Two more things Genesis 2/3 doesn’t say …

This is my second post about the 2nd section of Genesis which runs from 2:4b to 3:24, and which manages to be a colourful and entertaining myth while purportedly dealing with matters of life and death. There are many commentators who tell us what this section of Genesis is saying but, by way of difference, in these two posts, I’m focusing on 4 things I think it’s not saying. Here’s the next 2.

3. That Eve was responsible for leading Adam astray.

As with the idea that the serpent was the Devil, the idea that Eve was responsible for leading Adam astray didn’t appear until the 2nd century BCE, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus written by the Jewish Scholar Ben Sira, “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die“. Later on, it’s found in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 2:14, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor“. Later again, in the writings of Tertullian, the 3rd century CE Christian theologian, not only must Eve bear the entire guilt for what happened in the Garden of Eden, but all women everywhere, throughout all time, are declared to be “the devil’s gateway“. It’s as if there were, not 4, but 5 rivers flowing out of Eden – the 5th river being that of misogyny which has streamed on, down through the years, as part of the dark side of Christianity’s contribution to the world.

But let’s first go back to Genesis 2. There, before Eve had yet been fashioned from one of the sides of Adam, God told the man that he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam, in other words, was the first to ‘know the score’. Later, in Genesis 3:6, the Hebrew Bible tells us that Eve was not on her own in the Garden of Eden. As the NET Bible once again, in comparison with some translations, accurately makes clear, Adam was “with her”. Not only, then, had he himself been warned off by God but, being “with” Eve, he also had heard the conversation with the serpent. Nonetheless, apparently without the slightest hesitation or questioning, he accepted and ate the fruit Eve offered to him. 

They were jointly and equally disobedient, and God gives no indication otherwise when he dishes out retribution to both of them. The idea of Eve being the culprit who leads astray the deceived Adam doesn’t come from the Hebrew Bible. It’s another of the things Genesis 2/3 doesn’t say.

4. That there’s such a thing as ‘original sin’

Genesis 2/3, in the Hebrew Bible, contains no words meaning ‘sin’ or ‘punishment’. In time, however, the idea made its appearance that Adam and Eve’s disobedience had tainted all succeeding human beings. In the New Testament, in Romans 5:18, Paul’s opinion is that, “one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all“. Happily, the contemporary Jewish book of 2nd Baruch disagreed, “Adam was responsible for himself only; each one of us is his own Adam.” Unhappily, the 5th century CE Christian Bishop Augustine took up Paul’s idea enthusiastically, and was the 1st person to use the phrase peccatum originale, ‘original sin’. He’s had a succession of followers, including John Calvin, who added insult to injury with the associated idea of our ‘total depravity’ (which leaves all human beings, like the serpent in the garden, without a leg to stand on.)

Aside from there having being no Adam and Eve, as the Hebrew Bible scholar Claus Westermann has pointed out, Genesis 3 “is nowhere cited or presumed in the Old Testament; its significance is limited to primeval events.” In other words, it’s a historical non-event, and arguably should be a ‘theological’ one as well. In the story, Adam and Eve are guilty of disobeying an instruction from God, and get their marching orders from his garden. Augustine however (whom Sigmund Freud, on account of the good bishop’s tortuous sexual history, would have been delighted to have on his psychoanalytic couch), felt a need to ‘up the ante’. He decided that, from the moment of conception, every human being shares the guilt of that ‘first offence’, which now merits, not ejection from a garden, but everlasting punishment in the fiery torments of Hell. From a molehill to a mountain, comes to mind.

Another part of the dark side of Christianity’s contribution to the world, has been a tormentedly unhealthy attitude to sex, as an unwelcomely necessary alternative to the ‘sacredness’ of celibacy. What a difference from the relaxedly healthy attitude of “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis 1. ‘Original sin’ belongs in the overheated imagination of Augustine, but most definitely does not belong in Genesis 3.

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