28 May 2008

On Transcendence: The Fall of Adam and Eve (3 of 6)

Our evaluation of the creation seems incomplete without giving some consideration to the fall of Adam and Eve as presented together with the creation story in the opening chapters of Genesis. The fall presents several ideas and themes which elaborate on the themes of creation and bring the transcendent qualities of those myths to a head through the universality and unity of the themes tied together through these narrative accounts. In the story of the fall, we find aspects of the atonement’s transcendence as will be shown in the following section. Similarly, the themes of the first deception, the beginnings of evil, and the results of individualism and comparison come to mind when considering the transcendent nature of the fall.

The narrative of the fall portrays both Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and shows their being beguiled by a serpent. The pun in the Hebrew language emphasizes the similarities between serpent and human who were subtil (ערום or arum Gen. 3:1) and naked (ערומים or arumim Gen. 2:25). This similarity seems to betray a difference in nature between the humans and their Creator. The pair of Adam and Eve resembles the serpent or the animal creations in some ways more than they resemble their Creator in whose image they had been formed. This irony indicates that the separations established during the creation perhaps divide more than appearances might indicate. Although the man and woman appear similar to Yahweh, their actions resemble those of the serpent. The separation evident transforms to become a seemingly insurmountable chasm when they partake of the forbidden fruit. Only when these events have their complement, the atonement, do they reveal that these degrees of separation find their subsequent reversal. Nevertheless, the events of separation seem to establish a tension, leading one to question when the separated elements will be reunited.

The Garden location directs attention to the availability of fruit, but more importantly to the lush location where all seemed paradisiacal. The presence of fruit and the general lushness bring to the surface the green coloring and its theme of fertility that became apparent in our evaluation of the creation. An additional theme appears in that the phrase “garden of Eden” in Hebrew meant both this Garden location and heaven, where God dwells. By equating the two localities, the language allows modern readers to glimpse the culture begun through the myths of creation and fall. The society that came out of these was one in which the trek to the Garden was most desirable, even when such a trek required traversing a desolate intermediate ground. This theme recurred in the history of the Hebrew people with the Exodus, then the captivities under the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other nations. Because the people drew meaning from the foundational narratives of creation and fall, informed by this trek through barrenness into a promised land, the Hebrew nation was able to continue without despair taking over their existence.

A later trek to another Garden (of Gethsemane) ultimately made possible the return to the Garden. But fallen mankind would never return to its pre-fall status. This realization begs the question of whether the fall hindered humankind’s progress forever. Because God carried out the creative process by His word, the conclusion that God could likewise bring about a different result than what occurred in Eden seems logical. But such a conclusion seems to ignore the inherent ability of each individual to choose his or her own path. In evaluating Eden, then, we benefit from the theme of separation introduced in the creation and the tension that this theme leaves intact until some reunification comes about. Through separation, we find that humankind learns much that was unavailable prior to the separation itself. By initiating humankind’s existence separated from God, the fall brings about a state in which men and women have a choice between belief and disbelief. Either option exercises faith (the difference is in what object the faith is being exercised). Thus, the fall brings about a condition of faith unavailable prior to the separation of man and God. Such a realization leads our inquiry into the nature of the fall through the theme of separation to the foundation of faith. Since we observed God’s actions in the creation, we can see the necessity of faith in constructive existence. God spoke and through the power of faith, the words He uttered were obeyed and fulfilled. Likewise, in humankind’s condition following the fall, all of humanity was given a new possibility, unrealized and unnoticed prior to the taking of the fruit: humankind is now capable of developing a faith akin to that of its Creator.

The temptation to partake of the fruit presents an interesting dialogue between the serpent and Eve. When presented with a new way of living opposed to that prescribed by God, her temptation begins. The end result is that she partakes and brings for Adam to do likewise so that they can remain together and fulfill the command to “multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The ensuing “courtroom” scene brings sentencing or judgment upon all involved, man, woman, and serpent. Interestingly, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden is accompanied by their being clothed in “coats of skins” (Gen. 3:21). This act of covering with coats of skins implies that an animal gave its life for their benefit. The Hebrew language directly connects covering with atoning as will be mentioned below. This union between fall and atonement indicates a pattern that seems to mirror our individual experiences in many ways. The act of disobedience exemplified in Adam and Eve can be widely misunderstood; however, it seems to indicate the beginning of discernment between opposites. They asserted their own wills and this assertion against that of Yahweh became the source of difficulty and trouble in their lives. Clearly the possibility to partake of the forbidden fruit existed before the serpent used it to present an alternative to the pair’s way of living; yet they never seemed to consider the alternatives as available until another whose cunning appealed to them presented the choices in a new light. The consciousness of other points of view became the defining characteristic of humanity as well as the cause of its fall. The ensuing mortal life became paved with roads leading in different directions to see which path the pair (and their counterpart, humanity) would choose. Their experiences with the sacred presented them with one alternative, yet their experiences with another creature and with themselves as “other” from God opened up a multiplicity of means to infinite ends. The use of their power to deliberate and choose differentiated “good” from “evil.” Thus the fall distinguished good and evil, continuing the pattern of separation in the same vein as the creation had established.

Individualism became a possibility when the man and woman recognized the independence of their existence from that of others around them. Interestingly, the first response to this possibility was to act collectively, the couple choosing to remain together and thus to preserve their unity. Since that time, some civilizations have preferred individualism whereas others still prefer collective thinking. Adam’s statement that husband and wife should “be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) suggests that the possibility remains open to acting both individually and collectively at the same time when individuals have been successfully united.

The actions of Adam and Eve transcend their circumstances when we consider what the story of the fall relates. We find therein the beginning of choice and consciousness. Since these form such an integral part of each life, we can see that Adam and Eve’s unique experiences transcend specific situations to apply to all of humankind. When experience reveals to us sacred elements of life, we can respond using our choice and consciousness. The different ways of responding that are available to us lead to differing consequences and, hence, to distinct destinations. The problems of ethics might disappear when “the good” is defined according to the ultimate consequences that present positive possibilities in our daily decisions. In this light the events of the fall become crucial commencements rather than a disappointing disaster. One’s outlook on life depends on which interpretation prevails. From Adam and Eve’s choice to act collectively, we can derive the importance of family and of marriage. Likewise, the collective mentality suggests that overall success flows more from an uplifting influence on all than from a competitive impulse to drag others below one’s own status. When such an outlook prevails, the synergistic result elevates humanity as well as all individuals that are a part of that humanity.


Enquiring Mind said...

Here are some observations about the Creation Story that I have not succeeded in reconciling with mainstream LDS interpretation. (I am an active member.)

1) When the commandment to muliply and replenish the Earth is given to Adam and Eve (in Genesis 1, Moses 2, or Abraham 4), they do not seem to have individual identities, any more than any of the other creations. The reference is to generic "male and female." All of God's [the Gods'] creations were successively commanded to multiply and replenish the Earth. The commandment seems to have implanted, at the planning/spiritual stage, the desire or the instinct for each species to propogate itself. This commandment is never re-iterated to Adam and Eve after they have been physically created in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, I don't see how they could have had knowledge of a commandment that was given to them generically in their pre-mortal existence. If they did not, then how could it have entered into Adam's reasoning? In fact, according to our record, Adam's choice, when offered the fruit, had nothing to do with multiplying and replenishing (not directly or consciously anyway) but everything to do with staying with Eve because God had commanded that Eve should remain with him (Moses 4:18). Adam's dilemma was whether to obey the commandment not to partake or the commandment to keep Eve with him. We could extrapolate and say that the commandment to keep Eve with him was symbolic of multiplying and replenishing, but if he was as innocent and childlike as we are taught, I doubt that this would have had sexual overtones. (If there is any truth the the Jewish tradition of Lilith, perhaps Adam had already been through this once and did not relish being left alone again!)

2) God gave the commandment not to partake of the fruit only to Adam, directly. At least that is how it is recorded. When Eve is confronted by the Serpent, she demonstrates knowledge of the commandment, but it is not apparent how she learned of it. In light of the following, however, it is logical to believe that Adam informed her of it. When God calls them before him, his question is directly to Adam, not to both: "Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?" He could have used the plural. The idea that Eve learned of the commandment from Adam is further borne out by the fact the version that she recites to the Serpent has been added to. In her version, she says that neither are they to touch the tree/fruit, which was not in the original commandment. Perhaps this was Adam's way of emphasizing the seriousness of the commandment. (Perhaps it was Eve's extrapolation.)

At any rate, this is a much different understanding of the account that what is usually presented, especially with regard to the temple. I think it is interesting that we are incessantly urged to study the scriptures, but when that study obviates differences between the written word and traditional interpretations, problems can arise.

Any insights will be appreciated.

MattM said...

Thanks for your observations. I've been giving them thought, although I certainly wouldn't posit myself as the expert of experts.

That said, a part of your question lends itself to explanation through the documentary hypothesis ("DH"). The DH sometimes gets a bad rap, but versions of it help make sense of some of these textual ambiguities. As applied here, it appears very likely that one author penned the account of creation that puts Adam and Eve in the more generic mode of "male and female." A separate account provides us with the more familiar "conflicting" commandments version (although I still have to think through just how [if at all] conflicting they were). In this light, the accounts can be harmonized based on the questions that the authors intended to address and the audiences to which they were directed, which will require more thought and another post. Your question of when the veil was placed over them goes into a gray area into which I don't claim any qualification to go. However, I wonder, given some of what we know about Adam and Eve remaining in the Father's presence in Eden (despite a degree of mediation by the pre-mortal Messiah), if they may have had more understanding than that for which we often give them credit. I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with your usggestion that their choice was more about staying obeying God than about multiplying and replenishing. I think the dilemma was one of having to face the fact that they had become temporal in its truest sense (the etymology of "temporal" suggests 'that which is cut off'). In recognizing their ability to choose apart from the will of God, Adam and Eve became cut off well before the narrative makes that separation literal. The theme of separation played on so dramatically and emphatically in the creation drama ends up turning the spiritual man and woman into the temporal Adam and Eve.

As to your latter point, I have no definitive answer; however, I would point out that God "called their name Adam" (Gen. 5:2) (in what, parenthetically is one of my favorite parts of the story that tends to be left out), referring to both Adam and Eve using the collective name, Adam (which could also be translated as "man"/"human" and lends itself to the universalization, (humankind"). In this vein, the reader is left to wonder and question. This understanding is played out implicitly in the text, although as you rightly note, it does not make itself clear on the face of the text.

Even if Adam were the only one who received the command directly, Adam's position of "dominion" suggests a prophetic/proto-prophetic role which would permit him to transmit God's commands to Eve. Under this understanding, Adam and Eve (and any who receive Adam's words) can, by virtue of such concepts as agency and collective memory, be considered to have received of the command simultaneously, despite the chronological differences that you note. Perhaps the textual clues you point to are intended to raise this question to bring attention to those concepts and teach more lessons than are generally perceived in a more cursory reading of the account.

Thanks again for your contribution! I always enjoy thoughtful questions that help me to learn. Hopefully my response generates more questions or comments so that we can pursue things further. I'm certain I've only touched on surface points; however, I am ever eager to explore more deeply!