Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BIBLE: Genesis 3 (The Fall) 2012

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. So begins one of the most famous passages in all of Western literature. Virtually everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve and the literary shorthand is simply The Fall. The serpent tempts Eve and as a result human fate is dramatically changed forever. Genesis doesn’t say where this serpent came from or how it got into the garden. The point is: this is no ordinary serpent. It can talk and reason. The serpent’s first question is simple: hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? Amazingly Eve doesn’t seem surprised by a talking serpent. She just answers the question in a matter-of-fact way. Her answer is simple because her life is simple: We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. Eve has never encountered deception before so the next statement catches her off guard. The serpent says: Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Never get into an argument with a serpent. This serpent deals in half-truths. Adam and Eve DIDN’T die (at least not physically and not immediately) and their eyes WERE opened (just not in the way they wanted). But Adam and Eve do become estranged from God. This could be interpreted as a sort of spiritual death or the death of innocence. Again the serpent was half right: their eyes were “opened” once they lost their innocence. Of course this could also be interpreted as a description of the ordinary pains of growing up. We all eventually trade the innocence of childhood for the burdens and responsibility of entering into the adult world. Maybe this is what happened to Adam and Eve. But how does knowing good and evil make Adam and Eve become like “gods?” They already knew what good was. The Garden and everything around them was good. “Good” was the only thing they knew. So where did this concept of evil come from? There’s no mention of evil earlier in the story. Did it come from the serpent? Or was it the result of Adam and Eve choosing to disobey God? There are more questions here than there are answers. But we do know some things about the following passage: the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise… Eve “saw” three things here: (1) since it was “good for food” we assume there was a physical attraction to it, maybe for health purposes; (2) it was “pleasant to the eyes” which sounds like there was some sort of aesthetic appeal, maybe to the heart or the emotions; and (3) it would “make one wise” which is obviously an appeal to the mind, probably to the rational element. Health, beauty and wisdom are all good things. Why would God prohibit us from enjoying this “fruit?” This argument persuaded Eve. The serpent said Ye shall not surely die and the fruit didn’t immediately kill them. The serpent said they would know good and evil and they did find out what evil is. Then we come to a passage of pure poetic inspiration: And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. They heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. This statement breaks down under normal analysis of the text. How can a voice “walk” (in a garden or anywhere else)? But as a poetic device it works beautifully and implies an intimate closeness that once existed between the human and the divine. What happened? Did the human race grow up? Do we still need religion now that we have modern science? Marx thinks religion is a human fantasy. Freud thinks religion is an obsessive neurosis. Other Great Books portray The Fall as an accurate story about how evil grows within the human heart. For this view read The Gospel of Mark, Augustine, Dante, Goethe, Kant or Dostoevsky. And the Great Conversation continues…


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