When we left Adam and his wife (so far still named “woman”), they had just met and, determining that she made a better companion than cattle, beasts of the field, and birds of the air, Adam decided to tie the knot. The scene closed with the two of them naked and unashamed. In Chapter 3, we get to find out why Adam starts to think that maybe he should have made do with the cattle…
We jump right into the action with the serpent, who is “more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). It may seem trivial to note, but it’s explicit here that God created the serpent – presumably in nature as well as in form. It’s been pointed out many times, but it bears repeating that God created two people who cannot yet tell right from wrong, who have no idea what death (or anything less than an Edenic existence is like), then gave them a tree and told them that they can’t eat from it on pain of death (once more, these two people have no concept of what that is), and then unleashed a “subtle” trickster into their environment. How can Adam and Eve, who at this point are little more than moral infants, be held responsible for anything that follows as a result of these conditions?
In a story that shows some resemblance to the Sumerian tale of Inanna and the Huluppu tree, the serpent begins by asking Eve if God has said anything about not eating from trees. Eve, who was not alive yet when God gave his commandment, is able to spout it off nearly verbatim, including the warning that “in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17). No, says the serpent. “You will not die” (Gen. 3:4). In fact, he goes on, God only said that because he “knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).*
I want to draw attention to the fact that it’s God who is shown to be the liar here, not the serpent. When Adam and Eve eat the fruit, they do not die (not that day, nor the day after, nor the day after that). Just as the serpent tells them, they live and they acquire knowledge of good and evil. Furthermore, the serpent’s explanations for God’s motive is not all that far-fetched – God lied to them because he doesn’t want them to be his equals.
On my other blog, I recently wrote a post about the emphasis in certain religious sects on parental authority, and the dom/sub relationship between parents and children. And here I am, reading about a situation that looks eerily familiar. God is that parent, the one who wants submissive, well-behaved, ignorant children who never question his authority. He does not want children who are capable adults, who are able to reach moral conclusions on their own without being given explicit instruction from their parent. He doesn’t want children who grow up.
But Eve does what I wish all children from such families would do – she refuses to go along with an expectation of blind obedience and she grows up. Better than that, she takes her poor docile sibling/husband Adam along with her. It’s hard to see her as anything but a hero!
Eve gives three reasons for eating the fruit (Gen. 3:6):
- It’s “good for food” – Yum yum!
- It’s “a delight to the eyes;”
- And, it’s “to be desired to make one wise.”
It’s hard to see what humanity’s great crime, our “original sin,” is. Was it just disobedience, the placing of a toy near an infant for the purpose of tempting them so that a lesson can be taught (as the Pearls advise in To Train Up A Child)? Was the sin to aspire to be more like God (even though we were supposedly created in his image, as we read back in Chapter 1)? Or was it the pursuit of wisdom and moral knowledge?
And I must state again that, whatever humanity’s sin, it was committed prior to our having any capability of moral reasoning. It makes the whole idea of punishing humans reprehensible! In our society, we understand that a person cannot be held responsible for crimes unless they knew they were doing something wrong – that’s why our justice system includes protection for minors and the mentally disabled.
Now that Adam and Eve have tasted the fruit, they realize that they are naked at suddenly feel ashamed, so they sew aprons for themselves out of fig leaves. But then they hear God walking around in the garden and hid themselves.
“Where are you?” calls out God to the man (Gen. 3:9). God, apparently, hasn’t yet developed omnipotence.
Adam, the eternal tattle-tale, immediately fesses up that he and Eve were hiding because they didn’t want God to see them naked.
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” asks God (Gen. 3:11). Once again, God does not know what’s happened (and he might never have found out if it weren’t for Blabbermouth Adam).
Adam, being a gentleman, immediately squeals on his sister/wife. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3: 12). To be fair to Adam, Eve then promptly squeals on the serpent. Apparently, having knowledge of good and evil doesn’t necessarily mean that one takes responsibility for one’s own actions.
In Which Punishments Are Dolled
The next long bit is a list of punishments that God gives out to the various parties involved.
- The serpent is cursed “above” all other cattle and wild animals. “Upon your belly you shall go” (Gen. 3:14). Not really a punishment for a snake…
- The second part of the serpent’s curse is that he will be in “enmity” with humans, so that “he shall bruise your head,/and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). I’ll have to let Ray know about this…
- For the woman, God will “greatly multiply your pain in childbearing” (Gen. 3:16). Conscious as always of reading too much into the wording of a translation, the use of the word “multiply” seems to suggest that woman would have had pain in childbearing even in Eden, and it’s only getting increased because of the fall. This puts an interesting perspective on God’s creative direction.
- Woman’s second curse is that “in pain you shall bring forth children,/yet your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16). In other words, women won’t be able to stop having sex with men, even knowing the consequences. Also, ancient Hebrew men seem to be flattering themselves.
- And the third part of woman’s curse is that her husband “shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Not much of a difference there. Adam got to name woman, displaying his ownership, and she was created as his helper rather than his equal. So where’s the change?
- Adam is punished “because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (Gen. 3:17). I would like to see Christian feminists try to explain this one away.
- Serpents and women are cursed because of their part, but when it comes to Adam – “cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). Men are just too special. They may have to suffer the consequences of the earth now being cursed, but they themselves are not cursed for their actions even though their part was just as grievous as that of the woman and the serpent.
- In any case, the cursed ground means that earth will bring forth “thorns and thistles” and having food to eat will now require “toil” (Gen. 3:17).
- Adam’s final punishment is that he gets to eat bread “till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:19). The punishment here is a bit ambiguous since this is directed towards Adam and not towards Eve. Since women also “return to the ground,” the only possibility I can see is that Adam is glucose intolerant and the actual punishment here is that he’s got to eat bread. Could have been made clearer, especially since we’ve had a couple millennia of terribly mistaken theologians thinking that the punishment is the mortality portion, but at least we know the real answer now. Better late than never!
Only now does the woman finally get a name – not content with having displayed his ownership by naming her once, Adam now does so again by naming her Eve (Gen. 3:20).
“Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22).
God makes some clothes for Adam and his wife to wear, and then, “lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (Gen. 3:22), God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden.
This lends some support to the idea that humanity’s true sin is becoming too much like God, becoming too powerful, and coming close to being able to address him as an equal. The wisdom that Eve gave to humanity made us God’s intellectual equal and he now fears that we might become his full equal if we achieve immortality. When seen like this, it’s hard to view God in any kind of positive light. He’s the parent who does everything he can to keep his children down, stunting their growth so that he can extend his own personal power trip. This is not the mark of a good father.
In any case, he places the cherubim and a flaming sword to the east of the garden to guard the way to the tree of life.
* * * *
*I’ve heard apologists say that Adam and Eve really did die on that day, in that they ceased to be immortal and began that slow march towards the inevitable. I’m inclined to literalism, and since none of this is actually stated in the text, it’s hard for me to see it as anything other than post hoc excuse making. Maybe they are right, maybe that’s the original intention of the passage, but I see little (other than wishful thinking) to suggest it.
EDIT: James McGrath has an interesting thought-jiggle post about the two trees:
This one highlights the fact that young-earth creationists say there was no death in God’s original creation, prior to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Yet there was supposedly a tree of life eating from which would allow humans to live forever. And there was no need for such a tree in a world in which death did not exist.