Echoes of Eden, Sefer Bereishit, by Rabbi Ari D. Kahn, “Echoes of Eden,” OU Press, 386 pages, ISBN 978-965-229-499-9.
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO — This is an eye-opening commentary on the Book of Genesis (Bereshit) which probably should be recommended for adults only. The interpretations delve into some of the underlying sexual content of the Bible–content that may surprise more casual readers of Torah.
For example, some Talmudic scholars have suggested that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden originally was human in form and physically seduced Eve, impregnating her with Cain. When God punished Eve with painful childbirth, it was to teach her that relationships have consequences. The Serpent’s punishment was to be made into a snake, a wriggling phallic symbol in the dust.
Cain, perhaps acting under the influence of his Serpent father’s genes, murders his brother Abel. After Adam and Eve have another child, Seth, the world is populated with two kinds of humanoids–evil ones, whose ancestry dates back to Cain, and the descendants of Adam and Eve via Seth. Among the latter is Noah, whereas his wife, who is not named in the Bible, is (according to Talmudic genealogists) Na’amat, a descendant of Cain. In that humanity is descended from Noah and Na’amat, there exists some mixture of good and evil in all of us.
Some Talmudic scholars believe that sexual relations were forbidden on Noah’s Ark, but that among those who chose to ignore the prohibition were the dog, the raven and Noah’s son Ham.
When the raven was sent forth from the ark, it was because he was punished by Noah; whereas, when the dove was set forth, it was in fulfillment of a mitzvah.
On the commentaries proceed, through the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph — each seeking to explain behaviors that might otherwise have persisted as incomprehensible mysteries of the Bible.
For example, why did Abraham introduce his wife Sarah as his sister? One gets the idea from a simple reading of the Bible, that Abraham was afraid if it were known he was her husband, someone would kill him in order to sexually possess Sarah. But that gives us the sense that Abraham, in essence, was abandoning Sarah to the sexual desires of another–hardly the action of a brave patriarch.
To the contrary, suggests Rabbi Kahn drawing on Talmudic scholars. In the days of the Egyptian pharaohs, it was the perogative of a king to take possession of his sister. In saying that Sarah was his sister, Abraham was signalling that like Pharaoh, he was a king, and therefore Sarah was off limits. No such protection would have been extended to the wife of a mere traveler.
Echoes of Eden is the first of a five-part series Rabbi Kahn proposes to write covering each book of the Torah. If it were a movie. this volume probab ly would be rated R.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at [email protected]