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.