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On Knowing and Not Knowing: In the Garden of Eden with Bertie Wooster

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Bertie Wooster, star of P.G. Wodehouse's series of comic novels, considers himself an expert on the Bible, and, as such, is an appropriate companion with whom to engage in biblical interpretation. In this essay, I read the Eden story of Genesis 2-3 with Bertie's help. Although Bertie never references Genesis 2-3 directly, questions relating to knowledge are central to both Wodehouse's novels and Genesis 2-3. The same questions—What do the characters know? How do they know what they know? What is the value of their knowledge?—can be asked of both Genesis 2-3 and Wodehouse's novels, and the way in which these questions are answered in the novels raises interesting interpretive possibilities for the Eden story. Reading Genesis 2-3 in this way highlights scholarly tendencies to overestimate what the story's characters know and the value of the knowledge they possess and reveals the bind in which readers of the story find themselves. As heirs to the knowledge which the story's characters come to possess in the course of the narrative, we know, from the outset, far more than they do, and our possession of this knowledge blinds us to how little they know. To understand what the story says about knowledge, we must simultaneously occupy a position of knowing and not-knowing, for, although the story cannot be told except by one who already possesses knowledge, it cannot be entered into except by shedding that knowledge, and, in so doing, recognizing its limitations.

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