Notes and Reflections on Noah's Other Son, by Brian Arthur Brown -- see introductory post for more information on this book
In chapter one, the author fittingly begins with Adam and Eve or Aadam and Hawaa. He chooses a more metaphorical version declaring many "adams" (men) and "eves" (mothers) were "created" on the first day ... rather they developed out of the "primordial soup" which mysteriously came forth from the big bang. The author reminds us that the Quran presumes the earlier stories of Adam are already known "because it launches into deep theological questions without any of the detailed background we might require." He shares
how the Quran says Adam was created from clay,
how God decided Adam would be his "vice-regal representative upon the earth,"
how the "angels protested that such a person could created havoc, even resulting in bloodshed, as compared to themselves, who were programmed simply to praise and honor God,"
how God told the angels they could not grasp His purpose and explained no more to them.
Instead God discusses animal names with Adam and appoints man as the animals' "teacher." God wanted the angels to bow down to Adam. Of course Iblis (the devil) refused and this disobedience to God and believing he was superior to man was his great sin.
A difference between the Quranic and Biblical versions is that in the Islamic understanding, humans - with their abilities to choose freely unlike the angels who were programmed to produce "music and poetry that reflect God's glory" - were "a whole new order of creation, above even angels." Yet the author makes note of the Jewish and Christian understanding based on Psalm 8 where David speaking of man declared him made "a little lower than the angels."
Any thoughts on this topic? What do you think of the Quranic version of man being higher than angels because of his ability to choose? Do you think the freedom of choice is not taught in the Bible? When I read the Quran I was often overwhelmed by a sense of predestination - that is God chose who would be His slaves and who would follow his own path which resulted in hellfire. Yet the author's understanding of the Quran seems to show a strong sense of freedom of choice. Do you agree with his version of things? Does this seem to be how Islam is practiced when most people born into Muslim households are automatically Muslim with little choice in the matter? Or do, in fact, "born Muslims" have a choice to become Hindu, agnostic or Catholic if they so choose?
And what do you think of the Psalmist declaring man "a little lower than the angels"? Is this offensive to be considered lower? Does it makes you feel inferior somehow or are you OK with that? Would you argue we are higher or lower than the angels? Why?
Furthermore, if the Quran is a mere continuation of the message of the previous books, is this conflict proof that the Jewish Scriptures had been corrupted and needed correcting? How else would one reconcile the view of David (men are lower than angels) to Muhammad's version (men are higher than angels)? Or do you simply realize David was speaking with poetic license or he was speaking of something else entirely and not freedom of choice?
The author mentions How Good Do We Have to Be? by Rabbi Harold Kushner who believes eating of the forbidden tree "was not entirely a bad thing. We advance by pushing the limits, though we must discover the proper limits. Kushner suggests biting the apple was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race, and in the personal development of each person, and that God planned it that way. Its consequences are painful in the same way that growing up and leaving one's home can be painful. In the same way, marriage and parenthood can be painful and cause us to wonder, 'Why did I give up my less complicated life for all these problems?' For the mature person who has experienced the complex, hard-earned satisfaction of seeing these things through, there is no doubt it is worth the pain. The woman is not necessarily the villain of the story, enslaved by her appetites and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions -- the only kind of world in which love can be found." (pg. 36)
Do you tend to agree with Rabbi Kushner that eating the fruit was no big deal...in fact, it was exactly what God wanted Eve to do? Maybe a little reverse psychology at work perhaps. How does this theory work together with or tear apart the traditional thought that this act of disobedience brought death and heartache into the world? Do you agree that having these painful life experiences is really a good thing although we don't always like going through them at the time? Does Rabbi Kushner's theory suggest God wants (or, at the very least, wanted in the beginning) people to disobey and challenge Him?
The author then ends with an alternative story from Rabbi Kushner's book where Adam and Eve did not eat the fruit though tempted by the serpent. God rewarded their obedience like this:
"To the man he said, 'You will never work a day in your life. Spend your days in idle contentment with food growing all around you.' To the woman he said, 'You will bear children without pain and raise them without any trouble. They will not need anything from you and never depend on you.' God told them, 'Children will not cry, nor even grieve if their parents die. Parents will not cry if their children die; they can have as many more as they wish. No one will ever laugh or cry, and nobody will ever receive something they have always longed for, because they will have everything.' And the man and the woman grew very old in the garden, and very fat, eating daily from the tree of life and having more and more children. And the grass grew high around the Tree of Conscience until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it."
What's wrong with Rabbi Kushner's version of the Reward of Obedience? What is right? Do you tend to agree with his scenario or would you write your version of Reward for Obedience differently? Personally I find this man lacks greatly in his view of God's ability to create a perfect place. His view is that reward is simply being able to eat and reproduce to your heart's content and there is little room for relationship and enjoyable work in a perfect world. What do you think? After reading this view of Reward, can you see why eating the fruit would be a better alternative for humanity in Kushner's eyes?
I'd love to hear your point of view on any of these topics!