The Original Purity and Danger of Genesis 1-3: Mapping Purity through Touch

The Original Purity and Danger of Genesis 1-3: Mapping Purity through Touch

Anthropologists and sociologists have searched for a common principle behind the diversity of purity concepts in the Hebrew Bible. Mary Douglas offers a promising way forward in this search. In her seminal work, Purity and Danger (1966) states, “purity is an abstract way of dealing with values, maps and structures of a given social group. It provides a map or series of maps, which diagram the group’s cultural system and locates a place for everything.” Purity represents order and placement, whereas pollution, stands for the violation of the classification system, its lines and boundaries. Therefore, the study of “purity” is the study of symbolic systems.

This paper seeks to prove purity as a symbolic system is rooted in the Creation and Fall narrative. Mary Douglas’ Purity Maps offer an interpretive schema in which the concept of purity in Genesis 2-3 can be recognized. Other scholars have applied or built upon Douglas’ purity maps to other parts of the canon (Jerome H. Neyrey, Bruce Malina, Jacob Neusner, Jacob Milgrom). However, no scholar has considered how her work contributes to interpreting purity within the Garden Narrative of Genesis 2-3.
Eve’s added prohibition of “touch” in Genesis 3:3 is interpreted by many scholars as sinful. For the implied reader and original audience, Eve’s “touch” goes beyond corruption of God’s original command and elucidates a whole system of cultic purity that originates in the Garden. Understanding how Genesis 1-3 is foundational for cultic purity allows for a more accurate sociological framework for considering the role the narrative plays in redemption history. This can be done by mapping how touch situates humanity within the symbolic purity system of Eden.

Employing Douglas’ purity map to Genesis 2-3, I will first seek to define Douglas’ terminology that articulates her purity system. After identifying the main symbols on her anthropological map, I will chart how elements of Genesis 2-3 such as Eve, Trees, Touch, and Expulsion from the Garden, conceptually portray the Eden Narrative as the Original Purity and Danger.

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