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Monday, November 23, 2015

Bible: Eden: Consequences

            The consequences of Adam and Eve are tough for most people. There have been centuries of interpretations of this story, but tradition alone doesn’t mean that a given interpretation is correct. There are other considerations such as translation, but, more importantly, how the story is read.
            God is often interpreted as being stern and a punisher. Adam and Eve disobeyed, so he will take out his divine wrath upon them. Pronouncements about their death, their cursings, and even the fate of the serpent all lend themselves to this interpretation.
            However, there are other pieces to the puzzle that need to be addressed. Most important is the fact that God did not abandon them. Yes, he told them they had to leave. He told Adam he would have to work the ground to get sustenance. Eve would have pain in child birthing. But God did not turn His back on them. He fashioned clothing for them out of the skins of animals (God, it would seem, was not a vegetarian). We know from the next story—Cain and Abel—that God would go and check in on Adam and his family, and continue to speak with them.
            If God only cared about punishing Adam and Eve, about making them suffer, then why would He do these things? Moreover, some of the language is peculiar. Translations differ on the exact wording and meaning. In the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) it states “cursed is the ground because of you” whereas the KJV (King James Version) says “cursed is the ground for thy sake” which produces a radically different meaning. Other translations are variations on these two mainstays.
            This is very important as the NRSV wording (and others like it including the New International Version) can be interpreted to mean that what Adam and Eve did cursed the entire world. That the entire world was in a state of grace before their choice, and it Fell along with them. Their evil brought an evil to the world itself. I’m not inclined towards this interpretation. The KJV sheds a little more light on this idea with its rendition “cursed is the ground for thy sake.” The meaning of this is more clear that what is happening to the earth will ultimately benefit Adam and Eve. Somehow this event, which curses the ground, will result in something good for them.
            Moreover, there is God’s statement afterwards that “the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Something is clearly wrong with this idea in God’s mind. The fact that Adam and Eve know good and evil is only a problem if they also consume from the tree of life. Those two together are problematic.
            There is power in knowing good and evil. They have more knowledge (hence the name for the tree) than they previously did, but knowledge is not understanding. Knowledge is not wisdom. God understands this, hence the so-called curses he gives them. To know good and evil is the ability to do good or evil. But which one will mankind choose? The story of Cain and Abel makes clear that evil is a choice that can happen very easily, and to have someone who lives forever with the ability (and desire) to do evil is something God will not allow. The choice, then is to find a way to have mankind learn a better way. It takes time to learn wisdom and understanding. The curses are designed to give Adam and Eve experience, so that they might be able to make the right choice: the Good choice.
            So, there we have it. Our understanding of Eden is (fairly) complete. It only took, what, five separate posts? I probably could stretch it out a little more. In fact, I will.
            Okay, this is a little bit of an aside to that earlier part about cursing the earth. We have to consider, just for a moment, Did Adam and Eve’s actions actually impact the entire world? How is it that their choice of eating the fruit could make an impact on the world itself? The world didn’t consume the Fruit. How does this even work? The world is also a mighty big place. How could their choice of eating a fruit make a change so vast?
            I’m very skeptical of this kind of interpretation. If the ground truly became cursed, then why would God need to kick them out of the Garden? Very specifically they were sent out. Simply put, the Garden of Eden was a blessed place. Everything was provided for them. All was peaceful and harmonious within the Garden. However, the Garden did not make up the entire world. We know this from the description of where Adam and Eve went to live “East of Eden.”
            Until this point, there was no mention of an area outside the Garden. Now we know there is land out there, and, in comparison to Eden, it would be a cursed land. This is one of the reasons I’m skeptical about the whole earth being cursed. We know that Eden was a blessed land. The land outside of the Garden was not blessed. The land outside of Eden simply is. And given the location, somewhere in the Middle East (based on the names of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers mentioned in the Garden), it is a land that is very hostile towards the growing of crops and tending of animals.
            Side story (but it is relevant). I live in Arizona, a landscape that does not, ever, want to grow crops. What plants do grow here come with a lot of defenses to prevent from being chewed on. There are thorns, and bitter, poisonous fruits, needles, and all manner of things that simply mean “stay away, I will hurt you.” I did some graduate school work in Alaska, where a friend of mine and I walked to class one day. On the path, he reached out, picked some berries, and promptly ate them. Wild blueberries and raspberries grew at the side of a footpath. I was flabbergasted simply because my home couldn’t grow such things.
            In Eden, Adam and Eve were accustomed to things growing because the land was truly blessed. Outside of that idyllic environment, however, it would surely feel as if the ground was cursed.

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