Friday, 18 October 2019

Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - The Face of Acceptable Heresy

Kohelet is a powerful challenge to the traditional Deuteronomic theology. Not only does it not accept that good actions result in rewards, and bad actions in punishment as launch a savage 12 chapter attack on the notion. The strangeness of the work seeps into every attempt at commentary, even the attempt to date the work is fraught. Seow notes 'the book has been dated anywhere from the tenth century BCE to the first CE.'[1] That said most commentators date authorship to a time post-invasion of Alexander the Great (the work does show some signs of Greek influence) but preceding Ben Sira, (which Kohelet probably influenced), and the Maccabean wars (which Kohelet does not seem to know of). We are accordingly in the late fourth or early third century BCE.[2]

Critical confusion deepens as we turn to matters of substance. Fox cites six major works on the book, all published in the last fifteen years, and analyses their overall position on the philosophy of the work. For Crenshaw and Longman Kohelet  is ultimately pessimistic, for Perry and Fredrick, it is ultimately optimistic, for Murphy, Seow and himself he reserves ambivalent labels.[3] In any event, the work is profoundly disturbing.

'Utter futility - said Koheleth - Utter futility! All is futile!' (1:2)[4] is Kohelet's brutal opening salvo and following some twelve chapters of coruscating analysis of the state of the world his conclusion is the slightly briefer, but no-kinder rejoinder 'Utter futility - said Koheleth - All is futile!'  (12:8)[5]

Of course, there is much debate about the meaning of this brutal claim and its central term - Hevel - translated by JPS as 'futile'. I like the understanding of Fox, who understands Hevel as absurd. 'The absurd is a disjunction between two phenomena that are thought to be linked by a bond of harmony or causality, or that should be so linked …Thus the absurd is irrational, an affront to reason - the human faculty that seeks and discovers order in the world around us'[6] This definition seems to capture the tension that suffuses the book, and presumably the author, as he struggles with a nexus of cause and effect Ben Sira ultimately ducks.

On the one hand Kohelet stubbornly expects that the good will be rewarded while the evil will be punished, see 3:17, 7:17 and 8:12-13. This is the great nexus of cause and effect that permeates earlier Biblical works and most later Jewish theologies. Indeed it is the base assumption against which it is possible to speak of a problem of evil.

On the other hand problem, Kohelet perceives unjustified suffering, 'sometimes a good man perishes, in spite of his goodness and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness' (7:15) 'Folly was placed on lofty heights while rich men sat in low estate' (10:6 see also 9:3).  The suffering is real. Evil exists. In these verses, Kohelet expresses no expectation of the implementation of Deuteronomic theology.

Nor does Kohelet think there is anything the human can do to bring forth justice in this world. 'Whatever happens, it was designated long ago and it was known that it would happen; as for man, he cannot contend with what is stronger than he. Often much talk means much futility' 6:10-11 (see also 8:17).

Before unpacking what Kohelet does indeed suggest we need to note Kohelet's understanding of the ideal cause-effect mechanism. There is a bridge between the good action and the reward or the evil action and the punishment and it is here that Kohelet focuses his analysis. Evil action does not cause punishment directly, rather it is supposed to anger God who in turn is supposed to decree the punishment. 'Don't [do evil] else God may be angered by your talk and destroy your possessions' (5:5). This is an entirely orthodox position, indeed the passage just cited seems closely based on Deut 23:22-5 and to a lesser extent Lev 5:4. The problem is that practically life does not seem, to Kohelet, to be working that way.

Kohelet is also aware that there may well be sins of which he, or others, may be unaware. 'For there is not one good man on earth who does what is best and does not err,' (7:20). This, of course, is one of the more damaging accusations made against Job, that by complaining of his total goodness he is guilty of a certain pride which may well make him worthy of punishment (Job 15:12 f). But Kohelet refuses to accept that such hidden sin could explain the dislocation he perceives. 'Koheleth recognizes no relationship between act, situation and reputation, having rejected any connection between a person and that individual's acts or state''[7]

Thus God is accused and found guilty, the fabric of cause and effect is torn. And this, for Kohelet, breaks the myth of the all-good, all-powerful Divine. 'Theodicy - justifying the Divine - does not work for Koheleth. He takes generalities as absolutes and he will not subordinate the anomalies he observes to the beliefs he accepts. Injustices are intractable distortions that warp the larger pattern rather than fading into it.'[8]

Kohelet refuses to accept that God in God's omnipotent omniscience is guaranteed to be all good, and this, not the tendency of the human to fail, is what causes him to engage with despair. The cry 'all is absurd' is ultimately a protest against God, not human. This makes Kohelet a work of theology (Seow correctly takes Scott to task for equivocating on the issue[9]) not 'mere' philosophy. It reaches beyond the human condition or at least seeks to. I am reminded of the brutal Psalm 44 where God is sought, but never appears, instead sending death to those who worship the Divine exactly as Sinaitic Revelation appears to demand. Indeed Kohelet has little or no time for Sinai. 'His ethic has no relationship to divine commandments, for there are none…[Kohelet's] God is not Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. He is rather the mysterious inscrutable Being whose existence must be presupposed.'[10]

Clearly, Kohelet makes a deeply unorthodox teacher from within the Deuteronomic tradition, but he does not make an orthodox wisdom teacher either. When Ben Sirah is faced with the same data that embitters Kohelet, he likewise does not turn to revelation and covenant. Instead, he works from within the wisdom tradition. For Ben Sira, the closest point to a solution to the problem of evil is an ability to know God through an appreciation of the splendour of creation, 'Look at the rainbow and praise him who made it.' (Ben Sira 43:9-12 ). But for Kohelet 'All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full …All such things are wearisome.' (1:7-8) The charms of the natural world, so tempting to other wisdom writers do nothing for Kohelet. As Scott claims, 'Man may catch glimpses of the divine order in the very regularity of physical process in the natural world … [but] not in any moral order recognizable in experience.'[11] What makes Kohelet so unique, the thing that places him so close to the edge of both wisdom and traditional Biblical orthodoxy, is not his recognition of the suffering of individuals, but his refusal to be seduced away from this pain by a broader view more in keeping with Divine bounty and glory. It is this refusal that drives his dealing with the problem of evil. Kohelet is simply not interested in theodicy. He walks away from the temptation to justify God.

In response to this futile world, like Ben Sira, Kohelet refuses to countenance the possibility of just Next World. Indeed his dismissal of anything beyond death is even fiercer that Ben Sira. For Kohelet, not even a good name survives death. 'the wise man, just like the fool is not remembered for ever.' (2:16, see also 9:5).

In fact, at first glance, Koheleth seems to respond to this damning indictment by surrendering to it. We do not see the urging of sinners to mend their ways, rather he seems to acknowledge "pervasive injustice as a way of life and 'nothing warped can be straightened out.' (1:15)."[12] Indeed Kohelet even suggests not being born at all would be preferable to this sad reality. (4:3) But a closer read shows that Kohelet is not, in fact, advocating surrender, rather acknowledging that the only effective response is the internal one. Only responses that begin, and indeed end, with the attempt by the human to guide one's own psychology, seem a worthy response to Divine fickleness. Pleasure does feel good and is worth pursuing, even in the face of the inevitability of death (6:6). Despite the triumph of the sinner we are still urged to some semblance of decency, 'don’t overdo wickedness and don’t be a fool' (7:17). Pleasure is a worthy goal, as long as one realises its limits, 'Even if a man lives many years, let him enjoy himself in all of them, remembering how many the days of darkness are going to be.' (11:8). Indeed in the face of the bleak tomorrow, we are nonetheless urged to seize today, 'Sow your seed in the morning, and don't hold back your hand in the evening.' (11:6) After all 'a live dog is better than a dead lion.' (9:4) In these glimmers there lies a different response to the problem of evil; a response that acknowledges the superiority of the enemy, but refuses to surrender. Even in a Universe where the Divine cause-effect nexus fails to function smoothly, there is no suggestion that the human should give up on morality and the search for pleasure.

It is, however, Koheleth's refusal to even countenance orthodoxy which continues to perplex. What is the work doing in the canon? When compared to the deeply traditional reading of Ben Sira, a work which failed the test of canonisation, Koheleth's apparent blasphemy seems even more remarkable. Admittedly rabbinic sources, and indeed Christian ones as well, attest to debate about the admissibility and thereby holiness of Koheleth's peculiar brand of heresy, [13] but in the end the work is deemed acceptable. Perhaps the Rabbis didn’t have the courage to strike this work out, or maybe they had more courage than even Koheleth, enough courage to accept both orthodoxy and heresy. Gordis brings a tale of Rabbi Bunam of Pshya which seem apposite. One day Rabbi Bunam found his beloved disciple Enoch in tears. The Rabbi asked him, 'Why are you weeping?' and Enoch answered, 'Am I not a creature of the world, and am I not made with eyes and heart and all limbs, yet I do not know what good I am in the world.' 'Fool' said Rabbi Bunam, 'I also go around like this.' [14] Maybe, at a certain point we all face the darkness Koheleth articulates so clearly, and then what?

Indeed I am reminded of what Paul Ricoeur calls 'second naïveté.'[15] Here, despite the fact that one is aware the Universe does not function with the simple literal faith expressed by Ben Sira, one nonetheless submits to Her charms, there being no other choice. How much succour does this awareness bring? In his Fifth Stage of Development, the psychologist J. Fowler describes a place where we recognise, 'solutions or explanations of a problem that seemed so elegant [are] but a painted canvas covering an intricate endlessly intriguing cavern of surprising depth.'[16] This seems to be where Kohelet stands. Both modern and ancient teachers seem to suggest that there is no greater existential succour available than the ability to retain a true understanding of the complexities of the world while, pursuing happiness despite the failure of the cause effect nexus. If this pursuance of happiness seems naïve, so be it. I prefer the moniker courageous.

'Have you courage, O my brothers?' asks Nietzsche, 'Not the courage before witnesses, but anchorite and eagle courage, He has heart who knows fear, but vanquishes it, who sees the abyss, but with pride - He who with eagles talons grasps the abyss: He has courage.'[17] Kohelet surely is such a man, and his message is one that allows a religious person to look into the abyss and vanquish fear.

The problem of evil cannot be solved ignoring it as Ben Sira seems to suggest, nor, at least for this reader, will the appeal to nature and 'radical amazement' in the hope that evil will not surface, prove sufficient in all cases. Evil cannot even be solved by Kohelet's radical search for truth. But maybe, through courage and honesty, evil can be lived into submission, and for this notion, if no other, we should cherish this acceptable heresy.

[1] Seow, Anchor Bible p.viii
[2] See generally Seow, Ecclesiastes p16-36, Gordis, Koheleth, p.63-68, Scott, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, p192. In any event, the notion that King Solomon could have composed the work seems no more than a 'literary effect and no observant [sic] reader could suppose otherwise' Scott op cit. p 196
[3] Fox, A Time to Build, p xii
[4] All translations from JPS
[5] The remainder of the book seems to be, by its own admission, a later addition.  See Scott op cit, 194 and other modern commentaries.
[6] Fox, A Time to Build p.30. Fox is influenced by Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, but then again Camus may well be influenced by Qohelet, see Fox 8-11 and bibliography cited there.
[7] Gese op cit p. 143
[8] Fox op cit 66
[9] op cit p.54
[10] Scott, op cit p.192
[11] op cit 198
[12] Fox op cit p67
[13] See Mishna Yadaim 3:5 inter alia and Jerome's fourth-century work, Commentarius in Ecclesiasten MPL 23, p1172.
[14] Gordis, Kohelet p121-122
[15] Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Buchanan pp. 351-352
[16] Fowler, Stages of Faith p. 188
[17] Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (IV, 73, 4)

Friday, 11 October 2019

Garments of Skin - An Unfinished Traditions' History of the Ultimate Midrash

The notion of a garment, made by God for the first humans, passed down, generation through generation has had an academic treatment,[1]  but I find Rubin & Kosman’s work deeply flawed. While some sources are gathered many are missed, and then the article ends with such a slew of unsubstantiated assumptions that one has to wonder for its conclusion. The authors plot the course of a magical garment that makes its way from Adam to Jacob and then speculate that it was passed from the heroes of Genesis to the Priests and from the Priests to the Messiah, but they offer nothing approximating textual support for these later claims. There is some exegetic evidence (un-cited by Nissan and Kosmin) that supports the notion that the garments of skin were secreted away until the end of time,[2] but since it does not connect the intermediary steps – bringing together the heroes of Genesis, the Priests and the Messiah – perhaps it does not add to the validity of their case.

Gary Anderson has done a huge amount of work unpacking the development of the notion of כתנות עור as garments of mortality. In seventy pages of academic articles[3] and another twenty pages of more popular, but still rigorous, discussion in The Genesis of Perfection[4] he moves dexterously from Church Fathers to Ancient and Mediaeval Rabbinic commentary marshalling a huge range of primary and secondary source material. I feel the work he has done requires discussion in this paper, but, for reasons I will detail, there are some problems with his central argument.

Nonetheless the notion of an almost magical garment that survives through Biblical time does have a rich tradition history well worth uncovering. The textual provocation that drives this Midrashic journey is Genesis 3:21.
 ויעש ידוד אלקים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבשם: 
And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam. [5]

It is a confusing verse. The term כתנות עור  - garments of skin could be understood either as a skin garment, or a garment FOR the skin. Moreover relationship of the כתנות עור to the other post-‘fall’[6] garment – the fig leaves referred to in Genesis 3:7 – needs to be established. Are they one and the same, or do they have no relationship one to the other. And what is the purpose of this clothing? Through time Jewish and Christian exegesis has understood the term in different ways.

We are told that the first humans were naked in the Garden, but maybe their nakedness exceeded mere lack of clothing, maybe their souls were so apparent that the first humans did without skin. In that case the garments of skin would be the mortal covering of flesh we all now wear – garments of mortality.
Or maybe God gives the first humans garments of protection from the outside world. God is expelling Adam and wife from the Garden, but they are not to make their way into the primordial wilderness without any of God’s kindness enveloping them. Rather they are given a skin garment to shelter them from the wild-life beyond the Garden of Pleasure.
Our third (and conceivably linked) possibility is that the garments are primordial echoes of other garments which so concern the Torah – namely Priestly garments; thus understanding the garments of skin as garments of ritual service.

Garments of Mortality
While the notion that our skin is a לבוש  - a form of clothing - might sound strange to the modern ear, it is certainly an attested Biblical idiom. Job 10:11 reads “You clothed me in skin and flesh.”[7]

Anderson’s understanding of  כתנות עור is driven by the sense that, before consuming the fruit, the primordial humans were clothed in glory only to stumble and pay the cost of mortality. This is well attested,  certainly in the apocrypha,[8] and possibly even in the Bible itself. [9] The Masoretic text of Psalms 8:6, almost certainly a reference to the first human, reads;
ותחסרהו מעט מאלקים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו:
You have made him a little less than Divine and crowned him in glory and majesty.

On this verse Anderson offers the observation that;

The Hebrew is normally translated “to crown,” this presumes a denominative meaning that derives from the noun ‘atarah, “crown”. Yet there is a nondenominative verbal root that occurs in the G-stem that means “to surround, envelop” (see Ps. 5:13, I Sam 23:26). It is this meaning that was singled out by the translator of the Peshitta, who rendered the verse, “you clothed him with glory and honor.”[10]

Brock claims that the notion that Adam, previous to the fall was clothed in light and subsequently doomed to be clothed in mortal skin is ‘very popular with early Syriac poets, Ephrem, Jacob of Serugh, Narasai and others.’[11] But connecting this to our problematic phrase - כתנות עור  - remains a challenge. I have struggled to find mention of both garments of glory and כתנות עור in the same piece of commentary. Certainly it is less obvious, in the Patristic sources collated by Anderson and Brock, than these authors would lead us to expect.

Gregory of Nazianuzus certainly links the fall to mortal flesh…

This one [Adam] forgot the command that was given and came to defeat through that bitter taste, at one and at the same time [he] was both expelled from the tree of life … and put on garments of skin. The garments of skin probably mean mortal flesh since it is firm and pliable.[12]

… but he does not connect this to the loss of clothes of glory.[13] And where there is a mention of the loss of glory …

With radiance and glory was Adam clothed at the beginning, before he sinned … [he sinned] … and was ejected from Paradise, he was then covered by fig leaves in place of the glory which he had been clothed.[14]

… there is no exegesis of כתנות עור, rather the clothes made to replace the loss are the human-made fig-leaves[15] (the כתנות עור, of course, are made by God).

The Genesis narrative, at this point, is confusing and one is tempted by Ephrem’s suggestion that ‘it seems likely to me that while their hands were on the fig leaves, they found themselves dressed in the garments of skin.’[16] But I can’t help but feel that in the absence of any convincing evidence we would do best keeping the different garments (the primordial garments of glory, the post-fall human-made fig-leaves and the post-fall divinely created כתנות עור) distinct lest, by conflating them too quickly, we establish a tradition history that might not really exist.

Anderson also marshals Rabbinic sources in an attempt to conflate garments of glory with the כתנות עור. His primary source (certainly in Garments) is Bereishit Rabbah 20:12.

Garments of skin - כתנות עור
In the Torah of Rabbi Meir, it is written ‘Garments of Light’ - כתנות אור

But I am unconvinced. The ‘Torah of Rabbi Meir’ makes two other appearances in Bereishit Rabbah (9:1 and 94:26) in each case we are offered words to replace original words from the masoretic text. The new words are similar in sound to the originals, but radically different in meaning. The question is how should we read these new words? It seems most unlikely that we are looking at an accepted ‘manuscript variant’ in the text of the Bible itself, but is it a record of an accepted exegesis or a reference to a (in the eyes of the Rabbis) paraprax type acknowledged exegetical error? Theodor suggests that we are looking at references to Rabbi Meir’s personal marginalia, a collection of moments ‘where language collides.’[17] Lieberman suggests that Rabbi Meir, as a professional copyist is, would copy ‘vulgate’ texts, based on versions of the Bible to which the public were accustomed, but which we no longer recognise as canonical.[18] My sense is that we should understand the ‘Torah of Rabbi Meir’ as offering witty word plays, not considered exegesis. But even if we do consider Rabbi Meir’s Torah offers exegesis we are not able to claim that this particular comment provides evidence of a tradition that connects the loss of glory with its replacement with mortal skin in the Ancient Period. In the complete version of this far longer Midrash, Rabbi Meir’s reading is followed by a slew of other possible understandings of interpretations of garments of skin, (fine flax, goat-skin, camel wool etc.), but no suggestion of any loss of pre-fall garment. This seems to suggest that the editors of Bereishit Rabbah did not consider the first humans lost any garment of glory as they received the garment of skin. Indeed this is the sense of all four of the targumim we have on this post-fall verse;

Onkelos:                    The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of glory over the skin of their flesh.
Neophyti:                  The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of glory for the skin of their flesh.
Fragmentary T        The word of the Lord God created for Adam and his wife garments of glory from/because of the skin of their flesh.[19] (sic.)
Pseudo Y.                   The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of glory … upon the skin of their flesh. He clothed them in place of the fingernail skin[20] of which they were stripped.[21]

In no case does the term כתנות עור evoke a sense of removal of glory, rather quite the reverse. One could, on the strength of these targumim, make the claim that כתנות עור actually mark the onset of the garments of glory, and not its loss.[22] We even have ‘evidence’ that the Rabbis considered that the glory of Adam continued long past the fall and even long past his death. Rabbi Bana’h goes looking for the grave of Adam and peers in ‘to gaze upon the heels of [the dead Adam] and they were like two solar orbs.’[23] No loss of light or glory here.

Once we arrive at the Geonic period we can find a Midrash that claims the first humans do lose glory during the fall narrative, but it does not connect this loss to the כתנות עור.

PRE 14[24]
And when Adam ate from the fruit of the tree, his skin and his exoskeleton was sloughed from him, and the cloud of glory disappeared from him and he saw himself naked.

We will return to discuss this Midrash later, I cite it now only to reject the notion that the connection between loss of the Garments of Glory and the donning of mortal skin finds clear attestation even up to the Geonic period.

It is only in the late thirteenth century that we find the sort of clear connection that Anderson claims exists in Antiquity, our source is the critically maligned Zohar.

Zohar I:36b
At first they wore kotonet or, garments of light and he was waited upon by the highest beings, for the angels on high came to bask in that light, as it is written You made him little les than God, adorned him with glory and majesty (Ps. 8:6). Now that they sinned kotonet or, garments of skin, soothing the skin [but] not the soul.[25]

At last we have the clear attestation we seek, but it is late. Note also the presence in this passage of the verse from Psalms 8:6. I wonder if the baal hazohar, like the baal peshitta understood תעטרהו as ‘clothed’ and that the grist for this piece of exegesis is in fact Psalms, and not כתנות עור.

A possible reason for Anderson’s interest in showing that the Garments of Glory were replaced by כתנות עור, understood as mortal skin, can be found in his more popular work - Perfection. At the end of his discussion of Patristic and Rabbinic sources Anderson connects the Garment of Glory of the first humans to the ‘clothes of Christ’ which envelop the (naked) catechumen as he or she rises from the baptismal font. Citing Romans (6:3-4) and First Corinthians (15:53), he connects the descent into the font as a death, and the rising therefrom as a rebirth – a ‘putting on of immortality.’ Arising anew into life the catechumen is again naked and without shame, just as Adam and Eve in their pre-Fall state.[26] The claim is made that all this functions as exegesis of כתנות עור, but I am unconvinced. There is a case to be made for a traditions history which traces the understanding of כתנות עור as mortal skin, but its connection to the notion of the loss of any Garments of Glory is neither strong nor ancient – at least in Rabbinics. I wonder if, were it not for the fore-grounding this understanding offers to those also interested in tracing Church ritual, it would be thought in the least attractive.

Fortunately there are other strands to the traditional understanding of this term, strands better attested, certainly in Rabbinic literature, and it is to these understandings that we now must turn.

Garments of Protection
Life outside God’s pleasure garden sounds harsh. Death, murder, hard graft awaits. But, lest you should think that God is overly harsh in sending the humans out of the garden to a certain death, they are at least clothed in כתנות עור.

TB Sotah 14a
Rabbi Simlai explained, ‘The beginning of Torah is loving kindness, and the end of Torah is loving kindness. The beginning is loving kindness, as it says And LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and dressed them. (Gen 3:21). And the end is loving kindness as it says And He [God] buried him [Moses] in the Valley. (Deut 34:6)

I argue that the primary lens through which the Rabbis saw the כתנות עור is that of a comfort and a kindness, not as a loss and the actualization of the curse of mortality. It is almost pshat. Sarna writing on verse Gen 3:21 states the verse offers ‘rapprochement;’ a ‘measure of reconciliation.’[27] The necessity of explaining Adam’s survival, both physical and spiritual, outside of the Garden, is certainly a Rabbinic concern, the editor of Pirkei Rebbi Eliezer collects the following;

PRE Chapter 20
Rabbi Yehuda said, ‘It was the [keeping] of Shabbat that kept [Adam] from all evil and comforted him from all the disquiet of his heart.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Karcha said, ‘From [the leaves of] the tree under which they hid, they took leaves and sewed them.’
Rabbi Ilai said, ‘The Blessed One took the skin which the snake sloughed[28] off and made garments of skin and clothed them.’[29]

The sense is that the humans are protected, either by their own actions (taking the leaves), by their, more than a little anachronistic, keeping of God’s command to keep the Shabbat, or by God’s act of grace (the snake skin as כתנות עור).

The notion that the כתנות עור are made from the skin of the snake is an appealing insight noticeably lacking from Bereishit Rabbah’s  long list of potential materials, including fine linen from Bet-Shean,[30] goats’ skin, hares’ skin, skin with its wool, Circassian wool, camel wool and hare fur. (20:12) It provides an excellent solution to the problem that the slaughter of animals (the more conventional way of acquiring leathers in antiquity) is only sanctioned post-deluge (Gen 9:1-7).

I have already noted that Ephrem, the fourth century Church Father, saw the possibility of re-cycling the skin of the snake, but in PRE the idea is developed further. In PRE the sloughing of the snake’s skin is connected to the expulsion narrative in a tidy like-begets-like piece of exegesis. We have already seen the first part of this Midrash in our discussion of the garments of mortality above, but now it can be more fully appreciated.

PRE 14
And when Adam ate from the fruit of the tree, his skin and his exoskeleton was sloughed from him, and the cloud of glory disappeared from him and he saw himself naked.
[Shortly thereafter God curses the snake and among other punishments] ordains that [the serpent] should slough its skin.[31]

Pre-fall, it seems, Man and snake had much in common. Both had an exoskeleton, and both walked on legs. When the humans ate from the fruit they lost their exoskeleton forevermore. When the snake is punished for leading them astray, it loses its legs forevermore and its exoskeleton on a regular, and painful,[32] basis, but we digress. Our subject is the relationship of the כתנות עור to the protection that Adam and wife need in the wilderness. Later Midrashim make explicit the protective magical qualities of these garments in the post-expulsion period.
Midrash Aseret Malachim[33]
Rabbi Yishmael said that this was due to the same garment of Adam and Eve. All beasts and birds would see them and bow down before them, because the Holy Blessed One set fear into them, as it says And the fear and dread of you shall … (Gen 9:2)

How did the first humans survive the wilderness? They had a magic garment that offered protection from all beasts. It seems that the loving kindness of God is even greater than we might have suspected from our initial reading of TB Sotah 14a. Not only do Adam and Eve receive clothes to protect them from the elements, they are dressed in magic garments which protect them from more beastly threats.

Once the כתנות עור are clearly established as a miraculous garment of protection we can begin our journey through the book of Genesis. The fullest telling of the tale is found in Pirkei Rebbi Eliezer.

PRE – Chapter 24
Rabbi Hachinai said, ‘Nimrod was heroically mighty, as it says and Cush begot Nimrod [who was the first man of might on the earth] (Gen 10:8).’
Rabbi Yehuda said, ‘the garment which the Blessed One made for Adam and his wife was with Noah and his sons in the ark. And when they came out from the ark, Ham, the son of Noah, took it from him[34] and gave it as an inheritance to Nimrod [his grandson].
And when he wore them, all cattle, beast and wild animal would come and fall down before him. And it was that people thought it was from the might of his heroism, therefore they crowned him King upon them, as it says [hence the saying] ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter, by the grace of God’ (Gen 10:9) …
Rabbi Meir said, ‘Esau – his brother – saw Nimrod’s garment and coveted it in his heart, and he killed him and took it from him.
And how do we know that [the garment] was desirous in his eyes? As it says, Rebekhah took the coveted clothes of Esau her oldest son (Gen 27:15).[35] Anyone who wore them also became mighty, as it says ‘Esau became a skillful hunter’ (Gen 25:27). And when Jacob went out from before Isaac his father she said, “This wicked Esau is not worthy of wearing these garments.” What did she do? She dug up some earth and hid them as it says hidden in the earth are his threads (Job 18:10).

The Midrash seems to end abruptly. The ‘end’ almost begs to be included, we can finish it ourselves – while Esau is out hunting, Rebekhah gives these clothes to Jacob and he wears the garments as he seeks the blessing from his father. Why therefore is the story only part told in this text? Perhaps the abrupt end suggests this retelling is not, for the editor of PRE, new material. Rather he is drawing on extant Midrashim (since lost) that contain the ‘whole’ story, but since, in the context of this Chapter of this work the tale is a divergence,[36] he feels the need to cut it short. Perhaps he cannot help himself, and feels the need to include the bulk of the story, but once he has the opportunity to demonstrate the Job proof text, he is done; the rest – the easy part – we are left to do for ourselves.

In a different place, but not so much later,[37] Rashi (1040-1105), demonstrates an awareness of the same tradition.

BT Pesachim 54a-b
Ten things were created in the twilight of the eve of Shabbat and these are they …. And some include the garment of the First Human.
Rashi ad. loc
The garment of the First Human
That held power over all kinds of beasts and cattle, and it was passed on to Nimrod, therefore it is said of Nimrod like Nimrod a mighty hunter (Gen 10) and Esau killed him and took it, therefore he was a man of the hunt. And this [the garment] is that which was coveted in his house (Gen 27). And me? I have heard that the garments of the first human, these are the garments of skin that he had.[38]

The author/editor of the early thirteenth century Yemenite collection of Midrashim Hemdat Yamim has more detail. Shalom Ben Yosef Alshabazi is concerned not with the possibility of Adam’s survival in the wilds outside of the Garden, but of Noah’s ability to tend to all those lions and tigers and bears in the ark. He cites the PRE narrative and at the point PRE is discussing Noah’s tenure over the garment he adds;
The garment was from the snake and by virtue of this [Noah] was able to stand between the wild animals in the ark, for the great gift (segulah) of the snake is that strikes fear into the lion.[39]

While both PRE and Rashi on Pesachim suggest the garment was passed to Nimrod and taken from him by Esau, BR 63:32 has the story the other way around. In this telling Esau arrives at Jacob’s ‘kitchen’ and pronounces that he is to die;

Since Nimrod wanted to kill him because of that garment that the First Adam had. When Esau wore it and went out into the field, all the animals and birds in the world would come and be gathered to him.

This text suggests Nimrod never had the garment, but rather it was Nimrod who coveted it and as he (Nimrod) was the archetypal mighty hunter (גבור ציד – Gen 10:9) he needed to take care of the upstart Esau (יודע ציד – Gen 25:27). This runs counter to the narrative in PRE 24. In another place BR itself[40] also contains the story the other way round (with Esau taking the skins from Nimrod) and this (derekh Nimrod version) is also the way the story is told in the Zohar.[41] Maybe we should consider that BR 63:32 records the ‘garments of protection’ narrative overlapping with the ‘garments of service’ narrative (which, as we will see later, does not include Nimrod).[42] Alternatively we could consider this section a later addition into the BR corpus. Theodor in his commentary notes that this whole section is missing from MS ו ‘and written in, in the margin, in another hand.’

Even though we do not have complete agreement that the garment is taken from Nimrod by Esau,[43] the ‘derekh Nimrod’ version is a better Midrash; it offers insights into Ham’s uncovering of his father, as well as explaining the ‘coveted clothes’ of Esau. It also seems a useful understanding to apply to the attested notion (certainly in Yemenite Midrashim) that Esau’s tiredness – when he comes to Jacob – is due to his struggle with Nimrod.

Or HaAfelah[44]
And they said that Esau encountered Nimrod and wrestled with him in the field and they agreed on that day that whoever triumphed over their fellow would kill him. And Nimrod triumphed over Esau and Esau asked for delay until the next day.
[Esau uses his reprieve to seek advice from his brother, Jacob,] and when he said Behold I am going to die, Jacob said to him, ‘When Nimrod comes to [kill] you, say to him, “take off your garment so it won’t get mucky with blood.”’ And at that time you will prevail over him,[45] and kill him and don’t let him go until the next day. And [Esau] did that and killed Nimrod and Hiver [Nimrod’s] son and took the garment, and this became the Esau’s coveted clothes (Gen 27:15)

A similar Midrash in Hadar Zekainim[46] suggests that by the time Esau comes to see Jacob he has already killed Nimrod in order to win the garments of skin.[47] While it is perhaps no offence to the language of the Bible to suggest that Esau uses exaggeration when returns from a ‘normal’ days hunting, claiming he is about to die from tiredness (Gen 25:30), the notion that he fears for his life – on being chased by Nimrod the master hunter is at the very least an attractive drash which sits well with the language of the text.

Three other details need to be included before we can turn our attention to the כתנות עורכתנות עור as garments of service.
Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) offers the following observation;
What is like the smell of the field? – These are the clothes of The First Adam which have the scent of the Garden of Eden.
Immediately [Isaac] said, ‘May God give you of the dew of the heaven’ (Gen 27:28)[48]

The blind patriarch is connected to Eden through the clothes.

Finally the Yeminite collection Or Ha-Afela offers this comment on the gift that the newest inheritor the כתנות עור gives to his favoured son Joseph;

The garment of many colours: (Gen 37:3) This is the garment the Holy Blessed One made for Adam and his helpmate. [49]

Garments of Service
This understanding finds textual support in two mediaeval compilations, Bemidbar Rabbah[50] and Midrash Tanhuma (Buber). The similarity of these two retellings, both to each other and to the texts discussed above in the section on Garments of Protection, are many. To facilitate comparison between the texts I have presented them in parallel.

Midrash Tanhuma (Buber) Toledot:12
A person must honour the Shabbat in their clothing, and it says And call the Shabbat – ‘delight’ (Is. 58:13), and with what should Israel honour the Shabbat? With food and drink and clean clothes. For from the beginning God did just this as it says, And GOD, God, make garments of skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Gen 3:21).[51]
And what are the garments of skin? They are the clothes of the High Priest who was dressed by the Holy Blessed One for the honour of the world.
Bemidbar Rabbah 4:8

Take the Levites [in place of the first-born] (Num 3:45)
Moreover the Rabbis taught that before the construction of the Sanctuary, private altars were permitted and the firstborn did the service.
Said our Rabbis, ‘why did the Holy Blessed One command the redeeming of the firstborn of Israel by the Levites? For initially the firstborn did the service, until the tribe of Levi stood up [in the aftermath of the Golden Calf debacle and won the right of bringing the offerings for their clan].
Therefore the Holy Blessed One dressed the First Adam in the clothes of the High Priest since he was the firstborn of the world.

This began with the Creation of the world.[52]
The First Adam was the firstborn of the world and when he brought a sacrifice  - as it says, [what could] please GOD more than oxen, than bull with horns and hooves (Ps. 69:32)[53] – he would wear the clothes of the High Priest as it says And GOD, God, make garments of skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Gen 3:21). They were garments of praise,[54] and the first born would do the service in them.

And when Adam died, he passed them on to Seth.
Seth passed them on to Methusaleh [his grandson].
When Methusaleh died he passed them on to Noah.
Noah came and passed them to Abraham.
And Noah stood and brought a sacrifice as it says, [And Noah took] of every clean animal[he offered burnt offerings.] (Gen 8:20)
Noah died and passed the, to Shem – but was Shem a firstborn, wasn’t Yephet the firstborn as it says the big brother, Japheth (Gen 10:21)?[55] Rather Noah foresaw the chain of descent of the ancestors [Abraham, Isaac & Jacob] came from [Shem].
Shem died and passed it to Abraham [his ninth generation descendant] – but was Abraham a firstborn? Rather because he was righteous he passed to him the birthright…
And Abraham passed them to Isaac.
And Issac passed them to Esau – who was the first born, and Esau saw his wives were worshipping strange gods, so he (Esau) hid[56] [the garment] in his mother’s house.[57]
When Jacob stood and took the birthright from Esau, Rebekhah said, ‘since Jacob has taken the birthright from Esau, by rights he [Jacob] should wear these clothes, as it says Rebekhah took the coveted clothes of Esau her oldest son (Gen 27:15). Jacob entered before his father and he smelled them, as it says And he smelled his clothes and he blessed him (Gen 27:27).
Abraham died and passed it to Isaac.
Isaac stood and passed it to Jacob – but was Jacob a firstborn? Rather you will find that Jacob took it from Esau with cunning, he said to him ‘First sell me your birthright’ (Gen 26:31). You might think that Jacob had no reason for saying to Esau that he should sell him the birthright, rather Jacob wanted to bring sacrifices and could not because he wasn’t a firstborn.

The Bemidar Rabbah narrative, for most of its content, seems more concerned than Tanhuma (Buber) with legal details and the precise unfolding of the chain of the firstborn, but then at its end it too turns to the notion of the desire to bring the ritual service, almost as if this is counts more than biological primogeniture. Both these narratives however centre on the linear descents of those who carry the blessing of the ancestors, as opposed to invincibility in the face of wild animals, accordingly the chain of ownership of the כתנות עור by-passes Nimrod, as noted in the discussion of BR 63:32 above.

The traditions history of these garments functions as a thread weaving together the entire book of Genesis. If we were to combine all our sources into one contiguous narrative we would have a tale that connected the snake, Adam, Seth, Methusaleh, Noah, Ham, Nimrod, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Esau, Rebekhah and Jacob (as well as begging mention of  Joseph). This generation by generation unfolding of mythic article, known as translatio, is a vitally important Rabbinic motif.

Connecting of quasi-anonymous objects between narratives and over Biblical time – rather than pointing to a ‘cataclysmic shift in ontological status’ (as Anderson suggests), symbolizes instead a ragged continuity of Divinely proffered protection, even in the aftermath of expulsion. In some way this tradition (and other multi-generational Midrashim weaved through Torah)[58] serve as a kind of ur-Midrash. They do the very thing they describe – protecting and strengthening the meta-structure of Torah, both written and oral, through history both Biblical and Rabbinic, even as they atomize the narrative structure of the written text, willfully disregarding the sober value of pshat.

The tradition of the כתנות עור, at least as relayed in those texts that see Nimrod and Esau as one-time inheritors of the garment, is not the simple path of darkness to light that is surely an oversimplification of our national history, but rather a tale in which the promise and provision of protection oftentimes goes astray. The reassurance we seek as we encounter the wilds of a post-Edenic existence sometimes vests (so to speak) our enemies. But even when we cannot feel the cloak of invincibility in our own lives, the story continues to unfold – the destiny of protection remains throughout time, even as the reality of protection proves distant.

In this paper I have struggled to understand why the classic tellers of this tradition failed to ‘finish their story’ – what caused them to abstain from completing the seemingly obvious narrative chain that leads from the כתנות עור  of Eden to the כתנת פסים of Joseph’s techni-coloured coat? Maybe we have something to learn from the stories of a much later Rabbinic tale-teller, Rebbe Nachman of Breslav, who found it impossible to conclude his cosmic fairytales.[59]  Perhaps the story of the כתנות עור is incomplete because The Story remains incomplete; as a people we are still winding our way in and out of text and history still searching for the scent of paradise that Isaac detected in the scales of Esau/Jacob’s garb. Perhaps the deep desire to see once again the כתנות עור, to feel once again the Divine Protection afforded our ancestors, is what led Nissim and Kosman to assert – in the absence of any textual proof – that the clothing of the Primordial Adam continues to vest the inheritors of the religious and literary heritage of PRE and Rashi through time and even unto to the eschaton. Perhaps, but we cannot know, instead we are left with the hope of protection, literary fragments and an unfinished narrative.

[1] Rubin, N. & Kosman, A. (1997) “The Clothing of the Primordial Adam as a Symbol of Apocalyptic Time in the Midrashic Sources” Harvard Theological Review 90:2 (155-174)
[2] The commentary of the Rosh on the Torah (Hadar Zekainim) citing an older, sadly lost, Midrash states that the clothes of skin were made ‘from the skin of the partner of the Leviathan, that the Holy Blessed One slaughtered and salted the remnant for the righteous in the world to come. See Torah Shleimah Genesis 3 – 186.
[3] Anderson, G. “The Punishment of Adam and Eve in the Life of Adam and Eve” in Literature on Adam and Eve, ed. Anderson, Stone, Tromp, (2000, Leiden, Brill) pp. 57-81 (referred to as “Punishment”) and "Garments of Skin, Garments of Glory,” in Studies in Ancient Midrash ed J. Kugel (2001, Cambridge, Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies) pp. 101-145 (referred to as “Garments”).
[4] 2001, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press. (referred to as “Perfection”).
[5] Translations from Bible are taken from NJPS, unless a different reading is necessitated in order to understand an exegetical context. Other translations, unless stated otherwise, are my own.
[6] Taking a lead from Anderson, I use the term ‘fall,’ as ‘nothing but a shorthand way of referring to a cataclysmic shift in the ontological status of the first person.’ Garments p.143.
[7] See also Ezek 37:6-8.
[8] See the Apocalypse of Moses 20:2-5 ed. Charlesworth, [Eve turns to the snake, having been tricked and says] “Why hast thou done this to me in that thou hast deprived me of the glory with which I was clothed?” and later 22:6 “O Wicked woman! What have I done to thee that thou hast deprived me of the glory of God?’ (trans. Charles ed.) Brock (1979) also offers the following sources of the righteous being clothed in glory, Ps P 132:9, 16, I Enoch 62:15-16, 108:12 and Ben Sira 50:11.
[9] The breadth of critical bibliography daunts even Anderson who calls it vast and proceeds to list fifteen or so treatments in Garments p. 102.
[10] Garments p. 124n.
[11] Brock, S. “Jewish Traditions in Syriac Sources” Journal of Jewish Studies (1979) 30:212-232 p. 221.
[12] Oration 8:12, cited from Punishment p. 70.
[13] The same is true regarding the citation from Didymus in Garments p. 126.
[14] Anonymous sughita in the Maronite Breviary (1876 edition, p. 403-4), cited in Brock (1979) p. 222.
[15] The same is true concerning the citations brought from St. Chrysostom, (Hom 16, PG 53:121.23-49) in Garments p. 134, the Cave of Treasures, cited in Garments at p.136. The two ideas do however seem to come together in Cave of Treasures, but that is more an apocryphal retelling of the entire narrative than close exegesis. See Garments p.135.
[16] Cited by Anderson in Garments p. 132 and Punishment p. 72.
[17] לשון נופל על לשון, B.R. Vol 1. p.90 in his commentary on BR 9:1.
[18] S. Lieberman, Helenism in Jewish Palestine (1950) p.25
[19] Trans from Garments p.120.
[20] The notion that the primordial human was enveloped in some kind of exoskeleton can also be found in PRE 14, considered below. See also Zohar 2:208b ‘The first garments in which Adam was clothed in the Garden of Eden were like those which surround the legions, they are called “hind-parts” (ohhrujt), and bear the name of “nail” (trpuy).’ (trans. as understood by Soncino).
[21] These sources are gathered by Anderson in Garments, my trans. is based on his.
[22] This would necessitate understanding this verse, which appears in the Bible as ‘post-fall’ as chronologically ‘pre-fall,’ but, as shown by Anderson in each of his treatments of the issue, treating the verse in this manner is well attested in both classic and modern scholarship.
 [23] TB Baba Batra 58a.
[24] Numbering of Chapters and use of MS based on Horev edition as found on Bar-Ilan CD-Rom.
[25] Trans Matt, D., see also Zohar 2:229b, 3:261. This passage clearly draws on ‘Rabbi Meir’s Torah’ (BR 20:12), but I argue that the Zohar is making hiddush when it uses Rabbi Meir’s cryptic emendation to make the clear articulation that Anderson claims exists far earlier.
[26] ‘As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.’ (Gal. 3:27)
[27] Sarna, N. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (1989, Philadelphia, JPS) ad loc.
[28] Heb. הפשיט the Midrash continues with a discussion of Adam reaching out פשט -  - his hands towards the light provided by God for protection in any early pre-figuration of the Havdalah ceremony. The connection of the fingernails (as last remnants of the pre-fall exoskeleton) and Havdalah can also be found in Zohar 2:208b. The narration in the Zohar begins with a discussion of the fingernails, but moves on to Isaac smelling the clothes of Jacob (which we will see is connected to our tale) and from there to the smelling of the spices.
[29] This entire section may also be found in late Geonic work, Midrash Tehilim 92:6. In this telling however the notion that the skin of the snake provides protection is brought in the name of Rabbi Eliezer. The thirteenth century Yalkut Shimoni Bereshit 247:34 does not contain the opinions of Rabbis Yehudah or Yehoshua Ben Karcha, but opens with the notion of the garments being made from the skin of the snake and goes on, like PRE, to connect this to the Havdalah ceremony, the understanding is brought in the name of Rabbi Elazar. That apart, it seems to be based on the PRE narrative.
[30] As a matter of linguistics כתנות עור can equally be understood as ‘garments for the skin’ or
‘garments of skin.’
[31] The sloughing of skin as a punishment for the snake can also be found, unconnected to discussion of the garments of skin in 2 ARN 45, 117.
[32] PRE 33, ‘Six cries echo from one end of the world to the other, but their cry is not heard; at the time one prunes a fruit tree while it is bearing fruit … at the time the snake sloughs …’
[33] Cited Torah Shleimah Gen. 9:10.  See also Toledot Itzhak, Bereshit 11, collated by Joseph Caro, sixteenth century, Torah Shleimah Gen. 3 - 184.
[34] This offers an insight into another troublesome verse – And Ham … saw his father’s nakedness (Gen 9:22). PRE suggests here that Ham took theכתנות עור  from Noah leaving him naked.
[35] בגדי עשו בנה הגדל החמדת. NJPS ‘the best clothes.’
[36] The Midrash seems to be a discussion of the woes of being ruled by Nimrod, however singularity of purpose across an entire Chapter of PRE is not an obvious quality of the work.
[37] The dating of PRE is still debated between scholars. I am persuaded by Prof. Visotzky’s arguments that this clearly pseudo-epigraphic work dates to the tenth century.
[38] Kasher speculates that Rashi’s use of the term ואני שמעתי might be intended as a response to Rabbi Meir’s כתנות אור . Torah Shleimah Gen. 3 – 184n.
[39] Dating based on Yosef Kaphach’s introduction to the 1955 edition. See also Torah Shleimah Gen. 10:24n.
[40] 65:16.
[41] I:142b, II 39a and 208b.
[42] See the discussion of Bemidbar Rabbah 4:8 and Tan. Buber Toledot:12 below.
[43] As well as BR 63:32 (which has Nimrod seeking the garment) Targum Yerushalmi to Gen 48:22 suggests that Abraham took the garment from Nimrod and gave it to Isaac who gave it to Esau, Jacob, in, the words of this baal targum claims, ‘I took it from the hand of Esau my brother, not by my sword and bow, but by right and good deeds.’
[44] Cited Torah Shleimah 25:204n
[45] Heb. תוכל לו echoing the tale of Jacob’s wrestling and prevailing with his nemesis.
[46] Cited in Torah Shleimah Gen 25 – 194. This is probably based on the Zohar I:142b.
[47] Esau’s tiredness is connected to the verse my soul is tired, from killing (Jer 4:31 trans. to facilitate comprehension.)
[48] It may be that this source belongs exclusively with its fellow, Tanhuman (Buber) Toledot: 12, cited below, in the discussion of the כתנות עור as garments of service, not garments of protection, but I do not want to overplay the difference between these two understandings which, from the perspective of literary history, have a great deal in common.
[49] Cited Torah Shleimah ad loc. For more on this otherwise lost Midrash see the introduction to Torah Shleimah Helek Shlishi. The ‘Midrash’ is actually a collection of much older material, Kasher would have preferred to use the term Yalkutim, edited by Rav Natanel b. Yeshiayu. Kasher dates it to the fourteenth century.
[50] Which Mack, H. “Time, Place and Distribution of Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah” Teudah (1996, 11:91-105), dates to no earlier than the twelfth century.
[51] The notion is that the clothes were prepared for the eve of the first Shabbat in order to give the first humans something fancy to wear.
[52] Loose translation at this point.
[53] This seems a weak proof text. The full verse actually reads ‘song and praise will please God more than oxen.’
[54] Heb.שבח. I wonder if there might be some connection between this term, which drives Bemidbar Rabba and the similar (calligraphically) term שבת – the opening concern of Tan. Buber.
[55] NJPS has ‘the older brother of Japheth’, there is Rabbinic debate over the identifying the first born of Noah, see BR 26:3 and parallels cited in Theodor.
[56] Heb. הקפיד see Is. 38:12
[57] In Agadat Bereishit 43:1 the same Midrash is told, but here it is Isaac who sees Esau’s wives’ strange worship and he (Isaac) and not Esau who secretes the garments with Rebekhah. The later Agadat Bereishit narrative is more comfortable for Rabbis traditionally less than willing to attest to Esau’s piety, and this should sharpens our appreciation for the Tanhuma Buber narrative.
[58] I am thinking here particularly of the multi-generational weaving of the tale of the secret of intercalculation of the months (PRE 7 and parallels) and the tale of the staff that first is given to Adam and is eventually passed to Moses (PRE 39 and parallels)
[59] See the tale of the Seven Beggars, The Lost Princess, The Cripple and other of the canonical tales.

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