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    The beginnings of humanity – B’reshit

    Adam & Eve under the Tree of Knowledge, Charles Foster, 1897

    The Book of B’reshit leads us through four stages – man (and woman), family, tribe and people.

    Each stage fascinated our ancient ancestors.

    The stage we will concern ourselves with here is the first, depicting not just how humanity began but what the rabbinic age of Midrash and Talmud read into and out of the Biblical story.

    There were two major ideas in particular:

    1. Adam as the ideal prototype, the acme of beauty, dignity, goodness and intelligence – in the Psalmist’s words (8:6), “little lower than the angels”.

    What shattered the dream? Adam was not certain of himself – was he more like an angel or more like a beast?

    When he was captured and captivated by the second option and could not master his desires, he no longer deserved to live forever or to inhabit the garden of paradise.

    2. The emergence of the basic marks and ideas of civilisation. Cultural characteristics – speech, gender, food, clothing, work, skill, counting time, music. Ideas – morality, equality, love, community, compassion.

    Every problem that confronted later generations was discovered as prefigured in the Creation story – problems such as marital dysfunction, sibling rivalry, wounding with words (“death and life are in the power of the tongue”: Proverbs 18:21), the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked.

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