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Furthermore, this same prophecy made to Oedipus himself leads him to flee to Thebes -- which in turn leads to the murder of Laius on the road and his subsequent marriage to Jocosta. And finally, it is Oedipus' "wish to know the seed from where [he] came," that results in the ultimate knowledge of his birth, his true nature, and his ultimate downfall (Oedipus the King. 1295).
While the Book of Genesis seems to suggest that the crux of man's nature is knowledge seeking, man is also by nature a prideful, self-serving being, inherently motivated by a keen desire -- or perhaps even instinct -- to preserve him self. For example, regarding God's call of Abram in chapter 12, it is not the mere pleasure of serving God and righteousness that motivates Abram to follow God, but rather God's promise to establish and preserve Abram's name. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing" Gen. 12.2). "I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted" (Gen. 13.16). Thus we see man as motivated not only by the preservation of his physical body, but also by that of his legacy as through the continuance of his name.
The instinct to establish and preserve one's legacy is a popular and powerful theme throughout the Book of Genesis -- not only among men, but among women as well. For example, when Lot and his daughters flee Sodom and Gomorrah and are forced into secluded hiding, the daughters would rather deceive and seduce their father into sleeping with them than let the family line parish. "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom of the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.'" (Gen. 19.32) the instinct toward self-preservation, therefore, incites man to sin every bit as the quest for knowledge does; yet another notion of the nature of man and existence that Oedipus the King supports. Says Oedipus of his pursuit of Laius' killer, "This polluting stain I will remove, not for some distant friend, but for myself. For whoever killed this man may soon enough desire to turn his hand in the same way against me, too, and kill me. Thus, in avenging Laius, I serve myself" (Oedipus the King. 166-170)
Nonetheless, it is possible according to the Book of Genesis for man to act virtuously and unselfishly. In fact, that Genesis ends with the story of Joseph -- favorite son of Jacob, sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery -- seems to suggest that another component of man's nature is his ability to overcome his inclination to sin. Though Joseph's brothers only refrained from killing him because they gained more by selling him, Joseph eventually forgives them, saying, "Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen.50.19).
This shift from a self-centered to other-centered perspective is perhaps Genesis' most notable statement about the nature of man. Though man begins ignorant and then becomes knowledgeable and inclined to abuse that knowledge, it is possible -- and perhaps even inevitable -- for man to evolve past that to a state of knowledgeable virtue. It is even possible for man to serve himself through the serving of others, as exemplified by Joseph dying a rich and respected man in Genesis' final versus. The attainment of knowledge can therefore be seen as a double-edged sword, one that has the potential to corrupt, but also the potential to lead beyond the grasp of corruption. The choice -- Genesis seems to say -- is man's alone.
Broadman & Holman's NIV Pocket-Size Bible. Pocket-Size ed. Nashville, TN. Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005. Print.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Trans. Ian Johnston. Malaspina Univeristy-College,…[continue]
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