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Tracks & Trails

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What the Bible says aboutAwareness of Nakedness(From Forerunner Commentary)Genesis 3:7-11A reason God asked the questions of Adam is to make those of us reading this think about the subject of nakedness as it applies to its scriptural use and thus to our spiritual life. The answer is obvious: Nobody told them. Before their sins, they were naked, but they were not aware of their nakedness. They simply accepted it as normal; they saw nothing unusual about it because they were naked from their first awareness of being alive.


This contains a vital lesson, one that is either never learned or quickly forgotten after being made aware of it. When Adam and Eve sinned, the first apparent result to them, the sinners, was that they were immediately aware of their nakedness. In this novel way, their proclivity to sin was exposed to them. Their innocence was forever destroyed.

We can deduce another effect of their sin: It changed their attitudes toward each other. Besides God and the Serpent, Adam and Eve were the only ones around, and when they sinned, God was nowhere in sight. Despite there being only the two of them, the awareness of their nakedness motivated them to cover up in the presence of each other. Before their sins, they were not aware of either their own or the other's nakedness. If there was no sense of shame or embarrassment between them, why cover up? Yet, with sin, their attitudes toward each other had changed. It is as if each felt their nakedness needed to be hidden from the other. Humiliation, too, now appears to be a part of their relationship. Their untainted feelings for each other that had existed since their creation began to turn immediately.

First, the Hebrew text in Genesis 9 is very different than the words of Leviticus 20:11. In Genesis 9:22 the Hebrew for "saw" is raah while the phrase "uncovered" in Leviticus 20 is galah. Though they sound similar when translated into English, they are in fact very different thoughts in Hebrew. To see nakedness and to uncover nakedness are not at all the same action. The first involves looking upon an unclothed body, while the latter means to engage in sex.

A certain fear always belongs to the essence of shame. Nevertheless, original shame reveals its character in a particular way: "I was afraid, because I was naked." We realize that something deeper than physical shame, bound up with a recent consciousness of his own nakedness, is in action here. Man tries to cover the real origin of fear with the shame of his own nakedness. Thus he indicates its effect, in order not to call its cause by name. Then God-Yahweh says in his turn: "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (Gn 3:11).

2. The precision of that dialogue is overwhelming; the precision of the whole narrative is overwhelming. It manifests the surface of man's emotions in living the events, in such a way as to reveal their depth at the same time. In all this, nakedness does not have solely a literal meaning. It does not refer only to the body; it is not the origin of a shame related only to the body. Actually, through nakedness, man deprived of participation in the gift is manifested, man alienated from that love which had been the source of the original gift, the source of the fullness of the good intended for the creature.

3. What state of consciousness can be manifested in the words: "I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself"? What interior truth do they correspond to? What meaning of the body do they testify to? Certainly this new state differs a great deal from the original one. The words of Genesis 3:10 witness directly to a radical change of the meaning of original nakedness. As we pointed out previously, in the state of original innocence nakedness did not express a lack. Rather, it represented full acceptance of the body in all its human and therefore personal truth.

At creation, Adam and Eve lived in a natural state without clothing (Gen. 2:25), and nakedness represented a state of innocence. However, after the fall of all mankind in Adam (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-19), nakedness was recognized as a source of shame (Gen. 3:7, 10-11). It was considered so vile that immediately God himself provided covering for the first couple (Gen. 3:21). Subsequently, modest apparel has been emphasized in Scripture as well (cf.1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet 3:3-4).

Leviticus 18:17: You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.

Our bodies belong to the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13; cf. Rom. 12:1), and the uncovering of nakedness is only permissible within the intimate confines of marriage relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-5). Violators are punished, and we have Absalom as an example. He went into his father David's concubines and had sex with them, thus uncovering his father's nakedness (2 Sam. 16:22). This was hideous conduct (cf. Deut. 27:20) and the sin was great before God and all Israel. Absalom later died a violent death (2 Sam. 18:1-33).

Now, with this background, back to the question of Noah and Ham. Noah was the head of the covenant of the newly re-created world. However, after the flood he planted a vineyard and became drunk on it's wine (Gen. 9:20-21). His son Ham entered his tent and saw his father's nakedness (Gen. 9:22). Ham, like Absalom, made this public knowledge when he told his brothers (Gen. 9:22; cf. 2 Sam. 16:22). We are not sure of the exact nature of Ham's sin: Did he mock Noah's nakedness? Did he violate his father in some sexual manner? Whatever the case, when Noah discovered what Ham had done, he cursed him (Gen. 9:24-25).

Reflecting on original nakedness reinforces the dignity of the person and shines light on the depth of intimacy we are created to experience. This can help us gradually re-orient our vision so that we can see each other as the divine gifts that we are. To this end, we will ponder these themes further next time.

While the nudist campaigners of these decades may have been undeservedly neglected, there remains the fundamental truism that organized nakedness never became a mass movement in Britain or the United States in the way that it did in some parts of Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Once again A Brief History of Nakedness does little to articulate this problem though it does provide some tantalising clues as to how we might begin to explain the puzzle of a national reluctance to go starkers at key moments in history when large numbers of continentals went for public disclosure. One explanation must lie in the subject of the opening chapters of this book: namely, the influence of religious beliefs and attitudes to the untrammelled body. Not only the larger churches but Nonconformist sects such as the Methodists were slow to approve of bodily indulgences, though it can be argued that the allotment movement (another important feature of the early 20th century) offered the dignity of outdoor labour to such conscientious Christians. In other settings, such as the communities founded by the Tolstoyian faithful of the Cotswolds, religious faith and mysticism could be coupled with radical nudism. Perhaps too much has been made of the hold which Wicca, druidry, black magic and paganism held over the nudist movement in the middle decades of the century. Christian ethics also permitted nakedness as well as vegetarianism and water temperance for some true believers at this period.

Leviticus 18 continues with a litany of commandments concerning forbidden sexual relationships, beginning with the verse, "None of you men shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the Eternal" (Leviticus 18:6). The list of people whose nakedness should not be uncovered includes one's mother, one's father's wife, one's aunt, one's sister, one's half-sister, and one's daughter. A reader might conclude that because the chapter began with the admonition against copying the practices in the lands of Egypt and Canaan, these forbidden relationships were among those practices. But perhaps, through a modern lens, we may discover a different interpretation.

The majority of the commandments listed are against incest and imply sexual relations through the euphemism of uncovering nakedness. "Your father's nakedness, that is, the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover" (Leviticus 18:7). The reference is emphasized in Genesis 2:24 where it is written, ". . . they [a man and his wife] become one flesh," meaning the nakedness of one's mother is the nakedness of one's father, for by being married, they are of one flesh.

Our chapter sheds important light on the mysterious events following the Flood, where we find Ham, the youngest son of Noah, boasting to his two brothers that he had just seen "his father's nakedness." His brothers Shem and Japheth walk backward with a cloth to cover the exposed parent, and the text makes it clear that "facing backward, they did not see their father's nakedness" (Genesis 9:23). When the story is understood literally to refer to Noah himself, it leaves much room for confusion, particularly when the one who receives punishment and is cursed is Canaan, Ham's son. What did Canaan do after all? But based on Leviticus 18, when we understand Noah's nakedness to refer to his wife, the mystery begins to be solved. Canaan is the result of incest between Ham and his own mother. When we read the opening verse of this story, "Noah's sons who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham?he was the father of Canaan" (Genesis 9:18), we wonder why Canaan is mentioned at all in a list of Noah's sons. In light of Leviticus 18 the answer becomes clearer.

"Your father's nakedness" is a metaphor for the nakedness of your mother. Is it possible that the metaphors don't stop there? Perhaps nakedness itself is also a metaphor for something else. The first thing Adam and Eve realize after they eat from the Tree of All Knowledge is that they are naked. They sew together fig leaves as loincloths to cover themselves. There seems to be a connection between clothing oneself and being enlightened. 041b061a72


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