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[This piece by Burnet, a prominent Theologian in the Church of England, was considered so blasphemous, he had to resign his post at Court after writing this.]
"We have hitherto made our inquiries into the originals of things, as well as after a true knowledge of Paradise amongst the ancients; yet still with reference to sacred writ, where it gave us any manner of light on the subject, but think it altogether unnecessary to define the place or situation of Paradise, since in respect to the theory of the earth, it is much the same thing where you place it, providing it be not on our modern earth. Now, if you inquire among the ancient fathers where the situation of it was, either they will have it to be none at all, or else obscure and remote from our understanding; some of them, indeed, term it an intelligible Paradise, but confined to no one particular place; whilst others, at the same time make it a sensible one, and here it is they first divided about it, etc.... Now, the history of Paradise, according to Moses, is this:—When God had, in six days, finished the creation of the world, the seventh day he rested from all manner of work. And here Moses relates particularly each day's operations: but for the story of mankind, as well male as female, of which he makes a particular treatise by himself. Wherefore, omitting the rest at present, let us consider the Mosaic doctrine upon those three subjects, viz., Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden, together with those things which are interwoven within them. As to the first man, Adam, Moses says he was formed not out of stones or dragon's teeth, as other Cosmists have feigned concerning their men, but out of the dust or clay of the earth, and when his body was formed, 'God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.'
"But after another manner, and of another matter, was the woman built—viz., with one of Adam's small bones, for as Adam lay asleep, God took away one of his ribs, and out of that made Eve. So much for the forming of the first man and woman by the literal text. Moses has likewise given us a large account of their first habitation. He says that God made them in a certain famous garden in the East, and gave it to them as a farm to cultivate and to inhabit, which garden was a most delightful place, watered with four several fountains or rivers, planted with trees of every kind.... Amongst the trees, in the midst of the garden, stood two more remarkable than the rest; one was called the tree of life, the other the tree of death, or of the knowledge of good and evil.... God, upon pain of death, prohibits Adam and Eve from tasting the fruit of this tree; but it happened that Eve sitting solitary under this tree, without her husband, there came to her a serpent or adder, which (though I know not by what means or power) civilly accosted the woman (if we may judge of the thing by the event) in these words, or to this purpose:—
"Serpent.—All hail, most fair one, what are you doing so solitary and serious under this shade?
"Eve.—I am contemplating the beauty of this tree.
"Serp.—'Tis truly an agreeable sight, but much pleasanter are the fruits thereof. Have you tasted them, my lady?
"Eve.—I have not, because God has forbidden us to eat of this tree.
"Serp.—What do I hear! What is that God that envies his creatures the innocent delights of nature? Nothing is sweeter, nothing more wholesome than this fruit: why, then, should he forbid it, unless in jest?
"Eve.—But he has forbid it us on pain of death.
"Serp.—Undoubtedly you mistake his meaning. This tree has nothing that would prove fatal to you, but rather something divine, and above the common order of nature.
"Eve.—I can give you no answer; but will go to my husband, and then do as he thinks fit.
"Serp.—Why should you trouble your husband over such a trifle! Use your own judgment.
"Eve.—Let me see—had I best use it or not? What 'can be more beautiful than this apple? How sweetly it smells! But it may be it tastes ill.
"Serp.—Believe me, it is a bit worthy to be eaten by the angels themselves; do but try, and if it tastes ill, throw it away.
"Eve.—Well, I'll try. It has, indeed, a most agreeable flavor. Give me another that I may carry it to my husband.
"Serp.—Very well thought on; here's another for you: go to your husband with it. Farewell, happy young woman. In the meantime I'll go my ways; let her take care of the rest.
"Accordingly, Eve gave the apple to the too uxorious Adam, when immediately after their eating of it, they became both (I don't know how) ashamed of their nakedness, and sewing fig leaves together, making themselves a sort of aprons, etc. After these transactions, God, in the evening, descended into the garden, upon which our first parents fled to hide themselves in the thickest of the trees, but in vain, for God called out, 'Adam, where art thou?' When he, trembling, appeared before God Almighty, and said, Lord, when I heard thee in this garden, I was ashamed because of my nakedness, and hid myself amongst the most shady parts of the thicket. Who told thee, says God, that thou wast naked? Have you eaten of the forbidden fruit? That woman thou gavest me brought it; 'twas she that made me eat of it. You have, says God, finely ordered your business, you and your wife. Here, you woman, what is this that you have done? Alas! for me, says Adam, thy serpent gave me the apple, and I did eat of it.
"This apple shall cost you dear, replied God, and not only you, but your posterity, and the whole race of mankind. Moreover, for this crime, I will curse and spoil the heavens, the earth, and the whole fabric of nature. But thou, in the first place, vile beast, shall bear the punishment of thy craftiness and malice. Hereafter shall thou go creeping on thy belly, and instead of eating apples, shall lick the dust of the earth. As for you, Mrs. Curious, who so much love delicacies, in sorrow-shall you bring forth your children. You shall be subject to your husband, and shall never depart from his side unless having first obtained leave. Lastly, as for you, Adam, because you have hearkened more to your wife than to me, with the sweat of your brow shall you obtain both food for her and her children. You shall not gather fruits which, as heretofore, grew of themselves, but shall reap the fruits of the earth with labor and trouble. May the earth be, for thy sake, accursed—hereafter grow barren. May she produce thistles, thorns, tares, with other hurtful and unprofitable herbs, and when thou hast here led a troublesome, laborious life, dust thou art, to dust shalt thou return......
"Great is the force of custom and a preconceived opinion over human minds. Wherefore, these short observations of the first originals of men or things, which we receive from Moses, are embraced without the least examination of them. But had we read the same doctrine in a Greek philosopher, or in a Rabbinical or Mahometan doctor, we should have stopped at every sentence with our mind full of objections and scruples. Now, this difference does not arise from the nature of the thing itself, but from the great opinion we have of the authority of the writer 'as being divinely inspired.' The author here defines his ideas in reference to fabulous writings, after which he proceeds in his inquiry. 'But out of what matter the first of mankind, whether, male or female, was composed, is not so easily known. If God had a mind to make a woman start from one of Adam's ribs, it is true it seems to be a matter not very proper; but, however, out of wood, stone, or any other being God can make a woman; and here, by the bye, the curious ask whether this rib was useless to Adam, and beyond the number requisite in a complete body. If not, when it was taken away, Adam would be a maimed person, and robbed of a part of himself that was necessary. I say necessary, for as much, as I suppose, that in the fabric of a human body nothing is superfluous, and that no one bone can be taken away without endangering the whole, or rendering it, in some measure, imperfect. But it, on the other side, you say this rib was really useless to Adam, and might be spared, so that you make him to have only twelve ribs on one side and thirteen on the other, they will reply that this is like a monster, as much as if the first man had been created with three feet, or three hands, or had had more eyes, or other members, than the use of a human body requires. But in the beginning we cannot but suppose that all things were made with all imaginable exactness.
"For my part, I do not pretend to decide this dispute, but what more perplexes me is, how, out of one rib, the whole mass of a woman's body could be built? For a rib does not, perhaps, equal the thousandth part of an entire body. If you answer that the rest of the matter was taken from elsewhere, certainly, then, Eve might much more truly be said to have been formed out of that borrowed matter, whatever it was, than out of Adam's rib. I know that the Rabbinical doctors solve this business quite another way, for they say the first man had two bodies, the one male, the other female, who were joined together, and that God having cloven them asunder, gave one side to Adam for a wife. Plato has, in his 'Symposium,' something very like this story, concerning his first man, Anoroginus, who was afterwards divided into two parts, male and female. Lastly, others conjecture that Moses gave out this original of woman to the end that he might inspire a mutual love between the two sexes, as parts of one and the same whole, so as more effectually to recommend his own institution of marriage.... But leaving this subject, I will hasten to something else.
"Now, the second article treats of God's, garden in Eden, watered with four rivers arising from the same spring.... Those rivers are, by Moses, called Pishon, Gishon, Hiddekal, and Perath, which the ancient authors interpret by Ganges, Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates. Nor do I truly think without some reason, for Moses seems to have proposed nothing more than the bringing four of the most celebrated rivers of the whole earth to the watering of his garden. Ah! but, say you, these four rivers do not spring from the same source, or come from the same place; 'tis true, nor any other four rivers that are named by the interpreters. Wherefore this objection will everywhere hold good, as well against the ancient as modern writers.—But although you should reduce these rivers to only two, as some do, to Tigris and Euphrates, yet neither have these two rivers the same fountain-head, but this is really and truly an evasion, instead of an explanation, to reduce, contrary to the history of Moses, a greater number of rivers to a smaller, only that they may the more conveniently be reduced to the same spring; for these are the words of Moses, 'But there comes a river out of Eden to water the garden, and from thence it divides itself into four branches, the name of the first is Pishon,' etc., whereby it is apparent that either in the exit or in the entrance of the garden there were four rivers, and that these four rivers did one and all proceed from the same fountain-head in Eden. Now, pray tell me in what part of the earth is this country of Eden, where four rivers arise from one and the same spring? But do not go about to say that only two came from that fountain of Eden, and that the other two arose from the Tigris or the Euphrates, where they split near the sea, and make, as it were, a bifrontic figure, since this does by no means answer the words of Moses. Besides, he mentions in the first place Pishon and Gishon, and afterwards Tigris and Euphrates as lesser rivers; whereas you, on the contrary, will have those to be derived from these last as rivers of an inferior order, which is a manifest distorting of the historical account. But to end all these difficulties concerning the channels of the rivers which watered Paradise, you will, perhaps, at last say, that the springs, as well as the courses of rivers, have been changed by the universal deluge: and that we cannot now be certain where it was they burst over the earth, and what countries they passed through. For my part I am much of your opinion, providing you confess there happened in the deluge such a disruption of the earth as we suppose there did. But from only an inundation of waters such a change could never happen. Besides, what geography will you have Moses to describe these rivers, ante-diluvian or post-diluvian'?—If the latter, there has happened no considerable alteration of the earth since the time of Moses and the flood. If the former, you then render Moses's description of the earth totally superfluous and unuseful to discover the situation of Paradise. Lastly, it is hard to conceive that any rivers, whether these or others, can have subsisted ever since the first beginning of the world; whether you have regard to their water or their channels. The channels of rivers are made by daily attrition; for if they had been made as ditches and furrows are, by earth dug out and heaped on each side, there would certainly have been seen everywhere great banks of earth. But we plainly see that this is only fortuitous; forasmuch as they often run through plains, and the river banks are no more than level with the adjacent fields; besides, whence could there be had water at the beginning of the world to fill these channels? If you say, that on the third day, when the great bed of the ocean was made, the smaller channels of the rivers were also: and as the greatest part of the waters of the abyss fell into the gulf of the seas, so the remaining part descended into these other channels, and therewith formed the primitive rivers. Admitting this, yet the waters would not only be as salt as those of the sea, but there would be no continual springs to nourish these rivers; insomuch as when the first stream of water had flown off, there being no fresh supplies of water to succeed it, these rivers would have been immediately dried up; I say because there were no perpetual springs; for whether springs proceed from rain, or from the sea, they could neither way have rose in so short a time; not from rain, for it had not as yet rained; neither was it possible, that in the short space of one day, the waters of the abyss should run down from the most inland places to the sea, and afterwards returning through ways that were never yet open to them, should strain themselves through the bowels of the earth, and ascend to the heads of their rivers. But of rivers we have said enough; let us now proceed to the rest.
"We have, in the third place, a very strange account of a serpent that talked with Eve, and enticed her to oppose God. I must confess, we have not yet known that this beast could ever speak, or utter any sort of voice, beside hissing. But what shall we think Eve knew of this business? If she had taken it for a dumb animal, the very speech of it would have so frightened her, that she would have fled from it. If, on the other side, the serpent had from the beginning been capable of talking and haranguing, and only lost his speech for the crime of having corrupted the faith of Eve, certainly Moses would have been far from passing over in silence this sort of punishment, and only mentioning the curse of licking the dust. Besides this, will you have the particular species of serpents, or all the beasts in Paradise, to have been imbued with the faculty of speaking, like the trees in Dodona's grove? If you say all, pray what offence had the rest been guilty of, that they also should lose the use of their tongues? If only the serpent enjoyed this privilege, how came it about that so vile an animal (by nature the most reverse and remote from man) should, before all his other fellow brutes, deserve to be master of so great a favor and benefit as that of speech?
"Lastly, since all discoursing and arguing includes the use of reason, by this very thing you make the serpent a rational creature. But I imagine you will solve this difficulty another way; for (say the sticklers for a literal interpretation) under the disguise of a serpent was hid the Devil, or an evil spirit, who, using the mouth and organs of this animal, spoke to the woman as though it were a human voice. But what testimony or what authority have they for this? The most literal reading of Moses, which they so closely adhere to, does not express anything of it; for what else does he seem to say, but that he attributes the seducing of Eve to the natural craftiness of the serpent, and nothing else? For these are Moses's words:—'Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.' Afterwards, continues he:—'The serpent said to the woman, yea, hath God said,' etc.—But besides, had Eve heard an animal, by nature dumb, speak through the means of some evil spirit, she would instantly have fled with horror from the monster.—When, on the contrary, she very familiarly received it; they argued very amicably together, as though nothing new or astonishing had taken place. Again, if you say that all this proceeded from the ignorance or weakness of a woman, it would on the other side have been but just, that some good angels should have succoured a poor, ignorant, weak woman; those just guardians of human affairs would not have permitted so unequal a conflict; for what if an evil spirit, crafty and knowing in business, had, by his subtlety, overreached a poor, weak, and silly woman, who had not as yet, either seen the sun rise or set, who was but newly born, and thoroughly inexperienced. Certainly, a person who had so great a price set upon her head, as the salvation of all mankind, might well have deserved a guard of angels. Aye, but perhaps (you will say) the woman ought to have taken care not to violate a law established on pain of death. 'The day you eat of it you shall surely die,', both you and yours; this was the law. Die! what does that mean, says the poor, innocent virgin, who as yet had not seen anything dead, no, not so much as a flower; nor had yet with her eyes or mind perceived the image of death—viz., sleep, or night? But what you add concerning his posterity and their punishment, that is not all expressed in the law. Now no laws are ever to so distorted, especially those that are penal. The punishment of the serpent will also afford no inconsiderable question, if the Devil transacted the whole thing under the form of a serpent; or if he compelled the serpent to do, or to suffer things, why did he (the serpent) pay for a crime committed by the Devil? Moreover, as to the manner and form of the punishment inflicted on the serpent, that from that time he should go creeping on his belly, it is not to be explained what that meant. Hardly any one will say, that prior to his catastrophe the serpent walked upright, like four footed beasts; and if, from the beginning, he crept on his belly like other snakes, it may seem ridiculous to impose on this creature as a punishment for one single crime, a thing which, by nature, he ever had before. But let this suffice for the woman and serpent; let us now go on to the trees. I here understand those two trees, which stood in the middle of the garden, the tree of life, and the tree of good and evil. The former so called, that it would give men a very long life, although, by what follows, we find our forefathers, prior to the flood, lived to very great ages, independent of the tree of life. Besides, if the longevity, or immortality of man had depended only upon one tree, or its fruit, what if Adam had not sinned? how could his posterity, diffused throughout the whole earth, have been able to come and gather fruit out of this garden, or from this tree? or how could the product of one tree have been sufficient for all mankind?"
See also The Mysteries of the Bible Book of Genesis - 100 Books on DVDrom
For a list of all of my digital books on disk click here