Approbation for previous publishing: The thesis from which this popular version grew and developed with the encouragement of professors, friends and students was minimally published in Rome in 2007 in fulfillment of the requirements for the conferral of the doctoral degree.
— Vidimus et approbavimus, Romae, apud Pont. Universitatem S. Thomae, die 09, mensis maii, anni 2007: Joseph Agius, O.P., Stipe Jurič, O.P.
— IMPRIMATUR — Dal Vicariato di Roma, die 10, mensis maii, anni 2007: Mons. Mauro Parmeggiani, Prelato Segretario Generale.
The first edition can be found only in a handful of libraries, such as the Pontifical Biblical Institute, in the Genesis section of the non-reserved stacks [IX 15 18].
Cover picture and design: George David Byers
©2017 George David Byers
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Inspiration and Thanksgiving
It was slate-gray day and cold, bone chilling, and I was alone in my equally bleak guest cell at the ancient Monastery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Montefiascone on the ancient pilgrimage route from Europe to Rome, the Via Francingena, on 25 March, 2004, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Immaculate Virgin that she was to be the Mother of God. I had returned to Italy after years of teaching in seminaries around the world, under orders to write a doctoral thesis, about what I wasn’t sure. This was a retreat day, a momentary break from studies in Rome. I was accompanying a life-long friend who is now in the Pontifical Family in Vatican City State, who on that day was giving a day of recollection to the community of Benedictine nuns which had resided in the castle-like structure for some fourteen hundred years.
One tiny barred window high up on the stone wall facing a small street in the mountain village let in just enough light to make out the door, the bed and a tiny desk. Though feeling terribly useless as an exegete, I felt compelled to ask my guardian angel whether it might be possible for me to write a thesis on Genesis 2:4–3:24 that would be unto the greater glory of God, the salvation of souls, and the honor of the Mother of God, that is, should I proceed with what now, after the fact, has been described as a brutal, agonizing, unrelentingly scientific examination of the text, employing newly discovered depths of historical philology and linguistic analysis, looking for nothing in the text, reading nothing into the text, simply letting fierce reasoning bring to light whatever it will.
The response was immediate, though not with words nor any apparition. I was filled with an intensely reverential fear of the Lord beneath the weight of His glory. I went down on my knees and then went prostrate on the icy tiled floor as the heavens seemed to open up above my ineptitude and unworthiness. While I took this to be an affirmative answer, I also sensed what seemed to be the fierce judgment of my guardian angel that I had better become much more serious in my life.
Later, in the Sala dell’immacolata, the highly decorated chamber dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in the Vatican Museums that highlights especially the mariological contributions of Blessed Pope Pius IX, I again asked my guardian angel the same question and was flooded with a similar experience. “The angels are here!” I exclaimed to friends from Australia, leaving them amazed.
I recount these experiences in all simplicity. They add no authority to what is written. They add nothing to what is written. They subtracted much from what would have otherwise resulted, for they made me avoid novelty whether of my own or coming from commentators throughout the centuries. It was only the inspired text put to critical interrogation, as it were, which was enthralling to me, captivating.
Resulting fierce reasoning brought the attention of and necessitates thanksgiving to the professors of six Pontifical Universities, Academies and Institutes who were following the thesis, whether pleased with what they saw unfolding before them or dead set against the conclusions. As it is, I provided chapters to friends and to those I knew would find themselves in dire straits. All admitted that the logic of the thesis, the scientific analysis, was entirely unassailable, astounded to a man that faith and reason were not enemies of each other, what with faith purifying reason, making us fearless of including premises which ought to be present and fearless of purifying argumentation of illogical premises, placing us before the entirety of truth, rejoicing. The invitation to offer constructive criticism remains for readers of this popularized work. Tear it apart if you can. Make it better.
There is one criticism of the thesis for which I am not grateful. One professor of the Pontifical Biblical Institute was determined to hurt the publication as much as possible (against other professors of the same institution) since he reckoned that a thesis was not to come up with any advancement in scientific knowledge, but was instead to be limited to a mere recounting of disputation among some secondary sources. I do not believe such dark anxiety before the truth to be worthy of being called a unique contribution. One need merely rip away the foundations of specious argumentation that were based on historical philology more than a century out-of-date simply by referring to the advancements, and then get on with starting, as it were, from scratch, from these new foundations.
Many of my fellow students at the Pontifical Biblical Institute agreed that we are to endeavor to leave aside the frightened emotions of those who had entrenched their lives in mere repetition of self-serving academic political correctness so as to come to know the meaning of the text itself in its historical perspective. It is precisely this which has made the text come alive in all of its aspects as a communication of the Lord to all ages. It is this which promotes with courage the knowledge and study of theology, that is, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “a theology which out of love wants to know the Beloved better.”
Indeed, I am particularly thankful to the successor of Saint Peter, Benedict XVI. I am indebted to those in the Secretariat of State who met with me in June of 2007 in view of the Holy Father’s upcoming pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2008, where I would be a “permanent chaplain” for a number of years. Benedict’s Angelus address of September 14, 2008, during his pilgrimage, and the subsequent exchange of letters afterward – and the reversal of his most far reaching thoughts on original sin and the immaculate conception – were an encouragement without which this work could not have been completed. Pope Benedict is a priest’s priest, the best example of a humble scholar in love with the truth I have ever known.
Thanks also go to Cardinal Jorge-María Mejía for his encouragement throughout the years, as well as to Cardinal William Joseph Levada, who, when Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent me a letter with heretofore unpublished details concerning the World War II Archbishop of Paris, Emmanuel Célestin Cardinal Suhard.
I thank Rabbi David Rosen, whose stunning remarks and encouragement have been a major impetus to move forward with this project. I cannot but also thank Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein for his support and dialogue of now very many years.
Thanks go to Joseph Agius, O.P., Rector Magnificus of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, who, as moderator for the thesis, made me promise during its defense to write this popular version, so that progress in understanding the Sacred Scriptures might be known far and wide. His non-interventionist approach afforded me rare and appreciated academic freedom for true scientific work, a hallmark of Dominican academic honesty. Thanks also go the second reader of the thesis, Stipe Jurič, O.P., S.S.D, who always provided me with a scholarly enthusiasm that remains an inspiration to this day. He said that the thesis was the best he had ever examined. I can only hope that this popular version will also be the best I can muster.
Heartfelt thanks go to friends who make up the administration and staff of the Biblicum library, those who were there at my home away from home during the time of my heaviest research and writing: Fr James Dugan, S.J., Camillo, Mauro, Gabriella, Maria, Rina, Fabrizio, Paolo, Raffaele, Ramón, Manuela, Lucia.
I am utterly indebted to Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D., and to Mother Lucy, O.S.B., for their lifetimes of prayer and penance for me, along with so many others who have taken me on as their project. It is Arnold Franken whose expertise in cuneiform, his patience in research and in analyzing the thesis that brought the work to bear the fruit it has.
Special, filial thanks are reserved for my parents, George and Ann, now deceased, for their goodness and kindness; they were both always, always of great encouragement, and almost single handedly financed my years of study in Rome.
To the Virgin, Immaculate Mother of the Redeemer announced in Genesis 3:15, and to her divine Son, who provides us with the grace of enmity, making us the members of his body, and to those sword wielding angels in Genesis 3:24, true friends along the Way: thanks.
Πρῶτον μὲν εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ περὶ πάντων ὑμῶν ὅτι ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καταγγέλλεται ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ. (Romans 1:8)
טוֹב לְהֹדוֹת לַיהוָה וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיוֹן (Psalm 92:2)
καὶ ἐβλήθη ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς, ὁ πλανῶν τὴν οἰκουμένην ὅλην, ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐβλήθησαν. (Apocalypse 12:9)