What a Piece of Crap Is Man

It’s interesting that Satan’s rebellion against God has become such a significant part of the mythology of the Abrahamic religions, when there isn’t a whole lot of support for the idea in the Bible. It’s described in Revelation, but the nature of that book makes it unclear whether this is something that happened in the past or will in the future (or both?). Anyway, there’s another wrinkle to the rebellion story that I had heard of before, but hadn’t looked into that much, that his fall was directly related to the origin of humanity. I was aware that it showed up in the Quran, but there’s precedent for it before that. It seems that it first appeared in a first century manuscript called The Life of Adam and Eve, or sometimes The Apocalypse of Moses, even though Moses isn’t in it; I suppose the idea was that he was the narrator. Set in the time just after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, it has the couple do penance by standing in rivers up to their necks and fasting. Satan shows up and tells Eve that God has already forgiven her, tricking her into breaking her penance. Fool me once, shame on you…no, wait, God punished both Eve AND the Serpent the first time. Adam asks Satan what they ever did to him, and the Devil explains how, after God created the first man out of dirt, the Archangel Michael told the other angels to worship Adam, as he was made in the image of God. Satan insisted that he was superior as he was made first, and when Michael insisted, decided to launch a rebellion against the Almighty. The narrative then goes on to describe how Seth tried to find some oil from the Tree of Life to heal his dying father, is bitten by Satan, and told by Michael that there’s nothing that can be done for Adam until the end of days. This idea would also appear in an explicitly Christian context in the Gospel of Nicodemus. Also featured are the Pillars of Seth and the idea that Adam was created in Bethlehem from different substances found all over the world.

Many of the ideas from this text reappear in the Questions of Bartholomew, the exact origins of which are unclear, but it might have been from around the fifth century. Bartholomew asks Jesus about some of the mysteries of the universe, including the harrowing of Hell and what happens to the dead. Jesus then brings Satan, here called Beliar, up from Hell so that Bartholomew can ask him questions, compelling him by stepping on his neck. You know, Jesus is largely remembered for his advice to turn the other cheek, but some stories indicate that he wasn’t always opposed to violence. Then again, I guess Satan is basically immortal. Beliar reveals that he was the first angel created, made from a handful of fire (sounds painful). When Michael tells Beliar to worship Adam, the Devil not only objects because he was made first, but also because Adam is a material being while he’s made from fire. Also, he deceives Eve by poisoning the source of the waters of Eden with his sweat and armpit hair, on the advice of his son Salpasan, a woefully underused character.

In the Quran, the Devil is referred to as both Iblis and Shaitan, although from what I’ve seen (and I haven’t read the Quran, although I probably should; I’m not sure which translation to use), it seems like the latter is more of a title. Iblis is a jinn, formed of smokeless fire, who refuses to bow down to Adam when ordered to do so (in this case by Allah Himself, rather than Michael), and hence is cursed. But Allah allows him to live until the end of days and serve as a tempter of humanity. He never tries to take God’s throne in this version of the story. There’s some emphasis on how Iblis only functions at the behest of God. This is true in Christianity as well, but it seems that popular theology focuses so much on Satan’s role as the opposite of God as to make him a much more significant part of the religion. Perhaps Muhammad was consciously trying to get away from Zoroastrian influence, which makes it kind of ironic that the place where Zoroastrianism originated is now a strictly Islamic country.

Anyway, this recurring theme is a rather odd one, as the whole idea of monotheism is that God alone is worthy of worship. I’ve seen it suggested that the angels bowing to Adam was supposed to be a mark of respect rather than actual worship, but the translations I’ve seen of these works make it sound more extreme than that. And really, considering how humans act a lot of the time, Satan might not have been so wrong to hold mankind in contempt. Look how easy it was for him to tempt Adam and Eve. But it goes back to the general theme in these religions that humans are both totally amazing and inherently sinful. Which maybe we are in a relative sense, but it seems like an all-powerful, all-knowing creator could have done a better job.

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5 Responses to What a Piece of Crap Is Man

  1. I recently read Life of Adam and Eve in both the Latin and Greek versions. The Latin text is considerably more sparse and likely older, while the Greek shows signs of having been derived of composite sources. Though the former is more palatable than the latter, given its interest amongst the Sethians, Life of Adam and Eve may have been a gnostic (or proto-gnostic) text. Unlike 1 Enoch and Jubilees, it’s never been part of any canon at any time, and appears to qualify for what the Apostle Paul called “Jewish fables (or myths)” in Titus 1:14, since the idea that Satan being asked to bow before Adam and Eve is absurd and very much out of harmony with the rest of Scripture. Additionally, it appears to give Satan justification for his rebellion and misses the main thrust of what literate 2nd Temple Jews understood about the reason for evil in the world. Evil exists not just because of Satan’s determination to rule as god, but because Adam and Eve went along with him and strove to be gods themselves. This was followed by the rebellion of the Watcher angels who sought to create a dynasty upon the earth, with themselves as gods and their hybrid offspring as kings. The teachings of the Watchers of war and the domination system (a pattern that was followed in the rebellion that occurred after the Divine Council was sent to rule over the corrupted nations in Gen 10), is what directly led to the system in which hegemonic, exploitative, and violent hierarchies oppress, murder, deceive, and deprive the most vulnerable in society. Indeed, it took millennia for some amongst mankind to finally recognize that indeed neither we, nor the fallen angelic “gods” are capable of ruling mankind successfully, a task that only an “all powerful, all knowing creator” can accomplish.

    • Nathan says:

      Isn’t saying that there’s evil because people had evil thoughts kind of circular? I’ve always found it weird how the Serpent tells Eve that knowing good from evil will make her “like God,” as if that’s the only thing that separates humanity from godliness.

      • That’s commonly misunderstood, but the context shows that they already knew good and evil. Eating of the fruit of the tree was evil, as it led to death. The key to that phrase in the serpent’s offer is that they would be “like God.” In other words they would now determine what was good and what was evil like God, for they would be gods themselves. The serpent’s subtle hint was that God was holding this back from them. Adam and Eve’s determination, upon taking the fruit, was therefore to rule themselves apart from God. This put them in line with the serpent who, although deceiving her, essentially sought the same thing for himself: to rule as a god. This begins the pattern, as other spirit beings decide this sounds good (Gen 6, 1 Enoch 6)), and the question is thus raised: is God needed? Why can’t we be our own gods, determining what is good and bad for ourselves (and those we rule over)? The problem of evil is better understood with this context in mind. God allows these questions to run their course so that, upon their definitive conclusion, they need never be raised again by any in the future. Can mankind successfully rule itself? I know what my answer is to that, but there won’t be any doubts left by time time humans are through with their little Satanic experiment.

      • Nathan says:

        I’d say there’s a significant difference between deciding for yourself what’s right and wrong and deciding that same thing for others. In the Adam and Eve story, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that they want to rule, because who would they be ruling over? I’d say trusting anyone with absolute power is a bad idea. I guess if you believe there could be such a thing as a perfect being, that’s a different matter, but to me that’s a difficult idea to swallow.

      • Scientists can’t figure out why we suddenly begin aging, why our cells begin decaying and dying. It’s as if the machinery suddenly breaks down for some reason. So, from a philosophical standpoint, the presence of something broken raises the idea there there was something originally not broken. This idea of perfection is a curious one because we’ve never seen or experienced it, and yet we long for it. It’s the same with our environment. We long for a lost paradise we’ve never known or had. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and even Lovecraft, who didn’t believe in the supernatural, wondered at this longing, which ran deep and was something they spent a lot of pages writing about. So too many of the fantasists and poets.

        With the original human couple, I might have misspoken. It wasn’t rule over others (that’s the Serpent’s gig) they siezed, but self-determination apart from their Creator: “WE will decide what is good and evil, not you Father.” Only later did humans adapt the serpentine model, and that became the cultural paradigm with the coming of the Watchers (Gen 6, 1 Enoch 6), which established the Domination System through conquest and/or bloodline that we see still today.

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