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Understanding 'The Fall' - Genesis 3


PaulS
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On some other threads here on the forum, the topic of evolution, what it means to believe "in" the bible, and an understanding of exactly what Adam & Eve did on that fateful day, has prompted me to share how I believe Genesis 3 should be understood.  I'll warn you now that it is NOT what traditional Christianity, literalists and fundamentalists think, but I think Christianity has stolen the myth of The Fall and misused it to turn it into something that it was never intended for or to be.  So I hope you enjoy the read and feel free to discuss my take on it.  All references are made using the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (which seems to be regarded as the most accurate translation of the writings that make up the bible that we currently have to work with).

Firstly, I think it is clear that whoever is writing this story is using age-old stories, told around the campfires of ancient peoples comprising of the various tribes who inhabited the region we today call the middle east.  I think Genesis 1 & 2 are a good example of these stories being told for generations before charcoal was put to papyrus - they are different stories with significantly different timelines about what was created when and why - but both were captured in Genesis because both were told throughout the region.  

These people lived in more harsh conditions than we in the western world enjoy today - a shorter lifespan, no healthcare, no unemployment benefits, more wars and disputes over precious territory, famines, etc.  But like us, they pondered and questioned the meaning of life.  They wondered why their family and friends died, why sometimes they went hungry, why animals killed them and their livestock, why crops failed, etc.  And so, like all ancient indigenous peoples, they came up with their own myths, legends and stories to explain their situation and circumstances, as they saw it.  Here's what these people say in Genesis 3.

Firstly they introduce the snake as exactly that, a snake.  Verse 1 - "the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that God had made".  Not Satan, not the devil, but simply an animal as we know it today. The serpent may have been more crafty, but it was just a wild animal like any other God made.  Of course in this myth the wild animal can talk, but you get that with myths.  Side note - In Australia we have the world's oldest surviving indigenous culture (some 60-90,000 years old) and many of their ancient stories also include talking animals.

Now the crafty serpent convinces Eve to partake of the fruit from tree the in the middle of the garden (the tree has no name in this chapter but in the previous chapter there was reference to God growing a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in said garden) because her eyes will be open and she will be like God, or gods, knowing good and evil. 

Let's forget for a moment that back in Genesis 1:29 God has just said that he had given every tree with seed in its fruit to them for food, because well, that's just a little inconvenient.  Maybe God was just generically saying eat what you want, but forgot to single out the tree of good and evil as prohibited.  Maybe that tree was a late bloomer.

In any event, we read that Eve takes a bite, shares it with Adam and then indeed, they understand good and evil, and woe and behold, the greatest evil that they can realize, is that they are nude!  This doesn't sound all that evil to me, but hey, this was an ancient and hard place to live when people were telling these stories and I expected nudity was more a big deal than it is to most these days.

So anyway, sometime later God is strolling through this garden and of course Adam and Eve are hiding in shameful nudity.  I'm guessing God must have been fully clothed - I wonder what God was wearing?  God finally finds them both and Adam quickly throws Eve under the bus and blames her for him eating the fruit of the tree of good an evil.  God quizzes Eve and she too confesses but says the snake (not Satan, not the Devil) tricked her into eating the fruit.  

Funnily enough, the first one that God gets angry with is not Adam and Eve, but the snake, and what does he do, well God curses the snake to do snaky things - slither on the ground, face in the dust, biting at people's heels and getting a crushed head from a stray boot as a result.  A pretty normal ancient story that anthropomorphizes animals.  You obviously recognize here that there's no mention of the  snake growing horns, or getting a barbed tail, or becoming a hideous scary looking creature, no condemnation to a lake of fire, etc etc.  It is, a snake.

So starting in Verse 16, God punishes his created kids - the woman gets to suffer pain in childbirth, but of course she will still maintain desire for her husband and he will rule over her (yep, that patriarchal society wasn't about to let women off the hook - after all somebody needed to do the crap jobs and men still needed to, ahem, 'meet their needs').

Then it's Adam turn.  Firstly the woman gets blamed again when God says "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife..." (hey, it's not really Adam's fault that he didn't do his own thinking...those dastardly women) now life is going to be hard for you.  No more easy gardening in Eden - you're gonna have to work for it now.  Pretty easy to understand when you're living in a region that has a lot of inhospitable territory and toil is well, hard.  One could only dream of having soft, no-weed soil for food to grow and animals to graze on endlessly.

But most importantly we see God reminding Adam that as he had said earlier, should he eat from that tree - he will die.  Verse 19: ".... to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return".  No more immortality, but straight up death.  No eternal punishment, no eternal separation from God, no opportunity to live in a Heaven, but just good ol' fashioned dying.  Because that's what we do as humans - we die.  And people hearing those stories around the campfire then understood and accepted their mortality.  Yes, they will lose loved ones, but that's how it is because once upon a time a woman led a man astray.

But back to the story - God wasn't all that angry with Adam & Eve at this stage, and he certainly wasn't separated from them because they were 'sinners'.  God wasn't distant, unreachable, or unable to be close to them because they were 'sinners'.  No, I guess like a loving father he knew his kids had disobeyed, but he was still their father, and so he made them some clothes so they might not feel silly.  Read it for yourself - verse 21.

Now comes some really interesting stuff.  Most Christians have been taught that this story is about sin and separation from God and that the only way to get back together with God again is to believe that Jesus died for their sins.  But in Verse 22 we see there is another way to make sure humans don't die - eat from the tree of life that was also in the garden.  V22: "“See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever".  This is not symbolism - this is the same thing as eating the actual fruit that shows you good and evil -  eating this actual fruit will give you eternal life.

God doesn't want Adam & Eve, who are now like the gods themselves (Verse 22 - these ancients weren't monotheistic at that time in their history - read about it), to live forever, because they know good and evil.  There seems too many Gods in the garden and Adam and Eve are now a threat to the existing gods in the story.

So God drives out the man (no mention of Eve but we guess she's included cos she's with Adam in the next story) and at the east of the garden of Eden God places a guard with a flaming sword (do flaming swords inflict more harm than non-flaming swords) to guard the way to the tree of life - the only way to live forever according to Genesis 3.

Now I know apologists will interpret and promote all sorts of meanings to this chapter, but they are simply not there.  Many will say that when Adam and Eve first ate, they were not simply aware of evil but that they 'experienced' evil, to the extent that they became evil themselves —sinners by nature.  But as we can all clearly see, that is never mentioned in Genesis 3. To the contrary, the writer makes it explicitly clear - God has a problem because man now knows good and evil. And if God doesn't keep them out of that garden they will partake in the only thing that can give them eternal life - the fruit from the tree of life.

Sitting around the campfire I'm sure the ancients dreamed about the fruit from the tree of life, but alas, they could never get to it because some angel somewhere was guarding it with a big flaming sword!  And the would of dreamed of good lands, easy crops, healthy animals - and that's where the stories come into it.

There is nothing wrong with understanding that our ancient relatives in the middle east told myths and stories like every other ancient culture on earth (the Australian aborigines, the Incas, the Mesopotamians, ancient Hindus).  They were just trying to understand their world and they came up with the best reasoning they could.  But there is no excuse now in light of what we know to ignore this and pretend that stories like Chapter 3 in Genesis mean anything other than what they say.

My hope is that many Christians who suffer from the misrepresentation of these stories, may be set free and may come to better understand that the bible contains a lot of wisdom and beneficial stories, but that there is not some straight line from man being made from mud to eternal damnation, separation from God or destruction, whilst certain others go on to enjoy eternity without them.  We all die, it's part of being human.  Life is now - not later.

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6 hours ago, PaulS said:

a tree of good and evil

It was a tree of knowledge of good and evil. An important distinction.  For me it points to thinking in terms of good and evil not actually doing good and evil. For example before partaking in the fruit is was ok to go around starkers. But once knowing of good and evil ... Adam and Eve had to cover up their naughty bits, because it was somehow bad in their minds to be naked. 

This of course is akin to hell being a state of mind existing in the duality of good and evil. Once we take this duality on board we can't be in this innocent Garden of Eden.

Abrahamic based religions have been promoting to various degrees this duality for millennia.

It is like tMJW's car salesman metaphor or allegory.

Edited by romansh
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4 hours ago, romansh said:

It was a tree of knowledge of good and evil. An important distinction.  For me it points to thinking in terms of good and evil not actually doing good and evil. For example before partaking in the fruit is was ok to go around starkers. But once knowing of good and evil ... Adam and Eve had to cover up their naughty bits, because it was somehow bad in their minds to be naked. 

This of course is akin to hell being a state of mind existing in the duality of good and evil. Once we take this duality on board we can't be in this innocent Garden of Eden.

Abrahamic based religions have been promoting to various degrees this duality for millennia.

It is like tMJW's car salesman metaphor or allegory.

Thanks Rom, that was an editing omission so I have corrected it in my original summation.  And yes, it is clear to me (as it is to you) that the offence committed here was learning to tell the difference between good and evil.  What offended God in the story was that it meant Adam and Eve were like gods themselves with this knowledge and the threat was that if they also partook of the tree of life, they would be immortal, whilst holding this knowledge.  Genesis makes that very clear, but too many Christians listen to what they have been taught (Churchianty in action I would say) and turn the story into something that it clearly is not. 

Ancient Jews never saw this story as a disconnection from God and in fact the Hebrew Bible is replete with examples of how God has maintained a connection and even a physical presence with his 'chosen people'.  Similarly, they never believed in a negative afterlife, but rather Sheol was (as you point out on another thread) this sort of shady netherworld that 'every’ soul went to.  In some extremely rare cases the Hebrew Bible cites a couple of examples where humans were elevated to god-like status and got to join God in a 'heaven' per se (Moses and Elijah who were physically taken up into that realm before they suffered mortality).

I don't think it's extreme to be saying that the actual evil that is being committed here is the misrepresentation by Christianity of stories that we know are not what Christianity say they are, simply because this serves the purpose of maintaining a religion.  

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On 12/5/2021 at 12:56 PM, PaulS said:

but it was just a wild animal like any other God made.

As a side note (that's a great summary), I think the snake is actually more interesting than that. He's a divinity who's crept in from a different tradition. The symbol on the pharaoh’s forehead, he’s one of our oldest religious characters, seen as a god in his own right in many religions, often associated with healing, wisdom and immortality – more significant for most of history than God Himself. He was widely worshiped in Canaan and around the world – and still is; in India for instance the serpent goddess Kundalini is the creative power in the universe, representing the divine feminine, and can be accessed at the base of your spine through Mantra, Tantra, Asanas or meditation. He is still the emblem of medicine. Gnostics saw him as a serpent God. Indeed, he was worshiped by the Hebrews, may even have been their main god for centuries – Moses plants a serpent rod in the wilderness so the Hebrews can look on it and be healed (Numbers 21:4-9). The rod is given a name, Nehushtan, and is worshiped by the Israelites for several hundred years before King Hezekiah breaks it in the eighth century BC (2 Kings 18:4). So in the Genesis 2 and 3 version of the story, written around this time, the snake, once present in the Temple in Jerusalem as the great Brazen Serpent, is now cursed by God, condemned to crawl on its belly and eat dust (Genesis 3:14).

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10 hours ago, John Hunt said:

As a side note (that's a great summary), I think the snake is actually more interesting than that. He's a divinity who's crept in from a different tradition. The symbol on the pharaoh’s forehead, he’s one of our oldest religious characters, seen as a god in his own right in many religions, often associated with healing, wisdom and immortality – more significant for most of history than God Himself. He was widely worshiped in Canaan and around the world – and still is; in India for instance the serpent goddess Kundalini is the creative power in the universe, representing the divine feminine, and can be accessed at the base of your spine through Mantra, Tantra, Asanas or meditation. He is still the emblem of medicine. Gnostics saw him as a serpent God. Indeed, he was worshiped by the Hebrews, may even have been their main god for centuries – Moses plants a serpent rod in the wilderness so the Hebrews can look on it and be healed (Numbers 21:4-9). The rod is given a name, Nehushtan, and is worshiped by the Israelites for several hundred years before King Hezekiah breaks it in the eighth century BC (2 Kings 18:4). So in the Genesis 2 and 3 version of the story, written around this time, the snake, once present in the Temple in Jerusalem as the great Brazen Serpent, is now cursed by God, condemned to crawl on its belly and eat dust (Genesis 3:14).

Thankyou.  That's an interesting point about the snake, John.  I have read comments about this before but never delved into it much.  It certainly seems plausible that the story could knock off two birds with one stone - why humans have a hard time surviving but also an opportunity to surreptitiously sledge other beliefs.

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  • 4 months later...

PinkAzalea mentioned she does not feel sinful.

The original sin was tasting the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 3:22 God is complaining to the other gods that Adam and Eve have become like gods being able to parse things into good and evil. They could no longer remain in the Garden of Eden. Plainly Genesis is an allegory.

As John mentions above, the snake is an interesting character. He is the one who encourages Eve to think in terms of good and evil. So who are the "snakes" today that encourage us to think in terms of good and evil? Pastors, priests and preachers etc come to mind. Of course there are lots of other people who are of this mind. In today's western landscape it is difficult to think of Putin as not evil.

So in this sense Christianity built on salvation is based on a huge misunderstanding of Genesis.

Edited by romansh
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