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The Serpent And Mankind's Fall From The Garden Of Eden (Paradise)


Jagged Zen Monkey
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I thought this would make an interesting discussion. There's a plethora of views on the issue, so I thought I'd bring my own to the table. The story isn't about general knowledge, but about the awareness of evil and its effects. The old adage holds true here, "Ignorance is bliss". Had evil never been "known", we would only know what was good. The tree of knowledge of "good and evil" symbolizes a path, just as the tree of life symbolizes a path. Evil was introduced into the world by mankind's own actions because of the path mankind chose. Mankind chose to pursue evil and the natural consequence of that choice was to experience the effects thereof. This removed mankind from the garden (paradise).

 

 

The story suggests that mankind's eyes were opened (We became aware of our capacity to do evil things). The story also suggests that mankind was ashamed of their actions, so much so that they tried to hide themselves. There is much more to story than what meets the eye (imo). Take the serpent for example. The serpent could very well symbolize desire. Eve desired to know evil. Her desires deceived her into thinking she would become wise and knowledgeable like God. Adam willingly followed her lead and chose to pursue evil as well.

 

 

Also, the serpent was said to be cursed to consume the dust of the ground for the rest of its days. Mankind was created from the dust of the ground according to the Genesis account, which implies to me that mankind (who represents the dust of the ground) would be consumed by evil desire until our evil desires are conquered. This can only be achieved by following the path (tree) of life.

 

 

The scriptures state that the wages of sin (pursuit of evil) is death (destruction), hence we essentially destroy ourselves by our evil pursuits. The tree of life (path of life) has been "preserved" for mankind to choose over evil, however. We know and are aware of the effects of both good and evil in today's world. It is ultimately up to mankind to conquer our evil desires and pursue the path of life as Jesus did. Jesus embodies the potential of mankind. We are sons of man and can be children of God when we choose the path of life over the path of destruction.

 

 

The tree of life is still available to each of us, preserved and kept so we might one day choose it over evil. If we continue to desire and pursue evil, we (the sons of man) will be destroyed. If we choose the path of life, we will one day live abundantly as Gods children in a heavenly "kingdom" ruled by God, who is (in part) love. The choice is ours, but in order to choose life, we will need to conquer our evil desires. In order to slay the dragon, we must first identify the dragon, which amounts to knowing thyself. If we can slay our desires to pursue evil, we will one day know life as it was in the beginning (paradise).

 

 

Devil in the mirror

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The tree of knowledge of "good and evil" symbolizes a path, just as the tree of life symbolizes a path.

 

Interesting.

 

I think the tree of knowledge of "good and evil" symbolizes the path of the law while the "tree of life" symbolizes the path of love against which there is no law. It seems to me, it is the law that when accepted creates the arbitrary boundary of "good" and "evil". In my view, there is only a continuum called love and somewhere along that continuum / line society makes a division or arbitrary point between the full presence of love and its absence. That division is different for each law that a society creates to suit its own needs, times and desires in creating a law as a point of judgement of what is evil and should be punished.

 

I don't think society really cares about killing as evil long as it preserves society and suits its purposes and the needs and desires of those in power. To kill another useful person in society is considered evil by society but to kill alot of the enemies of society makes one a hero of society as in times of war. Evil seems to me to be a sliding point along that continuum and has no real existence in itself. This is very similar to Heat and cold, Light and dark . Only the heat and Light have a degree of existence. The other word is just a linguistics convenience and most often arbitrary.

 

Just some related thoughts.

Joseph

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Interesting.

 

I think the tree of knowledge of "good and evil" symbolizes the path of the law while the "tree of life" symbolizes the path of love against which there is no law. It seems to me, it is the law that when accepted creates the arbitrary boundary of "good" and "evil". In my view, there is only a continuum called love and somewhere along that continuum / line society makes a division or arbitrary point between the full presence of love and its absence. That division is different for each law that a society creates to suit its own needs, times and desires in creating a law as a point of judgement of what is evil and should be punished.

 

I don't think society really cares about killing as evil long as it preserves society and suits its purposes and the needs and desires of those in power. To kill another useful person in society is considered evil by society but to kill alot of the enemies of society makes one a hero of society as in times of war. Evil seems to me to be a sliding point along that continuum and has no real existence in itself. This is very similar to Heat and cold, Light and dark . Only the heat and Light have a degree of existence. The other word is just a linguistics convenience and most often arbitrary.

 

Just some related thoughts.

Joseph

 

 

The law was established to keep order on earth, but it came a good while after the fall. It condemns man because of the wickedness of man, but love takes the wickedness out of our hearts when we allow it to grow and develop within us. John the Baptist represents the law, which made the way straight for Jesus, just as it makes the way straight for us. Even so, it isn't until we partake of the tree of life and follow this path that we are able to fulfill the law, the tree of life being love itself. One day there will be no law to condemn us. There will only be the guiding light of love.

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I thought this would make an interesting discussion. There's a plethora of views on the issue, so I thought I'd bring my own to the table. The story isn't about general knowledge, but about the awareness of evil and its effects. The old adage holds true here, "Ignorance is bliss". Had evil never been "known", we would only know what was good.

JZM,

 

I generally agree with your interpretation. I ask myself, what did the author of the story intend for his audience (at the time) to get from the story. Some would say it is oral history but I don't think so for a variety of reasons. I think it is about the responsibility that comes with acquiring knowledge. The more we know, the more responsibility we must take for our behavior.

 

George

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JZM,

 

I really enjoyed reading that. Thanks! :)

 

I'm curious: in your reading, how do you account for the Cheub with a fiery sword to guard the tree of life from humanity? I could imagine a few solutions (only guarding against Adam & Eve, guard does not mean completely deny, etc.), but I don't want to put words in your mouth.

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JZM, I generally agree with your interpretation. I ask myself, what did the author of the story intend for his audience (at the time) to get from the story. Some would say it is oral history but I don't think so for a variety of reasons. I think it is about the responsibility that comes with acquiring knowledge. The more we know, the more responsibility we must take for our behavior. George

 

I agree that knowledge is important and linked to responsibility. Genesis seems, to me, to be about how we have imperfect sentience and bounded rationality. We have the image of God within/on us, but we're sent into the world without truly, fully being like God. But then, I suspect I have a very different view of choice than the original poster of this thread (which is fine - difference of opinion is part of why I'm here :) )

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The meaning behind the Genesis creation account can be found in another creation account in Ezekiel 28.

Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

You were the signet of perfection,

full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;

every precious stone was your covering,

carnelian, chrysolite, and moonstone,

beryl, onyx, and jasper,

sapphire, turquoise, and emerald;

and worked in gold were your settings

and your engravings.

On the day that you were created

they were prepared.

With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you;

you were on the holy mountain of God;

you walked among the stones of fire.

You were blameless in your ways

from the day that you were created,

until iniquity was found in you.

In the abundance of your trade

you were filled with violence, and you sinned;

so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,

and the guardian cherub drove you out

from among the stones of fire.

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;

you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour.

I cast you to the ground;

I exposed you before kings,

to feast their eyes on you.

By the multitude of your iniquities,

in the unrighteousness of your trade,

you profaned your sanctuaries.

So I brought out fire from within you;

it consumed you,

and I turned you to ashes on the earth

in the sight of all who saw you.

All who know you among the peoples

are appalled at you;

you have come to a dreadful end

and shall be no more for ever.

The Genesis creation account is not a timeless tale about the nature of humanity but a political allegory about the Babylonian exile. The Garden of Eden is one of the sacred gardens people in the middle East in ancient times used to grow to worship the gods and is symbolic of the Jerusalem temple. Adam represents one of the kings responsible for tending these sacred gardens. The serpent represents the Israelites' later condemnation of their earlier practice of snake worship. The fall from grace wasn't a curse that took place at the beginning of time but is symbolic of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.
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Hi Neon,

 

The Genesis creation account is not a timeless tale about the nature of humanity but a political allegory about the Babylonian exile. The Garden of Eden is one of the sacred gardens people in the middle East in ancient times used to grow to worship the gods and is symbolic of the Jerusalem temple. Adam represents one of the kings responsible for tending these sacred gardens. The serpent represents the Israelites' later condemnation of their earlier practice of snake worship. The fall from grace wasn't a curse that took place at the beginning of time but is symbolic of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

 

I'm not sure this is so matter-of-fact. James Kugel, for instance, suggests that the Eden story has its roots, among other things, in a mythic account of the origins of agriculture. In any case, by the time Genesis took the form of scripture in the now-traditional sense, the stories took on a life of their own and served as a basis for theologizing.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I heard about this theory about the Genesis account being an allegory of the Babylonian exile from this BBC documentary, The Bible's Buried Secrets: The Garden of Eden. It's a pretty lengthy documentary but very fascinating and worth watching:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1scTuY4mHg&list=FLbab1aTbfPA1j0SvPncGeyQ&index=1

There's also an equally interesting one on the possibility that God had a wife that I recommend. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Joseph, I like your your view of the trees representing Law and Love.

 

I don't see how there can be one reading of these mythic stories in Genesis. Every comment about what they mean over the millenia changes, then, the story that is told next. And every new context changes the text.

 

The Hebrews added an intersting layer to these mythic stories of the Garden, the Flood, the Tower, that existed in the cultural traditions they were familiar with. A moral layer. Humans were responsible and there were consequences for their actions.

 

I often refer to this keynote address by Allen Dyer

 

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

 

I like his child development reading.

A respect for the coherent logic of such a traditional or primitive view of the world enables us to respect the analogous primitivism of the developing child and the reality of magical thinking. The child’s fears are fashioned out of the way it views the world. It experiences confusion about cause and effect relationships, and the child experiences confusion about the limits of its own powers. In the state of primitive narcissistic bliss, the child in a loving environment has the power to make things right in the world. A simple whimper can bring an end to discomfort, hunger, and distress, laying the foundation for a belief in real magical omnipotence. This is the state before the fall.

Moral evil, the evil of human cruelty, may be understood as narcissism gone awry. Human cruelty has in origins in earliest human experience when the infant can’t make the transition from a world in which self matters most to a world that fully includes others.

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VERY interesting discussion. All of you have certainly brought up things I hadn't considered. My friend and I were having a discussion tonight about re-interpretting our church's traditions prayers, icons, and rituals to allow them to be more meaningful to us at this stage in our spiritual growth. I think you have just brought in a few more points to consider when making these re-interpretations.

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I don't see how there can be one reading of these mythic stories in Genesis. Every comment about what they mean over the millenia changes, then, the story that is told next. And every new context changes the text.

 

I completely agree. Even if the wording of the text remains perfectly static (which it cannot due to translation issues and even drift within the same language), one is always interpreting it in a historically situated context. Meaning (and therefore doctrine) cannot be eternal and unchanging.

 

The meaning behind the Genesis creation account can be found in another creation account in Ezekiel 28. The Genesis creation account is not a timeless tale about the nature of humanity but a political allegory about the Babylonian exile. The Garden of Eden is one of the sacred gardens people in the middle East in ancient times used to grow to worship the gods and is symbolic of the Jerusalem temple. Adam represents one of the kings responsible for tending these sacred gardens. The serpent represents the Israelites' later condemnation of their earlier practice of snake worship. The fall from grace wasn't a curse that took place at the beginning of time but is symbolic of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

 

You are totally correct that understanding the historical origin and context of where a narrative comes from is important. At the same time, I don't think the reader of a text must choose between reading for historical allegory or a larger cultural/theological meaning.

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It seems to me that there are at least two levels that a biblical passage such as this can be read. The first is interpretation of what the author intended for his audience. The second is what the passage means to the reader which may be completely unrelated to what the author intended. The first is in the purview of historians, anthropologists and linguists and changes with additional scientific discovery and insight. The latter is very much subject to change based on the time, the context of the interpretation and the individual interpreter. The first is objective. The second is subjective.

 

George

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I like Thomas Merton's understanding of the 'Fall', which finds consonance with views expressed here already.

 

'...we notice a deep symbolic wisdom in Patristic interpretations of the story of the Fall in Genesis. This indeed is the forbidden tree: this tree of self, which grows in the middle of Paradise, but which we ourselves are not supposed to see or notice. All the other trees are there, and they refresh us with their fruits. Of them we can be aware, and they are there to be enjoyed for the love of God. But if we become aware of ourselves, turn back too much upon ourselves, and seek to rest in ourselves, then we take the fruit that was forbidden us: we become "as gods, knowing good and evil," for we find division within ourselves and are cut off from external reality at the same time. The "nothingness" within us--which is at the same time the place where our freedom springs into being--is secretly filled with the presence and light of God as long as our eyes are not on ourselves. And then our freedom is united with the freedom of God Himself.' (The Inner Experience 112)

 

I also recall a line from his 'New Seeds of Contemplation', "the Lord diverts himself and plays in the garden of his creation..."

 

 

Peace,

Mike

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I like your serpent and dust of the earth and desire idea.

 

I see the "fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' as 'conclusion', or 'judgement'. And it was the fruit they were forbidden to eat. You can climb around in the 'tree of knowledge of good and evil', examining what is good and not good, etc, but eating the fruit is to partake of making judgement.

I've also heard the idea that the 'sin' of eating the fruit of knowledge and evil, was to 'judge God' since God had pronounced creation 'good'. He didnt mention anything bad or evil, it was just 'good'. So when they judged something of his creation as bad, evil, as in their shame of their naked bodies, the were judging part of what God had created and called 'good', to be bad, or evil.

 

Jenell

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I thought this would make an interesting discussion. There's a plethora of views on the issue, so I thought I'd bring my own to the table. The story isn't about general knowledge, but about the awareness of evil and its effects...

 

Thanks for posting this, JZM. I don't know as I've read a more concise and to the point examination of this scripture. Enjoyed the music, too.

 

I come from a Jewish perspective on this (Reformed, btw). Gardens are very symbolic in Jewish philosophy, and usually refer to (obviously) beginnings and primal "goodness." The song Woodstock from CSNY could have come right out of the Talmud in its analysis of this notion of the Garden of Eden. It is never interpreted as history, except by the few literalists one runs into from time to time.

 

However, I have come over time to view evil as not so much a "thing" but, rather; an idea formed in the mind of man. We are evolved beings, I think, that are prone to err on occasion. We screw up. Because of the evolution of thought - our obsession with our own contemplation - we focus on the "cause" of evil, or; philosophically: what does it mean? When, in reality, we only have to act on it to correct the harmful behavior. Law, for example, is an appropriate response to screwing up.

 

We give Shamans and Priests too much power when we elevate evil above its natural place in humanity, I think.

 

http://www.youtube.c...e&v=iLddJ1WceHQ

 

 

 

NORM

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In elevating evil above its natural place inhumantiy we evade responsibility for our screw-ups. We make it an outside force acting upon us.

 

Eve defended her action with it wasn't my fault, the serpent YOU created deceived me and tricked me into eating it, and Adam defended with it wasn't my fault, it was that woman that YOU gave me that made me do it.....Uh. Oh. Who got blamed for it?

 

Jenell

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JZM,

 

I really enjoyed reading that. Thanks! :)

 

I'm curious: in your reading, how do you account for the Cheub with a fiery sword to guard the tree of life from humanity? I could imagine a few solutions (only guarding against Adam & Eve, guard does not mean completely deny, etc.), but I don't want to put words in your mouth.

 

 

I think the path (tree) of life is kept, guarded, and/or preserved "for" humanity not "from" humanity. Perhaps the cherub and flaming sword is in reference to the sun? It could very well be that the way of the tree of life is kept by the very thing that allows life on this planet. I think we are made pure (in part) by the trials we face in life, just as I think we are further transformed by the Spirit of life (love). We are refined and made pure by fire (life under the sun) and through love (the Spirit of life). It is life and love that enables us to "become" that which we were born to be (children of God/life).

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I've wondered about a connection, a relationship, something..maybe even the tree of life being somehow a prelude anaolgy, to the mercy seat of the ark of the covenent, also gaurded by Cherubim. Perhaps even the ARE the same thing? Just presented in a different metaphor? A tree of life, and a mercy seat which offers life, to those that may make their way past the chrebim?

 

Jenell

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I've wondered about a connection, a relationship, something..maybe even the tree of life being somehow a prelude anaolgy, to the mercy seat of the ark of the covenent, also gaurded by Cherubim. Perhaps even the ARE the same thing? Just presented in a different metaphor? A tree of life, and a mercy seat which offers life, to those that may make their way past the chrebim?

 

Jenell

 

Did you know that the Strong's Hebrew Lexicon defines Cherub as an imaginary figure? This begs the question: When the bible speaks of cherubs, is it speaking of something real or something more symbolic in nature? The Cherubims on the ark were made out of gold, so I I'm curious what they might have made them to look like. The mental image I get when I think of a cherub is a little baby type angel with wings, but it would seem they would need a more aggressive look if they we there to keep guard over something such as the arc.

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In elevating evil above its natural place inhumantiy we evade responsibility for our screw-ups. We make it an outside force acting upon us.

 

Eve defended her action with it wasn't my fault, the serpent YOU created deceived me and tricked me into eating it, and Adam defended with it wasn't my fault, it was that woman that YOU gave me that made me do it.....Uh. Oh. Who got blamed for it?

 

Jenell

 

 

For some reason your post coupled with this thread reminded of one of my favorite songs from my youth. :P

Boy oh boy does this bring back memories, hehe!
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Thanks for posting this, JZM. I don't know as I've read a more concise and to the point examination of this scripture. Enjoyed the music, too.

 

I come from a Jewish perspective on this (Reformed, btw). Gardens are very symbolic in Jewish philosophy, and usually refer to (obviously) beginnings and primal "goodness." The song Woodstock from CSNY could have come right out of the Talmud in its analysis of this notion of the Garden of Eden. It is never interpreted as history, except by the few literalists one runs into from time to time.

 

However, I have come over time to view evil as not so much a "thing" but, rather; an idea formed in the mind of man. We are evolved beings, I think, that are prone to err on occasion. We screw up. Because of the evolution of thought - our obsession with our own contemplation - we focus on the "cause" of evil, or; philosophically: what does it mean? When, in reality, we only have to act on it to correct the harmful behavior. Law, for example, is an appropriate response to screwing up.

 

We give Shamans and Priests too much power when we elevate evil above its natural place in humanity, I think.

 

http://www.youtube.c...e&v=iLddJ1WceHQ

 

 

 

NORM

 

I am largely in agreement with your assessment of evil. Evil is not a thing in and of itself, but as you suggested, evil is an idea formed in the mind of man. I think evil (unpleasant/calamity) contrasts the good (pleasant) realities we face as living creatures. The difference between us and most of the animal kingdom is we are able to contemplate the root cause of both these aspects of life.

 

 

btw ....... Loved the link! It is actually the ringtone set on my phone, lol. :D

Edited by Jagged Zen Monkey
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Lol, no,a cherubum is not a cute plump baby figure! Actually cherurbum were recognized mythical creatures even long before the Hebrews.Cherubem were artistically despicted in quite early Mesopotamian Basin cultures.

 

One of my extraordinary experiences while attending university was being actually allowed to HOLD and examine both an ancient, thousands of years old, Babylonian carved stone cherubim figurine, about 7" tall and 9" long, AND a 4-5" tall clay figure of the god "Baal". Both were genuine artifacts from the private collection of Dr. Mitchell, the head of the Religious Studies department there.

 

The cherubum was a fearsome looking mythical beast...you should be able to Google up some images of them.

 

Actually the images, of 'chreub' angels as we think of them now appeared during periods of the great plagues sweeping through Eutrope, so many young children, babies, innocents, died en masse, people were so grieved, and the Catholic church's 'explantions' about punishment for sins just didn't wash too well. That was in fact a major factor in Martin Luther's becoming so distrubed with the Church's teachings, he saw so much terrible grief and suffering and death of innocent babies. So was born the idea of those little baby souls becoming angels after death.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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I think the path (tree) of life is kept, guarded, and/or preserved "for" humanity not "from" humanity. Perhaps the cherub and flaming sword is in reference to the sun? It could very well be that the way of the tree of life is kept by the very thing that allows life on this planet. I think we are made pure (in part) by the trials we face in life, just as I think we are further transformed by the Spirit of life (love). We are refined and made pure by fire (life under the sun) and through love (the Spirit of life). It is life and love that enables us to "become" that which we were born to be (children of God/life).

 

Thanks for the reply. The idea that life & love allow us to become children of God, to be adopted by God, is a sentiment I very much agree with. My thinking on how we are purified, however, is much more muddled at the moment, so I can't really say how much I agree with you or not. It does have some interesting implications that belong in the theodicy thread, but I'm not going to open that can of worms again.

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Us Gnostics have a different view of the second Genesis story of Creation. Judaism defined itself in its religious war with its pagan neighbors' religions. The snake represented both wisdom and resurrection to eternal life in such civilizations as Egypt's. In Minoan civilization snakes were the emblems of Goddess worship. So Jews, taught by their religion to hate their Gentile neighbors and all they stood for were taught to hate snakes and snakes being used as religious icons. Christianity, being a throwback to Egyptian religious ideas has in its Gospel reinstatement of the snake icon, as in John 3:14, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Snakes were symbols of resurrection to eternal life because the ancients saw them become brand new snakes when they shed their skins. The serpentine path of wisdom explains itself and really, we still do honor the snake as an icon of wisdom in thousands of caduceus emblems around the country and worldwide. The Jewish castigation of the snake only works for those who don't move beyond the Adam and Eve mythology meant to elevate blind faith and obedience to orders over natural curiosity, the greatest tool of human quest for knowledge of Creation.

The Tree of Life doesn't grow big and tall and strong without the Tree of Knowledge, God's gift to humanity, to guide it.

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