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Title: A theocentric interpretation of הדעת טוב ורע : the knowledge of good and evil as the knowledge for administering reward and punishment
Author: French, Nathan
ISNI:       0000 0004 7425 7992
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2018
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The Eden Narrative (EN) pivots upon humans acquiring הדעת ,טובורע “the knowledge of good and bad/evil” (Gen 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22). This study will offer a revised interpretation of this enigmatic phrase. Although long debated, scholars remain in disagreement regarding a consensus interpretation of הדעת .טוב ורע Proposed interpretations of this phrase include: Mental Faculty of Discrimination (Basic and Moral); Wisdom; Omniscience; Cultural Knowledge; Sexual Knowledge; Maturity; Moral Discernment; Moral Autonomy; and Magic (amongst others).The majority of interpreters agree that because a phrase akin to הדעת טוב ורע (Gen 2:9, 17) only appears in four passages in the EN (Gen 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22), one must turn to other passages in the HB to supply the data needed to interpret this phrase. To which passages anyone interpreter turns varies greatly upon the methodology and interpretation of each interpreter. For example, to confirm the interpretation of wisdom, interpreters turn to the Wisdom Literature of the HB. Some interpreters base their interpretation of הדעת טוב ורע first upon other texts in the HB, as opposed to themes and motifs in the EN. I will begin my exegetical work within the EN before turning to other texts in the HB. That being said, seven of the most oftcited passages from the HB, for any one interpretation of הדעת טובורע in the history of research, come from Genesis, Deuteronomy, and the books of the DtrH, three of which come from the Throne Succession Narrative (TSN; 2 Sam 9–20 & 1 Kgs 1–2). In light of the disagreement of interpretation and varied methodological approaches within the history of research, I contend that there are three parameters that must be employed by any interpreter who wishes to move forward. The first parameter requires that an interpretation must classify הדעת טובורע as divine knowledge; a non-human knowledge that is possessed by YHWH and the divine beings of Gen 3:5 and 3:22. The second parameter requires that an interpretation must show how the Hebrew lexemes טוב and רעע function when YHWH is the subject or causation of these extremes in the EN and its surrounding context (e.g., Gen 1:4; 3:14–19, inferred; 4:7; 6:5). This second parameter is practically missing from the history of research, and it will be my primary contribution to this discussion. The third parameter requires that an interpretation reasonably demonstrate why it is that הדעת טובורע is forbidden on pain of death (Gen 2:16–17) and why human acquisition of הדעת טובורע serves as a threat to YHWH (Gen 3:22–23). None of the interpretations proposed to the present adhere to all three of these parameters. Therefore, I propose that a revised interpretation of this expression in the EN should employ a methodology that adheres to the aforementioned boundaries, which I will accomplish in this study. Beginning with the EN and its surrounding context of Gen 1–11, I will show that certain permutations of טוב and ,רעע when resulting from the will and/or discrimination of YHWH, are a reference to YHWH's blessing (gift/reward) and curse (punishment). In this way, I suggest that הדעת ,טוב ורע in the EN, is best interpreted as the knowledge for administering reward and punishment (retribution). Prior to humans acquiring הדעת טובורע (i.e., Gen 3:6), this knowledge belonged only to YHWH and the divine beings; they alone were able to distribute reward and punishment. There are not enough occurrences of טוב and רעע within the EN, when YHWH is the subject or cause of these extremes, to confirm this interpretation. Some scholars (e.g., Otto, Lohfink, Mettinger) suggest that there are strong resonances between the EN, Deuteronomy, and the DtrH. The divine test of Gen 2:16–17 and the divine curse of Gen 3:14–19 are evidence of these themes and theology. In light of these shared motifs, I suggest that certain permutations of טוב and רעע in the latter (DtrH) can shed new light upon the former (EN). I shall therefore analyse key occurrences of good and evil in Genesis and the DtrH. As we shall see, this data confirms my suggested interpretation of the 'knowledge of good and evil' in the EN as the knowledge that YHWH and the divine beings have to reward and to punish. In other words, what is forbidden to humans in the EN is the divine knowledge for administering retribution. In this way, I will show how certain permutations of טוב and רעע (when YHWH is the subject or the cause), in these narrative texts of Genesis and the DtrH, form a textual reference to YHWH's reward (blessing) and punishment (curse), which together serve as his tools for establishing a particular political and social order in the body politic (e.g., Josh 23:15). As will also be demonstrated, humans likewise enforce a particular social and political order in their use of טוב ורע in Genesis and the DtrH (e.g., 1 Sam 24–25), which confirms human acquisition of הדעת ,טוב ורע at least within the framework of this discussion and topic. Finally, I will apply this analysis of טוב and רעע to the TSN, showing how both humans and YHWH dispense reward and punishment ( טוב ;ורע retribution) for the establishment of order in the body politic. As a result of this analysis of the data in the EN, Genesis, and the DtrH, I submit that the most reasonable interpretation for the phrase, הדעת ,טובורע in the EN, is, the knowledge for administering reward and punishment; a divine knowledge that enables humans to become 'judges' and actively employ retribution in human society, similar to YHWH in the HB and for the purpose of sustaining a particular moral and political order in the social sphere. Thus the Eden Narrative tells a story of how humans partly attain divinity, becoming like YHWH and the divine beings (Gen 3:5; 3:22; Ps 82) in having acquired the forbidden divine knowledge of ultimate power (reward and punishment); albeit, through a transgressive act of moral autonomy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Good and evil ; Retribution