Reading With the Wrong Language

 

Think of how strange – and hilarious – it would be to read a recipe as if it were poetry, or a computer program as if it were a fairy tale. But it can also shed a different, and intriguing, light on the material.

I am aware of the language of engineering. In simplest strokes: Requirements are written, specifications are formed, something is created, and then inspected for conformity with the specifications and underlying requirements. If they check out, they are signed-off as complete.

This, of course, is a process. It is a closed process, with the goal of emerging with a product. The process works, and it is checkable. So far, so good.

Now comes the fun part: let’s apply Engineering Speak to the biblical account of creation. Here is the first step:

IN THE BEGINNING God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And a wind from God moved over the surface of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.

See this? We start with the background to the project — a chaotic and undefined world. G-d starts by creating light — and “it was good” is the formal signoff for that stage of the project. This does not have to be a moral judgment. Literally, “good” in the Torah might be understood as: “conforms to requirements and specifications.”

This totally upends the way I thought about this section just a few days ago, when I would point out that certain things are NOT called “good,” suggesting that there was something wrong with them. That could still be true, but not if we understand that each process does not necessarily end on the same day the process begins!

For example:

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

This is NOT called “good”! So, as I thought in the foolish old days of last week, “division is not good.” Which would be so, if we insist on seeing the days as the end of a subject. But what if the numbering of the days is not important to the project goals?

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Hold up! If we simply keep reading, keeping the same subject matter under the same heading, we reach a different conclusion: Maybe the division process did not complete until there was a distinction between Earth and Seas?! In which case, the project itself is signed-off as a complete unit, instead of a mere sub-step — just like an engineering program could be. “It was good,” would not apply to a sub-step, and only applies when that section of the project has been completed.

And thus the very next step, which also happens on the third day, is complete (which is why there are two “it is good” signoffs on the same day):

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after its kind: and God saw that it was good.

The rest of creation follows the same way. The 4th day is lights in the sky, the 5th for some animals, and the 6th for others and mankind. This is all followed by:

And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.

This is the final signoff. Creation? Done. The program is completed! See how much more sensible that is?

But there are a few niggling problems with such a tidy understanding. There are still things that are clearly not called “good.” What are they?

On the 5th day:

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply in the earth.

And then, on the 6th day:

And God said, Let Us make Mankind in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created Mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

And on the 7th:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their host. And by the seventh day God ended His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it He rested from all his work which God had created and performed.

None of these is called “good.” Why not? I think the use of engineering language explains it perfectly: these are not part of the program! These are ongoing processes, not products. Being fruitful and multiplying is not something that ends — so it cannot be signed off. Similarly, Sabbath is an ongoing commitment, meant to be a never-ending process. So it cannot be signed off, because it is never meant to be completed!

The commandments, if that is what they were, are TO US. G-d passes the baton, to animals and people, as a whole and to each of us as individuals. G-d the Creator has handed the baton off, accompanied by a vague set of Requirements. Those Requirements are not Good, simply because they have not been fulfilled. As ongoing processes, they can never actually be fulfilled in entirety. Unlike, say, the creation of light.

Is this understanding of “good” reasonable in the rest of the text? Actually, far more than I expected. Take, for example:

G-d said, “It is not good for the Human to be alone; I will make a fitting counterpart for him.”

If “good” is “completed,” then “not good” is simply “not completed.” Adam is not finished until he has a mate. G-d recognizes that he cannot sign off on making mankind if Adam is alone.

Similarly, Jethro tells Moses, after witnessing Moses trying to singlehandedly teach and judge for the people: “Not good is this matter, as you do it!” Which works beautifully with the understanding of “good” as a functional designation: “your process is not effective. You cannot complete things in this manner.”

It extends everywhere. When G-d tells Avraham:

And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

The use of the word “good” means an age at which you have achieved your life-projects! A “good” life is one of achievement and accomplishment, a life in which we have done what we came here for.

And who could ask for anything more than a life that is compared to a divine sign-off for a stage of Creation?

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWe: And who could ask for anything more than a life that is compared to a divine sign-off for a stage of Creation?

    That reminds me of an old joke that ends with a civil engineer proclaiming why it is obvious that G-d is a civil engineer.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    a computer program as if it were a fairy tale.

    ”Once upon a time there was a radar contact prioritization module…”

    Heh. Did Franz Kafka write any fairy tales? Maybe in collaboration with Charles Bukowski?

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I am aware of the language of engineering. In simplest strokes: Requirements are written, Specifications are formed,

    * The inevitable consequences of requirements become apparent to the customer.

    * The customer panics.

    * The Program Damager (née Manager) agrees to modifications he doesn’t understand that affect schedule, budget, and scope (the trifecta!) and the Lead Engineer lives under a bridge at least until preliminary integration is complete.

    something is created, and then inspected for conformity with the specifications and underlying requirements. If they check out, they are signed-off as complete.

    I see that you’ve begun a new fairy tale there. All the requirements were specified so as to be testable, right? Right?

    Excellent post again, iWe. Never mind me; I’m just having a program flashback.

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Being omnipotent means never having to deal with the Change Review Board (AKA the Brothers Grim).

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):

    * The inevitable consequences of requirements become apparent to the customer.

    * The customer panics.

    * The Program Damager (née Manager) agrees to modifications he doesn’t understand that affect schedule, budget, and scope (the trifecta!) and the Lead Engineer lives under a bridge at least until preliminary integration is complete.

    It’s like you’ve been there (many times over the last forty years).

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    * The inevitable consequences of requirements become apparent to the customer.

    * The customer panics.

    * The Program Damager (née Manager) agrees to modifications he doesn’t understand that affect schedule, budget, and scope (the trifecta!) and the Lead Engineer lives under a bridge at least until preliminary integration is complete.

    It’s like you’ve been there (many times over the last forty years).

    • #6
  7. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Arahant (View Comment):

    iWe: And who could ask for anything more than a life that is compared to a divine sign-off for a stage of Creation?

    That reminds me of an old joke that ends with a civil engineer proclaiming why it is obvious that G-d is a civil engineer.

    A doctor, a civil engineer, and a lawyer sat at a bar discussing the Creation.

    “God is a doctor,” said the doctor.  “After all, he put Adam into a deep sleep and performed an operation to remove a rib.”

    “God is a civil engineer,” said the engineer.  “Before he created Adam, he engineered the sun and the planets out of the chaos.”

    “Ah,” said the lawyer, “but who created the chaos?”

    • #7
  8. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    The idea of good = complete took me back to my recollection of The Once and Future King and the ants, whose limited vocabulary could only describe a thing as being “done” or “not done”.

    This concept of good = complete brings an interesting shade of meaning to the New Testament also as in Matthew 19:17 (NKJV)

    So He (Jesus) said to him, [e]“Why do you call Me good?[f]No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

    Would that not, from this perspective, imply that none is complete, but God?

    • #8
  9. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    JoelB (View Comment):

     

    So He (Jesus) said to him, [e]“Why do you call Me good?[f]No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

    Would that not, from this perspective, imply that none is complete, but God?

    That makes sense to me.

    My understanding is that “good” in the Greek world comes with a whole bunch of overtones (moral, ethical, etc.) that are then assumed by Christianity and also, to an extent, rub off onto normal Jewish understanding.

    But in the Torah, the 5 Books, “good” really seems to be more consistent with the reading in the OP than with any more modern meaning. Nowhere, for example, are we commanded to “be good.” We are, however, commanded to be holy.

    • #9
  10. Pagodan Member
    Pagodan
    @MatthewBaylot

    Percival (View Comment):

    a computer program as if it were a fairy tale.

    ”Once upon a time there was a radar contact prioritization module…”

    Heh. Did Franz Kafka write any fairy tales? Maybe in collaboration with Charles Bukowski?

    Don’t know, but Roger Zelazny wrote “For a Breath I Tarry”

    • #10
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