In this article, I offer an interpretation of the Adam & Eve story that I believe more accurately reflects the truth behind this allegorical tale and allows us to extract a greater, much more relevant meaning.
And yes, I did call it an allegorical tale. Which is to say, I do not believe that it’s an historical account meant to be taken literally, but rather a simplified story meant to illustrate a lesson.
Today, most people interpret this story literally, believing that Adam & Eve were two people, individually created by God as the first and only humans in the world. The problem with this interpretation is that, based on what we know about the origins of the human race, it’s inaccurate and serves to discredit the book of Genesis upon which most major religions today are founded.
I realize that many Christians believe that God can do whatever he wants and that any modern science that runs contrary to their particular understanding of the book of Genesis must be false. However, it is that same attitude that prevented the early Roman Catholic church from accepting the fact that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth as well as some fundamental facts about gravity. Today, the church accepts scientific theories about the position and movement of the Earth, the fact that the world is a sphere, and has even begun to accept the possibility that the theory of evolution does not conflict with their teachings.
Why did they change their mind? Have they selectively rejected certain parts of The Bible? Not necessarily, they’ve just discovered that the way they interpreted it was not the only way possible.
Who Were Adam And Eve
The story of Adam and Eve, along with all of the stories and genealogies told in the book of Genesis, were passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. Some of the oldest stories were probably passed on for 10s of thousands of years: possibly 100s of thousands of years. This is how history was recorded in early human culture before writing became practical. These stories were eventually written based on the accounts of Moses, but probably not until after his death and the settling of Israel.
Imagine as a small child, being told these stories, with all their intricate details over and over again, then growing up to pass them on to your children. It’s inevitable that some simplification occurred in order to make them understandable and easier to remember. Furthermore, there were probably multiple versions of the stories in circulation. It’s even possible that there is some ancient Egyptian lore intermixed, since Moses himself, though Israelite by blood, was raised by Egyptians.
It is probably the case that the Adam and Eve portrayed in the story were the earliest known ancestors of these ancient people. Perhaps they were the first ones to migrate out of the tropical paradise to the less hospitable “forbidden” lands beyond in search of truth (“knowledge of good and evil”) and food alternatives (“forbidden fruit”). It’s also quite possible that this story describes a tribe of early humans rather than a single man and woman.
There are 3 main reasons that I believe Adam & Eve were not literally the first man and woman, but rather were iconic characters representing early “mankind.”
- Literally translated, the word Adam, means man.
- Often the early books of the Old Testament refer to entire tribes by a single proper name. One common example of this is Israel. Israel was a man, not a nation. The word Israel was used frequently to describe the descendants of the man, Israel.
- In Genesis 4:14, Cain worries about being a restless wanderer and being killed by someone. Yet, according to this book so far, the only people in existence are Adam, Eve and Cain who had just killed the fourth, Abel.
- Based on what we know today about the origins of the human race, this is the only interpretation that makes sense. We know that man did not start as a single nuclear family in the tropics (or Garden of Eden), then suddenly start practicing agriculture. It was a slow transition from the tropics, the caves, then beyond that occurred over many generations. The practice of agriculture (growing food and raising animals) occurred out of necessity as humans moved further and further from their natural source of food.
Expulsion From “The Garden”
What is interesting about this part of the story is that the punishments that God delivers to Adam and Eve are basically the natural consequences of migrating from a tropical lifestyle, in which the main subsistence is fruit, to a agrarian lifestyle where the main subsistence is grains with some meats.
“With pain you will give birth to children.” – It turns out that on a diet of grains and meat, child labor is much more difficult, painful and lengthy. Even today, in cultures with diets closer to the original natural diet of mankind (i.e. primarily raw fruits and vegetables), childbirth is faster and less painful.
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule you forever.” – Prior to mankind’s shift from hunting and gathering to land cultivation, man and women were equals. They worked together in nuclear families to gather foods and raise children. Upon shifting to an agricultural lifestyle, the roll of the man as the laborer became crucial to the survival of the home. He needed the support and cooperation of the woman in order to adequately provide for the family.
Over time, this put the man in a position of great power in a hierarchical, extended-family-based society and reduced the woman’s worth to that of serving the man. As agriculture became a professional endeavor and nuclear families began returning as the norm, woman’s place in society began to shift back toward what it once was.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.“ – Because Adam and Eve left the source of their natural foods, it was now necessary to perform hard labor in agriculture in order to survive. The next verse says, “you will eat the plants of the field.” This was a new concept, since before this, they had eaten the fruit of the trees.
“Be Fruitful And Multiply”
Again, this is a natural consequence of a agrarian lifestyle. In order to survive, you must have multiple children to assist.
Was Eve Really The Instigator?
It probably is the case that the woman was the first to suggest agrarian methods. In human hunting and gathering families, the women and children would generally gather fruits and greens while the man hunted to provide occasional meats.
As the person in charge of gathering plant-based foods, it probably was a woman who first noticed that by planting seeds, they could control the location and amount of food available for the family. This would seem to make life much easier and more flexible allowing them to move further away from other families they were competing with for food and live wherever they want to live.
What’s The Moral?
Traditionally, we usually think of this as a simple story about the consequences of disobedience. I think the moral goes much deeper than that with more widespread and modern day relevance. It’s a story about the consequences of our detachment from our natural environment. And if God is the creator of all that is natural, then it also is a story of our detachment from God.
As it turns out, the initial migration from the tropics to the immediately surrounding areas lead to a much more laborious existence. As we’ve moved further and further away, we’ve had to work harder and harder in order to survive. We’ve had to build stronger, insulated homes. We’ve had to work harder and harder to grow and buy foods, heat our homes, keep ourselves safe and healthy and build more structured societies.
Consequently, as a society, we have continuously become busier and busier. The pace of our world keeps going faster and faster in order to maintain our increasing detachment from our natural environment.
At the same time, our food supply has become further and further detached from its natural origins. We’ve gone from picking fruit off trees to working the soil for foods, to cooking for preservation, to drying, canning, refrigeration, freezing, hybridizing, refining, packaging, chemical processing, hormone injecting, supplementing, etc…. We’ve gotten to a point where our diet has little to no resemblance to that which our bodies were originally designed. And we continue to move further and further away from it.
Consequently, we are seeing greater and greater numbers of chronic diseases and disorders, for which we use more unnatural, supplements and chemical-based medications to remedy. Health care costs continue to skyrocket while scientific advancements in illness intervention continue to grow. Yet, we continue to see increases in health problems.
The curse of Adam and Eve is alive and well in our culture today because we keep consuming greater and greater amounts of the same forbidden fruit. The Garden of Eden still exists. World population along with acclimation to our existing culture are the “cherubim and flaming sword” that guard the garden.
Though our entire population may not be able to go back to the garden and live the life of paradise we were meant to live, we can move back in that direction. The more we allow ourselves to experience nature and the more we feed our bodies their natural diet, the more closely our lives will resemble that of early man, the more peaceful and contented we will feel and the closer we will be to God.