By Vexen Crabtree 2013
Mesopotamian mythology was rife with creation stories, as was all other early human civilisations. There are various versions of the story of the first human beings, with many interesting differences in style, detail and chronology, but only one version of this story was destined for true fame, as it found itself copied into the holy book of Genesis, and became part of the holy traditions of the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Adam and Eve story, in this incarnation, has been given particular prominence by religious writers and is one of the most analysed and most commented-upon stories of the Bible, despite its numerous logical, moral and conceptual flaws. For example, punishing all mankind for the sins of someone else is clearly immoral - and if Adam and Eve realized that nakedness was wrong as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, then, why did God created them naked? And finally, if the Garden of Eden was sin-free, then, why was the Serpent there? There are also historical problems with the story - genetics and DNA has proven that mankind did not arise from a single pair of humans, but evolved en mass from our ancestral primate species. Despite these and other such questions, even today in the 21st century, the story is proclaimed to be literal, real and historical truth by some Christian groups. The Jehovah's Witnesses are one such organisation:
“The entire Bible truthfully is "the word of God". [...] The Bible is scientifically accurate. [...] Of course, the Bible is not a science textbook. But when it touches on scientific matters, it is accurate. [Adam and Eve] is not just a story or a myth, for Jesus showed that what Genesis says about the start of family life is true. (Matthew 19:4, 5)”
"What Does the Bible Really Teach" by The Jehovah's Witnesses (2005)1
A young adult remembers his carefree youth where his all-powerful and all-knowing parents looked out for him and sometimes punished him. This motif seems to inform human mythology the world over, but, as adults we sometimes conceptualize these feelings in a story. And sometimes, those stories catch on and are told by others. Karen Armstrong iterates through some of the archetypes in these familiar myths:
“In every culture, we find the myth of a lost paradise, in which humans lived in close and daily contact with the divine. They were immortal, and lived in harmony with one another, with animals and with nature. At the centre of the world there was a tree, a mountain, or a pole, linking earth and heaven, which people could easily climb to reach the realm of the gods. Then there was a catastrophe: the mountain collapsed, the tree was cut down, and it became more difficult to reach heaven. The story of the Golden Age, a very early and almost universal myth, was never intended to be historical. It springs from a strong experience of the sacred that is natural to human beings, and expresses their tantalising sense of a reality that is almost tangible and only just out of reach. Most of the religions and mythologies of archaic societies are imbued with longing for the lost paradise.”
“Original sin comes straight from the Old Testament myth of Adam and Eve. Their sin - eating the fruit of a forbidden tree - seems mild enough to merit a mere reprimand. But [God's mentality] was enough to turn their scrumping escapade into the mother and father of all sins.”
The story of Adam and Eve is now part of the Biblical mythology of Original Sin. Christians, Muslims and Jews are all 'people of the book' who take as holy the stories of the Hebrew era. In this story, the existence of death and suffering are attributed to the 'sin' of eating from the 'tree of knowledge'. Before this event, there was no death or suffering. Adam and Eve were innocent, and obeyed a serpent that told them to eat from the tree. Apparently, they obeyed the wrong being, because God's punishment was to inflict death and suffering upon them and all their ancestors, including such niceties as making childbirth painful for women.
The Original Sin is the reason Christians say that Human Beings experience suffering - as a result of Adam and Eve's actions. Humankind was created in, and was supposed to exist in, a state of immortal paradise. But as a result of Adam and Eve's original sin, we have all been punished with our earthly existence, completely with suffering, pain and death (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21). Genesis 3:14-19 describes some of the punishments in more detail. The reason there is any death at all is because Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
The story in the Qur'an, Sura 7:24-27, tells of when Adam and Eve are punished and banished from paradise, and must thereafter live on the Earth complete with its suffering, pain and death. This however, makes all their children and descendants suffer from the same punishment. This is despite the Qur'anic statement that "none shall bear the burden of another's sin" (35:18 and 53:38).
Before Augustine coined the phrase original sin it was known simply as ancestral sin. It is a feature of Christianity that been much criticized. Famed antagonist Richard Dawkins asks "What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?"5.
Is it is really moral to punish someone for someone else's actions? All good parents teach their children that that is not fair and unjust. Hence, the story of Adam and Eve teaches us that God is unjust or at least, not always just, and therefore is not perfectly benevolent.
The story teaches us that it is divine will that sometimes the relatives of sinners can be punished for the guilty.
The story teaches us that free will is not the cause of the suffering of mankind. We are all born in a world of pain and death because someone-else committed a crime, which was nothing to do with our own free will to choose wrongly.
“Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Adam and Eve did not know of good and evil. They were innocent. They did not know of deceit, anger, lust or evil. The serpent lied to them but they would not have known that the serpent's intents were not good. Mistrust is only a thing that is learnt once evil and sin are experienced. There was not yet any sin, so they couldn't have mistrusted the serpent - so they believed what the serpent said. This isn't Adam and Eve's fault. Immanuel Kant in 1785CE eloquently wrote that "Innocence is indeed a glorious thing; only, on the other hand, it is very sad that it cannot well maintain itself and is easily seduced"6. It is only possible to detect lying and deceit once you know what good and evil is! God would have known that Adam and Eve did not understand deception could not have mistrusted the serpent. So why did God not stop the serpent? God itself could easily have picked the serpent up and thrown it out of the Garden of Eden. It is easily seen that to punish Adam and Eve, or anyone, for wrongdoing is only moral if they have the required understanding. In other words, Adam and Eve were not making a "moral decision" when they believed the snake, because they didn't have basic knowledge about the nature of the serpent, and couldn't understand the moral situation.
In short: It makes no logical sense to claim that the Adam and Eve story is a true explanation of morality, evil or mankind's imperfection. Mankind is not perfect. If God exists, God created mankind as not perfect. The Adam and Eve story was a failed attempt by us to explain why we are not perfect.
The Adam and Eve theodicy fails as an explanation for why we choose evil sometimes, original sin is not a valid explanation for why God created evil. Also it is an immoral story, for God punishes people who chose an action without knowing that such a choice was bad.
Punishment for disobedience
God makes a command known, but makes a death threat as a punishment. A death threat is not a suitable punishment for eating from the tree of knowledge. A death threat should only be issued under serious circumstances, not as a punishment for curiosity or disobedience. This story demonstrates God's wrath and anger and shows us that God is not forgiving. If we use this story as an example for ethical thinking, we can conclude that we can kill or shorten the lives of those who do not do as we say! During the Dark Ages, coincidentally, this is what the Christian Church did.
Conclusions on the morals of the Adam and Eve story:
Punishing one person for the actions of another is immoral. If we use the Adam and Eve story to explain evil, suffering and death then we are saying that God is immoral and not a forgiving God. Judging Adam and Eve even when they didn't know the difference between good and evil, when they didn't know it was wrong to disobey and couldn't understand that the serpent tricked them, is also immoral. The Adam and Eve story is not a suitable moral story for children nor is it a valid theodicy to explain evil.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Genesis 3:7 [NIV]
There are philosophical difficulties with Genesis 3:7. Adam and Eve realize that they naked because they gained the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So, they covered themselves up and hid from God (3:10). This means that nakedness must be bad - if it was good, there would be no need to hide themselves. But if nakedness was bad, then, why did God create them naked? And why would nakedness be bad, between a pair who are as if husband and wife? This single verse alone hints that Genesis is telling a creation myth, rather than instructing us is anything important about what we should believe.
Some people argue that God must have created more people than just Adam and Eve. That the Bible doesn't say God only created Adam and Eve. This defence is valid against the incest problem associated with Adam and Eve's children. When they grew up, one of them 'found' a wife. If not his own (unmentioned) sister or his own mum, who was this wife? It appears God must have created more than just Adam and Eve.
What does this mean in practical terms for the original sin? When did God create these people? It must have been:
Both these options have such problems that it makes them impossible. God can't have made other people aside from Adam and Eve. If God created the extra people before the fall then are we led to believe that all the people God created also chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? This doesn't seem to make sense, because when Adam and Eve ate of it God appeared to them and told them off and banished them away from the Tree. God has quite a presence and it would no doubt be enough to scare off anyone else from eating from the tree! Either God let them all eat, knowing none of them had the knowledge required for them to distrust the serpent or to understand that disobedience was wrong, in which case God is an immensely poor parent. A parent knows that its children do not know not to touch a hot pan. So, parents warn their children not to. When their children go to touch the pan, the parent does more than just warn them. Because the parent knows that the child is not capable of understanding why not to touch the pan, the parent steps in and physically protects the child. God did not do this with Adam and Eve and anyone who was around: God did not protect its children from the danger. God is a bad parent.
God must have created the extra people after the fall. But this seems to be wrong. Because that would mean that God was creating imperfect people who were not the children of Adam and Eve. People who are not the children of Adam and Eve would not suffer from death or disease (which are the effects of original sin). So God created these extra people and created them with weakness to death and disease on purpose. If this is true, if God created these people like that, then original sin doesn't explain death and disease as these people were not subject to the original sin.
The explanation that God created more people than just Adam and Eve shows us that the Adam and Eve story is not a valid excuse for death "entering the world". God himself created death and the Adam and Eve story is merely apologetics on behalf of fearful God believers who wish to think of Humans as evil due to our own actions, and not due to Creation. The truth is, Human Beings were not created by a benevolent God and the Adam and Eve story fails to reconcile God and evil, God is still immoral.
Creation of more people before the fall seems more likely
The criticism resulting from God creating people after the fall is less serious than that if he created them before. In the latter case we merely conclude that he is a bad parent, and perhaps not omniscient, whereas if he created people after the fall he is a downright immoral monster.
The story fails to present any valid morals and instead proposes that (a) it is acceptable to punish people for the sins of others (original sin) and (b) that death is a suitable punishment for disobedience - ever wondered why so many oppressive governments were bedfellows with established religions? Also Adam and Eve's children must have slept with their own parents or siblings. It is an immoral story that we shouldn't suffer upon children until they are old enough to understand it as a religious myth. God is shown to be a bad parent, uncaring. The logic of the story is faulty. The story itself, in the same way as other religious texts formed, is a compilation and redaction of religious myths, and has no consistent single author.
“Author Paul Alan Laughlin, a liberal Christian, drew an analogy between the story of Genesis 3 and "a more modern scenario." The following parable is based on his tale:
by Paul Laughlin
A woman bakes a batch of cookies for a party. She warns her twins, aged 3, to not eat any. She explained to them, deceitfully, that if they did, then she would kill them. Not thinking things through carefully, she placed the cookies on a table, easily accessible to the twins. A brother who was older, wiser and more mature than the twins asked whether their mother had forbidden them to eat anything in the house. The girl twin, Edna, said that mother had only forbidden them to eat the cookies -- on pain of death. The older brother chuckled and told his sister that parents did that a lot. He said: "Of course she wouldn't kill you. She simply wants to deny you the pleasure of munching on the cookies. She doesn't want to share the cookies. She wants to keep them all to herself." Edna does exactly what any adult could predict: she eats one. Then, she persuades her twin brother Albert to eat another.
The mother returns, not aware of the twin's disobedience. She notices crumbs on the table and on the twins' lips. She correctly concludes that the twins have eaten cookies. She flies into a rage, beats them, and throws them out of the house to fend for themselves. She cuts them out of her will. She does all she can to make the lives of any future descendents of the twins miserable.”
By OCRT, "GENESIS 3: The fall/rise of humanity"
Any parent who acts like this lacks love, compassion, intelligence or morals, yet this is exactly how God acts in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. A possible Christian defence, in order to try and keep God as the good guy, would be that God then rectified the situation by sending his son out to retrieve his children. But this could all have been averted if God was simply a better parent in the first place!
By allowing the serpent to act, by not giving Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil that they needed to resist the serpent, and, by punishing them all (and all their descendants) with such disproportionate punishments, God in Genesis chapter 3 is shown to be immoral, and a very poor parent. The story seems like a simple creation myth created by people who didn't care for logical analysis or even for moralizing and as a result, the story contains both highly illogical aspects and immoral teachings. (1) It is not right to punish descendants for the sins of their parents, (2) it is not right to punish those who transgress when they're too innocent and naive to know otherwise, and, (3) if you have the power to stop an action being taken that will cause severe side-effects, then, it is the right thing to do to step in and stop it. God in the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent, however, goes in the opposite direction in all those three points.
The Serpent couldn't have been Evil because God didn't throw it out of Paradise, which is a place with no sin (Revelations 2:7 says that the tree is in Paradise).
God couldn't have created the serpent to test Adam and Eve for two reasons. (1) In Genesis 3:14-15 it punishes the serpent for its actions, which means that its actions were against God's wishes. And (2) it cannot have been a "test" because God (being all-knowing) would have already known the result.
Why did God let the serpent stay in the garden? By stopping the serpent and stopping the fall of man, God would have prevented all suffering and death. It only makes sense if the story is an excuse for why there is suffering and death in the world - a primitive cultural explanation rather than the worked-out scheme of an all-knowing God.
The Historical Sources of the Serpent:
It is not a story without precedent, of course. "In the old legends", notes Historian William Draper, "the Evil Spirit was said to have sent a serpent to ruin the paradise which the Good Spirit had made. These legends became known to the Jews during their Babylonian captivity"9. This made much more sense in a belief system where a good and evil spirit were pretty much equally powerful, and neither were all-powerful nor all-knowing, so could both resort to tricks and disguises to fool the other.
Serpents did not feature only in dualistic modes of thought. In general fertility-goddess mythology, snakes and serpents were sometimes given divine and holy attributes, and sometimes given evil and menacing ones. Hava (Eve, in Hebrew, means 'mother of the living') was already the name of a snake goddess amongst the Canaanites, before she was personified in the story of Adam and Eve as found in the Bible. It is a story that was frequently told, with all kinds of variations and differences, and which has a long and varied history.10
Once you know the history of these types of myths, the Adam and Eve story makes much more sense, but, hardly makes it a trustworthy chapter worthy of being placed within the holy text of Jews and Christians! But such oddities are what make religious history interesting, even if they are troublesome for those who actually place spiritual value in the texts.
Christian misogyny and subjection of women was justified for many hundreds of years on scriptural grounds, often deriving from the story of Adam and Eve. In the story, both Adam and then God blame Eve for the turn of events (3:12-13). Eve was blamed for the fall of mankind and this was said to be evidence that all of womankind was inferior, naturally inclined to sin, and was not to be allowed to lead men any more - a sentiment that was asserted in the New Testament specifically because "it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" and not Adam, therefore mankind has authority over women (1 Timothy 2:11-14). All because it was she who was convinced by the serpent to eat the fruit. Despite this, there are serious arguments that it is man who is the morally weaker.
God gave the commandment not to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to Adam alone, before Eve was created (Genesis 2:15-18). Adam proved himself a worthless leader by not communicating this instruction to Eve. Based on this, it should be woman who heads up the household, not man!
Adam ate the fruit because Eve gave it to him, convinced therefore, by a mere human being. But Eve was beguiled by the formidable powers of Satan itself (Genesis 3:1-6), in the guise of a serpent. Man must be far weaker than woman. Some Christians have argued this point, such as the Catholic Richard Carpenter11.
“Then the woman ... takes of the fruit; and all this time Adam standing beside her interposes no word of objection. 'Her husband with her' are the words of v.6. Had he been the representative of the divinely appointed head in married life, he assuredly would have taken upon himself the burden of the discussion with the serpent, but no, he is silent in this crisis of their fate. [...] He interposes no word of warning or remonstrance, but takes the fruit from the hand of his wife without a protest. It takes six verses to describe the 'fall' of woman, the fall of man is contemptuously dismissed in a line and a half. [...] The subsequent conduct of Adam was to the last degree dastardly. When the awful time of reckoning comes, and the Jehovah God appears to demand why his command has been disobeyed, Adam endeavors to shield himself behind the gentle being he has declared to be so dear. 'The woman thou gavest to be with me, she gave me and I did eat,' he whines-- trying to shield himself at his wife's expense!”
Although Christian misogyny was bad, Islam, a religion that has its own version of the Adam and Eve story, is much worse.
The evidence for evolution is voluminous and there simply is no other good theory to explain the facts. Humankind evolved (as did all other species) from shared ancestors, with populations slowly evolving and changing over time as genes are passed on and selected for. Because entire communities change over time, there is never a single point where a "new species" emerges and is comprised of only a pair of individuals. We have detailed genetic maps of how our genome emerged, and that of a huge number of our ancestors, and there was never a time in history where our species was reduced to two people. The story of Adam and Eve does not reflect biological reality, and, this fact has been attested to over history. So, what is done with the story of Adam and Eve?
“God, being a pure spirit, has no hands, and He causes His creatures to develop one from another by the power which He has imparted to Nature. If, therefore, the Lord made Adam from the dust of the earth, we must understand that man came out of that earth under the Divine Influence and yet after a natural manner.”
Eliphas Levi is repeating an often used argument: that God created humankind via evolution. God, if it existed, created the Universe using the Big bang in a way that would facilitate the evolution of mankind on Earth following normal natural laws of nature. However, this argument lands theologians into the problem of the god of the gaps. I.e., as our knowledge of the universe increases, we find that God does less and less. Once, God created humankind and other species itself, directly. Now, we find that God merely let natural laws do the work for it. This is because now, we understand natural laws better, so, God has "shrunk".
After Adam and Eve had children, how did they proceed onto the third generation? The children must have slept with each other, or their own parents. How do you explain this to an inquisitive child without condoning incest? Incest was the order of the day. The same applies to the story of Noah's Ark. The children of Noah's family and his wife's family must have slept with members of their parent's family, or each other. Any further generations would again be faced with the same choice.
Part of God's Plan & Abraham was Rewarded For It:
(1) Adam and Eve's children were Cain, Abel (Genesis 4), Seth and others (Genesis 5:4). They must have had sex with their parents or with each other, and thus had children of their own. Incest with the very closest relatives is a necessary part of God's plan, according to the story of Adam and Eve. Even if you accept that this story is mythical, then, the moral truth behind it still insists that incest must be ok, being such a fundamental part of God's good plan.
(2) After The Flood (Genesis 6:6-8,7:1,20-23,9:1,18-19), which was only survived by one single family (Noah's), incest was once again rife and necessary, a situation God itself had caused. (See: "Noah, the Ark and the Flood, from the Bible Book of Genesis" by Vexen Crabtree (2013).)
(3) Abraham married his sister. He was one of the most holy men of the Old Testament. God rewarded them for it. "And God said unto Abraham, as for Sara thy wife...I bless her, and give thee a son also of her..." (Genesis 17:15-16, Genesis 20:11-12). There was a lot of this going on in this holy family:
(4) Lot fathered children with his own daughters after they took turns to seduce him while he was drunk. Lot is considered favourable by god, was saved by God's angels (Genesis 19:11-13, 15-17,19) and is described as just and righteous in 2 Peter 2:6-8.
(5) Joshua gives Caleb's daughter to her cousin as a wife in Joshua 15:16-17 as a battle reward for conquering Kirjath Sepher.
There are many other cases of incest - too many to list here!
Incest is Condemned by God:
"Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of this mother..." (Deuteronomy 27:22).
"None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness" (Leviticus 18:6).
Union your father's wife, or, a father with his daughter in law, both merit punishment by death (Leviticus 20:11-12).
"If a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter...it is a wicked thing" (Leviticus 20:17).
Deuteronomy and Leviticus across various chapters describe many other (but not all) forms of incestuous unions as prohibited.
A Secular Incident:
Absalom was a non-religious figure, featuring in political schemes and power struggles. Yet he had the moral strength to bring justice against King David's son Amnon who raped Absalom's sister (Amnon's half-sister) (2 Samuel 13). His means of going about it were dishonest because he did not think that the holy court of King David would have brought justice, the event being family-on-family.
A Christian once argued with me and explained that the inbreeding of Adam and Eve's children did not result in retardation and genetic disease, because our genes were much more pure and perfect, and that the genetic problems caused by inbreeding only appeared once our gene pool, alongside mankind, had fallen out of grace. Whether or not you accept this line of reasoning (and the genetic evidence is not that we are degenerating over time), it only applies to Adam and Eve and their offspring, and not Noah and his wife, who had exactly the same problem in a time period somewhat after Adam and Eve. By the time of Noah, humanity had fallen so far that God tried to wipe us all out. There is hardly scope to argue that at this time, genetic diseases did not occur as a result of inbreeding.
More likely than any convoluted apologist explanations of why the side-effects of incest did not appear is that (1) the authors of Genesis did not know anything about genetics, (2) they were knowingly writing myths and complicated real-life issues were not important to the myth and (3) the story was simply not thought out in that much depth.
Current edition: 2013 Jan 20
Last Modified: 2015 Sep 10
Originally published 2002 Sep 30
Parent page: Christianity
Christianity's 7 Day Creation MythChristian Mythology: Adam and Eve, and the Serpent, in the Garden of EdenThe Book of Genesis, including side-by-side translationsCreationism and Intelligent Design: Christian Fundamentalism
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The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. Book Review.
(2005) A Short History of Myth: Volume 1-4. 2008 Kindle edition. First published in Great Britain in 2005 by Canongate Books Ltd.
(2007) "Evolution and the Unintelligent Design of Life: Inherited Traits, Genetic Dysfunction and Artificial Life" (2007). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2010) "The God of the Gaps" (2010). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
(2011) "The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?" (2011). Accessed 2017 Aug 01.
Draper, John William. (1811-1882)
(1881) History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. E-book. 8th (Amazon Kindle digital edition) edition. Published by D. Appleston and Co, New York, USA.
Jehovah's Witnesses, The. Publications by their publishing company, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, New York, USA.
(2005) What Does the Bible Really Teach. 2006 print.
Kant, Immanuel. (1724-1804) German philosopher.
(1785) Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition prepared by David J. Cole prepared by Matthew Stapleton. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (1829-1913).
(2004, Ed.) Jealous Gods & Chosen People: The Mythology of the Middle East. Hardback book. Published by Oxford University Press.
(1860) The History of Magic. Paperback book. Published by Rider & Company, London, UK. Translation and Preface by Arthur Edward Waite, 1971; first edition of Waite translation was 1913. Eliphas Levi is the writing name of Alphonse Louis Constant.
Stanton, Elizabeth C.. (1815-1902)
(1898) The Woman's Bible. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Carrie Lorenz and John B. Hare.