In a man’s world women have been blamed for many things from that day to this. If a man rapes a woman, it is because she has tempted him with a provocatively appealing dress. If a man abuses a woman, it is because she irritated him. If a man divorces a woman, it is because she became one with whom he found it no longer tolerable to live. If a woman is competent at playing the man’s game, she is put down with the suggestion that at best she is a hussy and at worst a bitch. If she resorts to feminine wiles to achieve her goal, she is playing ‘the female thing’ for all she is worth. These assumptions continue the pattern established in this story told about the Garden of Eden. Eve was the reason for the man’s downfall. She was responsible for the introduction of evil into the world. It is a wonderful story, but it is just that: a story. It is the narrative through which our ancestors tried to capture the ‘truth’ of their existence. Let me continue the storytelling process begun in the previous chapter, separating the myth from the holy sounds of biblical language.
In the beginning, said this ancient Hebrew legend, God created a perfect world. It was a world upon which the creating deity could look with a sense of satisfaction and pronounce all things good. It was also a finished world, so complete that God could take a day off to rest from the divine labors. It was in this way, this particular narrative suggested, that the Sabbath was established.
Into that perfect world in the Garden of Eden God placed a perfect man, Adam, and his perfect helpmeet, Eve, to be the stewards of God’s bounty. In this garden was all that they could desire. There was ample water since four rivers ran through it. Those rivers were named the Pishon, the Gihon, the Hiddekel (sometimes called the Tigris) and the Euphrates. The latter two rivers are today identified with the country of Iraq and were known in ancient history as forming ‘the Fertile Crescent’ or the ‘Cradle of Civilization.’ There were also ample supplies of gold and onyx. The myth made no mention of how this first family would use these symbols of wealth, but whoever wrote the story understood their value and decided to include them in this first human dwelling place. There were also vegetables, fruit trees and all the other sources of food that human beings could want. It was a perfect world and the perfect man and the perfect woman who inhabited it had access to it all.
God and the man and the woman lived in a perfect relationship, symbolized in the story by the fact that God walked with Adam and Eve each day in the cool of the evening. Air-conditioning had not yet been developed and God knew better than to come out in the heat of the day. That kind of behavior was to be reserved in history for mad dogs and Englishmen!
There was but one rule in this original world. A tree stood in the midst of the garden, the fruit of which was forbidden to human beings. It was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was not an apple tree. It did not become an apple tree until Jerome translated the scriptures into Latin in the fourth century of this Common Era.
Jerome’s clever designation has enriched our language by entitling the cartilage that nervously vibrates in the throat of some men as the ‘Adam’s apple.’ Apparently, the forbidden fruit stuck permanently in the throats of some of the sons of Adam!
So Adam and Eve settled happily into their life in this garden, enjoying it all while abiding by that single prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Forbidden fruit, however, casts a peculiar kind of spell. It enters the fantasies. It creates wonder. One gets the impression that this tree was the subject of much conversation in the first family and even much mouth-watering anticipation. Nonetheless, Adam and Eve remained faithful to the divine command; at least they did so until one day when the woman was circling the tree alone. The story suggests that her fantasies simply overwhelmed her.
As Eve stared at that fruit, we are told, a serpent walked up to her on two legs, for that was the way snakes walked in those days. The snake spoke, probably in perfect Hebrew, since that surely was the only language Eve understood: ‘Miss Eve, did God really say you could not eat the fruit of this tree?’
‘Yes, Mr. Snake,’ Eve responded. ‘God said that if we eat the fruit of this tree, we will surely die!’
‘You won’t die, Miss Eve,’ said the snake. ‘God knows that if you eat of this tree, you will be as wise as God. God doesn’t want human creatures to compete with the Holy One! You, Eve,’ the serpent suggested, ‘can be as wise as God!’ That was a new idea for this woman. It presented her with a vision of transcending the limits of her humanity; it offered her a way to become something more than any of her dreams or fantasies had suggested; it freed her imagination.
The story suggests that this new idea constituted an irresistible and therefore a determinative temptation.
Eve succumbed and ate the fruit. Then she called the innocent Adam over and urged him to try it. He did. The deed was done. God’s perfect creation was wrecked. Disobedience had entered the human arena through the woman, who was clearly the weak link in God’s creation. After Adam and Eve ate, the story tells us, their eyes were opened and they discovered that they were naked. Presumably they had been naked all along, but it appears that they had not noticed. Now, aware of their bodies, they experienced shame. They scurried to cover their nakedness with fig leaf aprons.
Suddenly they realized it was nearing the time for God’s evening stroll through the garden. Before their disobedience, God had been thought of as their friend and as one whose presence they anticipated with pleasure. After their disobedience, however, God was perceived as their judge, the elicitor of their guilt, a presence to be feared and avoided. They decided that they could no longer endure the company of the divine one, so in an act of wonderful theological na’vet’, they invented a human game called ‘hide-and-seek.’ God was to be ‘it.’ It was a primitive conception that seemed to assume it really was possible to hide from God in the bushes. So it was done.
This strangely human deity, who was clearly without the divine quality of being all-seeing, began the stroll through the garden, only to discover that it was empty. The astounded God could not find the man and the woman. So God called out for the senior member of the human family: ‘Adam, Adam, where are you?’
Since this was the first time the game of hide-and-seek had ever been played in human history, Adam did not quite understand the rules. If God called, he had to answer, so Adam responded, ‘Here we are, God, hiding in the bushes.’
‘What in the world are you doing in the bushes?’ God asked. But then it suddenly dawned on the divine consciousness, which apparently did not know all things in advance, just what this behavior meant. So God asked, ‘Have you eaten of that tree?’
‘It was not I,’ said Adam. ‘It was that woman. You remember, that woman you made.’
‘It was not I,’ said the woman. ‘It was that snake.’ So the process of blame and rationalization began.
John Selby Spong, The Sins of Scripture
HarperOne (October 13, 2009) pp. 86-92