In the moment that Eve hears the falsities flickering from the snake’s forked tongue, the nature of language is irretrievably altered. Prior to the snake’s statement, words had a power unprecedented. Words and what they meant were inherently interwoven; the true meaning of everything was as clear as these black words on this white page. But in the second that the poisonous temptation drips from the snake’s lips, the lie is born. Words are cut off from their inherent spirit, and words become an external interpretation of that spirit. Yet in this world now capable of deceit, of beguilement, of lies and falsities, poetry is allowed to thrive. Poetry is the paradoxical truth teller— it uses lies to convey an inherent and profound meaning that resonates within the spirit of the reader.
Let us fall now into Genesis; let us watch the way God speaks the universe into existence. In the beginning what was said became. It is not a beckoning of things to emerge; God does not call forth the universe to come into being the way one might call a dog from afar to be present up close. Rather what is said near simultaneously becomes. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness…” (1). And so he goes on speaking into creation many things, letting them come forth into existence out of the dark and watry chaos by his life-giving breath. For God’s word is the word of utmost and utter truth, from his lips things themselves are uttered. In the beginning, language was literally literal.
This perlocutionary power of God is, in an interesting way, alluded to in his self-defined name. God first unveils his name to the prophet Moses in Exodus. As a burning bush, God reveals himself to Moses. “God says to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’’”(70). It is a simple thing God calls himself, but it is rich with interpretation and information. According to this edition of the Holy Bible, God’s name can also be translated as “I AM WHAT I AM or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” (70). God’s self-proclamation to Moses too has an interesting footnote; “I AM WHO I AM is an etymology of the Iraelite name for God, YHWH…YHWH is treated as a verbal form derived from ‘to be’…and may mean ‘He causes to be.’” (70). It is such a simple proclamation, and yet it resonates so beautifully, so profoundly. I AM WHAT I AM. He causes to be. God’s name is his actions, his existence. Though his name may be interpreted and re-interpreted, the meaning seems clear. God is God. Notice also the efficacious capitalization of Lord God’s names. Throughout the Holy Bible, though the word ‘God’ is not capitalized, the word ‘LORD’ is always capitalized (when referring to God, not Jesus) . And now here, upon this mountaintop and within this encounter we are to read God’s self proclamation in completely capital letters. There is an importance here nearly inarticulatable. God’s name is not the vague or casual cliché Popeye is fond of humorously exclaiming. “I am who I am”. No more and no less, God is God, and God’s word is truth.
So from his word day and night, land and sea, vegetation, fish and fowl and crawling things are born. And so is human, born. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” (2). God brings into life human, as something of a lonely echo of the divine; created in his own image. As Human exists as an echo of the divine, so too does Human’s power echo God’s. Human is given a Godly dominion over the earth, as God has dominion over all, and Human’s voice has that perlocutionary nature that echoes God’s; “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (). The names indeed are not the animals themselves, for that power exists only with God. Too, the names are not like the names one gives to a child or a pet—there are no familial names like those in Eden yet. This first human has the power to give names to each of God’s creatures; true unwavering names that define.
Though man’s linguistic power is a mere reverberating echo of God’s profoundly true word, the nature of language in the early Genesis is still perlocutionary. In the beginning, language is something of a universal truth. Therefore, in the beginning, the universe was unpoetic. Poetry by definition requires comparisons, in the form of metaphors, similes and examples. Poetry requires an artistically descriptive verse that beats with the Spirit that is to be gained from within the poem. But in this pre-fallen world, meaning and thing are the same—there is no need for poetic interpretation. But language does not remain perlocutionary and the world does not remain unpoetic, for the devil inhabits Eden, and the devil lies.
Now after Man is born into existence, there is a single rule set by God. Man must not eat of the tree of good and evil, “for in that day [man] eats of it, [man] shall die” (3). It is upon this rule that the devil-serpent has his eyes set, and the serpent will bend this rule through interpretation. As Woman wanders throughout her paradise, she encounters a serpent. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (4). This moment of trickery is one of the most important moments of Biblical history, for in this moment the nature of deceit is revealed. It is a brilliant slippery scheme for many reasons. Woman and Man know nothing of deceit or trickery—they literally cannot yet fathom the concept. Indeed it is only after she is confronted by God that Woman recognizes deceit; “The woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.’” (4). And if serpent is born of God’s true tongue and is of this paradise Eden, he must be good, for does not God look upon his creations all and see and say that they are good? Well, for good or for bad the snake does deceive. But it is an interesting deceit, because it is not a flat out lie. If Woman eats of the fruit of the tree of good and evil, she will not die as a direct result of eating the fruit as if it were poison. However in God’s anger he punishes Human with eventual death and takes away their immortality; “ “you are dust and to dust you shall return”(5). No longer can Man call the animals what he will call them and be peaceful with him and no longer may Woman stroll with languid leisure in a land writhing with plentiful food. Only through differing ‘labors’ may Woman and Man feed and flourish and maintain immortality. For labor can mean either physically working hard to ensure one’s survival or going through the pain of childbirth. Labor then serves both as God given punishment for man and woman’s disobedience, and as means of surviving and maintaining immortality, for though man and woman will die, their name lives on in immortality through childbirth and the carrying of the name across generations. Humankind is banished from Eden and no longer has an amiable power over the land and beasts. And so it is that following this cunning interpretation that deceit and lies, beguilement and trickery are recognized and made to be. But there is a shred of beauty in this sad chapter, a gleam among the gloom.
Though language no longer is pure and true, and language serves as a veil hiding the spirit of its meaning, poetry is born, allowed to raise her head, blinking slowly in the splendor of the world. Her first performance is in the creation of familial names. For finally the Human beings are given names—titles to represent or suggest who they are. “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (5). The footnote here explains that “The Hebrew word Adam is usually translated as ‘man’ in this story” (5). The names ‘Eve’ and ‘Adam’ are created as poetic interpretations of who these people are, names given to suggest the individual’s place in the world. For Eve is to be the mother of all living, and Adam is the first man. Certainly their names do not define every aspect of their being, but they serve as an interpretation of their being. We do not know who names Adam but it seems likely that Adam named himself—his duty and power in Eden to name the creatures their true names is broken but it seems he still longs for that position and thus gives Eve a kind of pet name and therefore likely gives himself one as well.
Language for humankind has lost that echo of the divine and it is only God who has the power to utter things true. So the serpent exists as the inventor of lies, of deceit, of trickery and beguilement and of poetry. The serpent has, in a sense, poetically interpreted God’s true word to doom humankind forever.
But there comes another poetic interpreter of God’s word, a prophet called by many names, but most intriguingly, I think, called “The word made flesh”. Jesus Christ exists as the poetic prophet sent to reclaim poetry from the devil. For he is sent to dissuade the way in which the people have interpreted God’s word. Across the land the written word of God in the Old Testament is being taken literally, and the spirit of love in God’s word is forgotten. Now there is written in the scripture that of the seven days within a week, work may be done only on six, for the seventh day is a day of rest. Yet Jesus combats this scripture, for it is followed blindly and without mercy. “One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?’”(). When any human word is interpreted as pure truth, the mind becomes closed and rigidly controlled by that word. It is not the word but the spirit of the word that is to be followed. Though the scriptures say that no work is to be done on the Sabbath day, Jesus still heals the suffering man because it is with love and generosity that he does this thing. He reminds the brooding crowd who watch him that they would too break the law if someone they loved were to stumble and become trapped on the sacred Sabbath day, for it would ignite a near instinctual reaction, a gut feeling to help whomever they love. It is this sensation that Jesus preaches, this spirit that flutters and falls, aches and moves within the body. This sensation is the Holy Spirit, the universal morality that exists within each individual. Jesus has come to rekindle that true spirit that once existed simultaneously with the word through human poetry. He compares this man to something loved by each member of the crowd, an ox or a son, to encourage the crowd to open their eyes–for they too have broken the Sabbath for that which they loved–and their hearts–for this man and every other man is their neighbor, and it is written “Love your neighbor”.
Jesus and the devil are thus intertwined by their poetic reinterpretation of God’s word. Though the devil seeks to corrupt while Jesus seeks to save, they both come to humans as figures of rebellion in the face of the severity in which God’s word is obeyed. There is indeed a kind of bond forged between these two figures, the way there is a bond formed between light and dark. So let us observe their interaction, let us watch this verbal battle in the temptation of Jesus. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, `You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and `On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (1247). Jesus listens to his promises and challenges, and responds to each taunt with God’s word. The devil, seemingly frustrated by Jesus’ recitations decides too to recite God’s word as written in the scripture. Yet Jesus, who is full here of the Holy Spirit, interprets God’s word with that spirit and is able to counter the devil a third time. In this scene we are able to see that, though Jesus is wanting and of woman born and human, he cannot be tempted. Though each knows the scripture and interprets freely of it, Jesus does so with the spirit of love while the devil does so with the spirit of hate.
From the beginning of the bible, the universe falls from a unifying oneness into a series of steps of separation. From the moment that Genesis begins, there is a continual force of separation from this sacred unity, separating the land from the sea, the light from the dark, earth from sky and so on in the first few days of creation. When language thus lost its resonating truth, it served as the key to the separation between God and Human Being. In Eden the word is separated from its inherent spirit. Though this separation is sacred and necessary, corruption seethes through to poison the separation. In forgetting God, Humankind turns to sin. In forgetting the lie that altered language, Humankind forgets to understand with their hearts and spirits as well as their head. A re-formation of unity between Humankind and God must thus be made. It is not the undoing of the separation, but a new creation of understanding God. The Holy Trinity is formed as away of rekindling that relationship with God through new means. They are not merely three separate entities worshipped, but anew way of comprehension. God is truth, the Holy Spirit is the Earthlings sensation of that truth, and Jesus Christ the son is the poetic prophet who rekindles the Holy Spirit in Humankind’s attempt to understand the true word of God.