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Archive for the ‘Adam and Eve – The Ascent of Mankind’ Category

Now why would a psychologist want to write about Adam and Eve?  Well, because it is a story that is known to just about everyone in the Western world.  “Mankind’s fall” and “original sin” are an integral part of Christianity and have been recurring themes for  around two millennia, in religious thought, art and folklore.  Who does not know the story of how Eve tempted Adam with the apple, resulting in the pair of them being cast out in disgrace from the garden of Eden? 

Everybody knows, the reason for the fall,

When woman tempted man down in Paradise’s hall

                                                                                                                                                 (Manfred Mann – Fox on the Run.)

This story has played a fundamental part in the formation of the Western Christian psyche and has resulted in an enduring misogyny, guilt, persecution and cruelty.  Right through to today, we can  see this story being repeated afresh, even in books for children. 

And, just about everything I have ever read about it is WRONG!!

(By the way – misogyny means hatred/dislike of women, not hatred/dislike of gynecology.)

In the beginning:

When I was a lad in school, there were a number of rather churchy girls in our classes.  My mates and I (brats that we were,) delighted in teasing them and debating derisively with them about their beliefs.  Until, one day, being a fairly bright young fellow, it dawned on me that I was arguing on a topic that I actually knew nothing about.  (“So what’s changed?,” asks my beloved.)

In those days, in Henderson, West Auckland, there was an old junk shop, where there is nowadays a parking lot.  This shop was filled with all sorts of fascinating clutter and was presided over by a crusty, grumpy, gnomic old fellow, who would chase us out of the place if he figured (quite rightly) that we were not going to buy anything.  On a shelf behind the counter, there was a stack of old bibles.  One evening, I bought one.  It cost me 10 shillings (about $1  in today’s money – but two hours work then) so this must have been in 1966, as we changed to decimal currency in 1967.  I have it still.  It is the King James version, with no date of publication that I can see, but there is a hand written note on the fly-leaf stating that it was presented by Ralph to “Dear Mary,” his sister, who was leaving Melbourne  for New Zealand in 1874.

On arriving home, I started reading at the beginning – Genesis.  I was stunned!  Seldom before had I read such words of simplicity, power and beauty: My favourite, most evocative lines, from the very beginning:

1:1  In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth

1:2.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness

was on the face of the deep .  And the spirit of God moved

upon the face of the waters.

I read the first three chapters of Genesis.  And I have returned to read them many times over the years.  What a wonderful story.  But even then, at the age of 16 or so, my thought was: This is not an account of mankind’s fall, or of any sort of sin, original or otherwise.  This is the story of mankind’s ascent, of how we  became human and it is told in a wonderfully allegorical form, which was never meant to be taken literally.  Let me explain:

The Garden of Eden

Think for a moment about animals living in the wild.  Don’t they live in a “Garden of Eden?”  All their requirements are right there.  Their shelter is right there.  They have no need of clothing.  Their food is “the plant and herb of the field” – and often enough each other.  In this garden of Eden, the lion truly does lie down with the lamb.  And tomorrow he will lie down with another one!  Animals don’t really know death, or life for that matter.  They come into being, they do what they do and at the end of their lives (either from old age, disease, or being lunched on by something bigger and faster,) they just stop.  The rest of the herd may show a moment of consternation, but then moves on looking for the next meal. 

Would you like to live in a Garden of Eden?  I sure wouldn’t.  Those first two or three chapters of Genesis don’t actually say it was a nice place.  Besides, I like my comfortable, warm, safe house. I like quality music on a good sound system, I like the occasional glass of red wine, good dentistry, comfortable underwear and food that doesn’t fight back.  I certainly don’t fancy dying screaming as I become something else’s food. 

Evolution:

So, we have the situation where God (whatever/whoever we believe God to be) created the earth more or less instantly over a period of many millions of years.  (Time doesn’t have any meaning if there is no-one there to measure it.)

Now, if you will, picture the scene:  A group of Adams and Eves, proto-humans, living an animal like existence, browse their way across the Savannah, foraging for whatever they can eat and with a wary eye out for large and hungry predators. 

Gen: II, 16: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying,

of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17:  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.  (My emphasis.)

(Yes I know this was before God created Eve from Adam’s rib – don’t be picky!)

Note that it was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – not an apple tree.  Now what does it take to know good and to know evil?  It takes conceptual thinking surely?  (Conceptual thinking is the ability to think in concepts.  Good and evil are concepts and the ability to think this way requires not only a degree of intelligence, but also a sense of “I-ness” or self-identity.)

The Fall (or was it?)

So the group of Adams and Eves are sometimes happily and most times warily foraging away, when all of a sudden (see note on time above) Eve begins to think in concepts: “I like that – that is good.”  “I don’t like that – that is bad.”  She thereby reaches out, (with a little prompting from the serpent) takes and eats the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She takes a step up the evolutionary pathway to truly human.  In that instant, the garden of Eden is gone from Mankind forever.  She begins to know good and evil.  And, once you shake that tree, all sorts of things start dropping out:  love, hate, cruelty, kindness, jealousy, greed, revenge, awareness of life and of death – and what happens after death.   And then there was Adam.

(Sigh – the gals got one up on us here guys.  Could that be the source of all that misogyny over the centuries?    But can’t you just picture the scene:

Eve:      “Adam, love, I think that log would look better over the other side of the cave and how about taking that pile of bones off down the hill, they’re starting to pong.  Oh and while you are at it, what about some art-work on the walls.  A few running animals and the like?”

Adam:      “Huh?”

Eve:          “Come on Adam, do a bit of evolving here. You’ve been sitting on you butt for 200,000 years.  Wake up, get with the tour, smell the coffee!”

Adam:      “Coffee!  Pizza!  Fishing!  Beer!  Television!  Way to go babe!”

Eve:          “Oh God, what have I started?”)

So, having discovered conceptual thinking,

III : 7  … the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

 and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

(Just in passing, if you are inclined to take all this sort of thing literally, doesn’t the notion of a talking serpent seem just a teensy bit strange?  And, in case you are inclined to say nasty, evil serpent, take a look at Matthew 10 : 16  “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  Hmm!  The serpent can symbolise wisdom – isn’t that interesting?) 

Anyway, back to my theme, then comes God, walking in the garden in the cool of the day (and presumably pretending that he is not omniscient.)  He calls for Adam, Where art thou?  Adam and Eve, exercising their new-found conceptual thinking, have hidden from him, ashamed that they were naked.

Ah-ha, says God (Gen III : 11)  Who told thee that thou wast naked?

(Adam, of course, catches on to this conceptual thinking lark rather quickly, especially to notions of responsibility (denial of) and blame and when put on the spot by God, dumps Eve right in it:  III : 12 : “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.” )  And then, according to traditional interpretations, the fertilizer hits the atmospheric recirculator for Adam and Eve. 

But hold on a moment!  Have a read of that chapter and tell me where it says that God was angry.  True, the serpent gets his butt kicked (and his legs ripped off,  – III : 14)  but where does it say that He was angry with Adam and Eve?  Yes, yes, yes, I can see all the fingers pointing to III : 16 (I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children … etc.)  And III : 17, to Adam, (… cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.) 

But isn’t God here depicted as talking with A&E rather like a father who has seen his children grow beyond their childhood and begin to move towards adulthood?  And to warn them of the trials, tribulations and dangers out there.  How many of us, who are loving parents, watching their children grow, have not experienced that moment:

My child, my beautiful child,

You have left your childhood forever,

You can never return

You are entering the world, with all it’s beauties and wonders

And all it’s cruelties, sorrows and suffering

You will long to return to your childhood – even on your death-bed

But you cannot.  The path leads ever forward.

And the clincher is, III : 21

Unto Adam, and also to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

Hardly the actions of an enraged deity, disowning his creations and chucking them out in the street, is it?

So Adam and Eve walked out (figuratively speaking) of the garden of Eden, as they absolutely had to, in order to begin the journey of human social and spiritual evolution.  The story told in Genesis is then, is an account of Mankind’s ascent, it should be seen as a triumph, an ode to joy, not some crabbed and nasty fall into sin. 

(Just in passing, compare what I have written above, to the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: that much of life is pain and suffering.  We struggle throughout our life against all sorts of vicissitudes and tribulations, we inevitably age, sicken and die.  The Buddha went on to reveal the Eightfold Noble Path, to assist his followers to attain freedom from the cycles of pain and suffering.)

Yes I am aware that Genesis is part of the Jewish scriptures and is not Christian as such.  It has, however been appropriated and incorporated into Christianity, where it was given it’s negative spin.  My impression is that Judaism has been much more inclined to view the story as symbolic and to interpret it in many different ways.  (For more on this see Karen Armstrong – The Bible, the Biography, reviewed on this site.)

III : 23 :  Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from

the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24:  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the

garden of Eden Cherubims and a flaming sword which

turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Cherubim #1:  “It’s my turn to hold the flaming sword.  You’ve held it since 4004 BC*.  I never get to hold it, it’s not fair.”

Cherubim #2:  “Oh, here – go for it.  Sorry. I didn’t realise.  Tell the truth, the thing creeps me out a bit, turning this way and that.  Like it’s looking for something it can lop off.”

Cherubim #1:  “Let’s face it – they aren’t coming back.  We haven’t seen hide not hair of them for millennia.  They’re out there begetting and begatting like rabbits, building, fighting, partying, fiddling their taxes.  I don’t think they actually want to come back – apart from a few fundamentalists, and they’re a few scrolls short of a revelation, I can tell you. “

Cherubim #2: “God, I hate this job.” 

*  In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher, after counting backwards through all the begetting and begatting, (he really should have got out more) published his conclusions that the world was created on Sunday, October 23rd, 4004BC, beginning at sunset of the 22nd.   He didn’t actually put a time on it, as popular notion has it, but some of his contemporaries seem to have – eg 9:00am, or 3:00pm (presumably GMT.)

 

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