Dualism in Genesis

Jo & Frances

In theology, dualism is the theory that there are two supreme forces that govern the universe, good and evil. This is in opposition to monism, which posits that there is only one supreme being. Our group found that the Genesis poems present dualistic thinking throughout the text–– we will inspect some of those manifestations in this post.


Alternate Beginnings


The Genesis poems seem to retell the narrative of the Book of Genesis in the old testament. Yet one major deviation between these two works of literature is how the texts begin. The Douay-Rheims bible begins in Genesis 1 with the creation of the Earth in six days. The Genesis poem gets there, but not until after starting with the fall of Satan; both version A and version B explain how God’s chief angel rebelled against Heaven, leading God to cast him out and place him in hell. Genesis A explains how “arrogance” overcomes the guardian of the angels, and Genesis B explains this angel’s “insolence” (line 28, line 269). Thus, a form of dualism is established: God, representing good, is one force in the world, while Satan, representing evil, exists as a separate entity. I should remark that this might be considered a quasi-dualism, as Satan does seem to be lesser to God in power, as it is God himself who throws him off his throne (line 299). Satan is also described as being under God’s hand (line 388). This is the context in which the Earth and humanity are made; a moral atmosphere preexists the creation of the world.


Between Heaven and Hell

Dualism and the existence of Satan informs the very creation of Earth. Genesis A describes how God made the Earth “in compensation for the hateful, rebellious ones, whom he banished from his protection” (98). The fallen angels left empty thrones in Heaven, leaving God to create the Earth; this makes sense, as humans are to strive to reach Heaven in this universe. The land which humans inhabit is characterized as this space between Heaven and Hell, a “Middle earth” (135). Genesis B describes Satan’s relations with this liminal space: “middle world, where He has created a man in his likeness, with whom afterward He desires to settle the kingdom with pure souls” (396-397). Satan is aware of God’s plan to bring humans to the kingdom of heaven and tries to stop this by “[perverting their] desire there” (400). Banished to Hell, Satan believes “if they lose the kingdom I can more easily rest in these chains” (433-434). Humans become the object fought over by God and Satan, calling into question their agency. These ideas manifest in the story of the fall.


The Fall


The fall of Adam and Eve reflects this dualism through the palpable good and evil in Eden. Satan disguises himself as a serpent, giving his authority as physical presence as his voice dominates the narration. Satan deceptively insists to Adam and Eve that he’s an agent of God (481). This allegorically suggests that the dual forces of God and Satan pull us around in the world, yet it is up to man to discriminate one from the other. Without Eve’s ability to differentiate Satan from God, she mistakenly listens to him, calling the fall of man. Thus, humans retain their agency and must exercise it to tell good from evil. 


The Trees of Life and Death


Of course, we can’t have a post on dualism without mentioning the trees of life and death. The tree of life is “joyous, beautiful and bright, gracious and praiseworthy” (467) while the tree of death is “black, dim and dark” (477). On imagery alone we can already see how they contrast, their very appearances like yin and yang; one dark and evil, and one bright and good. Their very existence is interesting in itself, as other versions of Genesis only have one tree in the garden: the Tree of Knowledge. One reason for this could be the creation of choice. Knowledge doesn’t have an opposite that is as profoundly integral to human life; we understand it to be Ignorance, perhaps, but the concept rarely enjoys the same prolific scrutiny as the inseparable dyad that is life and death. To choose one over the other is mutually exclusive, as one cannot be both dead and alive (or good and evil), but one can be both knowledgeable of some things and ignorant to others. It creates a much more binary choice for humanity and their avatars, Adam and Eve, when the hellish messenger comes to the garden. And in the end, Eve chooses death from the evil force: “she accepted the painful fruit of the tree of death from the hateful one” (594). In that way, the dual representations of the tree as life and death also serve to make the events of the garden in Genesis more literal to parallel life and death with good and evil. As for why the trees weren’t the Tree of Good and the Tree of Evil? Well, God is good! He can’t create evil, can he? 


Cain and Abel


Another example of dualism in Genesis manifests in Cain and Abel. Cain is overcome with hate and rage when God favours Abel’s offering, and so commits the evil deed of murder by slaying his brother, a man described as faithful and thus good. He then lies to God about where his brother is. For his actions, he is exiled by God: “then Cain, downhearted, went walking from the sight of God, a friendless exile” (1049-1051). This instance seems to mark the first postlapsarian man vs. man relation. After Adam and Eve sin, they set up a new paradigm in which men are asked to choose between good and evil without such direct instruction from God and Satan. Men have choice in this dualistic world despite looking like pawns in the Garden of Eden. On his own volition, Cain sins doing exactly what Satan wanted: for men to turn from God.

2 thoughts on “Dualism in Genesis

  1. This is a really interesting observation. It seems that even though the Judeochristian worldview is monotheistic, the first part of the text seems more dualistic in nature. This does make sense, though- even in monism, there must be an anti-existence to justify the existence itself. For God to exist, there must be not-God, and the same with Christianity and goodness.

    It also raises some questions about the nature of evil, which is a primary theme of this class- does evil exist itself, or does it exist as “not-good”? Or, rather would good be “not-evil”? Dualism complicates these notions through its relative nature. Additionally, the questions you raise about God and if he is able to create evil are interesting to consider, particularly as you point out that the Christian worldview isn’t true dualism- Satan is less powerful than God. How does the anti-existence come about when the existence itself, God, is meant to be all-powerful?

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