The Biblical Account of the Paradisiacal Garden, the Temptation, and Expulsion
The story of Paradise, the Garden of Eden, takes up where the second story of creation ends with a foreshadowing of what is to come: “Now although the man and his wife were naked, neither of them was embarrassed or ashamed.” Genesis 2:25.
Genesis 3:1 begins, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” King James Version. That word, “subtil,” is old English for our present day “subtle.” The KJV dictionary offers the following definition: “1. Thin; not dense or gross; as subtil air and 2. Nice; fine; delicate. The Revised Standard Version settles for subtle; the Modern Language Version replaces it with “wiliest,” and the Living Bible Version uses “craftiest.”
The serpent then applies its skills: it asks the woman if the Lord God has told her they could not eat of the fruits from the trees in the garden. She answers that they may eat of any tree except of the tree “in the midst of the garden.” About that, she says, the Lord God instructed them not only not to eat it, but not even to touch it “lest ye die.” Genesis 3:2, 3. The serpent responds that they surely will not die, God has told them not to eat of it lest their eyes be opened, and they become “as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5.
And so, the woman looked upon the fruit, it did look good for food and desirable “to make one wise.” So she took the fruit, ate of it, and gave it to her husband, who ate it, also. Genesis 3:6. And, indeed, their eyes were opened; they then realized that they were naked and covered themselves with aprons made of fig leaves. Genesis 3:7.
Then “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day;” and they hid. Genesis 3:8. The Lord God called to Adam, “where art thou;” and Adam immediately excused himself: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Lord God asked who told him that he was naked; and, had he eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree? And Adam, evidently realizing he’s in trouble, wastes no time shifting blame: “the woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the fruit.” Lord God asks woman what she has done, and she responds with yet another shift of responsibility: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”
The Lord God punishes the serpent: because of what it did, it will thereafter be cursed above all beasts; and thereafter he shall move by slithering on its belly, and it will eat dust. Lord God told woman, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Then the Lord God said to Adam that the ground is cursed “for thy sake;” he shall eat sorrow, he shall eat of the herbs of the field, but thorns and thistles will confront him; and the bread he eats will be of the sweat of his face until he returns to the ground, from which he came. Genesis 3:14 – 19. Adam called his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all living.” God made for them clothes of “skins.”Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil . . . ” Therefore God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden
to till the ground from whence he was taken;… And he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Genesis 3:23, 24.
Joseph Campbell tells us of the mythological significance of “snake.”:
Snake is the symbol of life throwing off the past and continuing to live.… The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow.… Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That’s an image of life..… There is something tremendously terrifying about life when you look at it thatway. And so the serpent carries in itself the sense of both the fascination and the terror of life.
Furthermore, the serpent represents the primary function of life, mainly eating. Life consists in eating other creatures[, other life].
Campbell notes that in most cultures interpret the snake in a positive light. Even the cobra is a sacred animal in India; “and the mythological Serpent King is the next thing to the Buddha.”
American Indian traditions also revere the snake. The Hopi Indians perform a snake dance in which they hold the snakes in their mouths, make friends with them, and then send them back to the hills. The serpent represents the interplay of man and nature.
A serpent flows like water and so it is watery, but it’s tongue continually flashes fire. So you have the pair of opposites together in the serpent.
Likewise, Campbell tells us of the mythological significance of “woman.”
… In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulses sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story and the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.
Campbell considers that the Christian treatment of the serpent in the creation story as the seducer,
amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulses sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story and the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.
Nowhere else in myth is a woman associated with the introduction of sin.
… The closest thing to it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora’s box, but that’s not sin, that’s just trouble.
Joseph Campbell notes the geographical and historical significance of this story of the temptation and ” the fall.” When the Jews settled in Canaan, they entered a culture of the goddess, which was associated with the serpent. The serpent is the symbol for the mystery of life. The Israelites rejected the mystery for its own male – God – orientation. The biblical story of the temptation of the serpent, the symbol of mystery, and Eve’s, symbol of life, embraced that mystery, then beguiling man to disobedience is a record of Jewish invader’s conquest of the female principle by the male. Is the sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, upon their expulsion from it, some reference to the power of the sword, war? Note the brutal history of the Jewish people, at times while they were in the wilderness, and then continuing with their entry into Canaan.
The biblical creation story introduces, right at the beginning, the unity and peacefulness of Eden which was rejected by the will of Eve and the weakness of man for the world of “pairs of opposites,” as Campbell describes it Man cannot escape that world of opposites because, after the second story of the creation of Adam, and then Eve, man is stuck in the world of paired opposites because man cannot enter life except through woman.
Campbell calls the Garden of Eden the Garden of paradise, the Garden of Eden, which is a “mythological dreamtime zone” where man and woman are just creatures, unaware of their difference, and they walk with God, whose image they reflect. When they eat the apple they acquired the knowledge of opposites which evicts them from the “Garden of Timeless Unity” into the field of opposites.
Moyers asked why we think in terms of opposites, and Campbell answers, “because we can’t think otherwise.”
Dark and light, life and death, good and evil, man and woman, yes and no, true and false, temporal and eternal. All we can know is in the field of opposites. Myths tell us that there is something more than what we can see with our eyes, or think with our minds: a transcendent unity. The poet, Blake, wrote, “eternity is in love with the protections of time.” Moyers asks what that means. Campbell responds,
The source of temporal life is eternity. Eternity pours itself into the world. It is a basic mythic idea of the God who becomes many in us. In India, the God who lives in me is called the “inhabitant” of the body. In to identify with that divine, immortal aspect of yourself is to identify yourself with divinity.
All things in the field of time are pairs of opposites. …
It’s a matter of planes of consciousness. It doesn’t have to do with anything that happened. There is a plane of consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which transcends pairs of opposites.
That which transcends the pairs of opposites is unnameable. It transcends language by which human kind names all objects and actions that it perceives.
Other Accounts of a Paradisical Garden, Temptation, and Eviction
The ancient Babylonians, 1,500 years before the biblical account, tell of a sacred garden, Anu, into which man and woman were placed, and which grew a tree of life, man and woman were expelled, and the tree of life was guarded by cherubim, and the entrance to the garden was guarded by a sword, turning to North, South, East, and West.
The Egyptian God, Ra, also created the world and planted a garden in which he also placed man and woman to live as gods. They were expelled from the Garden because of their “inquisitiveness,” to live in a world of sorrow and pain.
Each of the above stories preceded the writing of Genesis.
In Grecian mythology, Zeus breathed life into dolls of clay to make man; and he gave to man a beautiful woman, Pandora, brought with her a box that man was ordered to keep closed. Again, as in all of the other stories, the man disobeyed. In the Greek myth, he opened the box to the doom of life’s troubles, but consoled with hope.
A Tibetan story also places man and woman in a sacred garden, and man is ordered not to eat a sweet herb. As in the biblical story, they disobeyed, and ate the herb; they then recognized their nakedness, were evicted from the garden and made to rely upon the hard work of agriculture, and to endure the hardships of evil.
There is a story among the eastern African Negroes, a Calabar story of creation. Their god, Abasi, do promised to provide for them: all they had to do is ringing the bell at mealtime. Woman tempted the man to use tillage instruments; and he succumbed to that temptation to provide for themselves. Who thereafter, humankind was condemned to mortality and abandoned to reliance upon agriculture.
In a Persian story, the tree of Hom was not only the sacred tree of life, but also of resurrection. The Greeks had a story of the Garden of the Hesperides in which grew and a tree that bore fruit of Golden Apples of immortality. One of the tasks of Hercules was to collect those apples. But he first we had to overcome the Dragon which guarded the garden.
A Vedic story gives a poetic rendition of creation from nothing, no life, no time, no light; only darkness. Siva, the great God, tempts Brahma, not created, but just being, by dropping a blossom of the fig tree. That tree is known in Buddhism as “Tree of Knowledge” or “Tree of Intelligence.” The Chinese have a story and their scriptures, Che – King, of an Age of Virtue in which humankind was placed in a sacred garden with a tree bearing “apples of immortality.” All of humankind’s needs were provided them, and all was in harmony. However, a woman tempted man with knowledge, and that desire through humankind into its own fallen state, a story similar to that of the notion of “original sin.”
A story of Madagascar are places humankind in a sacred garden about whom grows luscious fruit which is forbidden them. And ties to buy a beautiful painting of the fruits, he ate and he fell.
The Tahitians of Polynesia have a story that man was made of red earth, it’s also provided him nourishment. Their god, Taarao created woman from one of his bones, whose name was Ivi, meaning “bone.” The Scandinavians also have a story of a “Golden Age” that was also disrupted by woman.
Even the ancient Mexicans had a story of a garden of bliss, into which calms a woman and a snake who talk to each other. In their sacred images, Eve is depicted bearing twins. In southern India sacred carvings upon the columns of a temple shows an Ambrosio tree under which sit “the first couple,” and among its branches a snake that introduces the woman to delicious fruit, to which she is tempted and takes it.
The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.
Would you please share your own faith story?