The Garden of Eden Story!

The story of The Garden of Eden in Genesis has come up in several threads lately, and I’d like to discuss a specific perspective of the story—a problem I have with it, if I may.

The story, it seems to me, tells of a set-up—a sting of Kobayashi Maru proportions.

Adam, before the creation of Eve, is told by the god of the Bible that he is free to eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden save one…a tree smack dab in the center of the garden that the god identified as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” “If you eat or even touch the fruit of that tree, that day you will surely die,” the god tells Adam.

The god then creates Eve.

Into the mix, the god has a serpent—largely thought to be Satan—in residence in the garden.

The serpent tells Eve that she and Adam will not die if they eat the fruit of the tree…and tells them that if they do eat the fruit, they will become like gods who know what is good and what is evil.

So—as any 5 year old would guess—Eve eats the fruit and gets Adam to eat it, too.

The god flies into a rage when it discovers they have eaten the fruit and know what is good and what is evil…and punishes them with all sorts of stuff…the pain of childbirth; the need to toil for a living; and banishment from the garden among them. And in fact, the god visits punishment and pain upon all the rest of humanity for all the rest of eternity for their “evil deed.”

It makes no sense.

First of all, the temptation was unnecessary and excessive. But even worse, the two were punished for doing something they had no way of knowing was wrong. Until they ate of the fruit—they had no idea there was anything wrong with disobeying a command from the god; they didn’t gain that knowledge until after doing the deed.

And punishing all the rest of humanity for this one act does seem a mite excessive.

Was this a sting?

Can the decision to punish the couple at all, let alone as severely as was done, be justified in any way?

And they didn’t die that day. Does that mean that the god, in effect lied and that the serpent told the truth?

Any discussion?

You can’t second guess ineffability, I always say.

I think most people here agree. You should remember though that the story, as originally told, was a Just-so story about why we die, why we have to work, why there is pain in childbirth, and why there are snakes. The sting is not nearly so bad as when the Christians turned the story into justification for eternal torment.

I know theists who argue that the whole point of the thing was to arrange for a way for Adam and Eve to break out of the static and timeless garden of eden and begin their growth.

(Needless to say this is not the mainstream view.)

Well, let’s just peer at the ineffable, and see if we can’t eff it after all.

It certainly does seem that eating the apple was trivial enough. But I always assumed the point of the story is to explain the origin of sin. Instead of having to explain how different types of sin began, it uses one overarching, symbolic sin, which is simply disobedience towards God. At the outset, sin is defined as something that is wrong because it is prohibited, and not because it is something which we mortals can rationally understand to be wrong.

“Knowledge of good and evil” is an idiom. It means “everything” or “at all”. The idea is Adam knew not to eat the fruit because God told him not to.

But did he? Did he know that obeying the god was good….and disobeying the god was evil? If so, how did he know…when the story tells us that he did not know?

That is an essential ingredient in the story…that he did NOT know the difference between good and evil.

That is the interesting part of the story.

If it was made up…invented by humans as most atheists and agnostics think it was…why do you think they made such an obvious error?

And if you are a theist who thinks it was not made up, but is a lesson from the god…an even tougher question arises: Why do you suppose the god used what essentially is a blatant sting/set up to teach a lesson about not doing evil things.

It really seem that the first evil thing in the Bible is something the god did, right it?

But if an essential ingredient of the story is that Adam did NOT KNOW what was good and what was evil…

…how can the lesson be taught?

No…not mainstream…but a heck of a lot better as an explanation than the lesson supposedly taught.

Sort of a play on the people who would rather end up in Hell than Heaven…because all the fun people will be there!


Or for the need to be saved!

And to think…early church fathers had to deal with what happens to the souls of infants who die before being Baptized and cleansed of this sin.


I’m hoping more theists come visit and comment.

It is an interesting issue in Christian and Judaic theism.

It’s not, because it’s an idiomatic phrase. “Knowledge of good and evil” doesn’t necessarily have a literal meaning in this context. The idea is that eating from the tree makes you omniscient. . .you become like a god.

If that is so, why do you suppose the god asked Adam questions about why he (Adam) was concerned because he was naked?

Obviously the god thought Adam had just found out the difference between good (clothed) and evil (naked)…rather than that Adam had become like a god. Adam didn’t act like a god…he acted like a frightened and embarrassed human who just found out what was good and what was evil.

Or so it seems.

Maybe the “knowledge of good and evil” they got from eating the fruit was, not knowing the difference between good and evil, but really “knowing them in a Biblical sense” ;). They knew that eating the fruit was wrong; they didn’t know why. What they lost when they ate it was their innocence, not their ignorance.

This question was addressed in a thread several years ago: How were Adam & Eve supposed to know it was wrong to eat the fruit? I particularly liked Alan Smithee’s explanations in that thread (see its Posts #19 and 21).

For an in-depth look at the story from a Jewish rabbinic perspective, I found the “Serpents of Desire” lectures here (that Doper Malleus, Incus, Stapes! linked to in another thread) very interesting.

I think the idea is that, before eating the Fruit, humans had to have someone else tell us (i.e., God) tell us what’s right and wrong. Afterwards, He doesn’t have to tell us everything, because we know.

By the way, why do you keep referring to “the god”? The article isn’t usually regarded as necessary.

There is actually a traditional Christian idea of Felix Culpa or “Fortunate Fall” – i.e., the Fall was all for the best in the long run, because it made Christ’s redemption necessary, therefore possible.

No, I don’t get it, either.

The Arabic “Allah” translates literally as “The God.” (Which was the name of the chief god of the polytheistic Arab pantheon before Mohammed, BTW.)

He didn’t. He asked him first, “Where are you?”, then “Who told you that you were naked?”

So, that’s what the tree of knowledge did…let people know when they were or weren’t naked.

Thanks for those links, Thudlow. I’ll look at them in more depth later.

I have written on this topic several times in several forums. It is one that interests me a great deal…and it is interesting that theists (Christian and Jewish theists) have explanations that possibly explain what seems to be a jarring inconsistency.

My feelings, respectfully as possible, are that “explanations” are needed, because the story as told contains major contradictions.

There seems to be little doubt from the story (uninterpreted) that the story teller (whether god or man) actually meant to convey the impression that the tree contained certain knowledge…namely, that of good and evil…and that the knowledge definitely was not possessed by Adam or Eve. The god expresses surprise and regret that the knowledge has been gained…and deduces from the actions of Adam that indeed the forbidden fruit had been eaten.

I fail to see why the god would be able to deduce that if the knowledge had not been obtained the way the story clearly tells us it was obtained.

I know both Jewish and Christian scholars, how have a vested interest in making the story be the word of the god, have devised explanations for the gaining of the knowledge…and the fact that the two did not die on that day…but of course, both Christians and Jews are intelligent enough to put stories together that can rationally explain the inconsistencies.

I note that none of the explanations would be needed except for the inconsistencies. They would not even be considered if the situation were not inconsistent in some form.

No one conceives of explanations for why many trees were in the garden, for instance, because the number of trees doesn’t present a problem. But the fact that the god punished Adam and Eve for doing something the story says they did not know was wrong…needs some explaining, so an explanation appears.

Let’s see where this goes. Thanks for the contributions…and thanks again for the links.

It is not just the words that indicate that the “knowledge of good and evil” were not available to the two before the eating of the fruit, Captain…it is the music as well. After all…after obtaining the knowledge (no matter what the words supposedly mean) the two acted differently. And of course, the god noticed that the two were acting differently…and deduced they had eated of the fruit because they acted as though they had gained some new knowledge.