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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paul did not read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John

In a recent article Lydia McGrew argued that Paul's references to the teachings of the earthly Jesus and events in his earthly life present evidence that Paul had access to one or more of the canonical Gospels.  Therefore, the Gospels as a whole can be reasonably dated much earlier than scholars generally allow.  Dr. McGrew's claim is bogus, as this post will demonstrate.  Instead, the evidence she provides is best interpreted as follows:  Paul had knowledge of at least some of Jesus's teachings and some of the events recorded in the Gospels but we don't know from whom he learned it and it almost certainly did not come from one of the canonical Gospels.

As a subtext Dr. McGrew challenges the integrity of the New Testament scholarly guild.  In her view scholars should never have come to consensus that the Gospels were mostly written in the last quarter of the 1st century.  There is clear evidence of extensive written sources about Jesus's life and teachings well before that.  The present consensus was arrived at by way of an unwarranted (read "prejudicial") scepticism. 

No scholarly community likes it when outsiders challenge a settled consensus and sociology tells us that in the face of such a challenge most members of the guild will tend to rally around the consensus regardless of the degree to which it can withstand sustained scrutiny.  For those of us who have reflected on how wrong scholarly guilds have been about some of their settled conclusions, a challenge like Dr. McGrew's has some built-in credibility.  And some of us pull for the underdog anyway.   

On the other hand, the history of science is also riddled with cranks and crackpots who challenged a settled consensus and turned out to be flat wrong.  I do not mean to suggest that Dr. McGrew is a crackpot, but as it turns out her challenge to the consensus fails.  In the process of arguing for it, she appears to have neglected a basic requirement for any successful consensus challenger:  understand the grounds for the consensus better than the members of the guild.   As I will now demonstrate, she overlooks key features of the texts she cites that establish the grounds for the current consensus.
In her post Dr. McGrew discusses to varying degrees the following texts as evidence of Paul's reliance on a written Gospel:  1 Cor 6:2; 9:14; 11:23-26; 13:2,  much more briefly 2 Cor 8:9 and 1 Tim 6:13, and some other texts that make brief notes about Jesus's earthly life.  She doesn't comment on the prevalence of texts from 1 Corinthians.  This is a matter of great interest for its own sake, but we must pass it by here.  She failed to mention 1 Cor 7:10 and 15:3-4; I assume this was an oversight. We can also add to her list 1 Thes 4:15. 

She claims that the basis for Paul's statement in 1 Cor 6:2 is Jesus's saying in Mt 19:28 or Lk 22:30.  But in fact Paul could just as easily derived it from Dan 7:13-14,28.   Furthermore, she overlooks 1 Cor 6:3.  In the written Gospels Jesus never says anything about the saints judging angels.  It is therefore highly unlikely that Paul is reflecting on a text from Matthew or Luke.

1 Cor 7:10 and 9:14 make general statements about a teaching of "the Lord" that are consistent with texts found in the synoptic Gospels, but the allusions are too vague and Paul makes no reference to a written text as the basis for his statements.

1 Cor 11:23-26 and 15:3-4 share some important characteristics in common:
  1. Paul says that he passed on to the Corinthians something he received.
  2. He refers in some detail to events relating to the center of Christ's saving work.
  3. The only mention of written texts in reference to these events is the Hebrew Scriptures.    
It is true that 1 Cor 11:23-26 bears a close resemblance to Lk 22:19-21 but this in no way means that Paul was recollecting a text from the Gospel of Luke.  If in fact Paul learned of the events of Jesus's life and his teachings from a written text, it is rather odd that he never mentions that any of them came to him that way.  Paul is not at all vague about his dependence on the written text of the Hebrew Bible.  What, was he unwilling to vouch for the inspiration of Luke or Matthew's work?  Was he so jealous of his apostolic credentials that he didn't want to give another human being explicit credit for educating him about Jesus?  Paul's language of receiving and passing on stories about Jesus sounds awfully odd if the reality behind it is that Paul read to them from a written Gospel or put his apostolic imprimatur on a Gospel that was already being read to them in their meetings.

1 Cor 13:2 appears to resemble Jesus's saying about faith being able to move mountains, but the rhetorical force of Paul's statement appears to run in the opposite direction from Jesus's sayings in the written Gospel texts we have.  Paul's statement emphasizes the the apparent strength of this "faith."  It is not just any ordinary faith, it is the kind that can move mountains; even faith that powerful is of no value apart from love.  But in the written Gospels Jesus's point is that you don't need some special kind of faith to move mountains; even a tiny bit is enough.  The most we can say is that Paul's language has a surface resemblance to a saying of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

Finally, 1 Thes 4:15 refers to a saying of Jesus that is not found in any of our written Gospels.   There is no Gospel text that says or implies that "the dead in Christ shall rise" before living saints are lifted up to "meet the Lord in the air" at his coming.   

I am bypassing 1 Tim 6:13 for the simple reason that Paul most likely did not write that book. 

In conclusion, the evidence we have surveyed above supports the hypothesis that wherever Paul got his information about the earthly life and teachings of Jesus, it is least likely that it came from one or more of our written Gospels. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Matthew and Mark's versions of the fig tree cursing story can't be harmonized

This is a follow-up on my previous post on problems in the Gospels.  Turretinfan posted a thoughtful response to which he added some explanatory comments and a Roman Catholic reader of Turretinfan's blog directed me to comments of his own on these stories, also in defense of Biblical inerrancy. 

Right up front I need to acknowledge that both of these gentlemen have read Matthew and Mark with some care.  Each has noticed some important nuances in the text.  I will bring these up in the appropriate places below.

Here is my general contention against their defenses:  Matthew and Mark's stories each have an integral meaning when read as part of a self-contained narrative.  The chronological order of each story is part of that integral meaning.  But the chronologies of the two stories are not in agreement with each other.  Attempting to wedge the chronology of either one into the other compromises its meaning.   Therefore, one must either deny that one (or both)  chronology(ies) should be taken as an intended representation of what actually happened, relativize the significance of one (or both) story(ies) in favor of the reconstructed "real story" that comes from harmonizing the two stories, or recognize the inconsistencies of the two stories as a fundamental feature of the Gospel narratives to which they belong and revise one's understanding of the Gospels accordingly.

I favor the third approach because it fits the most likely meaning of both stories.  Here I will make my final response to the comments of the two gentlemen.  Of the two stories Matthew's most clearly requires a chronology in which Jesus's cursing of the fig tree is immediately followed by the disciples' observation and commentary on its withering.    I would like to thank Turretinfan and Pete Holter for making several of my arguments in favor of this reading for me.  For example, Turretinfan points out to one of the other commenters on his post that the word "immediately" pretty much means "instantly."  He points out that if you cut down a tree the leaves look healthy for at least a few hours afterward.  This is true.  It is also true that if you cut down a tree it usually looks at least somewhat "withered" within 24 hours.   Speaking from personal experience, even a large (i.e. 60-100 feet all.  Figs average around 23 feet) tree's leaves will have begun shriveling within a day.  In short, a fig tree appearing withered within 24 hours of having been cut down is not exceptional or worthy of note.  If somebody has evidence to the contrary, please let me know.   Of course Jesus didn't cut the tree down, he just cursed it and it still withered.  As Turrentinfan himself pointed out, this is the really noteworthy fact.  Peter's comment in Mark captures this point perfectly:  "Look, the fig tree you cursed has withered!"  But the disciples in Matthew's version are not just commenting on the fact that the tree withered at all, but specifically that it withered "immediately."  Making this comment 24 hours after the fact would be weird.  Making it right after Jesus cursed it makes much more sense. 

Pete Holter bolsters this point with his observations that Mark, who often uses εὐθύς to refer to events that take place right after other events refrains from its use in his story of the fig tree.  That makes perfect sense in his version of the story, since the cursing and Peter's comment take place 24 hours apart.  Matthew's use of παραχρῆμα as narrator and in the subsequent comment of the disciples communicates that there was no delay.  Holter insists that this use of παραχρῆμα is for a rhetorical point about the relative immediacy the Jewish nation's falling out of God's favor following the events at the end of Jesus's earthly life and is not intended to present a different fig-tree cursing chronology from that in Mark.  His argument only follows if one assumes from the start that Matthew (or, more precisely, the Holy Spirit) is effectively preventing the Gospel writers from being inconsistent with one another.  This is further illustrated by Holter's argument that παραχρῆμα expresses the disciples' faith that the fig tree had indeed withered immediately, even though they did not see the evidence until 24 hours later.   He goes on to cite Jesus's comment to Thomas:  "You believed because you have seen, blessed are those who have not seen yet believe."  Huh?  Nobody would come up with such an explanation unless they were familiar with Mark's story and felt compelled to harmonize the two. 

Holter asserts that the aorist participle ἰδόντες in Matthew 21:20 at least implies a passage of time between the time Jesus cursed the fig tree and the disciples saw it.  Not so.  It could mean that or it could not, as Turretinfan appears to acknowledge.  All it implies is that they commented after they had seen the tree withered.  Based on what Matthew's text says, that all could have happened immediately after Jesus cursed the fig tree.  And if you take the disciples' comment in the normal sense in its immediate context, that's exactly what the text conveys.  The idea of a 24-hour delay is imported from Mark's chronology.   The dirty word for this procedure is eisegesis.  Both gentlemen engage in this practice; Mr. Holter has just made it clearer what is really going on.

I think Turretinfan, following Gill, has a stronger case in his interpretation of Mark's story.  Clearly, Mark spreads the story of the fig tree cursing over 2 mornings.  But is it possible that Mark's story leaves room for an otherwise unmentioned temple cleansing prior to Jesus's encounter with the fig tree?  Yes, possible but not likely.  Here are the reasons this is possible:
1.  One common translation of Mark 11:11 presents the order of events as follows:
  1. Jesus enters Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus enters the temple.
  3. Jesus looks around at everything.
  4. It becomes evening.
  5. Jesus leaves for Bethany with the twelve.
This order of events lies behind the translation found in the Vulgate and the Peshitta,  Many early English translations, including Tyndale and the KJV can easily be read to match this order as well.
2.  This chronological ordering depends on how one relates the genitive absolute dependent clause ὀψὲ ἤδη οὔσης τῆς ὥρας to the rest of the sentence.  Genitive absolute dependent clauses normally appear at the beginning of sentences.  It would not be at all surprising that a genitive absolute appearing later in a sentence would be taken to modify only the clauses which follow.  And in fact you can find just such an instance in Acts 1:9.  Furthermore, ἤδη, which often means "already," can also mean "now" in the context of passing time.  Therefore, the clause can be taken to indicate the time at which Jesus left for Bethany and furthermore that this time arrived after Jesus had looked around at everything. 

Now here are the reasons it is not likely Mark 11:11 means what Turretinfan wants it to mean.  First, although genitive absolutes usually precede the clauses they modify, there are exceptions.  Interestingly enough, one occurs in Acts 1:10, almost immediately after the example we listed above.  Another even more telling example can be found in Matthew 28:13, in which a dependent clause with an aorist participle and the following main clause are both modified by a trailing genitive absolute with present participle.  By themselves these exceptions prove nothing except that they are exceptional.

The additional factor is the initial dependent clause in Mark 11:11:  καὶ περιβλεψάμενος πάντα.  Following Gill, Turretinfan takes this clause to refer to an extended period of observation.  After all, the temple complex in Jesus's day was quite large and it would have taken a good while to navigate around to see everything, assuming that one would have to navigate around to see "everything."  It seems reasonable to assume that Mark (or his source) knew about the layout of Herod's temple.  From the little that we know, it appears that the vast majority of the outer courts could be observed from  the top of the outer temple wall.  And there were several places along the outer wall by which one could ascend and gain an overview of most of the temple complex.  Even without climbing the outer wall it appears that large sections of the outer court would be visible to an observer from ground level once you are inside the outer court.  My point?  "Having looked around at everything" can simply mean "having taken in the scene in the temple as a whole," a process that would have taken a few minutes.  Couple this with the other uses of περιβλέπω found in the New Testament and Gill's expansive interpretation appears to push the language too far.  The text is  not talking about activity that would have taken hours, or even one hour. 

When you fit this interpretation of the clause into the chronological framework given in #1 above, it hardly seems necessary to treat the genitive absolute as chronologically posterior to the initial dependent clause.  If it only took a few minutes for Jesus to "look around at everything" why bother saying that evening came afterward?  Therefore, most modern translations take the genitive absolute as the chronological timeframe within which both the looking around and the departure took place.  Furthermore, the genitive absolute then becomes an explanation for Jesus's choice of actions.  He looked around and left because evening had arrived.    Not only does this interpretation not leave time for anything more than a minimal temple cleansing, it also understands Mark to be denying that Jesus did anything else except look around and leave.

Add to this the absence of any hint on the part of any of the Gospel writers that there was more than one temple cleansing.  This is not to say that Jesus couldn't have performed multiple temple cleansings.  That is certainly possible.  But there would have been consequences to repeated attempts to perform this type of action.  We would expect heightened security, sharper confrontations, perhaps violent opposition to Jesus's "cleansing" activity, and not just on the part of temple officials.  None of the stories in the Gospels suggest that anybody in the temple was prepared for Jesus's cleansing activity.  

In sum, the reading favored by Turretinfan is for the most part grammatically defensible but not the best given the immediate context.  The intepretation of περιβλεψάμενος πάντα in particular is questionable.  It looks to me like another case of eisegesis.

For these reasons I remain convinced that the fig tree stories in Matthew and Mark present inconsistent chronologies.   I want to thank Turretinfan and Mr. Holter for challenging me on this and provoking further study and reflection.  I learned something, and I hope both of them profit from this exercise as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jesus curses the fig tree: One definitive example for those in denial about problems in the Gospels

I've been wanting to write a post on the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree for some time now.  I haven't had time or an occasion until now.  The stimulus was a series of uncharacteristically ill-conceived posts (see here, here, here here, and here) about how stories in 1 Samuel illustrate that supposed contradictory versions of Jesus's deeds and sayings in the Gospels are really reports of separate incidents.  At the outset I must acknowledge that Turretinfan never suggested that all claims of Gospel stories containing alleged contradictions can be resolved with his "separate incidents" solution, nor did he suggest that of the stories of the fig-tree cursing.  I just want to point out one example where that type of solution -- and every other used so far -- does not work.

I understand enough about the synoptic problem to be dangerous.  That is, it would be dangerous for me to propose a solution.  I'll leave that to the professionals.   But one does not need to be a New Testament scholar to understand that the synoptic Gospels, taken together, are problematic.  In fact, recognizing problems is fairly straightforward -- unless theological precommitments force you to deny the obvious.  I would argue that this curse plagues Turretinfan.

Specifically, the synoptic Gospels outline essentially the same story about Jesus, and yet in detail they sometimes present inconsistent, even contradictory, versions of the story.   Trouble is, accepting this as an accurate account of the situation puts one at odds with Christian orthodoxy's doctrine of Scripture.  According to this doctrine the Gospels tell us the historical truth about Jesus; they cannot err, and therefore they cannot be inconsistent with or contradict one another.  Therefore, there is no real problem with the Gospels, only with the rebellious, unbelieving human readers. 

This is a separate issue from the synoptic problem proper, which is concerned with the nature of the relationship between the synoptic Gospels.   Which Gospel was written first?  Where did the authors get their source material from?  How does one explain the patterns of similarities and differences in wording, order, and content?  None of these questions implies that the Gospels are anything less than 100% truthful in what they assert.

In the process of close investigation of the patterns of similarities and differences one finds the other problem.  This second problem pops up so often that it ends up playing a significant role in many of the proposed solutions to the synoptic problem.  So, which is it?  Do the claims of inconsistencies and contradictions built into the structure of many modern approaches to the Gospels tell us more about the readers than they do about the Gospels themselves?  Or, do these claims represent the "facts on the ground"  and those who deny them tell us more about themselves than they do about the Gospels?  Yes.  IMHO both are true to some extent.

But this post is not an attempt to establish the middle ground.  There are plenty of critics who discover problems in the Gospels that vanish as soon as one reads the text with a grain of sympathy and understanding.  Not all problems can be made to disappear that easily, and some won't go away at all.   The story of Jesus cursing the fig tree is a good illustration of the latter.  All the proposals to eliminate the problem posed by this story fail.  In the end we face two contradictory versions of the story. 

The two versions of the story can be found in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14,22-25.  Many people have struggled with the ethics of Jesus's cursing of the tree -- and even more over the implied cursing of the Jewish nation.  However challenging that may be, I intend to ignore that issue.   My interest is in the chronology of the two versions.  Here are the salient differences:

Chronological Order
1. Temple cleansing
2. Overnight in Bethany
3. Cursing of fig tree
4. Disciples comment on the withered fig tree
1. Overnight in Bethany
2. Cursing of fig tree
3. Temple cleansing
4. Overnight in outside of Jerusalem
5. Disciples comment on the withered fig tree
Time the tree witheredImmediately after Jesus cursed itUnspecified but within a day
When the disciples heard the cursingOn the morning after the temple cleansingOn the morning before the temple cleansing
Who commented on the witheringdiscplesPeter
When the disciples saw the withered tree for the first timeBy implication of their comment, immediately after Jesus cursed it.About a day after Jesus cursed it.
Comment on disciples' frame of mindThey were amazedPeter remembered
What they said about it"How did the fig tree wither immediately?""Look, the fig tree you cursed has withered."

If we apply the type of solution suggested by Turretinfan, we would explain (away) these differences by supposing that Jesus cursed the fig tree twice or that he cursed two fig trees on separate occasions.   Neither of these solutions works well in this case.

Let's suppose Jesus cursed the fig tree twice on successive mornings.  Matthew's version of the story reflects only the second cursing and Mark's only the first.   The disciples' comment in Matthew seems odd; wouldn't they rather have asked what was different about the second cursing, or why it took two cursings to get the tree withered?  And if Peter had just heard Jesus curse the tree a second time, what is the point of Mark's mentioning that he remembered it?   Both stories make more sense if we suppose that only one cursing of the fig tree is in view.  But if there were really two cursings of the same tree, the stories don't represent the likely historical reality behind them very well.

Let's suppose, then, that Jesus cursed two different trees on successive mornings.  That means the disciples saw two withered fig trees the second morning, one that Jesus had cursed the day before and one that withered immediately after he cursed it.  Peter's comment applies to the first tree and the disciples' amazement applies to the second.   Each Gospel writer focused on the cursing of only one of the two trees.  It seems highly unlikely that if Matthew were written by one of the disciples and Mark was a precis of Peter's recollections that both of them would have forgotten or decided to leave out of the story the fact that Jesus cursed two fig trees on successive mornings and that the disciples saw both of them withered on the same day.  Was Jesus in the habit of performing such symbolic teaching acts repetetively on successive days?  From the surviving Gospel stories it seems not.  That would make this incident all the more noteworthy, but neither Gospel writer gives any hint that Jesus cursed fig trees twice.     

Another way to explain (away) the situation is to propose that one of the two versions has been dischronologized.  I found a couple of websites citing Gleason Archer on this, although the basic idea predates him big time.  Archer himself did not argue that there were two trees and/or two cursings.  Matthew simply relocated the first part of Mark's story so that it appears together with the second part.  But one could use this type of procedure to rescue the idea that there were two cursings of two different trees.  Perhaps one of the cursings took place later that week or during one of the earlier visits to Jerusalem recorded in the Gospel of John.

In a way I like this type of solution.  Why don't we try it on Genesis 1 and 2?  This could solve that sticky little problem of the story order of the creation of animals and Adam in Genesis 2 vs. the order in Genesis 1.  Rather than adopting the controversial pluperfect reading of Gen 2:19a, we can simply say that God actually created birds of the air and beasts of the field twice, once on days 5 and 6 before the creation of humans and once again in the garden on day 6 after the creation of Adam.   This solution makes 2:19 more chronologically consistent with 2:18 and 2:20-22.  Of course there are problems with the "all"s in 2:19, but hey, as Calvinists will point out, when does "all" really mean "every single one without exception?"

It seems to me that this case matches the situation of "similar stories about separate events" better than Matthew and Mark's stories of the fig tree cursing.  If  somebody really wants to argue that Jesus cursed two different fig trees they should be ready to accept that there were actually two instances of animals and birds being created.  The possibilities for this type of interpretation have barely been explored.  Harold Lindsell did some ground-breaking work along these lines in his explanation of Peter's six denials in The Battle for the Bible.   Among other things, this approach could lead to a new renaissance for the dispensationalist interpretation of prophecy.   I can hardly wait.

But what about the assertion (Archer, et. al.) that Matthew simply compressed Mark's two-stage story into a single account?  This is not a fair handling of Matthew's text.  Jesus curses the tree and it withers "immediately."  The disciples see it and wonder how it withered "immediately."  This is not dischronologization.  The narrative chronology is part of the point of the story.  And if you take the story seriously as history, then you have to take the chronology of the story seriously as history, i.e., the cursing, withering and commentary happened "immediately" after one another.    There are perfectly good words in Koine Greek for "a short time later" or "soon thereafter."  παραχρῆμα is not one of them.  It means "immediately,"  "right away."   If the commenters adopting this view were correct, we could expect Mark's Peter to also point out that the fig tree withered "immediately" when he saw it the next day.   After all, a fig tree withering in 24 hours is pretty quick! 

A straightforward reading of either Gospel leads one to place the cursing(s) in a specific chronological context.   Just because that context causes us problems doesn't mean we get to discount or ignore it.  If Matthew's or Mark's chronological framework for this story is not intended to teach us when Jesus cursed the fig tree relative to the cleansing of the temple and the disciples' realization that the tree had withered, I'd like someone to explain how they can tell the difference between chronologies that can be ignored and chronologies (e.g., Genesis 1) that can't be ignored without threat of church discipline. 

In conclusion there is no way to make Mark and Matthew's versions of this story cohere chronologically.  That datum should be combined with many other indications that the Gospel stories do not always agree with one another.  This is a starting point for understanding what the Gospels are, how they came about, what they are trying to do, and how successful they are at doing those things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What if Eve had been a trained scientist, Part 3

This is the third and final post in a brief series.  To get up to speed, see here and here.  In the latter post I presented a series of questions a sceptical and inquiring Eve could have asked Yahweh Elohim, Adam, and the serpent.  The answers to those questions would have given her plenty of data with which to make an informed decision about eating the fruit.

But wait a minute.  Couldn't Eve have called the serpent a bald-faced liar and fled?  Studiously ignored his every comment/question?  Told him in no uncertain terms:  "I don't talk to animals, especially animals who ask me impertinent questions?"  Brought Adam over to hear the serpent's outrageous talk?  Bashed in his head?  Or, Adam could have intervened and cut off the interview.  A lot of orthodox Christians think that's what should have happened.

As far as I'm concerned, any of these could have been appropriate responses depending on what Eve knew about the serpent.  And that depends on what assumptions one brings to the story.

My approach to this story requires setting aside any of these potentially legitimate tactics.  The Eve in the Biblical story talks to the serpent -- and caves in almost immediately.  As I pointed out earlier, this Eve is almost unbelievably incurious and suggestible.  How badly she comes off can be illustrated quite easily by comparing her with C. S. Lewis's Perelandrian Eve.  Satan has to commandeer the body of a human and spend several chapters worth of clever manipulation to get that Eve close to sinning.  According to the speculations of many orthodox theologians, the pre-fall Adam had superior intellectual powers.  If that were true, Adam's initial excitement about Eve must have worn out quickly when he discovered what a dimwit she was.  No wonder he ate the fruit when she offered it.  He realized that without him she would be completely unable to cope whatever Yahweh Elohim might do to her.

In short, the Biblical Eve is a chauvinist hack job.  Christian theologians have taken this bad theology and run the faith completely off the rails.   It is for that reason I used Eve's decision to engage in conversation with the serpent as my starting point.  Once Eve listens to the serpent, she is in a position to pursue systematic inquiry into the doubts raised by the serpent rather than half-assed observation and assent.  By that means she could have secured herself from lies and deceptions.  She would not have needed "presuppositionalism" or any of the other ridiculous non-sequiturs espoused by orthodox theologians to keep the rest of us in intellectual infancy.

OK, I'm done with that brief rant.  Now to the real rant.  The more fundamental problem with this story as explicated by orthodox Christianity is that it is a setup.  Eve is supposed to eat from the fruit.  Everything is arranged so that she does so.   Her own character and actions fit all too easily into the prearranged outcome.

My Eve is intentionally uncooperative.   If Yahweh Elohim wants her to fall into the serpent's clutches he's going to have to work at it.   Now he, Adam and the serpent are faced with somebody who won't take their word on the basis of trust.  She demands explanations; she intends to gather and weigh comparative evidence.    If Yahweh Elohim wanted her to grow in wisdom, he would be jumping for joy over her probing.  Maybe somewhere in the story's prehistory that was precisely the point.

Orthodox Christian theologians will have none of this.  If they are to be consistent with their traditions, they must be chauvinists and tyrants.  Therefore, Eve's probing questions are a sign of arrogant, autonomous thinking.  How dare she ask Yahweh Elohim to explain himself?  She doesn't need this explanation and therefore will not get it.  Yahweh Elohim will refuse to answer her questions.  If Adam is wise so will he.  The woman is just that, a woman, and therefore unqualified to be given such unrestricted access to knowledge and independent judgment.  She should be comforted -- and left largely in the dark.  Over time, perhaps, she will receive answers to at least some of the questions, once she proves herself capable of resisting the serpent purely out of love for Yahweh Elohim and a desire for his glory.  Of course, since the point is for her to disobey, the period of time over which her set of queries goes unanswered can be extended as long as necessary to provoke her revolt.

That partly explains the set of questions she asks the first time around.  I'm willing to let the orthodox play offense for awhile.  So, Yahweh Elohim responds first and anwers few or none of the questions directly.  Instead, he raises the point of Eve's need to trust him and seek his glory even when his purposes seem hard to understand or even unworthy.  Then Adam answers in the same vein.  Finally, the serpent answers all of Eve's questions fully, according to his lights (which, even if true as far as they go, may put Yahweh Elohim in a bad light).   Now she may have grounds to suspect that Yahweh Elohim and Adam have something to hide.  What does she do?  She approaches them with an enhanced list of questions.  In addition to the questions she asked the first time around, she also asks

  1.  Yes, I understand that I would benefit from learning to trust you, but some of my questions are simply for clarification.  Won't you please at least answer those questions?    
  2. What should I conclude about the serpent from the answers he gave me?
  3. How long am I to wait until you answer the rest of my questions?
Most orthodox Christian theologians, or at least the ones I am personally acquainted with, are decent people.  Some are even exceptionally admirable (apart from their theology).  But when it comes to defending the ideas of God to which their theology commits them loyalty to their core convictions trumps all other considerations.   Of course, there are some who make adjustments to their core convictions due to social pressures or, more charitably, the pleadings of their own consciences.  Others are quick to point out this "trimming."  I have yet to encounter an orthodox Christian community without this type of struggle between "soft" and "hard" theologians.  Furthermore the "soft" theologians are only "soft" relative to the position(s) on which they "trim."   On other matters they can be just as "hard" as their "hard" siblings.  On the matter of Eve I doubt there are many "trimmers."  Therefore, we can expect most of them to propose that Yahweh Elohim will give Eve no answers to these questions either, including #3.

I would love to be corrected on this point.  Seriously, please correct me.  Show me how I am misconstruing Christian orthodoxy, how I am hard-heartedly thinking evil of Yahweh Elohim.   Convince me that God would have really loved a sceptical, probing Eve and all her descendants enough to condescend in a time of great danger and help her out of it.

But I'm willing to bet I get no takers.  Yahweh Elohim does not stoop to exposing himself to sceptical, autonomous thinkers.  He is not a specimen to be examined.  He will not let himself be subject to that kind of humiliation.  Therefore, Eve is to remain unanswered.  If she eats the fruit -- and she surely will -- so be it.

And with that orthodox Christian theologians make a mockery of their benevolent God.