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Silly Dowdy, Rhetorical Tricks Aren't For Kids...

If there's one thing amusing about the largely irrelevant froth over creationism, it's watching Atheist Crusaders pretend to actually have done their homework when criticizing biblical texts. David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy rightly slammed Bill Moyers for having managed to induce multiple revelations in the poor St. John, author of the Book of Revelation. Today, Maureen Dowd takes her own stab at biblical exegesis:

On eBay, you can even find replicas of the stickers that a Georgia county put on science textbooks to warn that evolution is "a theory, not a fact." Talk about sticker shock.

So much for the Tree of Knowledge. Mr. Bush gives us the Ficus of Faith.


Now, someone make sense of this for me? Nothing in Genesis suggests that Adam or Eve were ignorant of everything, merely innocent. (Indeed, Paradise Lost, not authoritative but persuasive, make Adam quite inquisitive[1].) What Dowd is replacing with the "Ficus of Faith" is The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I wasn't aware that eating its fruit was supposed to have given the line of Eve insight into anything that wasn't at least tangentially related to matters righteous or iniquitous. So far as I knew, Dowd wasn't of the opinion that evolution was included.

Ah well, she must have had me in mind. This worldly agnostic never had much luck keeping his faith running, and over the course of my time at Columbia I've killed off two ficus trees. So I guess for one New Yorker at least, her symbol had some hold.

UPDATE: A Little Reason has a wonderful bit of fact-checking on Moyers. It appears that he may be quoting some Democratic urban myths...

[1]: For instance:

To whom the Patriarch of mankind repli'd.
O favourable spirit, propitious guest,
Well hast thou taught the way that might direct
Our knowledge, and the scale of Nature set
From center to circumference, whereon
In contemplation of created things
By steps we may ascend to God.

John Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 5, ln.506--512 (1667).

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Anthony Rickey derides Maureen Dowd because she called it "The Tree of Knowledge" and not "The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil". There's a difference, says he. And so he is right. Maureen Dowd was technically incorrect about a... [Read More]

» Sex, Spawn and Scripture from Half the Sins of Mankind
I wonder if Milton's chopping it down to just the Tree of Knowledge (pun unintended) may have overtaken Genesis in the popular culture. [Read More]

Comments

Nothing responsive, but I always liked this part of Genesis. The original tribal myth from which my Hebrew forebears stole their version---actually, Genesis might retain it in the right translations, but you can't go to King James for anything anymore---had two trees in the Garden, one of Knowledge and one of Eternal Life. Adam & Eve ate of the first, and saw what was going on, so God got scared and kicked them out before they could take of the second. Which is a pretty good story to tell the kids on the mastadon-hunting trip when they ask how animals are different from people, and people are diffrent from God. Lousy vegetarian prehistoric brats, spoil my family vacation... they're just different, okay!
Yeah, I'm pretty fond of that one, since it makes its way into a lot of pop culture. I think you'll looking for Genesis 3, 21-24:
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Not that I know it off the top of my head. Actually, for finding random scriptural references, Mozilla has a nifty SuperBibleToolbar!, something very silly and geeky that I'd been dying to use for a while. Thanks for providing the incentive.
"What Dowd is replacing with the "Ficus of Faith" is The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I wasn't aware that eating its fruit was supposed to have given the line of Eve insight into anything that wasn't at least tangentially related to matters righteous or iniquitous." Actually, it was supposed to "open your eyes" and to give wisdom, which could include everything right up to knowledge of good and bad: Genesis 3:6 - "When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate." The serpent said that "your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings [elohim] who know good and bad." Knowledge of good and bad implied knowledge of just about everything - and the phrase was used with just that sense (in the same way we use phrases like "from soup to nuts" to mean "everything" in English) - because good and bad were at the very top of the pyramid of knowledge. That is why the tree is often referred to simply as the Tree of Knowledge (e.g., in The Torah: A Modern Commentary) in the discussion of Genesis 2:9, 3:6, etc. There is a very long tradition of interpreting this to include three types of knowledge - ethical, intellectual, and sexual.
Scot: I saw your comment at Heidi's. I'd be very interested in your very long tradition of interpreting it this way, especially in the Christian sense. Augustine, at the very least, writes with the idea that the pre-Fall soul was rational, and indeed equates one part of the Fall with being a divide between the rational soul and the physical body. That's fairly consistent with my reading of commentary, though my reading is far from exhaustive. While the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the source of some wisdom, and indeed the source of knowledge of sin, shame, etc.--the idea that it was the source of some knowledge that leads to evolution seems odd to me. I've never seen it bundled in the mix before. So again, I'd be interested in further reading. Certainly I've not come across the idea that neither knowledge nor rationality existed before the Fall. (That said, it has to be remembered that the Christian- and Jewish interpretations of the Fall are often different in significant degree.) Anyway, it's good to see the discussion. I'm still a bit mystified as to how replacing the "Tree of Knowledge" with the "Ficus of Faith" makes much sense in Dowd's context, however. In what sense does "Bush gives us the Ficus of Faith" make much sense at all?
We're interepreting a story here that I take it is not intended to be about how things came to be so much as about the coming to be of a fallen state. The key contrast of the "knowledge of good and evil" then is the contrast between childlike innocence in Paradise and its loss, which makes us the poor banished children of Eve. It just doesn't make any sense textually to imagine that the tree was supposed to help people with particle physics, the octet rule, or state capitals. Even if its true that ethical knowledge is at the top of a pyramid, there is no indication that the tree gave Adam and Eve particularly great knowledge about science or the like. One might imagine that you needed more than one "apple" for that, but it appears that the bite they took was sufficient for some loss of innocence, so the pyramid theory looks to be in trouble. There may well be interesting and spirtually edifying rabbinic or patristic commentaries about such pyramids and such learning, and I wouldn't pooh-pooh those forms of exegesis and eisegesis, but they don't really help poor ol' ignorant MoDo, who purports you use biblical themes for to knock the phenomenon of "faith" anyway, which is a bit...
We're interepreting a story here that I take it is not intended to be about how things came to be so much as about the coming to be of a fallen state. The key contrast of the "knowledge of good and evil" then is the contrast between childlike innocence in Paradise and its loss, which makes us the poor banished children of Eve. It just doesn't make any sense textually to imagine that the tree was supposed to help people with particle physics, the octet rule, or state capitals. Even if its true that ethical knowledge is at the top of a pyramid, there is no indication that the tree gave Adam and Eve particularly great knowledge about science or the like. One might imagine that you needed more than one "apple" for that, but it appears that the bite they took was sufficient for some loss of innocence, so the pyramid theory looks to be in trouble. There may well be interesting and spirtually edifying rabbinic or patristic commentaries about such pyramids and such learning, and I wouldn't pooh-pooh those forms of exegesis and eisegesis, but they don't really help poor ol' ignorant MoDo, who purports you use biblical themes for to knock the phenomenon of "faith" anyway, which is a bit...

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