Splitting the Adam


There are quite a few things I don’t really get about the Adam and Eve story, but one that I thought of recently involves the notion of being fruitful and multiplying. Actually, this isn’t part of the same story, but appears before it in Genesis 1, which gives a somewhat different account of creation. Regardless, both are in agreement that God can make life out of nothing, or at least out of dirt.

So why bring in the reproduction thing at all? Surely there’s plenty of dirt to make more people out of if God wants some more, and it’s not like that would be a particular drain on his power. This also gives the impression that God invented sex as the only possible way an animal species could avoid extinction, then made a bunch of rules as to how you weren’t supposed to have it.

Granted, some of these rules make sense, like not doing it with your parents or siblings.

I missed the part where Eve confessed to molesting her baby sister.
Still, if God considers sex to be something you should only do if absolutely necessary, why make it fun? For that matter, the account of the Nephilim suggests that even angels like to have sex, despite the fact that they’re immortal beings who have no need of continuing their species.

A frequent argument I hear is that God created the world to be mostly self-sufficient, only intervening when he really felt he needed to. But if God is truly omnipotent, what would be the need to make things work this way? Surely it would be a greater proof of God’s power if he just kept making bizarre new species appear right in front of people. (“Hey, is that a three-headed rabbit with tusks that just showed up out of thin air on the sidewalk up there?”) It’s like how men having nipples doesn’t disprove the idea of a creator, but it suggests that the creator was by no means perfect.

I also find the general point of the Garden of Eden story, at least as I see it, to be strangely regressive. The thing is, I’ll buy the idea that humans chose knowledge over blissful ignorance. And the size of our brains really DOES make childbirth harder than it otherwise might be. It might be considered the curse of humanity that we’re always trying to figure out how things work, and even now there are people who argue that there are areas in which we shouldn’t meddle. I don’t know that I buy this. Sure, there have been some really bad things created by human knowledge, like, say, the atomic bomb. That said, is it humanity being curious about nuclear fission that’s the problem, or rather humans deciding to use that knowledge to kill other humans? There may be advantages to not knowing certain things, but I don’t know that I’d say humanity was better off walking around naked in a garden that was probably full of fecal matter.

It’s like how another Genesis tale, the Tower of Babel, has it that God got really mad because people wanted to build a tall building. Maybe the transcriber got it wrong, but God was actually pissed off because the tower was built on the only known habitat for an endangered species. That’s more the kind of moral lesson I can get behind. Then again, couldn’t God just make more of that species and a new habitat for them? There’s also the notion that it’s best for people to blindly obey authority, because if we’d just done the thing God said to do without providing any reason for it, he never would have driven us out of Paradise. That’s certainly an attitude that’s still common in many religious families, pretty much ignoring the fact that even someone more knowledgeable and experienced can sometimes be wrong. The Gnostics interpreted the story in a different way, claiming that the serpent was in the right all along. And who’s to say that the Adam and Eve tale, which must have gone through many oral versions before being written down, didn’t originally have a different lesson, and perhaps a creator who wasn’t so big on unquestioning obedience?


One interpretation of the Fall of Man that I’ve come across several times is that it brought death into the world, and that not only would Adam and Eve have lived forever if they hadn’t eaten the fruit, but so would all the animals. I get the impression that this is at least partially an attempt to explain entropy, as Diane Duane does on a more cosmic scale in her Young Wizards series. The thing is, I don’t know that there’s any support for this in the story itself. After Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of Knowledge, God is afraid they’ll also eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. So did the fruit of knowledge make them mortal, and the Tree of Life would have made them immortal again? And while it’s once again mixing two different accounts of creation, there wouldn’t be much need to be fruitful and multiply if you were never going to die. It’s also worth noting that God reneges on his statement that Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit, instead allowing the first man to live to the ripe old age of 930. Not that he would KNOW that was a ripe old age, mind you. I do think there’s some validity to the idea that the fruit brought knowledge of mortality, however. Obviously other animals are aware of death, but I don’t know that they dread it like we humans do.


A recent post by Fred Clark on his Slacktivist blog has me thinking about yet another potential moral of the tale, that of the first two humans being a model for marriage. I’ve written before about how this doesn’t really work, and Clark makes the point that seeing the progenitors of mankind as a married couple is anachronistic. That said, the author does stick in the line, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Yeah, that thing about being one flesh is kind of gross, not just because it conjures up a disturbing image of two people literally melding together, but also because it suggests to me that married people are no longer individuals. The bit about leaving your father and mother is also becoming less feasible in today’s socioeconomic climate. I do appreciate the wordplay on “leave” and “cleave” in the King James Version, as it suggests the translator realized that this story included a lot of puns that wouldn’t translate from Hebrew, so they stuck in one of their own to maintain the same spirit. It is kind of weird that “cleave” can mean two completely opposite things in English, but according to Dictionary.com, this is because one meaning comes from the German kleben and the other from klieben.

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5 Responses to Splitting the Adam

  1. Lots to comment on in this post. I’ll try to be extra brief because time is short:

    1. “This also gives the impression that God invented sex as the only possible way an animal species could avoid extinction, then made a bunch of rules as to how you weren’t supposed to have it.”

    There’s actually no rules to how one can or can’t have sex with a consensual partner in the context of marriage, and that ensured that an ancient culture that didn’t have condoms and birth control would provide the best treatment for women and children, and that in a nutshell was the primary purpose for marriage. The Old Testament ensured that women in general had a lot more power than in any ancient near-eastern society, and marriage protected women from sexual exploitation and castigation. Outside the boundaries of marriage, rape, bestiality, incest, cultic-sex and other Canaanite practices that even modern progressive societies find disturbing were all condemned (and that’s not something you’ll find in the Hammurabi Code or any of the Egyptian law texts). While the prohibition of fornication is the one that seems to get a lot of attention due to how society is now, it was a means to stem what would have otherwise been a tide of unwanted children, the harsh treatment of bastards and the cruel degradation of women by men. And interestingly, the prohibition was not a double-standard, where men’s sexual appetites are cheered on while women’s are condemned as whorish (such as has been the case in American society), but put forth as the high moral standard for both sexes. Given the horrendous way ancient cultures treated women and children, the law prohibiting fornication served as a means of protection for them.

    2. “I also find the general point of the Garden of Eden story, at least as I see it, to be strangely regressive. The thing is, I’ll buy the idea that humans chose knowledge over blissful ignorance. And the size of our brains really DOES make childbirth harder than it otherwise might be. It might be considered the curse of humanity that we’re always trying to figure out how things work, and even now there are people who argue that there are areas in which we shouldn’t meddle. I don’t know that I buy this. Sure, there have been some really bad things created by human knowledge, like, say, the atomic bomb. That said, is it humanity being curious about nuclear fission that’s the problem, or rather humans deciding to use that knowledge to kill other humans? There may be advantages to not knowing certain things, but I don’t know that I’d say humanity was better off walking around naked in a garden that was probably full of fecal matter.”

    The Eden narrative is actually progressive, not only when compared to the Enuma Elish (in which violence is engendered as the normal and noble course of the universe when employed by the State), but even in a modern sense. To understand, it’s important to first recognize that the issue with the Tree of Knowledge was not about knowledge unto itself, but about power and authority. The Tree represented God’s right to be God, to determine what is good and bad. The temptation presented to Eve was to become a goddess and determine good and bad for herself. Humans, however, were not designed to rule over one another. It’s why, ultimately, when God abided by her tragic choice, humans ran with the opportunity to set themselves up above each other, macrocosmically (as in politics and religion) and microcosmically (as in one’s job, peer group, etc.) But it’s all proven to be a dismal failure. Thus, Genesis is actually anti-authoritarian as it deems human authority counter to the divine plan, yet pro-authoritarian, when that authority is God, as it deems that submission to the Divine is in our own best interest. More on this below.

    3. “It’s like how another Genesis tale, the Tower of Babel, has it that God got really mad because people wanted to build a tall building. Maybe the transcriber got it wrong, but God was actually pissed off because the tower was built on the only known habitat for an endangered species. That’s more the kind of moral lesson I can get behind. Then again, couldn’t God just make more of that species and a new habitat for them? There’s also the notion that it’s best for people to blindly obey authority, because if we’d just done the thing God said to do without providing any reason for it, he never would have driven us out of Paradise. That’s certainly an attitude that’s still common in many religious families, pretty much ignoring the fact that even someone more knowledgeable and experienced can sometimes be wrong.”

    The Tower of Babel is a fascinating example of the political and religious authorities challenging God’s authority. Why is this something people can get behind? Because the Babylonian State was the start of the Domination System, a hierarchical structure in which the wealthy elite rule over a class system with a poor slave class at the bottom. The Babylonian State was also the first Conquest State, perpetuating and expanding itself based on the violent conquest of other peoples. By contrast, God’s way is that of peace, love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control and loyalty (Gal 5:22). Both Old and New Testaments repeatedly challenge the authority of the religious and political leaders when they follow the pattern of domination and exploitation: Jeremiah 5:31 doesn’t mince words when it said: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Psalm 2:2 says “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed.” This theme plays out repeatedly, and it is often the enemies within who prove to be a problem (e.g., the king and priests of Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees). This all culminates in the Book of Revelation, when the king of the earth go to battle against God (Rev 16 and 19). Yet, the New Testament balances out Christians approach to authority by insisting on “relative submission,” neither permitting violent retribution or revolution, nor allowing passivity to the State’s demands when it counters Christian law (“to treat others as we’d want to be treated,” to “love our neighbors”).

    4. “After Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of Knowledge, God is afraid they’ll also eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. So did the fruit of knowledge make them mortal, and the Tree of Life would have made them immortal again? And while it’s once again mixing two different accounts of creation, there wouldn’t be much need to be fruitful and multiply if you were never going to die. It’s also worth noting that God reneges on his statement that Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit, instead allowing the first man to live to the ripe old age of 930. Not that he would KNOW that was a ripe old age, mind you. I do think there’s some validity to the idea that the fruit brought knowledge of mortality,”

    The fruit doesn’t make them mortal. Nor do they learn what death is from it. They understand from the outset that usurping God’s rightful authority would mean the cessation of life. It’s like unplugging the fan from the outlet means it will go out. That disconnect from the source of the energy required to keep it going is like death. God is that source of energy for humans. Death is the natural consequence for their choice to be god and live without God. So, God doesn’t renege. The first human couple do in fact die (“in that day;” the Hebrew word used here is yom which is commonly used to refer to a period of time, as in an age, or “in my grandfather’s day”) and pass on death to their offspring (along with sickness and old age and the propensity for sin, all of which is associated with disconnectedness from the Life Source).

    Whether one is able to believe this or not is a personal matter, of course,. But as a story unto itself, when properly understand, is truly a fascinating one with a tremendous amount of depth.

    5. “yet another potential moral of the tale, that of the first two humans being a model for marriage.”

    It’s in many ways the opposite. Had Adam wanted to do right by his wife, who was ultimately deceived, he could have approached his Maker. Instead, her transgression becomes an excuse for his own lust for power. And when they’re discovered, ironically, he blames her and God for it: “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” I’d argue they were the first dysfunctional family, all of which stemmed from their choice to sacrifice all the wealth of blessings and benefits they had for a power that was not theirs and didn’t belong to them, a decision that in the end, caused them to lose power, blessings and life.

    • Nathan says:

      There’s actually no rules to how one can or can’t have sex with a consensual partner in the context of marriage, and that ensured that an ancient culture that didn’t have condoms and birth control would provide the best treatment for women and children, and that in a nutshell was the primary purpose for marriage.

      So are you saying that this practice is rather out of date since we DO now have condoms and birth control, not to mention committed relationships without marriage?

      The Tree represented God’s right to be God, to determine what is good and bad.

      Which makes me wonder why God would have that right in the first place. I’ve heard people say it’s because he created the world, but making something doesn’t mean you have complete control over it. As far as I can tell, the religious perspective is that God has the right to be in charge because…well, he just does. There isn’t a particular reason; it’s just how things are. And that’s not a way of thinking with which I’ve ever been comfortable, especially when the Bible claims God does things to people that he forbids them to do to each other.

      • I’d say that marriage represents the ideal, and is still beneficial as the State offers benefits to married couples (and legal protection for both). Also, there’s a cultural legitimacy that accompanies marriage. So while Christians are free and not “under law,” they are also bound to the law of the new covenant, which is to “treat others as you want to be treated” and that includes not being a “stumbling block for the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9) What this means for unmarried couples is a personal decision, of course, but it may reflect in their choice to be discreet or to get married. Of course, conservative Christians will put forth a stricter view, and that’s fine; if that’s their interpretation they should comply to it (without judging those who don’t).

        As to why God has the right, I agree with your thinking. It’s not just because “I say so” (which is bad parenting if it represents the default answer). The Bible is pretty good at not only explaining, but demonstrating why God has the only right to rule, and it has to do with the fact that: a) “God is love.” (1 John 4:8). He’s the embodiment and personification of love, and, b) God possesses in abundance the qualities of wisdom, justice and power in balance with love.

        Hey, I managed to actually be brief for a change! :)

  2. The way I see the eating-from-the-tree is, before the Fall, humans were much more seamlessly part of Creation, they lived by the laws of nature (which would be in effect the laws of God)– this was pre-agriculture, so food was truly provided by God/nature. The Fall is saying, “well, I can do better,” so, like, people start farming, controlling nature instead of being part of it; migrating to places where suddenly they DO need clothes; taking over the earth basically; it’s not so much a punishment as natural consequences– okay, you think you know better than the natural order? Just try it. And yeah, look at the mess humanity has gotten itself into over millennia of trying to play God over creation.

    What Joe says above about “unplugging from the life force” is an important bit. Again, not punishment, but natural consequences. God doesn’t damn you to hell, you die spiritually because without God you DO have nothing beyond this world. That’s how I see the point of Genesis: people’d have a nice thing going if they hadn’t decided they were smarter than God.

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