Garden of Eden

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Page 8

It should be noted, lastly, that it is a requirement of the transcription that it be rational, but not that it be scientific. A concept such as that the first man represents a union of opposing characteristics, species and individual, potential immortality and mortality, male and female - a theme with which the myth is clearly concerned - does not denote an entity with the kind of particular experience with which science is concerned. It is a construct that provides us with characteristics of being that have a bearing on the whole of possible experience. It is, moreover, a construct that is inevitable and necessary for the ultimate understanding of experience at its limit. The same applies to the whole realm of the origin of experience and of the world, the sphere of the ultimate beginning and genesis that transcends the sphere of arbitrary beginnings imposed by the divisions of the world into the domains of science. It transcends a division of the world that the sciences cannot reverse by pooling results only achieved through differentiation and only valid on that account. The origin of things, although necessarily beyond the reach of the scientific approach, is not in the same way beyond the reach of a rational approach. That is why coherence and consistency count for so much in a conceptual presentation of what the myth presents as a story.

We now come to the most important part of this investigation, namely the question: what is the significance of the possibility, demonstrated above, of translating the mythological narrative into a theoretical and conceptual account forming a coherent whole? What is the significance of the fact that, within the framework of a story that every child can understand at a certain level, we find, raised and answered, problems whose depth and meaning have been recognised throughout the long course of the history of thought? How can the question of the coming into being of the human world, complete with all its fundamental features, be offered a logically consistent solution in the form of a plain, clear mythological narrative of forty-one verses?

It obviously makes little sense to ask for 'scientific proof' for the presentation in a theme such as the creation of the world of man, either from the myth or from the theoretical transcription. The methods of science, as has been noted, are not appropriate outside of specific fields of investigation. At the same time, it is important to repudiate the assumption made by some self-styled spokesmen of science, that problems which transcend the range of scientific proof or refutations are not problems. They are, indeed, the important problems, the ones that are designated traditionally, if not always appositely, as great metaphysical problems for which, one suspects, there may be no solutions. Although they exceed the range of the procedures of science, they do not exceed the range of the procedures of rationality in the same way. And the human mind can never be persuaded to abandon questions which, as Kant said, are raised by the nature of reason itself.

If we admit the problem and, at the same time, see that a demand for scientifically demonstrable truth is inappropriate; if, furthermore, we are aware of the possibility of a rational transcription of the myth and, consequently, set aside the reference to religious truth based on faith, we shall need to reconsider the whole question of truth and, perhaps, revise our current ideas on the subject. Since the term 'truth' is, historically, closely associated with the representations of 'the factual truth of science' or 'the believed truth of religion' and since we wish to exclude both of these - even though they are, I think, relevant for any approach to the great problems of the world and their mythical expression - I shall try to indicate a special sense of truth, replacing the word 'truth' by 'conceivability'. By that I mean to designate the ultimate aim of the process of thought. An example will serve to illustrate my intention.

Let us consider, by way of illustration, the well-known Babylonian myth of the origin of the world. Slightly shortened, we find:
'When the sky above had not yet been mentioned and the word 'firm ground' had not been thought of,
When there were not yet names for the sky above and the firm ground below,
When one primeval Apsu, the begetter of Mummu and Tiamat - she who gave birth to all
Were mingling their waters intone
When no bog had formed, no island could be found,
When no god whatsoever had appeared,
Had been named by name, had been determined with his lot,
Then gods were formed within them'.

Apsu, Mummu and Tiamat are a trinity of chaotic powers - or perhaps god-like beings that subsequently gave birth to gods. According to modern interpretations they symbolised the weet waters, the sea, the cloud banks and the mist. The origin of the world is seen as a watery chaos that consists of three kinds of water intermingling. Apsu and Tiamat then generate two gods, Lohunn and Lohanni, interpreted as a kind of silt and from these there descends another pair of gods, Anshar and Kishar, understood as two aspects of the horizon, that of the sky and of the earth. The Babylonian myth continues with Anshar and Kishar giving birth to Anu, the god of the sky; Anshar engenders Nudimmut, another symbol of sweet waters, but here taken to signify the earth. And so the narrative continues, dealing with cosmogonic matters in its mythological way. That is the Babylonian mythological story of the origin of the world.

The most striking feature of this myth is that it is not an account of the origin of the world at all, but a description of what the author takes to be the first stage of a world already in existence, a stage of watery chaos. Whether the primeval trinity, Apsu, Mummu and Tiamat, is to be interpreted as a group of gods - Apsu is called 'the begetter of great gods' -, demonic powers or natural elements, they are, in any case, all components of the chaotic whole. None of them, therefore, has brought this whole, the universe in its first condition, into existence. We have a story of evolution, not of creation. The three powers of the chaos would seem to have existed from eternity, although they come to an end in time when they are killed by gods. The myth, although it must have served the need for knowledge about the beginning of things will, on closer examination, necessarily reveal many inconsistencies and superficialities. Although its conceivability is superior to that of other, more confused accounts of the coming into being of the world, it does not remain conceivable once it is scrutinised.

This Babylonian cosmogony has frequently been compared to the account in Genesis. Well, let us look at the first verse in the Book of Genesis "In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth". Conspicuous is the very sharp distinction between 'G-d' and 'the world'. They are essentially and absolutely two, G-d existing from eternity to eternity and the world having an origin before which, or beyond which, it was not there. Before, there was G-d and, instead of the world, nothing. In whichever way later speculation may have projected this nothing into G-d Himself and derived the world from a possibility that the world was in G-d, no speculation can eradicate the feature that the world as reality emanated from G-d and was not there as world and that in its stead there was nothing. There is, consequently, a real origin, a transition from nothing to being and the act of bringing this about is not formation, but creation. And since the world is everything that was created and since there was nothing to precede it, the creation took place 'in the beginning'.

Together with the ideas of G-d, world, nothing, creation and beginning, we find a framework of fundamental concepts that will not be altered by whatever number of ways thought will subsequently relate to them. One can and will, of course, ask how the idea of G-d, ideas of world, nothing, creation and beginning can be apprehended more distinctly and what the relation between them is. But in whichever way they may be connected, identified and filled with new content, none of these concepts can be dismissed. They are and remain the fundamental themes of thought about the origin of the world, in so far as such thought is admitted. In their first consistent order and relation, they represent in a certain way, the 'solution' to an otherwise insoluble problem, one which may be said to have been solved once its indispensable elements, its frame-concepts, have established the parameters of its variable contents and a rationally possible order. I would call that the 'conceivability' of an answer to this kind of problem.