Renowned mythologist Bernard Evslin finds a powerful balance of tradition and modernity in his strongly realized retellings of Old Testament stories. His rendition reflects the literary style of the King James Bible and stays true to the Old Testament worldview and spirit—but also uses streamlined descriptions and dialogue, to balance the archaic language that can deter contemporary readers. Here you’ll find fresh versions of the iconic stories of Adam and Eve; Lot’s daughters; Jacob’s ladder; David and Goliath; Rebecca at the well; the twin brothers Jacob and Esau; and more, in a style that engages both the senses and the imagination.
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Signs and Wonders
Tales From The Old Testament
By Bernard Evslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Bernard Evslin
All rights reserved.
In the beginning there was only God who had always been. The rest was emptiness and darkness. Then God hung the sun in the sky, and said: "Let there be light!" The sun gave light; that light was Day. And God called up the darkness again to be Night. So ended the first day.
There was no earth yet, and no stars, only the great light of the sun shining on an endless waste of waters. Then God made the waters sink out of the sky, which He called Heaven, and prepared a place for the stars. He called back the darkness; that was the end of the second day.
On the morning of the third day He gathered the waters under Heaven in one place. Where the waters shrank away from His hand, dry land appeared. He called that dry land Earth; the place of waters He called Sea. Then He planted grass on the earth. He planted bushes and trees that bore vegetables and fruit of all kinds. God said: "These are living things, these flowers and trees that I have planted upon the earth. And I put upon them a special sign of my favor. From now on they will be able to make their own kind out of their own seed. So these living things that I have planted will live upon the earth until the end of time."
On the fourth night God punched holes in the sky to let the light shine through, and said: "These small lights shall be called Stars; they shall give a little light to the earth even at night." Then He hung the moon in the night sky between earth and stars. So ended the fourth day.
On the fifth day He breathed upon the seas and made them boil up into different kinds of life. There were fish in the sea, little fish and great whales. God lifted His hand; birds flew out of the water and sang with joy. He said: "You fish and birds shall bear my special sign. You will be able to make your own kind out of your own seed until the end of time."
On the morning of the sixth day God said: "Let the earth do as the waters have done and bring forth living creatures. I want animals of every kind, each one different, each alive in its own way." Whereupon animals appeared on earth and moved among the trees and the grass. Lions and tigers and bears and wolves, and deer and camels and horses. Also, crocodiles and snakes. Cows and bulls, too, and goats and sheep. Then God looked down on the earth and saw that the plains and forests were full of animals and the sea was full of fish and the air was full of birds, and He said: "My breath is life, and life is good. I have molded life into different forms and given each form its own way to be, and have put upon each my special sign, which means that it may make its own kind out of its own seed over and over until the end of time. Now I shall make the most important living thing. I shall make man. And man will be unlike any other creature on earth, for I shall make him in my own image. He will have in him animal life and the spirit of God, and will rule over beast and fish and bird. He will rule the earth in my name."
God reached down and took a handful of dust and breathed His own life into it. There in the palm of His hand lay a man asleep. God set him down in a garden and let the darkness come. That was the end of the sixth day.
On the seventh day God rested. He looked down upon the earth, and upon the heavens, upon sun, moon, and stars, and all the living things of earth and sea and air—and upon man asleep in his garden. He said: "This is good."CHAPTER 2
THE GARDEN OF EDEN
The name of the first man was Adam. He lived in a garden God had planted in a place called Eden. This was the most beautiful garden that ever grew. Every kind of flower grew there and every kind of tree. A river ran through the garden and became four rivers. In the middle of the garden stood a tree, the tallest tree of all, hung with golden fruit.
"This is the Tree of Life," said God. "It bears twelve kinds of fruit, a different one for each month—orange, fig, date, quince, olive, apricot, and other kinds that nourish body and soul. If you eat of this tree and no other, you shall never die."
Then God showed Adam another tree, standing apart on a grassy slope. Red fruit burned on its boughs.
"You may not eat of this tree," said God. "It is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You must not taste this fruit, or you will die. Do you understand?"
"I obey," said Adam.
God said: "This is your garden and you must care for it. You must name its trees and flowers. For you are a man, and man is the only one of my creatures to whom I have given the power of the word."
"Shall I name the forbidden fruit?"
"Name it, but do not eat it."
"I name you Apple," said Adam.
He went around the garden naming the trees and the flowers. Before night came he had found names for the oak and the rose. Nor did he sleep when night came, but stood looking at the sky.
"You points of light," he said, "you are many, and I shall find a name for each of you, but not yet. Until then you will just be called stars."
He watched the moon climb, and said: "And you, yellow ball of fire that changes the night, I name you Moon."
God was pleased with these names. He took up handful after handful of dust and made new animals and birds. Each creature He made He took to Adam to be named. And Adam gave each bird and beast a name. Some were short names like cat and bear and lark. Others were long, like hippopotamus. But they all seemed to fit exactly.
When day was done, Adam did not sleep, but stood looking up at the sky, trying to find a different name for each star. He looked lonely standing there at night, and God said: "It is not good for man to be alone."
Then God made Adam fall into a deep sleep. As Adam slept, God took a rib out of his body, and that rib He made into a woman. Now a woman lay asleep in the garden next to Adam.
When Adam awoke he saw her and was glad. The woman awoke, and saw Adam, and smiled. Adam said: "You are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, and I shall call you Woman. Thank you, God, for making this woman to be my wife."
God said: "Because I made this woman out of your rib, she has become bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. And from this time on, man and woman who choose each other shall belong to each other only and be one flesh. Man and woman, I put upon you the sign of my special favor. In the joining of your bodies you shall have the power to make your own kind out of your own seed, from now until the end of time. Man and woman have I created you. You are created in my image, and shall create your own children upon earth, who shall be born out of your love for each other, blossoming forth from the seed that man plants in his wife. I give you to each other in this garden of earth. Obey me, care for each other, and live in the blessing of the God who made you."
Man and woman looked at each other and were glad. They were naked and not ashamed. Adam said: "Because you are to be the great mother of all who come after us, I name you Eve."
Adam showed Eve all the trees of the garden and all the flowers, and taught her their names. He showed her the tallest tree, and said: "You may eat of the fruit of any tree, but do not eat the fruit of that one."
"Why?" said Eve.
"It is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God forbids us to eat of its fruit."
"What name did you give that red fruit?"
"I call it the apple."
"Do you not wonder why God denies us the apple?"
"It is for us not to question God, but to obey."
Eve obeyed. She did not eat the fruit of that tree. But it loomed above the other trees; she saw its topmost branches wherever she went. And of all the fruit in the garden—the orange, the fig, the quince, the apricot—Eve thought the forbidden fruit the most beautiful.
One morning Eve saw that the tree was quivering with light. Loops of golden light twined about the trunk and touched the fruit with fire. An enormous serpent unwound himself from the tree and glided toward her. His scales were red and gold and he burned like the morning star. His eyes were pits of blue fire. His voice was like the wind moving through the trees.
"You are Eve," he said.
"How is it you speak, O serpent?"
"I was like other beasts, without language. But I ate the fruit of a marvelous tree, and knowledge came to me."
Eve could not answer. She was stricken with wonder.
"Do not be frightened, Eve. I see into the secret desire of your heart. It is good and natural, and you shall do it."
"Eat the fruit you have not tasted, the red fruit named the apple."
"It is forbidden."
"How can fruit be forbidden? It is made to be eaten."
"If we eat it, we die, God says."
"He also promised that you would live forever. How can both things be true? Behold! I ate the apple. Am I dead?"
"Who are you? What is your name? Why do you shine there like the morning star, troubling me with light?"
"I have many names, but you are not ready to know them. My secret will be revealed when you eat the apple. Let us speak of you, Eve. You are the first of your kind, and of a beauty never seen."
"I do not understand."
"Do you not know that you are beautiful?"
"I know nothing so far but what I have been told. The names of flowers and trees and animals. Adam's name and Adam's ways. And that I must obey. I must obey God and I must obey my husband, Adam, who tells me what God wants."
The serpent, who was Satan, shifted his glittering coils closer to Eve and looked upon her with starry eyes, and said: "Do you not also hear another voice, an inner voice, whispering, 'Eat the apple. Eat the apple'?"
"Perhaps that is God's voice, echoing in the deep of you. Perhaps it is you who sense His intention, not Adam."
"I have thought so. But can it be?"
"I am confused. I do not know what to believe."
"I am here to instruct you. I am here to give you the gift of knowledge, a greater gift than any you have been given. Knowledge hangs on that tree."
Eve looked at the tree. Globes of red fire burned among its dark-green leaves. She looked away.
"Look at me," the serpent whispered.
Eve gazed into the blue flame of the serpent's eyes. Fragrance of flowers swelled about her. She felt herself melting into particles of light; there was a taste of honey in her mouth.
"Yes-s-s," whispered the serpent. "That sweetness in your mouth is a foretaste of the apple."
"To eat is to die, God said."
"But I, who am His messenger, tell you that you shall not die. When you eat the apple you shall be as gods yourselves, accepting both good and evil."
"Tell me this, O shining serpent whose name I do not know: Does not the Lord God wish His commandment obeyed?"
"His ways are mysterious," said the serpent. "But I know Him better than anyone else. What would please Him most is for you to see behind His words to His real meaning, and to teach it to Adam."
"When God says 'Do not,' He means 'Do!' Is that His meaning?"
"In the matter of the apple, yes. He has created you man and woman, lords of the earth. Shall anything be forbidden to you that beasts may do? This apple I have eaten, shall you not eat it, also? It gave me speech. How much more will it do for you who already speak?"
"What is knowledge, serpent? I burn to know. What are good and evil? What do these words mean?"
"More than I can tell you. Only the apple itself will reveal the wonderful fullness of their meanings. I can tell you this: Attaining such knowledge, you will become like gods and fulfill God's unuttered wish. For, becoming godlike, you will walk with Him and converse with Him and assuage His gigantic loneliness."
"I don't know what to do."
"Please God, Eve. Obey the hidden intention that dwells behind His words. Go to the tree. Reach up your hand. Grasp the fruit. Put it in your mouth—and eat."
Eve went to the tree, took an apple, and ate.
Adam came into the garden and saw her eating the apple. She had taken just one bite. He seized her arm.
"Too late. I have tasted the apple, and it is good. It is very good."
"How dare you break God's law? Now you must die."
"We shall be as gods. We shall not die."
"Forbidden! Forbidden! The apple is forbidden! God told me so."
"That was a test, Adam. He wanted you to read the true meaning behind His words. He was testing your love."
"How do you know all this?"
"God sent a messenger to tell me."
"A serpent, beautiful as the morning star."
"What does beautiful mean?"
"Look at me. Am I beautiful?"
"You are Eve."
"Eat of the apple, Adam, please."
"I dare not."
"You must eat of the apple or I shall know things beyond your understanding. Here. Take one bite."
"God has forbidden it."
"Then I shall live alone, for you will not know enough to be my husband. And if I have misunderstood God's will, then I shall be punished alone, and die alone. And you will dwell in your garden alone, as you did before I came."
"Give me the apple."
Adam ate. He looked at Eve and saw that she was beautiful—and that she was naked. He looked upon himself and knew his own nakedness, which seemed changed now, all strange.
"We are naked," he said. "You are naked and different. And I am naked and afraid."
She smiled at him. "Do not fear. We can clothe our nakedness in fig leaves. This is the beginning of such knowledge as the gods have. We do not know how to use it yet, but we will teach each other. And perhaps the wise serpent will come again and instruct us."
"Where is he now, this messenger who brought you the true meaning of God's word?"
"There he is, crouching in the grass behind the tree."
But the serpent had vanished.
Now the sun was falling, and the shadows closed in. They heard the voice of the Lord God, who was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. When Adam heard that voice he hid himself among the trees. He heard God say, "Adam, where are you?"
"I am here among the trees."
"Why are you hiding from me?"
"I am afraid."
"Why are you afraid? Come here."
Adam came from among the trees and Eve followed him.
"Why are you clad in leaves?"
"We saw that we were naked," said Adam. "And we clothed our nakedness."
"You have eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil," said God. And His voice was like thunder coming out of the blue sky. "Man and woman, you have defied my will and eaten of the forbidden fruit. Why did you disobey me, Adam?"
"She told me to," said Adam. "The woman you gave to be my wife told me to eat the apple."
"The serpent told me to!" cried Eve. "Forgive me, Lord, but he came gliding out from among the trees, all glittering, and said he was your messenger, sent by you to tell me your true will. He told me to eat the apple."
God answered, saying, "No messenger was he, but the foul fiend who put on the form of a serpent to tell you lies. Prince of Darkness is he, and Lord of Lies. His name is Satan."
By this time, Adam and Eve were crouched on the grass, whimpering with terror.
"Arise now, and listen to me," said God. "Hear your punishment. Because you have disobeyed me and eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, seeking to be wise as gods, you must leave this garden and the life you know. Everything is changed now. Because you have caused me such sorrow, you, Eve, shall know your greatest pain at the moment of your greatest creation. In pain and suffering shall you bear your children, and so shall all women after you, and that pain shall be the sign of your disobedience. For even the Lord of Lies could not make you believe what you did not wish to believe. You lusted in your heart for the forbidden fruit before Satan came; you made his way easy. But your way shall be hard.
"And you, Adam, first of your kind, you listened to your wife and ignored the word of your God. For this I sentence you to hard labor all the days of your life. You shall leave this garden, where everything grows without toil, and go to a place where the earth is dry, where only thorns and thistles grow. There in that cursed place little rain will fall. You shall water the earth with sweat and tears to grow a little food. And when you die, and die you must, you shall return to the earth. For of dust you were made, and to dust you shall return. Do you understand?"
Excerpted from Signs and Wonders by Bernard Evslin. Copyright © 1981 Bernard Evslin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
IN THE BEGINNING,
The Garden of Eden,
Cain and Abel,
The Tower of Babel,
The Idol Smasher,
Journey to Canaan,
Sodom and Gomorrah,
The Birth of Isaac,
Rebecca at the Well,
Jacob and Esau,
The Hands of Esau,
Jacob Becomes Israel,
The Coat of Many Colors,
The Reader of Dreams,
Israel in Egypt,
FLIGHT FROM EGYPT,
The Burning Bush,
The Red Sea,
In the Wilderness,
IN THE PROMISED LAND,
The Coming of Kings,
The Shepherd Lad,
David and Goliath,
The Witch of Endor,
David and Bathsheba,
ISRAEL IN EXILE,
The King's Dream,
The Fiery Furnace,
King in the Grass,
The Writing on the Wall,
The Lion's Den,