Week 2: When Things Begin to Go Wrong

When Things Begin to Go Wrong:

The story of Adam and Eve is probably one of the more popular stories from the Bible.  In it’s popular telling the story begins with the Snake/Devil deceiving poor simple Eve to eat the apple from the tree.  After she finds the fruit to be good, she then entices her husband, Adam, to eat some of the fruit as well. Realizing that they have rebelled against God by trying to become gods themselves, they hide from God when they hear God coming.  Once God realizes the wrong the human couple has committed they are punished and exiled from the garden of Eden forever, and the story of the Fall is complete. But there is a problem, this story is not the one that is in Genesis. As we look at the story of Genesis 3 in this week’s study, try to (in as much as possible) forget everything we ‘know’ about the Garden of Eden story and what happened there.  Let us see what is actually in the story as written in Genesis 3.       

Bible Reference: Genesis 3.

As you read the text, ask yourself two questions.  What did you notice? and What did you Wonder? Remember as you do this we are not really interested in questions about how, but in why might it have been done this way or what does that mean.  For example; I noticed the woman gave the fruit to her husband “who was with her.” I wonder why God did want them eating from the tree of life, after eating from the tree of knowledge?  

A few things I noticed:

Genesis 3 is not a separate story.  It is a continuation of Genesis 2. Don’t be afraid to look back at last week’s study if needed.   The story begun in Genesis 2.4 continues, with a few interruptions, through Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel.  Chapter 11 ends with a genealogy that introduces the reader to Abraham, which brings an end to the primordial tale.  After the Tower of Babel fiasco, God chooses to begin anew, this time with Abarham. 

The story begins by introducing us to the serpent.  It is the most intelligent of all the wild animals that God had made.  It is popular to equate the serpent with Satan/Devil, however it is important to note there is no indication of doing this in the text itself.  It is fair to say that the serpent is not Satan/the Devil in Genesis. It is a creature made by God, even if it is the most intelligent and it talks.  Remember, Genesis 2 ends with us still in the world as not currently experienced. The identification of the serpent with the Devil first occurs in the Wisdom of Solomon (2.23-24).  Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal book for protestants (deuterocanonical for Catholics, among others) written in the late 1st bce (perhaps 40-30 bce).  The book of Revelation also identifies the serpent with Satan (Rev 12.9; 20.2).  The identification of the serpent with Satan is a relatively late development (300-500 hundred years after Genesis 3), and probably a retrospective reading of Genesis 3.  If we let the story in Genesis 3 stand on its own the serpent is not the Devil, but is instead a representative/symbol of creation.  

In verse 2 it is the woman who responds to the serpent’s question, except she wasn’t there when God commanded the human to not eat from the tree of knowledge. She embellishes the  command making it harder by including ‘don’t touch it.’  

With the serpents reply, we see the first, of multiple, disruptions in relationships.  The serpent's reply casts God as the enemy to the humans and the rest of creation, implying God lied to the human. Fundamentally altering the relationship between creation and God.  It is also worth pointing out that the serpent doesn’t lie, the humans don’t die after eating the fruit and their eyes were opened.   

After listening to the serpent the woman desires to be wise and so takes some of its fruit.  While the ‘wild animals’ and humans are closely related (having been made of the same stuff), it is the humans that carry a part of the divine with them, and are the ones who are meant to shape the destiny of the wild animals.  Here the snake usurps the role of humanity in the garden.     

To this point in the story it would seem like it is the woman’s fault for eating the fruit.  It would seem like the popular tradition of blaming the woman is coming directly from the story in Genesis itself. Except for the fact the man was with her the whole time.  They are both equally responsible for taking and eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge.  If anything, it should probably be the man who is more at fault. After all he was the one who heard the original command in the first place.  However, the text holds both equally responsible.  

After eating their eyes are opened, and they see clearly they are naked.  They make garments from fig leaves (which would leave little to the imagination).  Another disruption to a relationship. Before ‘seeing clearly’ the humans and the other wild animals were both naked, now the human cloth themselves in garments.  There is now an additional (extraneous) separation between the humans and the rest of creation (the humans were already different because of being animated by God’s breath).   

With God’s question the man first blames the woman and then God. The woman blames the serpent. A consequence of the already disrupted relationships. We don’t get to hear who the serpent would have blamed.  

The next verses are often seen as God’s punishment for violating the commandment to not eat of the tree of knowledge.  However, the language of punishment and sin is largely absent from text. The ‘curses’ are probably better understood as God describing the reality caused by the disruptions in relationship/connection that have already taken place.  The relationships between humanity and each other, between humanity and the rest of creation, and humanity and God have all been fundamentally changed/disrupted.    

It is probably better to understand this new reality as increasing the woman’s toil (instead of pain) in childbearing and in bringing forth children.  It is the same word/root in Hebrew used for the man’s toil in bringing forth food from the ground.  The point is that what was once supposed to come easy is now ‘work’ and ‘toil.’ We are now fully entering the world as it is, no longer the world as intended.  

The woman's ‘desire will be for’ her husband describes the reality of patriarchy.  Again this is not the world God intended, but is the result of the disruption in connection and relationship that has already occured.  After God is done speaking the man now names his wife, Eve.  Again not as God intended or even as intended by the man in the first place.  In Genesis 2 the man says ‘this one shall be called woman;’ passive voice.  Again we see the reality of patriarchy, which describes the world as experienced and not as intended.  The making of skins and clothing again emphasize the disruption in the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order. Again we see the reality of the world as experienced, instead of the world as God intended.  

We tend to view expulsion from the garden and access to the tree of life as a punishment.  But what if it is an act of mercy? Reality has been changed, relationships disrupted, with life in this new reality being ‘painful’ or filled with ‘toil,’ maybe living forever would be too much.  It would be inhuman.  

The story of Genesis doesn’t really describe a fall, as a fallout.  “A new set of relations intrudes upon the situation that had existed earlier between the human parties and God...Both humans now hold a problematic relationship with the nonhuman world...As we have seen, the new situation issues in hard labor for both the man and the woman.  They have not fallen; rather, their conditions in life have. In other words we might say their world has fallen...Genesis 3 is not the story of original sin or the Fall. It may be characterized as the movement from human desire to knowledge and then fear, knowledge again, difficulty, and ultimately death.  Desire predominates in a story that eventuates in the reality of death, but there is no sin or death yet. These will follow later in [Genesis] 4...” (Mark Smith, The Genesis of Good and Evil, p. 62).