Sunday, December 30, 2012

east of eden for a new year

I'm a little book-crazy, as my husband will attest (he thinks my 500+ collection might be a bit excessive). With all the books I've read and loved, one would think it might be a little difficult to pick a favorite, but for me it isn't. John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Without a doubt. Steinbeck regarded it as his greatest work, and I would tend to agree.

Steinbeck always pulls a range of emotions out of me while I'm reading. (The Winter of Our Discontent almost destroyed me. I think I'm still recovering from that book.) I'm not going to give a book review here, but hopefully these excerpts will prompt you to give it a read, if you haven't. It's the perfect book for a new year, because it emphasizes the ideas of redemption, freedom, and choice. Here's my favorite part, with some of the dialogue removed for length.

     “Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”

     “I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”

     “Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”

Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.

Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made”......

[Lee then tells Samuel he consulted Chinese scholars in his family association regarding this passage.]

“After two years [of learning and research] we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”

Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’

Isn't that just absolutely beautiful? I'm so enamored with this passage, and the story as a whole. Have a happy and wonderful new year. 


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