The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 11: The Original Sin

And the man and his wife were both arum-min , and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more arum than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made Gen 2:28- 3:1).

By the word-play on arum the sacred author provides a clue that nakedness without shame is not an admirable attitude on the part of Adam and Eve. He teams up a shameless trio, the man and his wife and the serpent. The word-play is easily lost in translation. Moreover, the separation of the sentences by chapter headings obscures the connection. Finally, constant repetition has made it an almost universal belief that Adam and Eve had a special gift of integrity, of sexual serenity undisturbed by the natural drive. That belief is based on this passage of Holy Scripture. Despite the now prevailing belief, however, the author's use of a word-play suggests strongly that he had an opposite meaning in mind.

If we ask which interpretation is correct - virtuous lack of shame, or the initial step toward sin - we do well to review the context. Adam and Eve are presented as the only people on earth. They are husband and wife. What reason would they have for shame about bodily nakedness? Nobody else was there to see them. Why would the Bible even mention such a curiosity? It appears more likely from the context, then, that the author pointed by his word-play to a culpable state of mind. Their lack of shame about their nakedness symbolizes a lack of obediential reverence toward God their Creator. One who is naked is quite helpless against the elements, and is in a lowly condition. It is an apt sign for creaturehood. A show of shameless nudity signifies a brazen non-acceptance of dependency upon God who had created them. They chafed at being so dependent. By not acknowledging their creaturehood and dependency, they were poised to disobey God. The author presents their "outing" of nakedness as pride, a prelude to the Fall.

John S. Kselman points out that "Nakedness in the Old Testament suggests weakness, neediness, and the like...The unawareness of their nakedness...suggests their unawareness of their dependence on God who provides in the garden for all their needs" ("Genesis" in Harper's Bible Commentary, 88). The text appears to imply "non-acceptance" rather than innocent lack of awareness. They chose to close an eye to their awareness of dependency. They refused to be ashamed. They were crafty like the serpent. They schemed and were about to decide: "I will not serve." They refused to show proper reverence toward God, whereas the beginning of wisdom in the Bible is always a reverential fear of the Lord. Our Adam and Eve, at this point, were not willing to fear God.

The crafty serpent sensed his chance. His timing was perfect. Both itched to throw off the yoke of human dependency. They were restlessly eager, not cautious. They might try to be gods. The serpent moved in to suggest nothing less:

(The serpent) said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die."

Like a smooth door-to-door salesman, the serpent baits Eve to start a conversation quickly before she can slam the door in his face. He baits her with a little lie which she is quick to correct by coming to God's defense. Now the serpent has her talking. But immediately after her brave defense of God, she expresses less holy thoughts. She misquotes God's exact words, making them appear to be petty and unreasonable: "Neither shall you touch it, lest you die." Actually, God had said nothing about not touching the tree.

Note also in passing that God did not say He will kill them if they eat the forbidden fruit. He said simply that they will die as a result of disobedience. How they would die is left unsaid, perhaps purposely. How did Eve know about the prohibition, spoken to "the man" before Eve was created? Did Adam inform her? That would be an overly literal interpretation. The etiological reconstruction of our Fall is not a proper setting for journalistic intrusion. All mankind knows by reflecting upon the law of God written into our hearts that it is forever wrong to eat good and evil fruit together. Such common sense is native to Everyman.

The story now moves quickly. The serpent, with forked tongue and beady eye, flashes the lure it had been hiding:

But the serpent said to the woman: "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Promises! Promises! The sales talk is svelte smooth. She takes the bait. She wants to believe what she hears. How often since then, in all the world, have inexperienced humans fallen for a lie. Boy tells girl, "You won't get pregnant." She believes. He is infallible for her because she wants to believe him. The drug pusher says: "Only once won't hurt anybody." The boy gets hooked. We make excuses to cover our sins: "The world is overpopulated." By embracing this falsehood we excuse contraception. The fertilized ovum can't be a human being because we don't want to admit that. In Genesis the serpent promised our first parents everything that their itching ears wanted to hear. He could have sold them the Brooklyn Bridge. His talk deceptively implies that: (1) God must be jealous, wanting to prevent you from becoming rival gods. (2) Magic is in that fruit; take one bite and your eyes will see what you do not now see. (3) Becoming gods, you will break out of your human fetters. You can fly on a broomstick. (4) YOU will decide what is good and what is bad. "Choice" will cover everything neatly just as you wish.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

The text does not indicate that Adam and Eve were immune from "concupiscence" - from the natural drives - before they sinned, as St. Augustine would theorize. Eve had a good appetite, the fruit danced before her eyes, she was curious, she wanted her husband to sin with her. The text suggests that natural drives were present in Eve. St. Irenaeus had another theory than Augustine. He observed that they were still inexperienced in life, and immature sexually. That doesn't fit the context either, because God will hold them accountable for their sin -- for mortal sin. People who commit mortal sin have sufficient knowledge and will-power to be held accountable for their action. Genesis presents Adam and Eve as ordinary adults, as one of ourselves, as Everyman. The author is lecturing to us by reflecting in Adam and Eve what goes on in our own lives.

The longer Eve doodled with temptation, the more her defenses wilted. Her eyes opened wide as saucers as she gazed upon the tempting piece of fruit. Her mouth salivated in anticipation. Moreover heady dreams danced about and electrified her soaring thoughts. Adam did nothing to stop her. He was right there at her side. Adam and Eve are "Everyman," subject to temptation just as we are. They exhibit, before their sin, the common concupiscence which we all feel in ourselves: "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life" (1 Jn 1:16). The Council of Trent encourages us to resist "concupiscence" bravely when it inclines us to sin, invoking Christ to help us with His grace (cf. DS 1516). Saint Irenaeus encourages us to follow the good example of Adam and Eve, who learned from their sin, who confessed it, and rose again to a better life (cf. Adv. Haer.IV, 37,7; 38, 1 and 2; III, 20,2).

The purpose of the author, of course, is not to entertain us with a sorry story about other people. He addresses us directly to learn from the story: "You are weak, you are vulnerable, and a serpent is on the loose in your paradise. Be on your guard. Be warned beforehand." It is the same lesson as Peter would preach: "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Pet 5:8-9).

Augustine reasoned that pride went before the Fall (The Literal Meaning of Genesis2,11,5). Their pride made them easy victims to the temptation. He gives this plausible description of the temptation: "When curiosity was stirred up and made bold to transgress a commandment, it was eager to experience the unknown, to see what would follow from touching what was forbidden, finding delight in taking a dangerous sort of liberty by bursting the bonds of the prohibition, thinking it likely that death, which had been feared, would not follow" (ibid. 11,31). He also suggests that Eve may have used persuasive words to seduce Adam, then follows with another thought: "Or perhaps there was no need to persuade her husband, since he saw that she was not dead from eating the fruit" (ibid. 11,30). If Adam actually waited to see whether Eve would die before he took chances by eating, that does not shed an appealing light on him. Irenaeus is kinder to them than Augustine. He attributes their easy fall to lack of experience rather than to pride (Adv. Haer.IV,38,1).

With their sin, the bubble of their dream bursts. As Augustine comments: "A lesson had to be taught to a soul that exalted itself and trusted too much in its own strength, even if the lesson involved experiencing punishment; for it must learn how wretched is the state of a creature if it withdraws from its Creator" (ibid. 11,5). Genesis continues:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

It was plain to them now that the serpent had lied. They had not become gods. They were lowly humans still. No wings had sprouted on their shoulders. Their nudity was plain as ever, and their bravado had helped them not at all. They were creatures: defenseless, helpless, vulnerable, contingent human creatures. Their ambitions had crashed. Their Titanic had scraped on the iceberg. They were adrift, and their lives were going to pieces. Would they despair, like Judas?

Irenaeus believed that Adam immediately repented and did penance for his sin by wearing an apron of prickly leaves (Ad. Haer.III, 23,5). But we must know that Irenaeus was so partial to our first parents that he interpreted everything they did in the best light possible. It's probably the author's intent to show by the fig leaves that they were not at all eager to become reconciled with God at this point. The futile attempt to hide their dependency - to cover nakedness - was an attempted human remedy to heal what only God can heal. They were at this point Pelagians who sought to rescue themselves without the grace of God, by their own hands. They were miring themselves ever deeper into the grasp of sin. Like straying sheep, they would perish in the wilderness if the Good Shepherd would not volunteer to go out in anxious search for them. They were travelers going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, whom robbers had waylaid and robbed, leaving them on the roadside half dead, half alive. They would die there if the Good Samaritan would not take pity on them. Happily, the Good Samaritan approaches to heal them, the Good Shepherd lifts them to His shoulder:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

We read between the lines that the Lord God was accustomed to take an evening stroll with them in the garden. The Lord enjoys conversing with noble members of His adopted family. Apparently Adam and Eve had felt comfortable with the Lord on other evenings while they were still in the state of grace. Mortal sin had changed all that. Now they were afraid. Instead of welcoming the Lord to converse with Him, they hid themselves from His presence, among the trees. They were likely not together, divorced now as a result of the sin. Though they tried to hide from God, His mercy extended to their hiding place. He called to them to come out of hiding, to appear in His presence.

To Adam's credit, he responded when God called. He did not persist in hiding. Good man! He made his first wavering step to amend his life. He walked out of the woods to face the music. With some effort he will stutter out his confession. God helped him to dig it out of himself:

(The Lord God) said: "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate."

The Lord God is a good confessor. He knows how very reluctant humans are to admit their sins. So God eases Adam into admitting that he ate the fruit, feigning not to hear the lame but surly excuse. Once a sinner starts talking to the Lord about the sin, he is on the way to healing. Judas could have done the same after he betrayed Christ. Instead of despairing, he should have waited for Christ to approach him and be converted. Peter did just that, and so did Thomas. Christ took them back into His company when they admitted their sin. Fortunately for us Adam acted here like Peter and Thomas, not like Judas.

But Adam, male and proud, made an excuse: "It was you, Lord, who put that woman with me." God should have boxed Adam's ears for such arrogance. But God, like a good confessor, was deaf to everything except what He needed to hear: an admission of guilt. Finally Adam said it: "I ate." Two precious words. Priceless words which merited God's forgiveness. Satisfied, God now turned to Eve:

Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I ate."

Another excuse, but God didn't mind. She confessed in the end, saying "I ate." Those were hard words to pronounce, but she got them out. God could forgive both of them now if they would accept their penance. Not so the serpent. That creature is confirmed in his wickedness. He is stuck in his own guile, like in quicksand. Perhaps he gloats over his successful seduction. This rebellious malice makes God angry. Adam and Eve were disciplined by God; there is hope for betterment there. But to the serpent God turns with cold fury. With a withering curse He blasts him out of paradise:

The Lord God said to the serpent,
"Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all cattle,
and above all wild animals;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel."

Note the rhythm of the author's composition. In the foregoing text, God had spoken first to the man, second to the woman, third to the serpent. Now he address the serpent, then the woman, finally the man.

In the curse which God hurls at the serpent we glimpse His implacable loathing of evil."Out of sight!" He commands. The serpent, wedded to spite, slithers on the dusty road toward the exit of paradise. He cares little about his despicable shape and manner. Malice is his black-hole pit. He embraces ugliness, hates beauty. The smell of sulphur is preferable to roses. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," elegized Dante. "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire" quoted Matthew (25:41).

A wondrous ray of shimmering dawn glimmers on the distant horizon for Adam and Eve. Sandwiched between fulminations against the serpent God had inserted a promise: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed..." It is the first promise of the Redeemer Christ in the Bible.

How did Genesis thus glimpse Mary's future Immaculate Conception and fullness of grace? Her determined warfare against the devil? Her three-hour stand under the cross while her Son quashed the serpent's head with His wounded foot?

When Genesis was put into writing, an expectation of the Messiah was already rife in Israel. Isaiah had prophesied: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us)" (Mt 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). The Proto-Evangelium of Genesis 3:15 is the "rosy fingered dawn" in the Bible announcing that Christ our Savior will be born of Mary. This mysterious passage in Genesis, whose meaning would become clear only in the course of time, is remarkable testimony that the Bible is one single piece, inspired by God from beginning to end.

Curiously, among numerous creation myths of hunter-gatherers, I found no reference to a future Redeemer like that of Genesis 3:15. We ask why the hunter-gatherers may have forgotten this part of the Primeval Revelation once made in paradise according to our Genesis, whereas Israel knew about it. We seek an explanation for this in the unraveling of the history of salvation.

Although hunter-gatherer myths lack reference to a coming Redeemer, they do not lack hope for heaven after death. In utter contrast, the Old Testament mutes hope for heaven after death, but banners lively hope for a Redeemer. Why? Perhaps there is logic in all this: Heaven remained closed for the Israelites because the Redeemer had not yet come. Death for them meant entrance into Sheol, dark, gloomy, devoid of light and action. Ecclesiastes describes life after death without enthusiasm:

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and they have no more for ever any share in all that is done under the sun (9:5-6).

Faith tells us that after Christ died and was buried, He "descended into hell (Sheol) and on the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father." With Him rose many of those who had been waiting in Sheol. The Old Testament had low expectations of the afterlife because the Redeemer who must open the portals of heaven had not yet been born in Bethlehem. People who died before the Redeemer came must mark time after death by waiting in Sheol. Only after the Redeemer would open the portals of heaven for the departed did the message about eternal life bloom into full revelation.

Those of us who have the privilege of reciting the Liturgy of the Hours daily are thrilled on Holy Saturday to read a vivid description given by an ancient homilist, of Christ's descent into Sheol after His death. The homilist describes Christ's meeting with Adam and Eve in subdued but dramatic terms. It is a gem of literature, a witness to deep faith:

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated...(ISEL, Office of Readings, Holy Saturday).

Christ will turn to all the blessed in a similar manner at the end of time at the final resurrection, and say: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34).

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