[Milton-L] death in Eden.

Samuel Smith SSmith at messiah.edu
Tue Nov 16 15:06:32 EST 2004


Dear Jim and John:
 
A colleague in Hebrew Bible informs me that the verb translated as
"clothed" in Genesis 3.21 is labash, not kaphar.  The atonement connection
would be stronger of God were "covering" (kaphar) them, but he isn't. 
Everett Fox, Robert Alter, the KJV, and the NRSV are all correct to use
"clothed."  So there isn't any direct or indirect linguistic connection to
atonement in Genesis 3.21.  Rabbinic commentary tends to emphasize God's
kindness in clothing Adam and Eve (as Milton does in his text--do Jason
Rosenblatt or Jeffrey Shoulson talk about this?), identifying a moral
obligation to clothe the naked.
 
As for ancient middle eastern agrarian society, perhaps a sheep (which
Milton clearly has running about in Eden) would be a better analog than a
cat [unless you want to go back to Egypt :)]?  While wool isn't literally
skin, it would serve metaphorically as a covering provided from the skin of
an animal.  I'm not suggesting that Milton images God shearing a sheep to
cover and protect the human pair from the cold.  I'm imagining a possibility
for Genesis 3.21 that doesn't require the shedding of blood within the
cultural context of the text's origins.
 
Samuel Smith

Jim Rovira wrote:

Thanks for the good response, Mr. Smith.  I think we need to read the 
passage in Genesis within its own cultural context -- this was an 
agrarian society which knew of no animal that shed its skin other than 
reptiles, and could only conceive of separating an animal from its skin 
by killing it.  Of course, if you know of other animals native to the 
far east of the Mediterranean that shed their skins (and which had skins 
suitable for use as human clothing), though, I'm open to suggestion. 
Theological niceties are the only thing that would motivate a reading 
that otherwise so defies the obvious. Isn't there also a direct 
linguistic connection between "atonement" and "covering?"

John Rumrich wrote:
I think the connection is actually between "cover" and "sacrifice"; the 
animals lose their skins to cover Adam and Eve, an antetype of the 
crucifixion.

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