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In the Bronze Age, Story-tellers were skilled people and were not idiots. They were the equivalent of the TV stars and script writers of today and there were just as many of them - they exist today in primitive societies and as "authors" in ours. Tell the story of jumping the shark and your career is over.

I'm skeptical of a hermeneutic of "the Biblical writers weren't idiots, therefore we should retcon their stories so they don't sound so idiotic."  For one thing, Yahweh repeats the Serpent's words verbatim in 3:22, acknowledging that the Serpent's claim was correct.  His worry is not that his humans will die, but that they won't--they could partake of the Tree of Life and complete their ascent to divinity.

We have no reason a priori to assume that Yahweh was meant to be portrayed any smarter than he actually appears in the narrative.  The idea that Yahweh is The Big-G God, superduper omnimax in every way, is a much later idea.  It should not be read into Genesis.  As has been shown earlier in this thread, the ancient Hebrew writers had no qualms about portraying Yahweh having a stable of demons ("lying spirits") he could send out to deceive people, or possess them Exorcist-style, as in the case of King Saul.  The "problem of evil" did not occur to them, because they had no difficulties with the idea of worshiping a deity who was a capricious tyrant modeled after the earthly rulers of their time and place.

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that the ancient Israelites were a deeply incurious and retrograde culture, backward even by the standards of their own era.  Consider the following:

21Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;

 22Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.

 23But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.

This passage is talking about insects, differentiating which ones people are allowed to eat and which ones they weren't.  First, notice that the Israelites didn't bother to invent a word for "insect," even when using them as a food source.  Instead, they used clumsy phrasing.  "You know, those things that crawl and fly."  And somehow, they managed to develop customs around the eating of insects without ever looking at them close enough to realize that they have six legs.

This is a culture that banned all representational art, and (as demonstrated by Biblical cosmology) possessed only the most rudimentary astronomy and mathematics.  "If a circular basin is ten cubits across, how big around is it?  Meh, 30 cubits is close enough.  Pi=3." (I Kings 7:23-26).  On the other hand, see this counter-argument.  On the other, other hand, the counter-argument is actually making the case for the cleverness of the Phoenicians, whom the Israelites had to hire to create the Temple and its furnishings.  The fact that they hired Ba'al-worshiping Pagans to build their holy Temple of Yahweh and its sacred furnishings is strong evidence that they could not have done the work themselves.  Especially since this takes place during the wildly-exaggerated glory days of Solomon, who was supposedly the richest, wisest, most awesomesauce king in the whole world.  In other words: even when writing fanciful accounts of the mighty (known-)world-straddling empire they (supposedly) had in the Good Old Days, the Hebrew scribes couldn't even imagine that their ancestors could craft a large bronze bowl on their own. 

To write that their ancestors once ruled everything from the Nile to the Euphrates and had an army numbering more than a million[1]--the scribes could get away with that.  To portray their ancestors as artisans capable of building a great temple and impressive furnishings for themselves--too far-fetched.  Easier to claim that one of their ancient leaders once told the Sun to stay still in the sky until their army finished massacring their enemies!

Nutshell: we shouldn't be too quick to assume that the ancient Israelite scribes were especially intelligent, or that they intended to portray Yahweh as either intelligent or honest.
 1. See II Samuel 24:1-10 and I Chronicles 21:1-4.
Changed Change Reason Date
screwtape good post March 26, 2012, 08:24:49 AM
kaziglu bey Interesting point, never considered that before. March 25, 2012, 03:09:52 PM
pianodwarf Yep. March 25, 2012, 01:14:00 PM
ParkingPlaces Made me want to eat a bug March 25, 2012, 01:03:45 PM