Christians tell a story, supposedly from their bible, in which the first perfect man falls from the grace of a loving creator because of his rebellion. The story is told of how Satan deceived Eve, and because of her, and subsequently Adam’s “sin”, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. That is why humans sin today and that is why we need Jesus.
Admittedly, this story doesn’t actually make any sense. Interestingly enough, it is also not the story which is written in the bible. It is a story that has been told and retold, interpreted and reinterpreted for at least three thousand years. Before the story was ever committed to writing, it also likely went through countless stages of evolution, just as it has done since it was first written. This story comes from one of the older traditions that make up the Hebrew bible, the J-source, and may have first been told in this fashion, in Judah, around the beginning of the first millennium BCE.
It is an interesting adventure to try to put aside all indoctrinated preconceptions regarding “The Fall of Man” story from Genesis, and try to read the story through innocent eyes, reading what the text says, rather than importing later interpretations into the text. This will be the exercise.
Quotations from Genesis are taken from the Jewish Publication Society, Tanach, 1917.
And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
The P-source creation story in the Bible (Gen. 1-2:4a) concludes with Elohim’s (translated God) creation being complete, perfect and pleasing in the eyes of Elohim. The J-source creation story (Gen. 2:4b-25) relays YHWH Elohim’s (translated LORD God) creation in an entirely different light, in an entirely different order and contains lessons of morality not contained in the P-source version of creation.
“And the LORD God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.”(2:8). Notice that contrary to the first narrative, there is no woman at this point. The man (ha adam) is given one purpose, “to dress it and to keep it” (2:15b) and one command, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”(2:17)
The man was alone in the garden. He was not forbidden access to the tree of life but he could not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”.
“And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’ And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them; and whatsoever the man would call every living creature, that was to be the name thereof. And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” (2:18-20)
After numerous failed attempts to manufacture a suitable “help meet” for the man (but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him), the animals of earth are found lacking. LORD God comes up with a new idea.
“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (2:21-23)
LORD God physically anesthetized the man and surgically removed one of his ribs. He then closed up the wound and from this rib He made the woman. In this earlier J-source, the authors of this ancient story picture YHWH-Elohim working with his hands, whereas in the later P-source, the deity is seen as transcendent, who simply has to speak and events happen. This is one example of the evolution of God.
In the P-source narrative, creation moves up in the scale, climaxing with the creation of mankind “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Gen. 1:27). In the J-source story, creation moves down the scale starting with man (2:7), the plants (2:9), then the animals (2:19) and lastly (sorry ladies) woman or ‘wife-man’. The earlier version never implies that mankind was made in the image of God. The Hebrew word for man is ‘ish’ which refers to the male of the species. Ishshah is the feminine form of ish, which could be compared with lion/lioness, or man/maness. The word translated as ‘woman’ is a corruption of the later compound word ‘wife-man’.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” (3:1)
Enter the subtle serpent that would later, after the influences of the Persian and Hellenistic eras, be interpreted as Satan himself but who did not even exist when this story was first written. The serpent asks the question, very specifically referencing “any tree of the garden?” The woman responds as if to clarify, “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (3:2-3)
Sidenote: Nowhere in the prior text are they forbidden from touching the tree. This might explain a later tradition that the serpent pushed the woman into the tree and when she realized that she wouldn’t die from touching it, she then proceeded to eat the fruit.
The serpent responds to the woman’s answer by saying, “Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” (3:4b-5)
The man and woman did not possess the knowledge of good and evil before they ate the fruit. They were innocent and naïve. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” (3:6b) The woman did not possess it, but she wanted wisdom, “the tree was to be desired to make one wise”.
Now arrives the moment of truth. Did the serpent deceive, or lie to the woman, or did the serpent tell the truth? Reading the rest of the story makes this completely clear.
“And the eyes of them both were opened” (3:7a)
“And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (3:22a)
The claim of LORD God was: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (2:17)
The claim of the serpent was: “Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”(3:4b-5)
The result of the action (“in the day” 2:17, 3:5) was: “And the eyes of them both were opened” (3:7a) and in LORD God’s own words, “‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil”(3:22a)
Someone lied, but it definitely wasn’t the serpent. The events unfolded exactly as the serpent said that they would. Adam would supposedly live to the ripe old age of 930 years. According to the Christian reinterpretation of the story, this was when Adam died “spiritually”, but that is to be found nowhere in the story. The Christian story also tells that it was because of this sin that they were cast out of the garden, but that is also not what the story says. All three participants were indeed punished for their actions; the serpent, the man and the woman, but according to the text, they were removed from the garden specifically because they now possessed the knowledge of good and evil. LORD God could not allow them to have both this knowledge of good and evil, and immortality together.
“And the LORD God said: ‘Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’ Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way to the tree of life.” (3:22-24)