The last time I was down in Houston, I was talking to my friend Kyle. Kyle is a Southern Baptist and I'm a Jew. Both of us have, in our own ways, made our religions an important part of our lives. Eventually, our discussion made its way down to religion, as it normally does. My view of faith, coming out of a religion that doesn't depend on it, and Kyle's hatred of faith combined with his inabilities to find it, found comfort in each other. At a certain point, our discussion reached the story of Adam and Eve. I was surprised at Kyle's vehement hatred of the story. As many other people do, Kyle views the story as support for anti-intellectualism and on the whole, a story that should not be studied too closely. Though at one point in my life, I would have agreed with his view, the more that I consider it, the more I believe that the story of "man's fall" as many would put it, is in fact the story of man's rise. It is not the story
of a cruel god, but the story of a boy coming to adulthood, as all men must.
First of all, a disclaimer: I am a mostly non-practicing Jew and am looking at the Bible as a work of literature, not as the word of God. This article may occasionally become crude, simply because that is the tone I like to write in. Now that that's over...
When Adam is first created, he exists as a child in the Garden of Eden. Everything is provided for him. When he gets hungry, God feeds him. God keeps a roof over his head and when Adam is cold, God warms him. All Adam does all day is wander about with God naming things1. After Adam and Eve eat from the tree, they see that each other are naked and learn shame. Children do not know shame. How many children have you seen suddenly tear off their pants and run around the room naked? Once Adam and Eve eat the apple, they become adults. Running around naked is no longer an option. They have responsibilities, and there's no more living in Mom and Dad's place. They have to go out into the world, pay their own rent, buy their own food, and it's going to take work.
The story is also very much about sex. Look at the imagery in this thing. What is it that tempts Eve? A serpent. It doesn't take Freud to figure out what a serpent is reminiscent of. But lets think about how Mr. Freud would interpret this story anyway. Eve and Adam are hanging around one day, and suddenly, Eve approaches sexual maturity. Women do reach sexual maturity before men. She reaches this point, and she begins to feel yearnings she hasn't before. She yearns for Adam's... member. They have sex2. But now, their relationship changes. Eve is pregnant. All of a sudden, Adam and Eve have responsibilities. They have a kid to take care of and the two can't just sit about farting around all day. But to look at this story from a purely literary sense, it is all metaphors. God is a parent, the garden is the parent's home, the snake is Adam's penis, and the apple is sex. For those wondering why God still punishes the snake, being that it's Adam's penis, just remember that when someone writes in metaphors, they still have to keep the logic of the world alive. Just because the snake is a metaphor for Adam's trouser snake doesn't mean that it's disappeared from the story. He's a character, and his story has to be completed too.
The phrase that most often is used to describe this story is that it is about "the Fall of Man." Can we look for just a minute at what would have happened without the eating of the apple? The story of Adam and Eve leaving Eden ends with God saying that now that they have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, they have to leave before they eat from the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life will make them both eternal. However, before they eat of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve are never told not to eat from the Tree of Life. Here, the Bible has placed Adam and Eve in a dramatic situation. They are confronted by a choice. Life or knowledge. Life means you live forever, staying in the garden with God. Knowledge means you have to forge ahead. You grow up, you have kids, and you die. This means that if Adam and Eve did not ever eat from the tree, they would have been the only two human beings to ever exist. But when Adam and Eve leave the garden, Eve is pregnant. Now, the Bible does not say that God has made Eve pregnant. Rather, Eve's punishment is that her pregnancy will be painful. Because Adam and Eve eat the apple, the human race will be born. Without that event, everything in the universe would have remained in stasis for eternity.
There are some people out there who take the Bible literally. For them I pose this question: if God is omniscient, why is He surprised that Adam and Eve eat the apple? Wouldn't He have known it before it happened? Moreover, God chose to put the tree somewhere where Adam and Eve could find it. For crying out loud, He didn't even put a sheet over it! An omniscient God would have put the tree there so that eventually Adam and Eve would eat of it and leave the garden. How else would His world have been complete?
Whenever we talk about the Bible, it's a touchy subject. Some people say that it's God's word and who are the rest of us to tell them differently? However, now that those words are ours, there's no need to strictly adhere to an interpretation that paints the world in a hellish light. No matter how many lives are lost over it, the Bible is still an incredible work of literature. In it are the archetypes for every kind of story that will be written after it. We need to take what we can out of these stories and try to have a good time doing it. If there's only one interpretation allowed, than what's even the point of reading the damn thing?