I have said that the Jewish people have never taken the Hebrew bible stories literally insofar as they related to times in which there were no written records. The stories of creation, emanating from the northern and southern tribes were of ancient origin, handed down orally from generation to generation.
There is no way to know of course, but we know from today’s exercise of repeating gossip, that the end story can be quite different from the beginning.
Jeremiah, the prophet, always had a rough way to go in Jerusalem. Not only did he prophesy the downfall of Jerusalem, he claimed that it would be at the hand of Yahweh himself, punishment for the continuing sin of Judah. (The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been destroyed by Assyria and disbursed.)
Jeremiah ended up in Egypt, taken there against his will, for his own protection. That remnant remained in Egypt during the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon, and that remnant grew. Out of it was produced the Septuagint, the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.
Philo was to become the preeminent Christian theologian of Alexandria, ironic since he was a Jew. Philo, who lived at the time of Paul, introduced the idea of allegory into the interpretation of scripture. This he borrowed from philosophy. This idea, that the “bible” was not to be read literally, thus stems from very early on, and was basically adhered to by all Christian thinkers from then on.
We know at least from John’s Gospel, that he either was influenced by this allegorical approach himself as a proponent of the approach, or at least he used it to communicate effectively with his audience.
The idea that the Fall had more to do with the evidenced failure to take responsibility for one’s own actions has serious value to us today. And yet, we too, often fail to accept our part in events that occur in the world. Sadly, we were encouraged to do that by the introduction of the concept of original sin and Satan.
There is nothing in the bible that speaks directly of original sin, though the doctrine is drawn from writings of Paul usually. Iranaeus, was its first formal proponent in his attempt to show the errancy of Gnosticism. It seemed to gain adherence from that point on, and has existed in some form in most all Christian denominations as a precept of the faith. The Eastern church has never accepted this doctrine as such, and certainly the Jewish faith has never claimed the doctrine as its own.
In Jewish teaching, Satan (ha-satan) has no power except that attained when humans do evil, or expressly given by God (Job). In the New Testament, Satan is commonly used, and has been interpreted as the culprit in the guise of the serpent in the creation story, at least as from the time of the writing of Revelation.
The devil or Satan has come to be known as the causative factor of evil in the world. The devil fights over the souls of humans, and is constantly tempting humankind to do his bidding. It is also common to accuse those whom you disagree with as being “possessed” by the devil. Various fundamentalists are likely to so identify any group that adheres to “pagan” religions.
What is fundamentally wrong, it seems to me, is the transfer of some of our own responsibility for our behavior to Satan. After all, we can at least claim that the origin of our actions resided outside ourselves. We were tempted, and being not God, of course, we can sometimes fail to do as we should.
Worse, we assume that we are constant sinners, and that may well be, since we are not God. (While it is nice and pleasant I suppose to attach such an appellation as sinlessness to Mary, there is no actual proof of this–it is but a philosophical reasoning, and faith dogma for some.) But by allowing for an entity who is pursuing us constantly to wrongness, it makes it rather inevitable that we will sin more than we would otherwise, and this is a dangerous doctrine.
If the allegory of irresponsibility as our greatest error in the Garden is true, then we continue to magnify this irresponsibility by our adherence to an evil force in the world. What are we, but mere frail human individuals against this power? Is it surprising that Satan gains the upper hand? Other than sitting in a church 24 hours a day, how can we resist all the time?
Much as Flip Wilson looked coyly into the camera and chortled, “the devil made me do it,” as an exculpatory refrain, we too are apt to reduce our culpability for our wrongs by reminding ourselves that we were “powerless” to hold out against such a power. I would suggest that this is a stumbling block to our own re-entrance to the Garden.
We thank our Creator for the granting to us of freewill, but that comes with a price and that price is having the spiritual maturity to own up to our own failings as ours and ours alone. It didn’t work with mother to blame the dog, and it won’t work with God either.
We remain unworthy as creature to stand in the shadow of our God until we can look God in the metaphorical eye and claim that it was our greed, our fear, our pride that caused the disasters big and small that we cause day by day. When we can do that, we can truly begin the work of changing ourselves from the inside, growing in Spirit, and aligning ourselves with the will of God.