2/23- Adam and Eve

The creation of woman should not be seen as an afterthought by a God who had previously provided each of his animals with a mate but overlooked doing it for Adam. God may have thought that Adam was a special enough creation, meant to rule over the rest of it, and so he did not need a mate. But either God changed his mind about that or always knew that he would make a special creation later. Woman was a special creation so as to emphasize that in the actual world the relation between man and woman is not like it is with the pairings of the other animals; some special kind of creation was required. Eve was as close to Adam as his own rib. As a legend might, the story of Eve’s creation suggests that woman has thereafter an ambiguous relation to man: part of him, descended from him, and yet a companion to him, and so clearly something different from what happens with some other created species no matter how much it might occur to a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve that the two sexes had different natures. We can see this more clearly if we consider the type of literary undertaking the story of the Garden of Eden is.

A definition of the concept of fable is needed to place the story of Adam and Eve in “Genesis” as the kind of thing it is, my point being that it is a far more modern thing than it is usually credited with being. The Adam and Eve story is a rather penetrating look into the relation between men and women. A fable is a story which explain a set of circumstances that do not seem to be created but which somehow were at a point in time and have become part of nature. Tigers have stripes and the Red Man got baked just right, neither too much (like the black man) nor too little (like the white man). That is different from mythic transformations that may indeed have symbolic appropriateness but where only the particular instance rather than the general class of things are altered. Narcissus becomes his image but only symbolically do all narcissists become their images. Fables suggest that there is a history for what is historical, a sometimes serious, sometimes fey attempt to make explicable what seems not to need explanation or to make explicable something paradoxical: how something could come into existence when it already had to be there.

A good example of a fable is the council called by Athena to settle whether Orestes should be punished for having murdered his mother at the behest of his sister. He is found innocent by a newer set of gods who no longer hold that his tie to his mother is stronger than is his tie to his father. But the invocation of such a council already posits that there is an abstract principle of justice which can replace the previous substantive idea of justice. Justice itself is a non-historical concept. The replacement of one by another is an historical act rather than the invention of a new idea of what justice, in general, is. So the council acts as a story of what would happen if a new concept of justice were to enacted like a new law when it is law itself that is being substituted for “the law” of revenge that is not really a law at all. Nuremberg did the same thing. It invented the idea of crimes against humanity and applied it to those brought to the dock even though this was an ex post facto prosecution made to seem like a “normal” prosecution. In general, a creation story is a story that finds the beginning of a structure, whether of social life, of nature, or of metaphysics, in a distinct set of events, and so in a story. What is eternal started at some point. That is true of Pandora’s box as well as of Athena’s justice.

The story of the Garden of Eden is clearly a fable. It seems to have a lesson attached to it, that people should not be disobedient, and it lends itself to treatment as an archetypal story, such as a legend or an animal story, in that Adam and Eve represent all of humanity from that time forward and so what they do they do for all humanity even if it is unreasonable that a particular couple could condemn all the generations of their children to sinfulness.

The Garden of Eden is a fable in another sense. It explain why it is that people are the way they are. Two kinds of things happen to Adam and Eve as a result of eating the apple. There are those things which are inevitable as a result of the fact of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. These are the things that are presumably inherent in knowledge itself. these things happen without any additional intervention on the part of God. First, Adam and Eve are aware of their mortality while all the other animals in the kingdom of Eden are oblivious to the fact that they will die, Adam and Eve now living under the pale of knowing they will die. We are clued into this by the angels remarking to one another that had Adam and Eve eaten as well from the tree of life then they would be immortal. It is as if Adam and Eve had not yet caught up with what they had passed over but that it would soon enough dawn on them. All people, in that sense, have eaten from the tree of knowledge.

The second inevitability is that Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness and try to cover themselves. Again, this is something animals do not do. And as Levi-Strauss suggests, people wear clothes and do associated things like scaring themselves so as to decorate themselves and thereby show that they are different from the animals, who always remain in their natural state except for their wounds. The tree of knowledge allows people to know that they are different from the animals in that people are different from their bodies. They can contemplate their bodies and so it is possible to be embarrassed in the awareness that to some extent and on some occasions they are still like the animals. These circumstances-- the profound importance of modesty and of the spectre of death-- are matters usually not explained but which cry out for explanation once the are recognized as distinctive matters. The Eden story turns the reasonableness of these characteristics into a story of how the symbol of reason--the tree of knowledge--creates these circumstances temporally.

The second set of circumstances that the Eden story attends to are those that are created by God as punishments for disobedience. In that they are punishments, and are called that, they are not inherent in the fact of eating of the tree of knowledge but are sufferings imposed by God in addition to those that come from the nature of knowledge. This second set of circumstances are the stuff of recriminations people may have about their condition: what did I do to deserve such circumstances in life? The author of the Eden story has been very parsimonious in choosing which of the awful facts of human life and limitations to treat as God’s initial punishment for the putative disobedience of Adam and Eve to His will-- putative in that He had tempted them by putting the tree of life in the center of the Garden and giving no reason why they should not eat of it. It is as if He expected them to do so, for how else would it be that they would wind up in the conditions that people have come to expect as their lot in life and which can now be explained as their own fault?

Those punishments for their supposed misdeeds are gender specific, which suggest that the differences between the sexes is created not as a result of their being separate species, but of the inevitable relations they have between one another and to nature as a result of what is different between them. First, women are burdened with painful childbirth, a fate less visited upon other species. This is not a transformation but a new fact established by God. There is nothing inherent in knowledge itself that would make women face pain in childbirth and no similar punishment is visited upon men. The punishment for men is social or environmental. His role in life will be that of breadwinner, which means that he will have to toil for food in that the Earth will be made coarse in comparison to what it was in Eden. You can’t just pick fruit off the trees and live that way. No distinction is made concerning the qualitative differences between this social punishment and the biological punishment to be visited upon women.

An additional punishment is that women will love the men who are their masters. That suggests that women are not merely slaves to men. They are in the paradoxical situation of caring deeply about those who dominate them. This is something that has ever after indeed needed explaining once you notice the fact of it and do not reduce the relation of men to women to one of either equality or simple subservience. The author is, if anything, expressing a considerable sensitivity to the fate of women. There is no parallel line--that men love those they dominate. That may be because that need not be true, men not having to love as deeply as women, or that it it is too easy to do, as happens when owners claim to love their slaves. Moreover, the issue here is that women’s love for their masters is sexual, which is that they are doomed to put up with abuse. We may not think there is a way out of that but the writers of the Eden story were confident that women would continue to love their men no matter what and that their natures hinged on that. There is no alternative injunction for men, such as that men might hate those they dominate. That would be a slave owner’s mentality in that subservience can lead to a desire to abuse even more. But that modern psychology was also not a part of the fabulist view of the relation of men to women. There are few parallelisms to help get around the curious fact that women love those who are their masters.

The fable of the serpent reinforces the idea that the entire creation story is told in a fabulist mode. His punishment is the cause of the characteristic that make this creature  everywhere objectionable. Snakes are particularly repellent to people, a fact to which modern psychologists attest, since the fear of snakes, along with the fear of heights and of loud noises, is present in infants. Snakes are invaders of the hearth. The story notices a contemporary commonplace and suggest that it did not have to be but has a moral history. That is the way it is with fables, and so a clue to the fabulist quality of the rest of the Eden story.

So where did that secular rather than pagan sensibility come from, paganism understood as the survival of the mythic, the biological, at the heart of human explanation, and the secular understood as the death of myth, though not necessarily the death of God? That is the contribution introduced by the limitation of myth in number, so that not every tree or every burst of wind betrays its spirit, or in place, in that transformations only take place at altars or other religious sites. Rather, the idea of change is reduced to the intersection of distinct events: the parting of the Red Sea so that the Israelites can escape, the destruction of Sodom because cities are known to be bad. This reassignment of causation takes place among the Hebrews, the inventors of the strictly historical, who were already past the mythic and into the age of legend.

A good way to appreciate the new, “modern” age, which continues on into our own and which is a disjunction from the time of the Creation fable and the fable of Adam and Eve, is to consider the story of Samson, which is clearly a legend into which has been submerged a myth. That story is also a way of showing how different are the relations between men and woman in an historical age, even if it is in an early part of “Genesis”, and the relation between men and women in the age of creation, however much commentators want to read back what we all know about men and women, how they contrive to fool now one and now the other, rather than how they were when they were freshly made.

Samson is a legendary hero. He is mostly a single, exaggerated characteristic, a man of strength, which allows him to engage in exaggerated feats of heroism. He vanquishes his enemies with the jawbone of an ass and pulls down the walls of the temple. And yet there is something biological about the cause of his weakness. It is not just that he falls for the charms of a woman, as if all or some women were capable of robbing men of their abilities. It is that she does so by shearing his hair, which is the source of his power. Why his hair is a sign of his virility is not clear and its use as the key metaphor may be that it is the loss of a biological feature that is often enough done in the course of life, however unusual it might be for someone who plays the role of a strong man. Had she made a big deal of barbering him and had he resisted? The story doesn’t say. The choice of hair, this particular biological manifestation of life, as the representation of his transformation from a strong to a weak person suggests that the invocation of more squishy biological imagery has abated by the time the story of Samson was created.

What does endure from the Samson story is the idea that the sexual relations between men and women can take a number of remarkable turns, bringing out the good and evil in people, sometimes their penchant for sacrifice, sometimes their penchant to take advantage, and that you never know how the catalyst of sexual attraction will act on the character. That is what makes romances so fascinating, Elizabeth and Darcy bringing out, eventually the best that is within them, while Kitty and Wickham bring out the worst, or simply continue to be what they were: she simple and him devious. Samson presumably had trusted Delilah enough to think she would not betray him while she had known her mind well enough to carry out her design so that she could turn him over to the Philistines. The thing about a romance rather than a fable, where you know what has to be explained and so know how the story will turn out, is that you never do know about a romance, and that remains true to this day. The relation between Adam and Eve, however, is so much a fable, so not a romance, that these two have to live up to their types and so become the types they are which, as we have seen, is profound enough, because it looks into the essential characters of the two sexes, even if it does not allow the freedom of choice available to romantic characters.