of the Hebrew text shows both to be wrongheaded. While pretending to duplicate these foreign fixations, the book ultimately resists them. The tree of life is no more a cure for death than the tree

‫ובשר מבשרי‬

3 4

day t wo

of knowledge is protection against stupidity. To make these assumptions is to be led by a simple case of mis‫ועץ החיים בתוך הגן ועץ הדעת‬ ‫טוב ורע‬

identification, which is not surprising, given the narrator’s intentionally confusing presentation of the two trees (2:9). 79 Adam and Eve, like almost anyone who has ever read their story, get the two trees mixed up. As we have seen, the so-called tree of knowledge can engender new life (through sex), while it is the tree of life that can bestow a new kind of higher knowledge, rather than perpetual existence. Those who eat from the second tree do not

‫ולקח גם מעץ החיים ואכל וחי‬ ‫לעלם‬

“live forever” (3:22). A radical retranslation suggests that the tree’s real effect is that it will allow the Edenic couple to “live for the world” (hay le’olam). To come to terms with the life of this world, or to live a life devoted to the world, is the big promise of the book of Genesis. 80 Early on, the Hebrew word olam usually meant a long period of time. Eventually it came to denote the totality of existence (what in Genesis is still called heaven and earth). It is one of those words that encapsulates a meaning that remains unexplored for generations. But once this latent meaning comes to the surface, the obscure old uses of the word begin to make sense for the first time and to reveal their prophetic or proleptic potentiality. 81 What if eternal life, which is commonly taken to be the consequence of eating from the tree of life, is a coded

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reference to world life ? Not coincidentally, reaping the ultimate reward of every Abrahamic religion by living forever is customarily associated with the eschatological rejection of this world. Traditionally, putting an end to death and putting an end to the world go hand in hand. Could it all be a result of a not-so-innocent philological error? 82 Even if we observe more standard hermeneutic procedures by insisting that olam means eternity, it remains significant to note that eternity does not have to stand for infinite duration. In fact, it may have little to do with time. According to Baruch Spinoza, eternity is “­existence itself,” insofar as it follows from the definition of God. Now recall what happens to the God of Genesis when he is considered not as a character in a mythology but as a concept in a theology: he becomes the life of the world. 83 Rather than indefinitely prolong an individual’s existence, Genesis aspires to address humanity’s true limitation, which has nothing to do with its short lifespan and everything to do with its strained relationship with the world. One can thus see why Spinoza thinks that death should be feared least of all things. To see things from the perspective of eternity is to be, above all, a being in the world. This world life is what the different characters that inhabit 1-11 before the advent of civilization epitomize.

Per aeternitatem intelligo ipsam existentiam

3 6

day t wo

84 The fate of Adam and Eve’s progeny is not as sealed as it may seem. According to Ecclesiastes, God “kept ‫את העלם נתן בלבם‬

the world in humanity’s heart” (3:11) despite the expulsion from Eden. Notice that the tree of life is rather superfluous to the narrative; it bookends the story, but it plays no significant role within it. There is no indication that Adam and Eve have any clue that it even exists. 85 This ostensible superficiality could be a signal that the tree is in fact a literary device, a mise en abyme, meant to represent the very book in which it is “planted.” Genesis is not a topographic map with coordinates for an Edenic treasure hunt. Its erudite readers conceive of the text under their nose as the thing itself. Hence an old tradition maintains that those who grasp the wisdom of 1-11 eat from the fruit of the tree of life. 86 If the tree of the life of the world represents the hidden takeaway of 1-11, which is covered up by the endless layers of presuppositions about the text’s meaning, then the difficulties associated with work and parenthood can be thoroughly rethought. These predicaments are

‫הרבה ארבה עצבונך‬

usually perceived as punishments for eating from the

‫בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם‬

tree of knowledge (3:16-19). But what if God is setting up these obstacles as efficient distractions from the truth about the tree of life? After all, when a person is captive to the cycle of everyday cares, when sweat and pain and constant worry inform one’s existence above all else, it is almost impossible to be attuned to

d ay t wo

the ­secret wisdom of Genesis. Eating the first forbidden fruit, which leads to procreation, is what makes the second fruit so out of reach. 87 Polytheistic thought has difficulty conceiving of a single, all-embracing totality. As a result, existence can only be understood fragmentarily. It is divine unity that guarantees the world’s oneness, and vice versa. This monistic idea made little sense before Genesis, and it goes without saying in the book itself. Around the Greek hero everything turns into a tragedy. Around the Hebrew God everything congeals into a world. 88 Think of how “the life of a city” is a way to refer to whatever happens therein. Similarly, “the life of the world” is a more elegant way to speak about everything that is the case therein, that is, in everything. Life in this sense is neither an attribute nor a possession associated with certain entities but lacked by others. Life is not a physical, psychological, or spiritual phenomenon that can be either gained or lost. It is more like a relation: something is the life of something else. For example, God is the life of the world, and the world is the life of humanity. 89 The prolonged entanglement of the human race with this world—what is retrospectively called the Anthropocene—is more profound, consequential, and ancient than any other loyalty or devotion. Being on earth takes precedence over other types of belonging or i­dentity—


3 8

day t wo

familial, national, ideological, spiritual, cultural, geographical, historical—all of which easily obfuscate humanity’s primary terrestrial fidelity (something only the Gnostics dared to contest). This breach between human beings and the world is as old as their bond. Yet it appears that those who entered the garden of Genesis and left unharmed were also able to eat from the tree of life and live for the world.

d ay thre e


90 Just as the garden is said to be located somewhere in the east (2:8), and its entrance is supposed to be on its

‫גן בעדן מקדם‬

east side (3:24), the text specifies that Cain left God

‫וישכן מקדם לגן עדן‬

to settle east of Eden (4:16). There are three additional

‫קדמת עדן‬

uses of this word in Genesis 1-11, and no other direction of the compass is ever mentioned. Interestingly, in Hebrew, east (kedem) also means the ancient past.


91 Against the future West (of Athens), the East (of Eden) may denote a way of thinking that orients itself not by the rising sun but by a paradise lost. For an Easterner, Eden is a designated meeting point that everybody shares but nobody can reach. What then are the principles of such an Eastern imagination? The story of Cain and Abel can be read as the groundwork for an eastward perspective. 92 A life lived east of Eden hinges on the transition of the narrative from Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel, from a sexual act to a violent one, from embrace to assault, from semen to blood. Either way, though, the biological status quo, or the equilibrium of the head count, is destabilized: whereas the first tale about the human condition shows that one plus one can equal three (through an intercourse that leads to birth), the other


4 0

day three


demonstrates that one plus one can equal one (through a fight to the death). Sex and violence are also capable of bringing one’s inescapably bare life to the surface before it retreats back into the quicksand of the civilized everyday. What is being recognized in both acts is less how, what, or who one is than the fact that one is. 93 Contrary to common understanding, Cain is not the first human to cut a life short. It is his younger brother, Abel the shepherd, who initiates the cycle of violence by slaughtering the best of his flock as an offering to a

‫והבל הביא גם הוא מבכרות‬ ‫צאנו‬

bloodthirsty God (4:4). The average reader prefers to gloss over the fact that sacrificing nonhuman animals is an act of killing. After the flood, Genesis will even present a convenient way to justify eating their flesh. 94 Destroying the body of whomever humans happen to perceive as their own kind is usually considered the ultimate crime, but only because at the same time they turn a blind eye to the fate of everybody else—­ including humans whose very humanity is put into question. It is not by chance that Abel’s bloody act rarely registers in our collective memories; instead, it only serves as the background noise necessary for making his own death distinctly audible. His broth-

‫קול דמי אחיך צעקים אלי מן‬ ‫האדמה‬

erly blood can “cry out” from the ground (4:10) precisely because the animals’ blood is muffled. The more ­sacred one life seems, the more disposable another life becomes.

d ay th re e 


95 Abel’s slaughter of the firstlings allows us to linger over a related piece of critical information that readers usually also tune out. In the first chapter of Genesis, humans are the last animals introduced on earth. And yet God promptly installs these novices in an unfamiliar land as its rulers, subjugating all other living beings. It will not be the last time that a new settler, or colonizer, undermines an established native. Rest assured, though, that 1-11 is meant to demonstrate the deeply troubling effect of such human supremacism. 96 Humans feel compelled to offer God animal flesh on two pivotal occasions: after they are expelled from the garden and after they exit the ark (8:20). This foundational deed is above all else a testament to their vulnerability and weakness, not their sovereignty and power. Even Abel, who made the first sacrifice, is swiftly turned from slayer to victim. The altar is therefore a stage on which mortality is performed: death is stripped of every justification or purpose and presented as is, in its pure senselessness. Sacred violence may serve no particular end beyond positing precarity, not perseverance, as life’s definitive force. Everything disintegrates; all subsides for no good reason, higher or otherwise. 97 Although tilling the soil is so much more arduous, both mentally and physically, than herding cattle, God prefers Abel’s meat over Cain’s vegetables (4:4). Again, Cain, the firstborn, is like a cornerstone that God the builder rejects in favor of a supported brick. As a result,

‫ויבן נח מזבח לה׳‬

4 2

day three

‫ויחר לקין מאד ויפלו פניו‬ ‫ויאמר ה׳ אל קין למה חרה לך‬ ‫ולמה נפלו פניך‬

the heir apparent to the human race was “much distressed and his face fell” (4:5), but his touching reaction elicits no empathy (4:6). 98 Instead, God harshly reproaches Cain with the follow-

‫הלוא אם תיטיב שאת ואם לא‬ ‫תיטיב לפתח חטאת רבץ ואליך‬ ‫תשוקתו ואתה תמשל בו‬

ing formulation: “If you do well, then keep your head up. But if you do not do well, sin awaits at your threshold, its urge is toward you, yet you can master it” (4:7). We want to believe that the fratricide would have been averted if Cain had only listened to God’s counsel. But what if he heard it loud and clear? What if a perspicuous understanding of these pivotal words is precisely what incited this particular murder, and so many others ever since? 99 The first part of the decisive message of 4:7 says that there are times when certain creatures happen to be


healthy (bri’yot and bri’ut, respectively, share the same


Hebrew root), when particular beings do well against all odds, like a lucky throw of the dice, by being blessed with a better life, or more life. At least for a while, negativity and resentment can be kept at bay, as the pervasive feelings of humility and anger are suspended. If we keep our head up, our face acknowledges the face of the other. This comportment enables us to say we. It facilitates the notion of the world as a common space of mutual recognition. 100 So far, so good, if only this experience belonged to more than a minority. But what about those who are

d ay th re e 

not doing so well, who live less, or worse, who are compelled to turn their gaze downward due to failure, disappointment, or pain? What about unlucky throws of the dice, those born to the wrong family, on the wrong side of the tracks, or with the wrong skin color? It is at the entrance to their house, God argues, that sin crouches like a frightened dog trying to escape an approaching thunderstorm. 101 Nevertheless, the text implores the weak and accursed to find ways to rein in their wicked temptations. The crushed and degraded do not have to give up and give in to sin. Victimhood does not excuse wrongdoing; it requires a person to be twice as good while getting half as much. The infuriating conclusion to this line of thought is that only the unfortunate must steer clear of vice, while the fortunate, who are few and far between, do not have much use for a moral compass. 102 This third section of the text begins with Cain’s ominous birth and concludes on an optimistic note about the newborn Noah. The life of the world is on Noah’s side. But personal tragedy will catch up even with this righteous man. God repeatedly turns his back on the chosen. What may therefore be really at stake in this story is an inevitable wound at the heart of being, which sustains the distinct sense of dejection and despair throughout 1-11.


4 4

day three

103 Furthermore, no one in the pre-Abrahamic Genesis should feel more abandoned and desperate, less embraced and recognized, than the solitary God. His eyes must be more downcast than those of any other creaturely countenance—not because he is looking at the earth through the clouds, but because every terrestrial failure is at its root a divine failure. 104 “Cain rose up against Abel” (4:8). There is a varied tra‫ויקם קין אל הבל‬

dition that interprets this line as an uprising of the disfavored son against a sibling who represents the ruling class. The rebellious party believes itself to be rejected for no good reason. Cain has done nothing wrong to deserve his bad fortune. God’s preference for Abel’s offering illustrates how every choice entails discrimination and how every case of favoritism began as Abelism. Here and elsewhere it is (unwarranted) punishment that seems to lead to crime, rather than the other way around. 105 Cain says something to Abel right before he kills him that only an Aramaic interpolation of the redacted

‫לית דין ולית דיין ולית עלם‬ ‫אחרן ולית למיתן אגר טב‬ ‫לצדיקיא ולית למפרעא מן‬ ‫רשיעיא‬

verse dares to record: “There is no judgment, no judge, no afterlife, no reward for the righteous, and no punishment for the wicked” (4:8). So maybe Cain is after all neither the paradigm of evil nor a symbol of revolutionary heroism, which are later attempts to rebrand him. If the world is defined as a sensible, ordered, lawful, and sharable space, then Cain could easily have felt completely out of touch with that. Living for this

d ay th re e 


world, let alone loving it, is not an option for this man. His undoing looks like a direct consequence of this worldlessness. 106 The biblical mythologies are not meant to represent a solvable problem but an indomitable truth. Remember the original world war, the one that concluded with the defeat of earth by heaven before the first day even began. Is it possible that Cain’s fratricide has been triggered by the reawakening of this ancient humiliation? In the beginning (and ever since) a being was hurt. The earth was cursed even before it revealed itself to Cain as such (4:11). Rather than allowing original sin or natu-

‫ארור אתה מן האדמה‬

ral right to define the human being, the story of Cain implies that there is some incurable or inalienable scar that every living thing must carry on its flesh. From this perspective, circumcision can be understood as a ritualistic reenactment, or a trace, of that mythological injury. The sign of the Abrahamic covenant is merely its appropriation. 107 There is, however, something that allows people not to be completely consumed by this primordial pain: not a permanent cure, but only a local anesthetic. In the first biblical mention of body modification, God puts a mark on Cain “so that whoever found him would not slay him” (4:15). All of us who manage to survive and live in relative peace can do so because we carry Cain’s mark, which protects us, for now, from lawlessness and harm.

‫וישם ה׳ לקין אות לבלתי הכות‬ ‫אתו כל מצאו‬

4 6

day thre e

108 There is no bearer of rights who is not also a bearer of guilt—this is also the logic that informs Cain’s decision ‫ויהי בנה עיר‬

to build the first city (4:17). Even today, urban centers can function as shelters or sanctuaries for lives that elsewhere can be persecuted with relative or total impunity. But 1-11 reminds us that every display of a safe and secure civilization is also a manifestation of its belligerent barbarism. Cain’s legacy is a poignant symbol of both. 109 A real state of exception is the exact opposite of a chaotic or anarchic situation. A state of law and order is always exceptional, even when it pretends to be the prevalent rule. The Garden of Eden, which dominated the previous section of this treatise, along with Noah’s Ark, which will dominate the next, are perfect examples of such exceptional zones. These are small pockets of calm surrounded by an overwhelmingly hopeless desolation. The rare life cultivated within is shielded from the majority of nature without. 110 Humans retreat into a kingdom within a kingdom, where violence can be at least partially, locally, and temporarily suspended. As concrete as such safe spaces can be, they are not designed to spread and expand successfully across the world. A shining example tends to end up as oppressive darkness once its limited applicability is ignored. Survivors of shipwrecks search for lifeboats that over time become the new battleships.

d ay th re e 


111 The ingrained view of evil in the West is that it is merely the absence of good. But when one is positioned east of Eden, the good looks like a temporary absence of evil, just as an escape from happiness seems more entrenched than its pursuit. From this vantage point, 1-11 is neither a chronicle of the survival of the fittest nor a description of the pile of debris that we call our past. Instead, 1-11 is like a pin that bursts the cozy bubble of the present. This is the bubble that justifies the way things are, congratulates us on our accomplishments, sugarcoats reality, looks forward to the future, and thereby provides relief from all that is sorrowful in the world. 112 If this section of Genesis is understood as an investigation of the rotten foundations of the earth, what kind of ethics or politics can be developed from the basic notion that each man is his brother’s Cain, or that every homicide is a fratricide? One possible answer may be found in the fact that, in addition to Cain and Abel, who are believed to be twins, Adam and Eve had a third son, called Seth, who was spared tragedy because he came from “another seed” (4:25). Seth prob-

‫שת לי אלהים זרע אחר‬

ably never even met Cain, who had become a “ceaseless wanderer” (4:14). In this context, it is not brotherhood but alterity—the condition of being different or other—that confers safety. 113 Although Cain murdered Abel, he did not inherit the divine blessing. It was Seth, the son born after the

‫נע ונד בארץ‬

4 8

day three

­calamity, who picked up this unripe fruit that had been dropped by his dead brother. Had Abel not been killed, Seth might not have existed. But the stand-in father of humanity cannot hide behind his innocence. The crime that was committed before he was even conceived must follow him like his own shadow. The document that declares Seth’s birthright is written in blood. 114 After the high drama of the fratricide, most readers merely glance at the long and tedious list of names rep‫ויחי שת חמש שנים ומאת שנה‬ ‫ויולד את אנוש ויחי שת אחרי‬ ‫הולידו את אנוש שבע שנים‬ ‫ושמנה מאות שנה‬

resenting Cain’s and Seth’s genealogies (4:17-5:32). But their lessons are invaluable. For example, Seth’s genealogy divides human life into two periods: prepartum and postpartum. The prepartum years stretch from a man’s birth to the moment his first son is born. The postpartum period is the time that remains from parenthood to death. 115 There are ten patrilineal generations from Adam to Noah. According to Genesis 11, there are also ten generations from Noah to Abraham. The prepartum age is here the crucial one, because it is used to calculate the time that has passed since the beginning of the world,

Adam Seth




prepartum postpartum

which, no coincidence, equals about a thousand years for each ten generations. So what then is the importance of the postpartum age? Just as the first age supplies a chronicle of this world, the second represents the world thereafter. In Genesis, afterlife does not designate what happens after death, but refers to what happens after life has been given.

d ay th re e 


116 The repetitive and strict formula that describes Seth’s lineage takes great care to always mention the number of years each descendant has lived. It is a literary account (sifrut in modern Hebrew) based on numerical


counting (sfira). When it comes to Cain’s genealogy,


however, neither the age of each descendent nor even the word life is anywhere to be found. Apparently, all the pioneering work of the Cainites, which laid the foundations of our culture, only propelled them toward death. Ironically, the list of their material achievements concludes with the moral bankruptcy of Lamech, who may be considered the first poet, though his true claim to fame is the vindictive calculations with which he settled accounts with his rivals (4:24).

‫כי שבעתים יקם קין ולמך שבעים‬ ‫ושבעה‬

117 In contrast to the myth of Prometheus, the biblical progress of civilization and its discontents has no divine origin. It is credited entirely to Cain and Sons, beginning with urbanization (arguably their most decisive contribution), continuing with their development of the technique of metalwork, and up to the artistry needed to play musical instruments (4:17-22). But these perceived

‫ושם אחיו יובל הוא היה אבי כל‬ ‫תפש כנור ועוגב‬

advancements are treated as obstacles. God does not rejoice in humanity’s inventiveness and industriousness. He does not seem enthusiastic about the cultivation of either land or man. Being a fragile human (which is the


meaning of Enosh, Seth’s son) and being an educated in-


dividual (which is the meaning of Enoch, Cain’s son) are two very different, maybe even contradictory things.


day thre e

118 The record of Seth’s line is a strange report on a life of inaction, idleness, and even boredom. It is an account of the mere fact of being human. The achievements of each of the ten generations are summed up in the procreation of the next. No one is productive in any other sense. Who you are is who you give birth to. These purely creaturely lives have nothing to lose, not even their God. Even the formidable faith that Abraham is considered to have fathered does not seem to have the same hold over these proto-forefathers. 119 The first time God’s name was invoked is said to have ‫אז הוחל לקרא בשם ה׳‬

been during Enosh’s life (4:26). It is, however, imprudent to deduce that Seth’s eldest son personally initiated this event. The Sethites cannot even take the credit for this single accomplishment. The relationship between humanity and the deity does not depend on doing God’s work. It is purely hereditary: God made Adam and Eve, and we are all supposed to be their sons and daughters. 120 Genesis 1-11 can give the impression that it does not matter whether one worships God, or believes in him, or is even aware of his existence. The genetics of Genesis stipulates that he is in the blood: that we are, not how or who we are, is what matters. Ultimately, election simply means survival, while theology is basically genealogy: show me the God of your forefathers and foremothers and I’ll show you your own God (or his absence).

d ay th re e 


121 In old age, as memory fades away, the names of family members can have a tenacious grip on the senescent mind, long after everything else sinks into oblivion. Such names, recalled by an elder, time and again, give an illusory sense of vitality. Accordingly, the biblical genealogies are not just cumbersome filler stuck in between captivating mythological tales. Like anthologies of flash fiction (for example, “Canaan begot Sidon, his eldest,” 10:15), these lists may very well be the core of the text, which relegates the more famous stories to a secondary position—as interludes that merely expand on particular links in this unbroken chain to which the reader is shackled by birth. 122 Bear in mind that anyone who is mentioned in the Torah cannot follow the Torah. The earliest biblical characters do not have access to the Bible, because they are in it. Besides, the pre-Abrahamic Genesis consists of biographies, not commandments. Yet none of these people is exemplary. Any reader looking for a clear sense of moral direction finds instead a few scattered creatures wandering, mapless, in search of an unmarked road. At the end of the day, what this text amounts to is neither a religion nor even a philosophy. At most, it represents a form of human life at its bare minimum. 123 The sixth chapter of Genesis begins with a fantastic story that feels foreign to the monotheistic spirit of the book. We are told that once upon a time divine and earthly beings copulated and gave birth to strange crea-

‫וכנען ילד את צידן בכרו‬


day thre e

‫ויראו בני האלהים את בנות‬ ‫האדם כי טבת הנה ויקחו להם‬ ‫נשים מכל אשר בחרו‬

tures (6:2). If we see this as the cruel end of the world war described in the book’s first chapter, the women of the vanquished earth may be said to have been violated by the men of the victorious heaven. But it makes much more sense to see this tale as the conclusion or recapitulation of the genealogies in the first half of 1-11, which turns this old pagan mythology into a concise history of humanity in the first millennium. This does not add to the interpretation put forth thus far, but simply reinforces it. 124 The crux of the myth is a convoluted (and probably

‫הנפלים היו בארץ בימים ההם‬ ‫וגם אחרי כן אשר יבאו בני‬ ‫האלהים אל בנות האדם וילדו‬ ‫להם המה הגברים‬

corrupt) verse that can be simplified thus: “After the sons of God bedded the daughters of man, their children were born: the Nephilim and then the Giborim appeared on earth” (6:4). Consider the “sons of God” as the name given to the progeny of the Edenic couple, while the “daughters of man” represent the dynasty of the pre-Adamites who hail from the sixth day of cre-

Adam & Eve’s progeny = sons of God

Pre-Adamites’ progeny = daughters of man

Cainites = Nephilim

Sethites = Giborim

ation. The mating of these two species gives birth to the Nephilim (those who fell), which is the designation applied to Cain’s children, and the Giborim (those who overcame), which is how the text describes the sons of Seth. 125 However one chooses to interpret this story, God is obviously displeased with it. So he seems to be saying to no one in particular that he is capping the age of

‫והיו ימיו מאה‬...‫ויאמר ה׳‬ ‫ועשרים שנה‬

human beings at 120 (6:3). It is a punishment of sorts, even though humans could very well be the victims,

d ay th re e 


not the perpetrators, of this sexual violence. What’s more, later on in the book, some characters are said to have lived for much longer than 120 years. 126 An alternative gloss on this statement begins by noting that the Hebrew for “his days were 120 years” can just as easily refer to God’s age as to man’s (6:3). Such a reading makes perfect sense if we accept that God was created by Bereshit in the beginning of Genesis. The verse in question would therefore describe an event that took

Creation Expulsion Abel’s death Seth’s birth

0 ? ? 130

place when God was 120 years old, which is certainly before Seth’s birth (we know that Adam was 130 when his third son was born) and probably after Abel’s death, or at least after the expulsion from Eden. 127 At this decisive interval between despair and hope, God proclaims: “My breath shall not abide in the human because of the world (le’olam), since he too is flesh” (6:3). To paraphrase: just as each animal has its own limited awareness of its surrounding environment (what ethologists call the Umwelt), the human animal fights an uphill battle in its attempt to live for the world, or just to be open to the world—rather than being blind to it, or simply shutting it out—no matter how shocking or impossible this world may be. 128 Humanity’s ability to be in touch with the world is to some extent foreclosed by its elaborate Cainite culture. Nevertheless, the arrival of Seth—Adam and Eve’s third child, whose descendants, the heroic Giborim, are still

‫לא ידון רוחי באדם לעלם בשגם‬ ‫הוא בשר‬


day three

‫המה הגברים אשר מעולם‬

“of this world” (me’olam 6:4)—gives God a reason to go on. He foresees that in the land of the blind, the oneeyed Sethite is about to be king. Long live Noah, who, according to the genealogy, is the first man to be born after Adam’s death (5:28).


d ay fo ur

129 What does it mean to be human? The Western answer tends to rely on some essential attribute that humans must possess to be considered as such: language, culture, knowledge, reason, rights, or a certain DNA sequence. In Hebrew, by contrast, the word for a human being indicates a genealogy rather than an essence: it denotes anyone who is the son or daughter of Adam (ben adam or bat adam). The biblical character is not

‫בן אדם‬

named after our species; we are named after him.

‫בת אדם‬

130 Since the flood eliminates any other lineage besides Noah’s, and since the narrative goes out of its way to show that Noah is a descendant of Adam and Eve (ten generations removed), the humanity of all humans on earth is guaranteed, with no exceptions or qualifications. Even if one accepts the existence of a pre-Adamite heritage, Genesis is designed to leave no place for doubt about humanity’s shared Edenic origin. Hence, it is impossible to separate human lives from their human form. 131 Nevertheless, according to the same monogenic logic, Noah is just as much the common father of the whole human race as Adam is. Tracing humankind back to the ark builder is thus indispensable for our self-un-


day f o ur

derstanding. The introduction of Noah signals the end of the first half of Genesis 1-11 and the beginning of the second. Each part has its own genealogy (5:3-32 and 11:10-26). Adding up the ages in the two lists shows that each part of 1-11 purports to cover a distinct period of one millennium. Since Adam lived 930 years and Noah 950 years, without overlapping, each character is meant to dominate an entire epoch. 132 Adam and Noah can therefore be understood as competing paradigms for human existence, rather than as sealed facts that belong to the past. The readers of 1-11 are positioned in the tension between these figures, not after their death. Yet there is a strong sense that the interest of the narrative is skewed; no human, not even Adam, receives as much attention as Noah. It is now time to explore the ways in which his presence haunts this text. 133 The pre-Abrahamic Genesis asks its readers to shift from an Adamite model of humanity to a Noachite one. The very writing of the text is meant to mark this axial moment when sunrise turns to sunset, when life with God the Creator gives way to life with God the Destroyer, when the genesis of man becomes his decay. Adam looks forward; Noah backward. Think of Adam as someone who inhabits a house while it is still being built, and Noah as a man who dwells in the same house while it is being demolished. To identify with Noah is to consider the possibility that, despite (or because

d ay f ou r 


of ) the spectacular achievements and glorious progress of civilization, we have been slowly and steadily drowning. 134 If Adam means “human,” is Noah in some sense already post-human? To see oneself as a descendant of Noah (ben noach or bat noach) is above all to under-

‫בן נח‬

stand that the secure ground on which we appear to

‫בת נח‬

walk, where we seem to breathe freely, is nothing more than the deck of the ark. It is also to realize that most creatures on board have no access to this exclusive space because they are kept in the hull, just as most people and virtually all animals living on earth today are still relegated to the margins of society, to a kind of social death. 135 Even the wives in Noah’s extended family seem absent despite their presence. But in whichever part of the vessel one finds oneself, it is still a better position than that of “all in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life”

‫כל אשר נשמת רוח חיים באפיו‬

(7:22), which is how Genesis describes the overwhelming majority who got swept away by the waters and drowned to death. As expected, the text makes a point by leaving their plight unrecorded. The best description literature can give of nonpersons is to not describe them at all. 136 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of God” (6:8). The main contention of the parable of the flood is not so much that there is only one God as that there is only

‫ונח מצא חן בעיני ה׳‬


day f o ur

one human. From the divine perspective, the whole world can perish as long as Noah is saved. This hierogamy or holy marriage between a single man and a single deity is monogamous insofar as it is a relationship that eliminates everyone but Noah and his entourage. As with Eden, providence does not spread across the land; instead, it implodes into a focal point, which in this case coincides with the ark. 137 The destruction of the earth is therefore not only a display of God’s vicious force but also a testament to his fervent love, which he is incapable of sharing with other living beings. Judging by the story thus far, God can only favor a person, not a people. As best demonstrated by the upcoming story of Babel, collectives are only a source of divine discomfort. God is not yet in the business of choosing a group that accepts him as their God, and he will continue to prefer one-on-one communication with his proxies. 138 Noah, like the baby Moses, is saved by an ark (teva), ‫תבה‬

not a ship (oniya). This is an important distinction, be-


cause the latter needs a captain to steer it in the right (or wrong) direction, while the former drifts passively

‫ותלך התבה על פני המים‬

hither and thither (7:18), being led by the wind, water, God, or fate. Entering the ark means renouncing all agency, not to speak of any claim to sovereignty. Hence only God’s invisible hand may shut the ark’s door

‫ויסגר ה׳ בעדו‬


d ay f ou r 


139 The meticulous (or obsessive) instructions for the ark’s construction, which may sound ridiculous coming from God’s mouth, are there to discourage any notion that this marvelous technological feat is Noah’s own doing. As a typical descendant of the line of Seth, Noah is neither a rational actor nor an inventor. God uses his body much as a master uses a slave and a craftsman uses a tool. 140 The earliest divine utterance of the word I (ani, hineni) as a stand-alone Hebrew term occurs when God tells

‫והנני משחיתם‬

Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh” (6:13), and again shortly thereafter, “I am about to bring the

‫ואני הנני מביא את המבול‬

flood” (6:17). There are only a couple of instances in 1-11 where humans explicitly use the first-person pronoun (anochi ): when Adam tells God, “I was afraid

‫ואירא כי עירם אנכי‬

because I was naked” (3:10) and when Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9). 141 To a remarkable extent, in all four cases the speaker appears before his interlocutor as revealed, embodied, vulnerable, and known. By bringing about the flood, God, a usually abstruse entity, runs the risk of becoming recognized. The deity’s potential power is actualized at this disastrous moment. By contrast, Noah’s passivity allows him to safeguard both his subjectivity and his potentiality. His strength lies in silently forfeiting his own will. 142 Despite his speech impediment, Moses will be the first man to relay God’s words, commands, and prohibitions to the people. By contrast, Noah never utters a single

‫השמר אחי אנכי‬

6 0

day f o ur

word until the flood is over—and even then, all he does is curse one son and bless the other two. In fact, no human in 1-11 ever says anything that can be deemed inspired or wise. Noah’s silence may be the most profound human statement throughout the primeval chapters of Genesis. 143 Noah is not a leader, pointing in the direction humanity ought to go. He provides neither rules nor tasks, neither counsels nor truths. Nevertheless, by eschewing language, he finds the proper expression for his impossible position. In the face of a looming cataclysm, all talk sounds idle. While God is being uncharacteristically verbose, Noah could be paying silent homage to Bereshit. 144 Noah does not plead with God to stop the catastrophe, as Abraham will do before the destruction of Sodom ‫האף תספה צדיק עם רשע‬

and Gomorrah (18:23). When the harrowing Day of Judgment arrives, Noah simply packs up his belongings, gathers his immediate family and some animal specimens, and sails away to protect himself. He appears to believe that he can save the world by saving his own skin. In short, Noah is no tragic hero. 145 The Abrahamic tradition operates in the tension between creation and salvation. Yet even though the creative pole may be losing its force during the apocalyptic flood, this void is not filled with a proper redemptive program. This much can be inferred from Noah’s

d ay f ou r 


name, which means relief or rest, comfort or consolation (5:29). A reliever is not to be confused with a redeemer. Even the best words of condolence cannot

‫ויקרא את שמו נח לאמר זה‬ ‫ינחמנו ממעשנו‬

revive the dead. 146 After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and produces wine from its grapes (9:20-21). This vocation is quite

‫ויטע כרם וישת מן היין וישכר‬

fitting: a winemaker is a rather dubious savior, and alcoholism is not a legitimate branch of messianism. Noah must know that if the colossal flood has failed to purge this world of human wickedness and misery once and for all, then nothing will. So in old age he reverts to what can be euphemistically called civil disengagement. 147 The ark is a well-known prefiguration of every house of prayer that provides a sanctuary to the believer who enters its gates. But isn’t Eden a prefiguration of both? And doesn’t the Sabbath function as a temporal ark once a week? Let us stretch the metaphor even further. Might art be an ark, at least potentially, for the artists or their audience? Is a book like Genesis a literary ark, meant to keep its readers afloat? And aren’t all of the above simply limited attempts at concocting zones of exception but otherwise change nothing? 148 Before the third day, the world was an indistinguishable mass of water. It took God one day to divide this liquid mess into a heavenly and an earthly domain, and another day to separate land from sea (1:6-10). The

‫ויהי מבדיל בין מים למים‬

6 2

day f o ur

flood is said to be the unmaking of this achievement, as “all the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and ‫נבקעו כל מעינת תהום רבה‬ ‫וארבת השמים נפתחו‬

the floodgates of the heavens broke open” (7:11). But another reading reveals that this story is also a repetition of the way the world began. 149 Seen from outer space, this planet is itself an ark floating in an unlivable void. The very fact that there is an earth, where special conditions make the lives of animals and plants possible (even if they are miserable), is extremely abnormal from a cosmological perspective. As with the ark and with the garden, God did not intend the earth to embody a universal and boundless truth, for it was fashioned from the start as a rather small space for living, beyond which reigns heavenly death. 150 The ark has only one small window that lets in some

‫צהר תעשה לתבה‬

light (6:16). Otherwise, it is completely shut off from the outside world. It is not supposed to be a microcosm or a monad that mirrors the entire universe. As the ark’s builder, Noah is to God what God was to Bereshit: the former struggles to construct a livable place in the midst of the entropic space over which the latter presides. But no vessel can remain buoyant indefinitely, and every garden implies an expulsion. 151 Today, taking the biosphere for granted is wishful ignorance. A colossal or partial collapse of our ecosystem is inevitable. The second coming of the flood is backed

d ay f ou r 


by solid scientific data. Humans are therefore growing accustomed to the idea that they are only guests, even though they have nowhere else to go and even though they tend to mistake being the recipients of hospitality for ownership. “As long as the earth endures” (8:22), humanity lives in the time that remains between the rising tides. 152 There is little to be gained by reading 1-11 as a warning sign of an approaching “natural” disaster. The Noah of Genesis, unlike his equivalent in the Quran (11:25), is not a prophet trying to amend humanity’s corrupt ways before it is too late. And God’s assembly manual for the ark, like the geographic location of Eden, is only intended to lead the gullible astray. A better way of approaching the story of the flood would have us notice that although the Abrahamic tradition tends to relegate Armageddon to some messianic future, the Torah treats it as an accomplished fact that occurred in the primordial past. It is thus coping with the aftermath of an event that some are still anticipating. Why prepare for what has already happened? 153 We must therefore rethink what it means to be made in the likeness of God. It seems that humanity, like the deity, can provoke a global cataclysm. But this savage capacity has its limits. Although the earth was corrupt before God, its complete annihilation is only within the power of Bereshit, its true creator. The most God can do is to put an end to all flesh, by flooding the land

‫עד כל ימי הארץ‬

6 4

day f o ur

and eradicating the lives for which he is personally responsible. But even this act is further compromised. By allowing a remnant to survive, God must have known that it was just a matter of time before evil would creep back in, as the Tower of Babel is about to make clear. 154 While the mass murder of the flood is ultimately mitigated by the multiplication of the survivors in the ark, one thing remains irreversible: by destroying the earth, God has also wiped out Eden, with the tree of life at its center. As it is written, “All existence on the soil was ‫וימח את כל היקום אשר על פני‬ ‫האדמה‬

blotted out” (7:23). Of course, the garden’s precise location is unknown, the path that leads there is impassable, and its physical reality is questionable. Be that as it may, the aspiration to reach this non-place has never ceased to play a decisive role in the tradition’s imagination. Once Eden’s spell is lifted, though, we see the pointlessness of entertaining the dream of a possible return to this earthly paradise, which makes no sense in a postdiluvian world. There is a difference between a forbidden tree and an eradicated one. 155 As long as there was Eden, the rest of the earth was insufferable by comparison. An anthropocentric mindset leads to the belief that the flood is humanity’s punishment for its sins, which are not specified by the text. 1-11 slightly adjusts this self-absorption by insisting that the real problem is rooted deep within the earth. Leading up to the flood there are six consecutive repetitions of this single word: “The earth was corrupt before God;

d ay f ou r 

the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth’” (6:11-13).


‫ותשחת הארץ לפני האלהים‬ ‫ותמלא הארץ חמס וירא אלהים‬ ‫את הארץ והנה נשחתה כי‬ ‫השחית כל בשר את דרכו על‬ ‫הארץ ויאמר אלהים לנח קץ כל‬ ‫בשר בא לפני כי מלאה הארץ‬ ‫חמס מפניהם והנני משחיתם את‬ ‫הארץ‬

156 The destruction of all forms of life (besides aquatic creatures), then, is the collateral damage of the earth’s destruction, not the other way around. The ark is God’s hedge against this genocide, which is actually a biocide, for even the basic distinction between man and animal is lost at the moment the waters gush through the land. 157 From God’s point of view, every crime is a crime against the earth, every harm is earthbound, and every offense is a contribution to the earth’s wretchedness. Violence in 1-11 is not a personal affair. The body of the perpetrator cannot carry the weight of guilt, just as the body of the victim cannot withstand the weight of injury. Cain says: “My punishment is too great to bear” (4:13).

‫גדול עוני מנשא‬

It is the earth that must bear every single wrong. And it is the face of the earth that continues to blush with shame long after the individual parties of each misdeed are dead and forgotten. 158 Abel’s blood is absorbed by the ground. The soil “cries out” to God (4:10), who only at that point ceases to be a bystander and intervenes. The next time God takes a clear stand on earthly matters is more than 1500 years


6 6

day fo ur

‫ומי המבול היו על הארץ בשנת‬ ‫שש מאות שנה לחיי נח‬

later, when he decides that the land has become so toxic that it must be wiped clean (7:10-11). 159 The flood is also meant to wash away the mythological forces that were not yet completely purged in the opening chapters of Genesis. Its water disenchants nature and ushers in the anti-polytheistic, pro-Israelite bias that will dominate the post-Abrahamic Bible. Even before the introduction of Abraham, the Tower of Babel is quickly revealed to be a physical structure devoid of any magical powers, one whose footprint can be found in present-day Iraq. 160 The flood is therefore also the story of a mythocide, executed by divine violence, which sanitizes the book of the strange narrative with which it begins. The Hebrew Bible as a whole has proven to be a flood-like text with respect to older belief systems. They were swept away by the book’s revolutionary theology (or, more accurately, by its influence on other sacred books). Nevertheless, these foreign elements are not simply disavowed or erased. Their ruins remain the very foundation of the literary edifice that is the Bible. 161 The pre-Abrahamic text is a piece of writing about a time when writing was a new and rare technology. It is therefore dedicated to a form of life that left almost no texts with which to remember it. The flood is also a symbol of this nearly irrevocable amnesia, or collective aphasia, which is the fate of all prehistoric societies.

d ay f ou r 


The drowned stand for all those whose voice can barely be heard. 162 There is therefore another intriguing way in which the story of destruction corresponds to the story of creation. Bereshit, which had been suppressed, now retunes to the forefront, with little prior warning. It bursts violently on the scene, inundating the land with its waters of oblivion. Bereshit is in the rain. Noah’s later episode of intoxication, along with Babel’s confounding of tongues, may both represent other posttraumatic mechanisms of active forgetfulness. After all, memory rarely fails us innocently. More often, it is being sabotaged by internal or external forces. 163 Although the old world, with its mythical inhabitants, has perished for good, Noah is positioned as the ultimate witness who can grant us access to it. Who else could relay a version of this cycle of ancient tales to the next generation? The text implies that, in some fundamental sense, Noah must be thought of as the informer or storyteller of at least the first six chapters of Genesis, if not the entirety of 1-11. Or was this the role given to his eldest son, who is otherwise a marginal character? Is Shem the author of the pre-Abrahamic Genesis? The Book of Jubilees (10:14) intimates: “Noah gave all that he had written to Shem, his eldest and most beloved son.”

‫ויתן את כל הספרים אשר כתב‬ ‫לשם בנו הגדול כי אתו אהב מאד‬ ‫מכל בניו‬

6 8

day f o ur

164 The attack on the past means that Noah’s significance lies not only in the new lives that he has protected from death, but also in the old lives that he saves from obscurity. Otherwise his work would be complete with the construction of the ark, the marriage of his sons, and the animals aboard. What difference would it make if God left him behind to drown? Why rescue this man for whom any sense of futurity feels utterly futile? 165 Noah’s survival cannot be superfluous. It depends on a subtle yet extremely decisive turn: from the moment ‫וירבו המים וישאו את התבה‬

“the waters increased and raised the ark” (7:17), his life ceases to revolve around the question of procreation and begins to be informed by recollection. Here is the most critical difference between the two human paradigms: if the center of an Adamite life is to bear children, then the core of a Noachite existence is to bear witness. This sheds light on God’s use of the word “multiply” (rav) on three critical occasions throughout the first half of 1-11. Considered together, they establish a damning

‫פרו ורבו‬

equation: the multiplication of men (1:28) entails the

‫ארבה עצבונך‬

multiplication of sorrows (3:16) as well as the multipli-

‫רבה רעת האדם‬

cation of wickedness (6:5). 166 In the second half of the pre-Abrahamic Genesis, reproduction is overshadowed by remembrance (varia-

‫ויזכר אלהים את נח‬

tions of yizkor appear in 8:1, 9:15, and 9:16). Recalling

‫וזכרתי את בריתי‬

the living is God’s way of assuring their wellbeing.

‫לזכר ברית עולם‬

There is no indication that God commemorates the dead. For Noah, to be the first in his line not to have

d ay f ou r 


met Adam in person, to survive Adam, is also to maintain the memory of the barely human. His main message to Shem could very well be that “human beings are human insofar as they bear witness to the non-­ human,” as Giorgio Agamben puts it.

Gli uomini sono uomini in quanto testimoniano del non-uomo

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167 There are hundreds of different flood sagas, originating not only in the Middle East but in virtually every inhabitable corner of the planet, many of which developed independently of the biblical narrative. If the idea of world literature ever made sense, then this shared story could be its clearest case in point. The mythology of the flood is not the property of any particular culture. It can only properly be said to belong to the human race, as diverse as it pretends to be. There is, however, one element that distinguishes the Genesis flood story from all the rest: the fact that it concludes with a description of a covenant. 168 The covenant is the high point of 1-11. It is also the most subversive event in the text, due to its ability to derail the main debate within the Abrahamic tradition. The three major monotheistic religions agree on their most fundamental idea: they all promote the belief in one and the same God and attempt (at least on paper) to usher in the twilight of the pagan idols. The basic disagreement between these faiths revolves around the question of the covenant. Does one religion uphold an exclusive divine agreement? Each seems to assume that God is on its side, so to speak; that his full approval and support

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day f ive

is reserved for its own believers with their specific creed. One revelation challenges the validity of the other two. 169 The pre-Abrahamic book of Genesis proffers the original formulation of the single-God thesis. With or without acknowledging Bereshit as a meta-divine realm, this text remains the founding document of monotheism. But it is rarely noticed that it is also the grounds for a sweeping critique of Abrahamism (which precludes any serious consideration in this treatise of the specificities of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam). 170 The critique is fueled by God’s covenant with Noah ‫והקמתי את בריתי אתך‬

(6:18), which extends to his family, the animals in the

‫הברית אשר אני נתן ביני‬ ‫וביניכם ובין כל נפש חיה‬

ark, and all their offspring (9:12). The same covenant

‫ברית ביני ובין הארץ‬

(9:13). There has never been a successful attempt to re-

is also described as encompassing the earth as a whole voke it. There seems to be no expiration date. From the perspective of creaturely lives, human or otherwise, it is still in force, and it brooks no exceptions. 171 The reader who imprudently ventures beyond the eleventh chapter of Genesis discovers that, ten generations after Noah, God decides to constitute a second covenant, much diminished in scope. It concerns only a single chosen man, his subsequent descendants, and their limited piece of promised land. All other peoples and nations, the entirety of the animal kingdom, as well as the rest of the earth, recede to the background, disenfranchised, with the introduction of the Abrahamic covenant.

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172 Then, during the exodus from Egypt, the Abrahamic covenant is further defined as it takes on the written form of the Ten Commandments. Upholding the Mosaic law is thenceforth a condition for the transformation of the Israelites into a great nation. The last and most confined covenant in the Hebrew Bible, finally, is made with David; it stipulates the construction of the temple in Jerusalem and guarantees the king the continuous reign of his dynasty. 173 If we take another quick step beyond the Jewish tradition, we may see Christianity and Islam as arguments against this progressive contraction of God’s covenant. It is not easy to reconcile God’s purported universal reach with his expressed partiality for the Israelites, especially given the reality of their dismal historical situation since the fall of their short-lived United Monarchy. Humankind’s collective inclusion in a more expansive religious program may therefore be interpreted as gesturing toward a restitution of the Noachite covenant. But these later theological systems only pay lip service to nonhuman animals and the nonorganic earth. They also require that each and every individual embrace the new messianic or prophetic message, not to mention the messenger himself. 174 Genesis 1-11 and the covenant at its center are about the whole earth, not a specific part of it or a selective list of its inhabitants. This realization is usually lost on those who move on to identify the Old Testament with the



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so-called old covenant, first established with Abraham and then ratified by Moses. By comparison, the oldest covenant, the one made with all creatures, receives scant consideration in the Abrahamic tradition. Could this be an attempt to hide the simple fact that Abraham’s covenant is already new? 175 Notice, however, that even the earliest covenant is very selective. First, it excludes both the heavens and the lifeless. Second, and more importantly, it demonstrates an extreme favoritism with respect to a few members of each species, while the remainder is left to die in the flood. For the victims, the covenant is meaningless. Subsequent covenants sharply distinguish between chosen and unchosen, but this ruthless distinction between the drowned and the saved is unparalleled. 176 Nevertheless, once the flood is over, the Noachite covenant requires neither acknowledgment nor consent, neither belief nor faith. It is not a contract. It does not rely on prophets or priests, sovereigns or messiahs, circumcision or resurrection. This simple truth the Abrahamic tradition can neither confirm nor deny. By manipulating the terms of the divine pact to fit its own needs, each monotheistic system seeks to elevate its position vis-à-vis the others. By downplaying the idea of the primordial covenant with all the earth as a distant, inaccessible horizon, the three faiths try to block this dangerous idea that undercuts their authority from within. Yet for the past hundred-and-some generations,

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the established Abrahamic traditions have also been faithful couriers of the explosive message of this first covenant, hidden in plain sight, right there in the ninth chapter of Genesis. 177 The first thing that must be mentioned about the covenant is encapsulated in its Hebrew word, which harkens back to Bereshit. Like creation (bara), covenant


(brit) is spelled with the letters of the first word in the


Bible. It is God’s understated invocation of Bereshit at


the moments of creation and the covenant that gives these pivotal events their legitimate force. This insight may explain why God limits his own act of creation to the same thing with which he eventually makes his covenant: life on earth. Humanism, understood as speciesism, is disputed in both cases. The God of 1-11 is not only the God of humanity. In his eyes, man and animal are in the same literal boat. 178 It is God, not Bereshit, who reveals himself via both creation and covenant as power over all lives. Which gives rise to an odd question: Is God’s covenant an act of free will? Could he have made a different covenant, or avoided it altogether? Unlike the other seemingly divine covenants proclaimed since Abraham’s days, only the first one follows from God’s own original nature, or a nature he owes to Bereshit. 179 Technically speaking, the first covenant is analytic: it emanates from its maker’s essence as the creator of


day f ive

all lives. The other covenants are synthetic: they depend on historical justifications. According to the pre-­ Abrahamic Genesis (and to present-day astronomy), earth is the chosen planet, promised (for now) to its living beings, despite their trials, tribulations, and occasional eradication. For God, this is a certainty that has been sealed ever since the creation of the human couple on the sixth day. 180 Noah is in no way a privileged partner in the covenant. He is merely its conduit. His kinfolk—the leftovers of the human species—are tasked with being the custo‫ברית עולם‬

dians of this “covenant of the world” (brit olam, 9:16), which is said to be made for the “generations of the

‫לדרת עולם‬

world” (dorot olam, 9:12). So while the covenant seems to exclude heaven and nonorganic matter by focusing on earth and its living inhabitants, it ultimately asserts that both God and humankind are bound to the world to which the tree of life grants access. 181 Worldlessness is the lot of those for whom the covenant of the world has lost its force. Humanity’s original commitment to the world is supposedly guaranteed by the world’s inseparability from God, who is, as we have seen, the world’s life. A dead world is not worth caring for, since it easily gets reduced to a mere thing that can be used, abused, and discarded. But what can stop humans from pillaging their own planet? Will the resurrection of a forgotten theological-ecological conviction make any difference? Can God still save us? Did the rumor about

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his death accelerate the earth’s ruination? Though a renewed appreciation of Noah’s colossal covenant seems urgent, can it be more than an empty symbolic gesture? 182 While the covenant embraces life and affirms the living, we may also read it as a footnote to the mass murder of the flood. We can even understand it as the divine response to the burnt offerings Noah made right after the land dried out (8:20). But the darkest context in which

‫ויעל עלת במזבח‬

the covenant makes sense is as an addendum to the elaborate economy of blood that begins once God allows humans to kill and consume nonhuman animals: “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat” (9:3).

‫כל רמש אשר הוא חי לכם יהיה‬ ‫לאכלה‬

183 There is, however, one proviso: although flesh is edible, blood is not. “You must not eat flesh with the life

‫אך בשר בנפשו דמו לא תאכלו‬

thereof, which is the blood thereof ” (9:4). If life is in the blood, then it makes sense for God, the creator of life on earth, to reclaim the dead’s lifeblood. Nevertheless, when a human is slain, God demands a double portion: not only the victim’s blood, but also that of the perpetrator (9:5). What is usually considered a na-

‫ואך את דמכם לנפשתיכם אדרש‬ ‫מיד כל חיה אדרשנו ומיד האדם‬ ‫מיד איש אחיו אדרש‬

scent version of “Thou shalt not kill” is actually the very opposite. Rather than prohibiting murder, God sanctifies it. In his name, humans are asked to shed the blood of anyone who dares to shed human blood (9:6).

‫שפך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך‬

184 The text justifies this vendetta by saying that “in his image did God make humankind” (9:6). But it is utterly unclear whether the human being in question is

‫כי בצלם אלהים עשה את האדם‬


day f ive

the killer who desecrates his divine likeness, the executed whose divine likeness must be avenged, or the r­ etaliator whose divine likeness grants him the right to take a life. Maybe only one is meant to be true, or some combination of two, or all three. Either way, according to this verse, the fact that a man is a murderer is not what makes him an animal. Humanity’s murderous practices are precisely what distinguish it from animality. 185 After all, the oceans of human and nonhuman blood that Homo sapiens has shed since the days of Genesis have very little to do with the natural food chain. Blood, the symptom of a lawless life, spills from the body and seeps into the earth with the force of gravity, rather than ascending to heaven like a soul. This blood is not an obstacle to the covenant established in the following verses, but its impetus. The favorable condition of certain lives on earth has always been predicated on the subordination and annihilation of those who are deemed undeserving of life. 186 Throughout 1-11, the human (adam) functions as the ‫דם‬

link between blood (dam) and soil (adama): the soil is


cursed because of Adam’s sin (3:17), the soil opens its


mouth to receive Abel’s blood (4:11), and all existence upon the soil is blotted out by the flood due to man’s wickedness (7:23). This constellation seems unbroken until the waters of the flood wash away the blood of

‫לא אסף לקלל עוד את האדמה‬ ‫בעבור האדם‬

its victims. Only then can God say, “Never again will I doom the soil because of humankind” (8:21).

d ay f i ve 


187 But it is only after detailing his demand for the blood of the dead that God allows himself to override the cursed Adamite nexus of blood and soil by blessing the Noachite covenant of life and earth (9:12-13). In the book’s conceptual configuration, blood is to life what soil is to

‫ חיים‬

earth. Just as blood is the symbol of bare life, soil is the

‫אדמה ארץ‬


symbol of a bare earth: forsaken, unblessed, and meaningless. Since the establishment of the covenant, humanity’s occasional ability to hold on to earth and life rather than succumb to blood and soil is the basic formula of its relative flourishing. Any earthly life worth living is a testament to these basic terms detailed by the covenant. 188 Noah’s work as a “tiller of the soil” (9:20) anticipates and sets in motion the bizarre and tragic chain of events that concludes when he orders two of his sons to en-

‫נח איש האדמה‬

slave their brother. Similarly, Babel, a city with a tower

‫והחמר היה להם לחמר‬

made entirely of mud (that is, soil mixed with water),

‫האדם אפר מן האדמה‬

even if it is molded into bricks burnt in an oven (11:3),

‫עפר אתה ואל עפר תשוב‬

is both spiritually and architectonically doomed due to the very material from which it was built. And of course, to be human is to be molded from soil (2:7), to be dust and to return to dust (3:19). 189 Despite Noah’s agricultural vocation, he maintains a singular position as a “righteous” man (tzadik), the only person to be “blameless in his time” (6:9). Hence, to be considered the son or daughter of Noah, rather than of Adam, is to have at least temporary “relief ” from the pain and grief, sweat and blood, so closely associated

‫נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו‬

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day f ive

‫זה ינחמנו ממעשנו ומעצבון‬ ‫ידינו מן האדמה אשר אררה ה׳‬

with the “very soil that was cursed by God” (5:29). Navigating the murky path that leads from the first father figure to the second is the only way to imagine an exception to this curse. Only a Noachite, not an Adamite, can ensure that life and earth will avoid degeneration into blood and soil. 190 Humans are carnivorous animals. This statement is true even though eating animals may be a late development in our natural history, even though some of us abstain from eating meat, and even if the rest put various restrictions on its consumption. Genesis simply acknowledges this fact about the evolution of our species. It makes no universal claim about the need to include flesh in the diet of every member of the human race. Like any other verse in the pre-Abrahamic text that reads as a prescription, it is much better understood as a generic description that tolerates exceptions. 191 “Humans eat meat” remains a true proposition even if part or even most of humankind does not. The same

‫פרו ורבו ומלאו את הארץ‬ ‫ומוראכם וחתכם יהיה על כל‬ ‫חית הארץ‬

logic applies to the notion that “humans multiply, spread across the earth, and master other animals” (to paraphrase 9:1-2). There is no moral law here that commands each and every human being to engage in some or all of those activities. It is simply a proto-scientific claim about the general fate of humanity as a whole, which has been true since prehistoric times, despite a plethora of exceptions and variations.

d ay f i ve 


192 Instead of prohibiting homicide, the text goes so far as to make yet another important generic statement. This one has to do with humanity’s proclivity to kill its own kind and then to systematically avenge such killings, which is not something other animals tend to do. The same can be said regarding slavery (9:25). The story of how Noah comes to condemn Ham to be a slave to his brothers is often read as an attempt to explain a particular historical fact: the Israelites wanted to justify their mastery over the Canaanites, who are the purported descendants of Ham’s son, Canaan. But the stakes may easily be higher. This verse is often expanded into a generic claim about the long history of intraspecific subjugation, which is another sorry mark of human distinction. 193 Although the pre-Abrahamic Genesis includes considerations of murder and enslavement, such human deeds are neither justified nor condemned. The text, which is obviously also deeply sexist, is therefore bound to frustrate anyone looking for straight answers about what should and should not be done, even when it comes to such elementary wrongs. If the human situation is seen as an illness, then 1-11 works best as an etiological text, not a therapeutic one. The best it can offer its readers is a report on a kind of human agreement; not about laws or rules, judgments or opinions, but an agreement about a form of life, as deplorable as it may be.

‫ארור כנען עבד עבדים יהיה‬ ‫לאחיו‬

8 2

day f ive

194 The religious codification of this human form requires God or his emissaries to tell people what they ought to believe and how they ought to live, but the Noachite covenant reminds its adherents that Bereshit remains forever silent. A single verse from the Gospel of John (8:58) best articulates this position by employing a remarkable conflation of past and present: “Before Abraham was, I am.” In other words, I am before Abraham πριν αβρααμ γενεσθαι εγω ειμι

was born ( genesthai). Better yet, I am a pre-­Abrahamite, or a one-elevenite. 195 After the terms of the covenant are settled, God promises Noah: “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood

‫ולא יכרת כל בשר עוד ממי‬ ‫המבול ולא יהיה עוד מבול‬ ‫לשחת הארץ‬

to destroy the earth” (9:11). Nevertheless, today we know that the equivalent of a second flood is indeed in the works. There is, therefore, a temptation to either deny the soothing words of the ancient text or deny the alarming models of modern science. Although skeptics who reject both positions are hard to come by, some consider God’s promise as true and global warming as false, while others assume the reverse. 196 But it is also possible that the original covenant with all earthlings, which has been preserved since God made his postdiluvian commitment, is about to be annulled. The days of the earth as we know it are numbered. Humanity’s missteps are so detrimental that the Noachite covenant is currently drawing its last breath. This life on earth, which has been expanding and thriving for

d ay f i ve 


millennia, cannot end well. To make this claim is to accommodate both faith and reason. But this will not make both parties happy; in fact, neither can rejoice. 197 Which makes one wonder whether it makes sense to judge from a comfortable and secure position the wickedness of the struggling beings who populated the accursed earth up to the time of the biblical flood. Evil spread during this period not because of some special depravity, but because of the harsh living conditions in a land damned by God. The covenant suspended perdition, at least for a little while, and this newer, more favorable state achieved its intended goal: it tamed humanity’s violent proclivities, thereby delaying the arrival of another punishment. But as we have already seen with Cain, whenever divine providence wanes slightly, there is nothing to stop the precipitous decline of our good moral standing. 198 The rainbow, the divine sign after the flood (9:13-16), is a perfect metaphor for this prickly life, which is neither linear nor cyclical but rather half-cyclical. Not only does it represent the trajectory of a single human being from birth to death; it is also a good visual aid to illustrate the history of humanity as a whole, from its prehistoric origin to its posthistoric destiny. 199 A rainbow travels from earth to heaven and back. It comes from and returns to dust, or a body of water. But it has no definitive direction. There is no way to say

‫את קשתי נתתי בענן‬

8 4

day f ive

which end comes first. In one sense, where the rainbow begins is also where it ends, but these are actually two beginning/end


distinct earthly locations. One cannot track down the rainbow’s points of contact in search of a pot of gold, because its arc is not a substance but a phenomenon. 200 The bow in the clouds is the second divine sign, after

‫אות לבלתי הכות אתו‬

the mark of Cain. In Hebrew, both are called ot (4:15,

‫אות הברית‬

9:12). And both protect against lethal violence. In this way, they help complete the half-circle of life, which represents its only possible closure. Despite humanity’s colorful multiplicity, it forms a single, rather long, generic arc, which bends, not towards justice, but towards the ground.

d ay six


201 Overriding the medieval division of the Bible into chapters, this treatise has opted for a different architecture of the pre-Abrahamic Genesis. Separated into six, the text shares its basic design with the six days of creation. When we split it in the middle, the first three units correspond to the last three according to a familiar structure: one paired with four, two with five, and three with six. In this way, the account of Noah’s progeny in this sixth and final section of 1-11 echoes the story of Adam’s descendants in the third. In both, one son is cursed after a despicable act (Cain and Ham),

1 2 3 4 5 6

another is blessed with continuing the dynasty even though he appears to have done nothing remarkable (Seth and Shem), and the third ends up being of little consequence for the further development of the biblical genealogy (Abel and Japheth). 202 The opening scenes of both narratives depict what may amount to an unjust setup: God rejects Cain’s gift without explanation or consolation (4:5), and an inebriated

‫ואל קין ואל מנחתו לא שעה‬

Noah strips naked as his son Ham happens to be looking on (9:22). Inequity marks the birth of society not once but twice, so as to emphasize the inevitability of this fate. There are two sets of three brothers from

‫וירא חם אבי כנען את ערות‬ ‫אביו‬

8 6

day s ix

which all human beings descend. The first set quickly leads to murder and the second to enslavement. Such a mythology leaves almost no room for hope about humanity’s destiny. There has never been a Golden Age. We have seen how Eden itself was based on blatant discrimination. Genesis is egalitarian only in a temporal sense: the human condition it describes is neither better nor worse than it is today. 203 Such is the backdrop to the Table of Nations, which occupies the entire tenth chapter of Genesis. It is the only element in the pre-Abrahamic text that is wholly unprecedented. This geopolitical map of the known world has no parallel in other ancient cultures of its time. Until then, primeval stories had been provincial. Myths usually focused on the past of their intended audience alone, while ignoring the origin story of foreigners. With the Table of Nations, we encounter for the first time a unified account of the emergence of all ‫אלה משפחת בני נח לתולדתם‬ ‫בגויהם ומאלה נפרדו הגוים‬

known civilizations, thinly disguised as the lineage of Noah’s sons (10:32). 204 This special case of world literature makes both an anthropological claim (all the different people in the world stem from the same parents) and a theological claim (there used to be only one God). Because God, unlike humans, does not multiply, it becomes harder to defend the reality of local divinities. By imagining a pre-pagan world, 1-11 becomes the first post-pagan text. Monotheism makes the cosmopolitan Table of Nations both

d ay si x 

possible and necessary. As a meta-narrative, it calls into question not only religions based on competing divinities, but even polities predicated on different identities. 205 The notion that there is only one God does not mean that he has to treat all humans in the same way, as the first nine chapters of Genesis have already made abundantly clear. The complicated power relations among the disparate empires, cities, territories, and races mentioned in the tenth chapter of the book evoke the strife between ruler and ruled, rather than the love within a single family. The Table of Nations is neither a homogenous nor static list. Reading it with basic historical awareness brings to mind the aggression, devastation, migration, and subjugation that must have shaped this uneven and ever-changing international landscape. 206 The more the Bible veers toward its particular history of a small nation, on which the global God suddenly chooses to focus all his energy, the easier it becomes to forget the persistent pre-Abrahamic task, which was to  come to terms with the meaning of the human, rather than the meaning of the Israelite. This is not to say, however, that 1-11 gives its readers the feeling of a warm humanitarian embrace. 207 Although the Table of Nations has been a crucial stepping-stone to the logic of Christianity, there is no reason to approach the primeval Genesis as a universal claim that must apply to all people. Nor is it making a


8 8

day s ix

particular claim that is only true for a select group, as Judaism would have it. Again, the most helpful way to read 1-11 is as a complex network of generic statements, offered for the reader’s consideration in narrative form. 208 We require a deeper comprehension of generic propositions. They can be defined as generalizations that are not preceded by quantifiers (such as some, most, all, rarely, usually, always). As simple as generic claims such as “humans speak” may seem, linguists find them extremely perplexing. For example, we grant that “kangaroos have a pouch” but not that “kangaroos are male,” even though there are as many male kangaroos as females with a pouch. We accept that “tornadoes kill people,” although only a small minority do, but reject that “librarians are right-handed,” though most are. 209 Despite the fact that quantified statements, such as “most humans can speak,” are easier to analyze semantically, psychologically they take us much longer to process and to master than those baffling generics, which are the most intuitive and effective tools for comprehending the world from a very early age. Precisely because this is our default setting, no known language has a single word to indicate that a claim is generic, while there are numerous words that quantify generalizations. 210 What makes generic statements indispensable for any understanding of Genesis 1-11 is their ability to allow for exceptions, which means that they do not abide by the

d ay si x 


airtight logic of universals. At the same time, generics also avoid the trap of the particular, because their subjects are called bare nouns, which means that they are not modified by determiners (a tree, the tree, this tree, my tree). We have already encountered propositions that use bare plurals, such as “humans eat animals.” These are the common kind of generics. 211 The special biblical use of bare singulars for generic purposes deserves even closer attention. For example, although what we know about God, Adam, Eve, the snake, and the forbidden tree can be understood as a description of a specific occurrence, involving a unique set of interactions among five particular beings, the story is also often interpreted as a series of generic generaliza-

‫לא טוב היות האדם לבדו‬

tions: being alone is bad (2:18), snakes are shifty (3:1),

‫והנחש היה ערום‬

knowledge is power (3:5), and women are oppressed by

‫והייתם כאלהים ידעי טוב ורע‬

the patriarchy (3:16).

‫והוא ימשל בך‬

212 Many proper nouns in 1-11 are in fact generic. Proper names are never capitalized in Hebrew. For example, adam (Hebrew for “human”) and elohim (Hebrew


for “god”) are the only members of their kind before


the Bible introduces us to other humans and gods (of other nations). It is also fair to assume that when Adam names the animals he calls them by their generic names—duck, mouse—rather than, for example, Donald or Mickey (2:20). And while Eve, “mother of all the living,” eventually receives a proper name (3:20), Adam remains forever generic. But the most pervasive use of

‫ויקרא האדם שמות לכל הבהמה‬ ‫ויקרא האדם שם אשתו חוה‬


day s ix

generic names occurs in the family affair of the Table of Nations. Translated into today’s language, Noah’s lineage would read something like this: “And his son was called Spain, who gave birth to Mexico.” 213 The perfect paradigm of a generic name is the one given ‫שם‬

to Shem, Noah’s eldest, whose name simply means name in Hebrew. Think of this proto-father who is named Name as the quintessence of what the generic can do or be. Shem represents this Semitic logic that pervades 1-11, a logic that had to be actively resisted or at least passively restrained by the particularist and universalist tendencies of the Judeo-Christian tradition. At least from this special perspective, Abrahamism is a strange type of anti-Semitism. 214 In this unique sense, one becomes a Semite neither by speaking a certain language, nor by keeping a specific faith, nor by belonging to a particular race. Semites are those who carry on Shem’s generic (not genetic) legacy. Only a pre-Abrahamic, Semitic thought—which is not entirely lost on those who read 1-11 carefully—can oppose the Abrahamic forces that, unbeknownst to them, have been working in concert to keep it in check. Shem, in sum, is the name of an unprecedented revolutionary figure: the anti-Abraham. 215 The Tetragrammaton, God’s unique four-letter name, first introduced in Genesis 2:4 and usually translated as “Lord,” is never used in this treatise—not because

d ay si x 


it is sacred but because God must remain generic. It is only after God reveals his explicit name to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3 that he becomes the national figurehead

‫ושמי ה׳ לא נודעתי להם‬

familiar to us from the rest of the Hebrew Bible. 216 Apparently, once the priests established themselves in Jerusalem, they ascribed magical powers to this fourletter combination, guarding its public utterance as a way to initiate the Chosen People into their exclusive cult. This is how the God of Genesis, who creates and sustains life on earth, metamorphoses into an abstract legislative entity that transcends the comprehension of humanity and only communicates with the common folk via an elite. My insistence here on printing only the name God/Elohim is therefore a small way of standing a pre-Abrahamic ground. 217 The fact that, since the days of Abraham, God has been called by many other names is not necessarily an expression of his multifaceted existence. These names may be masks that hide or distort his earliest generic face. Hence God’s conventional name in modern Hebrew, mentioned only in passing in Genesis 6:4, is quite fitting: ha’shem, the Name, whose followers are the Semites, properly understood. Canceling out the fifty occasions on which the Tetragrammaton is used in the canonical text of 1-11 is a simple exercise that restores the divine being to his original position.

‫אנשי השם‬


day s ix

218 Readers know God’s four-letter name because the narrator occasionally refers to him as such. It is a glaring anachronism, because God never bothers to introduce himself to the characters in 1-11, as he will first do to ‫אני אל שדי‬

Abraham, using a provisional name (17:1), and then again to Moses, using the definitive Tetragrammaton. For the pre-Abrahamites, in contrast, God was like the sun: since they were aware of just one of each, calling them by private names was redundant. After humanity splintered into different nations, it made sense to begin to identify and distinguish Abraham’s God with a proper name, and then to claim that the other gods, like unicorns, do not exist. 219 Though the text at hand is written in biblical Hebrew, it would also be a stretch to believe that this was the

‫ויהי כל הארץ שפה אחת‬

“one language” (11:1) used throughout the earth up until the destruction of the Tower of Babel. Wondering what language the pre-Abrahamites spoke is like asking which God they worshiped, or inquiring about the brand of air we currently breathe. It makes sense to assume that a generic form of human life implies a generic human language. 220 But a language that is simply labeled human language cannot account for a narrative in which almost all the talking is done by God (often with no human in sight), and almost all human speech, in turn, is addressed to God. At the same time, this pure language cannot be divine language alone, because an entire conversation

d ay si x 

takes place between a woman and a snake (3:1–5), and


‫ויאמר הנחש אל האשה‬

there are three minor occurrences in which one human actually says something to another (4:8, 4:23–24, 11:3–4).

‫ויאמר קין אל הבל‬

The language in 1-11 is therefore neither the language

‫ויאמר למך לנשיו‬

of man nor the language of God, neither Hebrew nor

‫ויאמרו איש אל רעהו‬

Esperanto, but language as such. 221 When Noah’s family disbands to form far-flung nations, and the residents of Babel scatter according to their different languages, the generic world is being blown to smithereens. The conclusion of 1-11 asks its readers to reckon with the irreparable condition of the so-called Generation of Dispersion—a dispersion so terminal that it happens not once but twice. Abrahamic religions use various strategies to glue the broken fragments together, but there is no going back to a primeval oneness. To finish reading the Bible right before God orders Abraham to leave his native land and father’s home with his barren wife and orphaned nephew is to accept the human diaspora depicted in Genesis 10-11 as an unshakable fact. 222 This original homelessness and unresolvable uncertainty remains in effect despite the historical twists and turns that have brought us to where we stand today. We are all Babylonian refugees. There is nothing in the exilic text of 1-11 to suggest that the telos of human life is reconciliation, emancipation, or salvation. As the debacle of Babel demonstrates, it is not in God’s best interests to let people come together (11:6). Given the

‫הן עם אחד ושפה אחת לכלם‬ ‫וזה החלם לעשות ועתה לא יבצר‬ ‫מהם כל אשר יזמו לעשות‬


day s ix

anguished earthly existence of the first nine chapters, unity is not even in humanity’s own interests. 223 Nor is it advisable to settle down, as the founders of ‫וישבו שם‬

Babel chose to do (11:2). As a rule of thumb, whenever biblical characters seem to settle securely somewhere, they get into lots of trouble. Recall the pitfalls of living in Eden and Enoch (the first city, built by Cain), or how Cain and Noah’s agricultural vocation, which requires a sedentary lifestyle, leads to tragedies. This suggestive rule will prove itself in other cases beyond Genesis 11, including the settlement of the Israelites in the supposed Holy Land. Hence, Babel’s fate was sealed even before the first brick was laid, and the Temple in Jerusalem can only replicate the mistake of the Tower of Babel. Neither monument is the center of the world or the “gate of god” (bab-ili, which is the meaning of Babylon). 224 According to the nomadic ideology of 1-11, where movement is of the essence, neither attachment to the soil nor worship of a static building can defy the transitory nature of existence. The ruin of Babel is an object lesson in the primacy of mobility over eternity and temporality over locality. It is the conception, construction, sanctification, and celebration of a certain time—the Sabbath—instead of a certain place that best symbolizes this way of thinking. After all, every tower must sooner or later collapse.

d ay si x 


225 Also bear in mind that the biblical text outlived the Babylonian city. It is poetic justice that while the builders of the tower failed to “make a name” (shem) for themselves (11:4), every single name in Shem’s line is

‫ונעשה לנו שם‬

known to this day through his formal genealogy (11:10-

‫אלה תולדת שם‬

26). This has to do with the fact that the linguistic composition under consideration has not changed for over two millennia. The canonization of the Bible dictates that no letter be added or subtracted. Scriptural stasis is an attempt to combat the myriad ways in which the everyday use of language mutates over time. 226 Think of 1-11 as water scooped with a glass from a running river. To imagine our linguistic fluidity is to imagine our inescapable temporality. But just as a chemist can analyze a small sample taken from a large body of water, an exegete can study a short text that has somehow survived a bygone form of life. A few decades before Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the meaning of a word depends on the context in which it is used, biblical scholars began to examine sacred verses according to their “setting in life,” speculating about the circumstances from which they emerged and the aims they were meant to fulfill. 227 A setting for the most elementary use of language appears in the beginning of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. It consists of only four words: block, pillar, slab, and beam. A builder calls them out one by one, and an assistant hands them over in the order in

Sitz im Leben


day s ix

which they are requested. From there, the Investigations goes on to show how our language is so much more complicated than such words that identify simple objects. We use a plurality of language games to do a variety of things: joke, lie, sing, greet, thank, curse, praise, promise, pray, and so on. 228 Yet the “complete primitive language” that sets Wittvollständige primitive Sprache

‫ודברים אחדים‬

genstein’s philosophical argument in motion is a nod to a time when “the whole earth was one language, one set of words (dvarim achadim)” (11:1). What his two lonely builders agree to erect seems very much like the Tower of Babel, which led to the confusion of humanity’s language and the dispersion of its original form of life. 229 It is not an oversight that Genesis lacks a story about the birth of language, which is taken for granted, as if it had always existed. There appears to be no need to mark its creation, but only to explain why there are many languages. Whether there was language before there was a world, or God, or Bereshit, is up to the mystics to decide. What is certain, though, is that the Western link between language and humanity has no biblical ground: we are not human because we possess language, nor is there language because there is human life. 230 The conclusion of 1-11 maintains only the link between the plurality of human lives and the plurality of human languages. Once the conceit of a unitary form of life synonymous with the human race ceases to function

d ay si x 


as Genesis’s guiding idea, the text quickly unravels. The story of humanity’s generic infancy must come to an end. The final account of Abraham’s family (11:2732) is but a cliffhanger for what is yet to come. Soon,

‫ויחי תרח שבעים שנה ויולד‬ ‫את אברם‬

God will tell Abraham, whose name at this point is still Abram, to betray his origins and break with his Semitic tradition (12:1).

‫לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית‬ ‫אביך‬

231 So what remains? Only language remains, barely, as a blurred trace of what it used to be before God garbled humanity’s speech, before translation became a task, before generic life was relegated to the so-called lower species, and long before multiculturalism turned into something that everyone must forever celebrate and never lament. 232 It is commonly assumed that the consequence of Babel is the multiplication of tongues. But the previous chapter of Genesis unequivocally states that the different nations and clans that spread from Noah’s sons were already multilingual: “each with their own tongue, ac-

‫איש ללשנו למשפחתם בגויהם‬

cording to their clans in their nations” (10:5). Consider, then, an alternative reading of the ending of Babel’s tale: God punished humans by demoting their speech to idle talk, empty prattle, nonsensical babble, or babel (11:9), which misguided the perplexed, hampered agreement, and confounded foundations. 233 After the fall of the tower, words defy understanding; they begin to conceal rather than reveal the truth. As-

‫כי שם בלל ה׳ שפת כל הארץ‬


day s ix

suming that communication has been compromised ever since, the aim of 1-11 is to mark a limit to the expression of its fundamental thought. The text contends that whatever can be said has already been said with its own few words. Maybe the first three are enough: ‫בראשית ברא אלהים‬

bereshit bara elohim.


d ay seve n

234 The rest—in the sense of both remnant and repose— should simply be silence. But some last words are in order, mainly because the end—in the sense of both goal and termination—arrives not on the last workday but rather the day after (2:2). The seventh day is declared holy not because it was when something mag-

‫וישבת ביום השביעי מכל‬ ‫מלאכתו אשר עשה‬

nificent was made, but because nothing was. Hence the Hebrew word for seven (sheva) can also be read as satia-


tion or saturation (sova), while the word for Saturday (shabat) is closely linked to the idea of going on strike


(shavat). God’s supreme act and highest achievement is not the creation of humanity, but his own recreation. 235 According to Exodus (20:8), it is only after Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai that the Sabbath was instituted as a temporal temple to

‫זכור את יום השבת לקדשו‬

stop the linear flow of everyday life. This weekly commemoration of the coda to the cosmogenic story from Genesis (2:1-3) is never mentioned anywhere in 1-11. To simply assume that the seven days of creation reflect the seven days of the week is to ignore another canonical interpretation, one that has been well established by the highest authorities of the Judeo-Christian tradition since early medieval times: millennialism.

‫ויברך אלהים את יום השביעי‬ ‫ויקדש אתו‬


day seven

236 According to this theory, one godly day represents a thousand earthly years, and all of human history is already encapsulated in the first chapter of Genesis. Every­thing is already written. Each day of creation is a prefiguration of a distinct millennial epoch. The true Sabbath is therefore not the last weekday but the seventh millennium. What the year 6000 will mark is not exactly the end of the world but the rest of the world, after which some say that it will begin anew. 237 This widespread alternative reading has become less fashionable in modern times, but its deep roots keep it alive even today. As preposterous or marginal as it may sound, millennialism is one of the least original and best documented exegetical approaches to the preAbrahamic text explored in this treatise. Its proponents include some of the most influential Church fathers and Jewish rabbis. It also had a deep impact on key modern thinkers who theorized the end of history and the end of inequality. 238 According to the Hebrew calendar, the sentence you are ‫התשע״ז‬

reading was written in the year am 5777. The two letters stand for Anno Mundi, or the year of the world: the time that has passed since the event described in the first verse of Genesis. To assume that the world was created only about six thousand years ago is not as ignorant as it sounds. Think of “the world” as a human construct, not a natural reality. Its inception coincides with the cradle of civilization, rather than the Big Bang. The

d ay seve n


genesis at stake is not that of life on earth but of humanity’s mastery over it. Therefore, 1-11 is not a purely cosmological text but a deeply anthropological one. 239 This world is as old as the construction of the first cities

AM 0

in the Fertile Crescent, around 3800 bce, which led to the invention of writing and the beginning of human


history. The biblical genealogies document the first millennium (until Noah’s birth) and the second mil-


lennium (up to Abraham’s story). The chronology gets fuzzier in the third millennium (ending with the rise of


King David and the construction of the First Temple, around 1000 bce) and the fourth (concluding with


the chain of events that led to the destruction of the Second Temple, about two thousand years ago, though


this catastrophe did not make the cut for the Masoretic Text). For most historians, only the past four thousand years are within reach. They usually flail in the dark when considering the first two millennia, purportedly


Adam Ur Writing Noah Gilgamesh Alphabet Abraham Akhenaten Moses David Genesis Socrates Jesus Augustine Muhammad Averroes Spinoza Nietzsche 2240 CE


covered by Genesis 1-11. 240 There is no need to get bogged down here by calculations of specific dates. Biblical time is less exact than our own. The world in Genesis is ruled neither by the revolution of the stars nor by round numbers, but by God. Like a day, a millennium begins and ends with an extended and uncertain period of dawn and dusk (see, for example, 1:31). It does not depend on great events, such as a catastrophic war, a natural disaster, the arrival of a Messiah, or the rising of the dead. There is no certitude that the

‫ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום הששי‬


day seven

end (or the rest) of the world will come with a bang 222 years from today. But even a cursory look at a newspaper reveals that human history is more or less on schedule. 241 The millennial narrative gives an outline marked by some major signposts over the past six thousand years of world history and delineates the upcoming sabbatical millennium. Due to its general nature, it is not meant to prescribe any individual course of action. In the grand scheme of things, personal choices and even collective ones are utterly trivial. Exactly because millennialism is a generic idea that tolerates numerous exceptions and variations, this flexibility gives stronger validity to its claim that the fate of the human species as a whole is already pre-scribed. This also means that human life is nothing but a postscript to Genesis. 242 It is unknown when exactly 1-11 was written, but we can say with sufficient certainty that it was, in the eyes of whoever wrote it, a fourth-millennium composition. Put differently, it is a product of the middle of history. From this perspective, the axis around which history revolves may coincide with the very introduction of the text under consideration, along with the singular God at its center. This three-thousand-year-old midpoint is also the highest point of the rainbow: the moment when thinking about the generative beginning of the world gives way to meditations about its idle ending. At this zenith, as the key figure of humanity shifts from Adam to Noah, the world begins its slow decline.

d ay seve n


243 In the absence of death or a deadline, there are two main reasons to stop a creative work: because the result is very good or because it is very bad. If the artwork is merely good or bad, then there is at least a possibility of its improvement, but no justification for its abandonment. God finished his work after the sixth day because he “found it very good” (1:31). Maybe humans will exclaim “Enough!” after the sixth millennium for

‫וירא אלהים את כל אשר עשה‬ ‫והנה טוב מאד‬

opposite reasons, though some will surely refuse to make this call and will continue to try to mend the unmendable. Millennialism, though, is not the same as nihilism. Saying no to everything is merely the negative manifestation of universalism. 244 The life of the world, like every life, is not everlasting. Today it has almost run its course. Although the world may seem tired, it also appears to be accelerating toward the greatest calm. Its almighty God and enterprising humans, whose first baby steps were duly recorded in 1-11, are planning their retirement these days. The two Edenic trees are already gray. Contemporary readers can look at late capitalism as symptomatic of the threshold between the sixth and seventh millennia; a Friday afternoon as it were, when observant Jews make the last frenetic preparations, readying their houses right up to the moment when the Sabbath is welcomed with a song that contains this line: “The end of doing is accomplished by thinking the beginning.” After this liturgy concludes, leisure commences.

‫סוף מעשה במחשבה תחילה‬


day seve n

245 Apologists adhering to every Abrahamic creed have accommodated into their millennial accounts the advent of their own religion, with its own heroes, on the world stage, but other epochal moments can be shown to parallel elements of the cosmogenic allegory. For example, the creation of man and woman on the sixth day can be interpreted as a prefiguration of the spread of modern secularism in the sixth millennium. In this context, to be secular is to be of this world, attuned to the life of the world. It is an integral part of the divine plan, not an attempt to sabotage it. But such speculations about the development of civilization, as tempting as they may be, cannot be resolved in this treatise, which treats the entire history of humanity as water under the bridge, rather than the bridge itself. 246 While the tenure of Homo sapiens as the master of the world represents the six thousand years of recorded history, the present commentary only considers the rainbow’s two points of contact with the earth. Both the pre-Abrahamic world and the present one stand for what may be called humanity degree zero. Everything in between is the knotty story of nature’s subjugation to man’s needs and man’s subjugation of other men. If 1-11 was written with a certain audience in mind, then we, today, are it. This text feels more legible now than ever. 247 The world in its prehistoric state, before year zero, when the footprint of the human race was still erasable, is precisely what in Genesis is called Bereshit. Bereshit—

d ay seve n


the unwritten and immemorial millennia inhabited by pre-civilized humans and nonhuman ­organisms—is the not-yet world. So it is also Bereshit, not God, that could be the key to the posthistoric epoch to come, which exists outside the symbolic order of the present world. There is, however, still a way to get a glimpse of the coming no-longer world—not only during the Sabbath day, but also during the Sabbath year, when the land lies fallow, since agricultural activity is forbidden during this period by Jewish law. 248 The true significance of these cyclical events is well known according to a mystical view called torat hash-

‫תורת השמיטות‬

mitot: the seventh day and seventh year are merely rehearsals for the dialectical standstill or generic strike of the thousand-year Sabbath. Upon its impending arrival, some of the most fundamental concepts—God, human, world—will find themselves out of work. They will have


no other choice but to join Bereshit and finally come to


rest. However, there are no illusions that everyone will


be able to comprehend this pre-Abrahamic wisdom and


enter the sabbatical millennium. For both material and

+ 40

spiritual reasons, eliminating work is as difficult as it is rare. For this to begin, our book must end.


‫א‬ ‫ב‬ ‫ר‬ ‫ה‬ ‫ם‬

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a p pe n d ix


First Part


First Section


This is the genealogy of Bereshit. Bereshit created God, the


heavens and the earth. But the earth was unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep, while God’s wind was sweeping over the water. So God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God


saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. There was evening and there was morning, a first day. Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of


the waters, to separate water from water.” God made the firmament, separating the water that was below it from the water that was above, and it was so. God called the firmament Heaven. There was evening and there was morning, a second day. Then God said, “Let the water under the heavens be gathered into one place, so the dry land can appear,” and it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of ­waters he called Seas. God saw that this was good. Then God


108appen dix

said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it,” and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seedbearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. God saw that this was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day. 1:14-19

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the heavens’ firmament to separate day from night. They shall serve as signs for the set times: the days and the years. They shall serve as lights in the heavens’ firmament to shine upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night, as well as the stars. And God set them in the heavens’ firmament to shine upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. God saw that this was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.


Then God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth, across the heavens’ firmament.” God created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that crawl, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind. God saw that this was good. So God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and multiply, fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

a p pe n d i x  109

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of


living creature: cattle, crawling animals, and wild beasts of every kind,” and it was so. God made wild beasts of every kind, cattle of every kind, and all the different creatures that crawl on the ground. God saw that this was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, to rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the crawling creatures that crawl on earth.” God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that crawl on earth.” God said, “Behold, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit: they shall be yours for food. To all the animals on earth, to all the birds of the sky, to all that crawls on earth—every thing in which there is the breath of life—I give all the green plants for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had done, and found it very good. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Then the heavens and the earth were completed, with all their armies. On the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and consecrated it, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that he had done. This is the genealogy of the heavens and the earth when they were created.


110appen dix

2:4b-3:24 2:4b-7

Second Section On the day God made earth and heaven, no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grass of the field yet sprouted, because God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the soil. But a flow welled up from the ground and watered the whole surface of the earth. Then God formed a human with dust from the soil. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature.


God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and placed there the human he had formed. From the ground God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of sex, which is good and bad.


A river issued from Eden to water the garden. Then it divided into four branches. The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where the gold is. The gold of that land is good. Bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli. The name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.


God took the human and placed him in the garden of Eden to till it and watch over it. God commanded the human, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you can eat; but as for the tree of sex, which is good and bad, you must not eat of it. For once you eat of it you are doomed to death.”

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Then God said, “As such, it is not good to be human; I will


make someone to help him.” God formed out of the soil all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them. Whatever the human called each living creature, that was its name. The human gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to all the wild beasts; but no one was able to help the human. So God cast a deep sleep upon the human. While he slept, God took one of the human’s ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. God fashioned the rib that he had taken from the human into a woman; and he brought her to the human. Then the human said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, for from man was she taken.” Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his woman, so that they become one flesh. The two of them were naked, the man and his woman, yet they felt unashamed. The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals that God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. It is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die. God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like the gods who know good and bad.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and


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that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took from its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her man, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened. They were aroused because they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths. 3:8-13

The man and his woman heard the sound of God walking about in the garden, in the evening breeze, so they hid from God in the midst of the trees of the garden. God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard your sound in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?” The man said, “The woman you placed by my side—she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” God said to the woman, “What have you done?” The woman replied, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”


Then God said to the serpent, “Because you did this, more cursed shall you be than all the cattle and all the wild beasts: on your belly shall you crawl and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel.” To the woman he said, “I will multiply and make most severe your pangs in childbearing; in pain shall you bear children. Your urge shall be for your man, and he shall rule over you.” To the man he said, “Because you did as your woman said and ate of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed be the soil because of you. By toil shall you eat of it

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all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you, and your food shall be the grass of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The man named the woman Eve, because she was the


mother of all the living. God made garments of skins for the man and the woman, and clothed them. God said, “Now this human has become like the rest of his kind: he also possesses carnal knowledge, for good and for bad. What if he will stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for the world.” So God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken. He drove the human out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. Third Section


Now the man knew Eve, his woman, and she conceived and


bore Cain, saying, “I have received a child from God.” She then bore his brother, Abel. Abel became a herder of sheep, and Cain became a tiller of the soil. In the course of time Cain brought an offering to God from the fruit of the soil. Abel, for his part, brought from the choice firstlings of his flock. God paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering he paid no heed. Cain was much distressed and his face fell. So God said to Cain, “Why are you distressed, and why is your face fallen? If you do well, then keep your head up. But

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if you do not do well, sin awaits at your threshold, its urge is toward you, yet you can master it.” 4:8-16

Then Cain said to Abel his brother, “There is no judgment, no judge, no afterlife, no reward for the righteous, and no punishment for the wicked.” When they were both in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. God said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil. Now you shall be more cursed than the soil, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.” Cain said to God, “My punishment is too great to bear. You have banished me this day from the soil, so I must avoid your presence and become a restless wanderer on earth. Anyone who meets me may kill me.” God replied, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him.” God put a mark on Cain, so that whoever found him would not slay him. Cain left the presence of God and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


Cain knew his woman, who conceived and bore Enoch. Then he founded a city, and named the city Enoch, after his son. To Enoch was born Irad, Irad begot Mehujael, ­Mehujael begot Methusael, and Methusael begot Lamech. Lamech took two women: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds. The name

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of his brother was Jubal; he was the ancestor of those who play the lyre and the pipe. As for Zillah, she bore Tubal-cain, who forged all implements of copper and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. Lamech said to his women, “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice. The women of Lamech, give ear to my speech. I have slain a man for wounding me, and a lad for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” The [Edenic] man knew his woman again, and she bore a


son and named him Seth, as if to say, “God has provided me with another seed in place of Abel, for Cain had killed him.” To Seth, in turn, a son was born, and he named him Enosh. It was then that God’s name was first invoked. This is the genealogy of humanity. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; male and female he created them. When they were created, he blessed them and named them humankind. When the [Edenic] human had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness, after his image, and he named him Seth. After the birth of Seth, the [Edenic] human lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days this human lived came to 930 years; then he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he begot Enosh. After the birth of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Seth came to 912 years; then he died. When Enosh had lived 90 years, he begot Kenan. After the birth of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enosh came to 905 years; then he died. When Kenan had lived 70 years, he begot



Mahalalel. After the birth of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Kenan came to 910 years; then he died. When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he begot Jared. After the birth of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Mahalalel came to 895 years; then he died. When Jared had lived 162 years, he begot Enoch. After the birth of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Jared came to 962 years; then he died. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he begot Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years; and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch came to 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him. When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he begot Lamech. After the birth of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Methuselah came to 969 years; then he died. When Lamech had lived 182 years, he begot a son, and he named him Noah, saying, “This one will provide us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands, out of the very soil that was cursed by God.” After the birth of Noah, Lamech lived 595 years and begot sons and daughters. All the days of Lamech came to 777 years; then he died. When Noah had lived 500 years, Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 6:1-4

When humankind began to increase on earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, so they took themselves any woman they chose. Then God said, “My breath shall not abide in the

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human because of the world, since he too is flesh.” His days were 120 years. After the sons of God bedded the daughters of man, their children were born: the Nephilim and then the Giborim appeared on earth. The heroic Giborim were of this world. They were the ones who became the people of Shem. God saw how the wickedness of human beings multiplied


on earth, and how every scheme of their heart’s devising was nothing but evil all the time. God regretted that he had made humans on earth, and his heart was saddened. God said, “I will blot out from the earth the humans that I created, humans along with beasts, crawling things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of God. Second Part


Fourth Section


This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a righteous man;


he was blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth was corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length



of the ark shall be 300 cubits, its width 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks. For my part, I am about to bring the flood, waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh from under heaven in which there is the breath of life. Everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish my covenant with you. Into the ark you shall enter with your sons, your woman, and your sons’ women. And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, everything that crawls on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive. For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did. 7:1-5

Then God said to Noah, “Go into the ark with all your household, for you alone have I found righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean animal, you shall take seven pairs, males and their mates, and of every animal that is not clean, take two, a male and its mate; of the birds of the sky also, seven pairs, male and female, to keep seed alive upon all the earth. For in seven days’ time I will make it rain upon the earth, forty days and forty nights, and I will blot out from the earth all existence that I have made.” And Noah did just as God commanded him.


Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came, waters upon the earth. Noah, with his sons, his woman, and

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his sons’ women, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of the clean animals, of the animals that are not clean, of the birds, and of everything that crawls on the ground, two of each, male and female, came to Noah into the ark, as God had commanded Noah. On the seventh day the waters of the flood came upon the


earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the heavens broke open. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s woman and the three women of his sons, they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that crawl on earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, everything that has wings. They came to Noah into the ark, two each of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. Those that came in, male and female of all flesh they came, as God had commanded him. And God shut him in. The flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark, and it rose above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters. When the waters had swelled much more upon the earth, all the highest mountains everywhere under the sky were covered. Fifteen cubits higher did the waters swell, as the mountains were covered. All flesh that stirred on earth perished: birds, cattle, beasts, and all the things that swarmed upon the earth, and all humankind. All


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in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died. All existence on the soil was blotted out: from humans to cattle to crawling creatures to the birds of the sky; all were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was spared, and those with him in the ark. The waters surged over the earth one hundred and fifty days. 8:1-9:17 8:1-5

Fifth Section But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens were shut off, and the rain from the heavens was held back. The waters then receded steadily from the earth. At the end of one hundred and fifty days the waters diminished, so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first of the month, the mountaintops became visible.


At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven. It went to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground. But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot, so it returned to him, to the ark, for there was water all over the earth. So he reached out with his hand to take it back into the ark. He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove

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came back to him toward evening, and there, in its bill, was a plucked-off olive leaf. Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth. He waited still another seven days and sent the dove forth, but it did not return to him again. In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the waters dried out from the earth. When Noah removed the covering of the ark, he saw that the surface of the ground was drying. And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was indeed dry. Then God spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out of the ark, together with your woman, your sons, and your sons’ women. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds, animals, and everything that crawls on earth. Let them swarm on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on earth.” So Noah came out together with his sons, his woman, and his sons’ women. Every animal, everything that crawls, every bird, and everything that stirs on earth came out of the ark according to their families. Then Noah built an altar to God and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. God smelled the pleasing odor, and God said to himself, “Never again will I doom the soil because of humankind, since the devisings of the human heart are evil from youth. Nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”


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God blessed Noah and his sons, and he said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds of the sky, and all that stirs on earth, and all the fish of the sea—they are all at hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat, just like the green grass—I give you everything. However, you must not eat flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof. As for your own lifeblood, I will require a reckoning. I will require it of every beast. Of humankind, too, will I require a reckoning for human life: of every human for that of his fellow human. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall his blood be shed; for in his image did God make humankind. Be fertile, then, and multiply; abound on the earth and increase on it.”


God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “I now establish my covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain my covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”


God said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between me and you, and every living creature with you, for the generations of the world. I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, so

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that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the covenant of the world: between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth. That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is on earth.” Sixth Section


The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem,


Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and their progeny spread across the earth. Noah, a tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he exposed himself within his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nudity and told his two brothers outside. So Shem and Japheth took a cloak and put it over their shoulders. Walking backward, they covered their father’s nudity. Their faces were turned the other way, so they did not see their father’s nudity. When Noah woke up from his slumber and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan. A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be God, the God of Shem. Let Canaan be a slave to them. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be a slave to them.” Noah lived after the flood 350 years. All the days of Noah came to 950 years. Then he died.


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This is the genealogy of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah. Sons were born to them after the flood.


The descendants of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The descendants of Gomer: ­Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The descendants of Javan: Elishah and Tarshish, the Kittim and the Dodanim. From these the maritime nations branched out. These are the descendants of Japheth, by their lands, each with their own tongue, according to their clans in their nations.


The descendants of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The descendants of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush also begot Nimrod, who was the first mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before God. Hence the saying, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before God.” The mainstays of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land Asshur went forth and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen, between Nineveh and Calah, which is the great city. And Mizraim begot the Ludim, the Anamim, the Lehabim, the ­Naphtuhim, the Pathrusim, the Casluhim, and the C ­ aphtorim, from whom the Philistines emerged. Canaan begot Sidon, his eldest, as well as Heth, the Jebusites, the A ­ morites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites spread out. The Canaanite territory extended from Sidon as far as Gerar, near Gaza, and as far as Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, near Lasha. These are the descendants

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of Ham, according to their clans and their tongues, in their lands and their nations. Sons were also born to Shem, the father of all the descen-


dants of Eber, and Japheth’s older brother. The descendants of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. The descendants of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. ­Arpachshad begot Shelah, and Shelah begot Eber. Two sons were born to Eber: the name of the first was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and the name of his brother was ­Joktan. Joktan begot Almodad, Sheleph, H ­ azarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the descendants of Joktan. Their settlements extended from Mesha as far as Sephar, which is the hill country to the east. These are the descendants of Shem, according to their clans and tongues, in their lands and their nations. These are the clans of Noah’s descendants, according to their


origins, by their nations. From these the nations branched out all over the earth after the flood. And the whole earth was one language, one set of words. But as the people traveled from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar, and there they settled. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.” Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. They said, “Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in heaven to make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”


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God came down to look at the city and tower that the human beings had built. God said, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” Thus God scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel, because there God confounded the speech of the whole earth. From there God scattered them over the face of the whole earth.


This is the genealogy of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he begot Arpachshad, two years after the flood. After the birth of Arpachshad, Shem lived 500 years and begot sons and daughters. When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he begot Shelah. After the birth of Shelah, Arpachshad lived 403 years and begot sons and daughters. When Shelah had lived 30 years, he begot Eber. After the birth of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and begot sons and daughters. When Eber had lived 34 years, he begot Peleg. After the birth of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and begot sons and daughters. When Peleg had lived 30 years, he begot Reu. After the birth of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and begot sons and daughters. When Reu had lived 32 years, he begot Serug. After the birth of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and begot sons and daughters. When Serug had lived 30 years, he begot Nahor. After the birth of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and begot sons and daughters. When Nahor had lived 29 years,

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he begot Terah. After the birth of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and begot sons and daughters. When Terah had lived 70 years, he begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. This is the genealogy of Terah. Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. Haran died in the lifetime of his father Terah, in his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took themselves women; the name of Abram’s woman was Sarai and the name of Nahor’s woman was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the woman of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran they settled there. The days of Terah came to 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.