Cut and paste existed long before there were computing machines and word processors. Before Ctrl-X (Apple-X) and Ctrl-V (Apple-V) there were scissors, blades, paste, tape, and the ever intoxicating rubber cement, and even before that portions of scripture were taught to people without the support of the narrative context to counteract doctrinal leaps and religious improvisations. I can think of few works more often cut-and-pasted than the first few chapters of Genesis.
The division of the second creation story and the “fall of humanity” into the second and third chapter of Genesis causes a bunch of problems for interpretation. We rush headlong into the story of a serpent who is actually the devil in disguise – the home audience knew right away because the serpent was talking in a non-Disney and non-parseltongue context – who wins woman over to his side with deceit a single sinful suggestion. Eve becomes a sorceress, wielding the magicks of her womanly ways in order to tempt her noble and innocent husband Adam into eating the forbidden fruit, and as the camera fades to the tune of “Careless Whisper” we fill in the blanks for the fruit metaphor.
The woman and the devil become man’s two favorite scapegoats. This was, of course, before man enacted the holy ritual of coming home from work and kicking the dog, so I decided not to add man’s best friend to the list just yet. Adam wasn’t the first man to pass off his own iniquities upon women. It happens today whenever a man blames his “impure thoughts” on the woman that is the object of said thoughts, and it happens every time it is determined that a woman is asking for what comes next. Have you ever wondered why nuns wear habits? It is because the priests were incapable of looking at a woman’s flesh without falling from grace. Their answer: cover up the flesh.
This story has spread like an unfortunately virulent game of telephone, and much of its popularity stems from the fact that people don’t trouble themselves to read the entire story. A snippet is enough.
In the previous two chapters, it is made clear that humanity is created in God’s image. As if that weren’t enough, humanity is also the most beloved of created things. It is not a stretch from these distinctions – and I think this interpretation would hold up even if I had a rudimentary understanding of Hebrew, which I don’t – to call humans god-like, or at the very least godly. In fact, God reveals in Chapter 3 that the only components humans are missing for godhood lie in the very garden he has blessed them with, namely, knowledge of good and evil and eternal life. No wonder we’re so prone to personify our deities, to call God a “he” and to get butt hurt when someone suggests that God might be anything other. We are so much like gods that God treats humanity as equals to the divine, or at least as near equals, when God decides to parlay with the first human, to enter into a covenant. After all, one never signs a treaty with one below ones station. It is not as if the farmer signs a contract with the fox who kills his chickens in which they promise to put down shotgun and teeth respectively for the sake of mutual peace. Also, I never read anything in the Iliad about proud Agamemnon negotiating the surrender of Troy with a Turkish peasant. To go into business in this way, humanity would have to be at least similar enough to God for the terms of the agreement to make sense.
God places an offer on the table that will certainly intrigue the first human. “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden” [Gen 2:16 NRSV]. In other words, Adam is offered a home in the garden of Eden in which each every one of his needs is completely taken care of. God offers something beneficial for humankind, but there is one condition: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” [2:17]. This is beneficial to God, because if humans obtained the knowledge of good and evil it would be as the serpent explained, “[F]or God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” [3:4]. Not only that, but Adam “might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” [3:22]. A human who had become a god would be threatening to the God who created them, so God made this covenant in order to assure that this would never happen. As if any human would give up the perfection of the garden of Eden, God added an additional clause upon breach of contract detailing that death is the punishment for obtaining knowledge of good and evil. The details of this first covenant have been outlined, but the main point has not: God made a treaty with Adam after the creation of terrestrial vegetation, before the creation of animals, and before the creation of Eve.
God does not entreat with Eve. While there is certainly something misogynistic about this whole endeavor – the creation of Adam first (which is contradicted in the first chapter), a covenant of a God who has historically been depicted as a man with the first human who has also been depicted as a man, the whole kit and kaboodle – there must be some people out there who realize that it is wrong to blame the woman in the story when the man is found in breach of contract. Do I believe that the covenant between God and Adam is meant to extend to Eve? Yes. I actually do. When the serpent first mentions eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve recites the wording of what was said to Adam. Later, when God asks the woman what she has done, Eve responds that the serpent had tricked her. She acknowledges her guilt. I’ve used a couple of analogies before, of a couple of parents talking to their child and of a family entertaining a house guest, but in order to elucidate this point I want to use yet another, that of the manager of a business.
Adam is the manager of Eden. It is his job to name all of the animals. He holds dominion over them, whatever that means. He has entered into covenant with God for the sake of all humanity. He is the point person for this contract. If my business promises to deliver a truck full of goods to another business and my employees in shipping can’t get the product out on time, it is nobody’s fault but mine. I am the manager of the business. I signed the contract. I will need to hold my shipping department accountable, but this is an internal matter. The fault, in the eyes of my customer, is mine, and rightly so. The buck stops here. The responsibility goes no further than my own desk. As misogynistic as it is to imagine Eve as one of Adam’s underlings, this analogy works only insofar as it assigns blame. It is Adam’s duty to make sure that everyone in the garden is compliant with their contractual obligations with God. They should all be trained on day one on the locations of the exits, the places to meet in case of tornado or fire, the placement of fire extinguishers and eye wash stations, and not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (In a business environment, the aforementioned tree would be turned into an acronym, because businesses LOVE acronyms.) If Adam had been the noble and innocent soul that we are lead to see him as, when God found them hiding from him and called them out for eating the forbidden fruit Adam would have hung his head and said, “It is true, God. I have come into conflict with the terms of the deal.” Instead he throws Eve under the bus, who in turn throws the serpent under the bus. His spinelessness does not redeem him, but rather reveals yet another one of Adam’s shortcomings as a manager.
One again I flash forward to modern day where I see the story of Genesis 3 playing out in this world right now. I once read that the natural resources present just within the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo are enough to sustainably feed the entire population of the earth forever and always. The trouble is that the area has been constantly engaged in one war or another at least since the time of the first European settlers. Though the earth might itself turn into a desert, if we had only this, our own garden of Eden, none of us would ever go hungry. It is through this lens that I think we have proven what we would have done with our godhood were we to stay in Eden and sup on the fruit of the tree of life as well. We’re currently only god-like and we’ve managed to destroy significant portions of the rain forest, poison the land, air, and sea in myriad ways, to taint our own food supply, to kill one another as farmers turn their plowshares into swords, and so on and so on. We gained the ability to destroy and irradiate entire cities – an ability we have already demonstrated on two occasions – when we discovered the nuclear bomb. But that is nothing compared to what just one of us could do with the powers we understand God as having.
We’ve proven again and again that we’re not worthy of the gifts given us. Thank God we’re not gods! There would be nothing left to be a god of.
Letter to a Confused Young Christian at Political Jesus
The Quest for the Historical Eve & Adam at Political Jesus
Sunday Funnies: Real Men of Genesis at Political Jesus
Welcome, Real Men of Genesis! at Real Men of Genesis
Is The Devil Real? at Political Jesus