The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

VC: At the Beginning (Season 1: Episode 1)

This series opens with a flourish of spectacular special effects as we are introduced to the protagonist of the series. if not his purpose. After a timeless moment of calm darkness we hear, "Let there be light!", and, with an unbearable flash of ethereal light, everything begins. Subsequent creations flash by before we can begin to understand what is happening. At some level, we sense there must be a pattern to all the activity, but it happens too quickly to comprehend. Light and dark, sky and sea, land and plants, sun and moon, fish and birds, animals and man follow each other in quick succession. Each good. And then, as suddenly as it began, everything stops. In the west, the sun sets, followed by a day-old moon, and all is quiet. It is Shabbat.


When the light returns at the start of the second ascent it is seemingly to an earlier time. We see an empty land, full of potential. As a mist covers the ground, a man-like shape appears from the earth. We cannot tell if it is a male or a female, for it has aspects of both. But he or she, or perhaps they, get up and look around at the barren landscape. Then it rains, and the plants burst from the ground like released springs. We see a garden take shape, with beautiful trees, and a mighty river running through it. G-d takes the man to the garden and points out to them one tree in particular with the commands, "Eat from any tree, but this one, the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. For on the day you eat from it, you will die."

The man is alone, so G-d brings to them all the birds and animals that the man should name them. The entire creation passes before us in pairs and each species is given its name.


The third ascent opens with the man still giving names to the last of the animals. And, when it is all done, they are still alone. So they complain to G-d, and we see them fall asleep. When they awake, they are indeed two, male and female, mate for each other, naked, innocent, and unashamed. As the camera pulls back, we see the snake in the bushes, parting the branches with his hands, watching the man and his wife. From the expressions on his cunning face—desire towards the woman, hate towards her husband—we know he is plotting something.

When the man moves off to tend the garden, the snake strikes up a conversation with the woman. Ever so casually, the topic moves to food.

"So," asks the snake, "does G-d let you eat from the trees?"

"Oh yes," responds the woman. "We're allowed to eat any fruit except for one tree in the middle of the garden. On that one G-d said, 'Don't eat from it and don't touch it, or you'll die.'"

"Don't believe it," says the snake. "You won't die. G-d just wants to keep that one to himself. If you eat from it you'll be like G-d and know good and evil." As the conversation continues the two walk over to the tree and the snake causes the woman to touch the tree. When she doesn't instantly die, the snake pushes her further: "See what happened? If you can touch it, you can eat it, right?" And with that, he leaves her there to think about it.

But not for long. She reaches out and takes a fruit and eats it. Still, nothing happens. So when the man returns, she gives him one too. The only difference seems to be that they notice that they're naked, so they quickly cover themselves up with fig leaves. When, soon after, they hear G-d walking in the garden, they dive into the trees to hide. (We never see G-d ourselves, but it is always clear somehow when he is taking an open part in the proceedings.)

"Hello? Man? Where are you?", calls out G-d.

The man and woman sheepishly creep out from behind the tree they've been hiding behind. The man says, "Over here. I heard you coming and was afraid because I was naked, so I hid."

"Who told you, you were naked? You ate from the tree didn't you?" accuses G-d.

The man whips around and points at his wife. "She gave it to me!"

G-d turns to her as well. "What have you done?" he asks. And she replies, "The snake tricked me!"

G-d has heard enough and hands out punishments. The snake is summoned and stripped of his arms and legs and sent off to eat dirt and fight forever with the people. The woman is given the difficulty of children and the man that of his livelihood. Then he makes them proper clothes.


The fourth ascent sees G-d making his final decrees in the matter of the forbidden fruit. Adam and Chava are banished from the garden, and as they walk away, angels with fiery swords appear behind them, barring the way.

When next we see them, some time has clearly passed, since they now have children. The two boys, Kayin and Hevel, have chosen different occupations and have become rivals. Kayin is a farmer like his father; we see him tending the fields, working the land. Hevel minds sheep.

Kayin gets the idea to bring an offering to G-d. So he sets out some flax seed, a praiseworthy plant. Hevel, not to be left out, brings a firstborn sheep. G-d accepts only Hevel's offering, to Kayin's clear annoyance and dejection. G-d warns him to watch himself and behave correctly.

Sometime later Kayin visits Hevel in the field and starts a conversation. We can't hear what they are saying, but suddenly Kayin suddenly attacks his brother, stabbing him over and over. Hevel falls, blood gushing out, soaking into the ground, as Kayin walks away.

But he is not alone for long. G-d comes to him and asks, "Where is Hevel your brother?"

"How should I know? Am I his sitter?"

"What have you done? Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the earth! So, the earth will be even more cursed to you than before. It will produce nothing. And you will wander the earth."

"Is my sin more than you can bear? I cannot hide from you. I will wander the land and will be killed myself."

G-d agrees to protect Kayin from retribution for seven generations and places a letter of his name on his forehead. Kayin wanders off. In a quick succession of scenes we see him marry and raise a family. He builds a city and sees children born to his children.


The brief fifth ascent consists of domestic scenes with the last child born in the fourth, Kayin's great-great-great grandson Lemech, his two wives Adah and Tzilah, and their children: Yaval the nomad cattle-herder, Yuval the musician, Tuval-Kayin the smith, and their sister Na'amah.


What happens here is very obscure. The end result is Kayin and Tuval-Kayin dead at the hands of Lemech.

With Hevel dead and Kayin in exile, Adam and Chava have another son, Sheit, who in turn fathers Enosh. And we see the people of that time forgetting G-d and applying his name to other things.

The ascent continues with the line of descent from Adam through the seven generations. In the sixth generation, Chanoch, a simple but sincere fellow, follows G-d. G-d is concerned that Chanoch will be misled by his ill-behaved neighbours, so suddenly on day, Chanoch isn't there any longer.


The final ascent brings us three more generations, ending with the righteous man Noach, his wife Na'amah seen earlier, and his three sons: Sheim, Cham, and Yafet. We see images of widespread corruption and wickedness. With G-d's ominous announcement that a general housecleaning is in order, we are left with him looking favourably on Noach as the episode ends.

Last updated: 2006 October 19

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