So I’m only three chapters in and I’m already mad at this book. That didn’t take long.
As one of the most famous chapters in the Bible—Adam and Eve eat fruit from tree of knowledge and get cast out of Eden—I know I have more biases and prior knowledge here than other chapters. But in looking closely at the text itself, rather than a fable-ized version, I found both surprises and interesting parallels.
The metaphor I saw framing this chapter is God as the parent and Adam and Eve as the children. By placing these figures in this relationship, the Bible establishes the importance of having both a paternalistic and authoritarian philosophy on the relationship between parent and child.
So if God’s the parent, how does he do? I know there are innumerable views on parenting, but I found it very telling how God warns Adam and Eve
Ye shall not eat of it [the tree of knowledge], neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (3:3)
The emphasis is mine, because I had no idea God said they would die. Because, as it turns out, they eat of the tree but they don’t die. The hyperbole (since that’s what it is) of this line is like a frustrated parent telling a child, “If you eat any more cookies, I’m going to ground you for a year.” And then, when the child eats the cookies, they just get no dessert for a week. The child is still punished, but the parent does not deliver on the promise. Any child development expert will tell you: by doing that, the child’s respect for the parent’s word of law could erode since the consequences aren’t nearly as drastic as threatened.
So which figure didn’t lie about the effects? The serpent.
Yes, the “subtil” serpent. Here, “subtil” (or “subtle,” I assume) is given a negative connotation: not interestingly complex, but cunning and deceitful. And he is cunning, of course. However, ironically enough, the serpent is the one who actually tells the truth about the consequence of eating from the tree:
Ye shall not surely die. (3:4)
So yes, that is my favorite line of the chapter. All the ironic mix of truth and ‘subtlety’ encapsulated in that one sentence that catalyzes Adam and Eve’s downfall.
The conclusion seems to me that, if you follow God and not the serpent, being tricksy with words is clearly not something to be admired: straightforwardness (even if it’s hyperbolic) is valued over “subtil” persuasion.
As an English teacher, that kinda rubs me the wrong way. Persuasion is a huge (and necessary) part of our everyday lives and communication as people. But I’ll give the benefit of the doubt on this. Perhaps the message the Bible is trying to communicate is that a deceiver can still tell the truth sometimes, but that doesn’t mean their message is right or truthful. It’s not the truth that matters, but the intentions behind it. This I can get behind.
Still, even if the serpent represents evil and trickery, he was right in that Adam and Eve not only didn’t die, but there weren’t even immediate dire consequences. The only inherent consequence was “they knew that they were naked” (3:7). Did this come with a sense of shame? It’s not stated, but perhaps. Even if it did, though, they solved that issue pretty resourcefully by “sew[ing] fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (3:7). There, problem solved.
But let’s continue with the theme of parenting. As I said, there are no dire consequences—until God finds out. Adam and Eve, as the children figures, show classic signs of guilt for their actions:
Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. (3:8)
This is just like how children hide from a parent they have disobeyed. Also, like children, Adam tells God “she gave me of the tree” (3:12), essentially throwing Eve under the bus (“But Daaaaad, she started it!”). Eve admits to being “beguiled” (3:13) by the serpent, and that’s when God begins to deal out punishment.
So, according to the Bible, if God is the model parent, the real problem isn’t that they ate from the tree: it’s that they disrespected his order. As such, this chapter promotes authoritarianism: obey your parents because they said so. I know this blog isn’t supposed to just criticize the Bible, but I don’t think I would model my parenting after God in this chapter.
There’s still one more essential question that I believe covers a deeper message than anything about parenting.
Why did Eve and Adam disrespect God’s order? They were “beguiled,” yes, but why? The answer: the serpent told Eve that eating the fruit from the tree would make them “as gods” (3:5). And there’s the clincher, humanity’s downfall: we have “dominion” over plants and animals, but that still isn’t good enough. We want to be “as gods,” go further than our limits, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. God points this out as well—“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (3:22)—in an almost mocking tone. God knows he can’t trust his humans any further at this point, so he casts them out like the inconsolable father.
So, basically, Eve and Adam wanted to be like God, and look where that got them.
Perhaps we should do more to discourage those who want to believe themselves “as gods.”