Genesis 3 – Be as I say, not as I am
Here is where the bible first displays its rampant anti-intellectualism. I suppose it is an inevitable consequence of a faith-based paradigm to assert that knowledge and curiosity are evil and will only lead to your downfall, but it still saddens me that this parable informs the foundation of the vast majority of Western society.
From the get-go it says that the serpent is more crafty/cunning than any other creature (depending upon the translation), and immediately establishes intelligence as an evil trait. Interesting to note, however, that were Eve wiser, she would not have been so easily fooled by the serpent. Clearly the answer to free humanity from gullibility is education.
Except we all know that’s not the moral of the story. One does not need knowledge to obey. Obedience is key, regardless of one’s intellectual capabilities, to being a moral person in Yahweh’s eyes.
It is of significant note that Eve was not alive at the point that god commanded Adam to refrain from eating of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. This means one of two things: that there were extenuating circumstances outside the official narrative of the story (whereby god informed Eve of his commandment), or that Adam was the one who informed Eve of this command. I myself am inclined toward the latter case, perhaps because it seems less likely that the literary work which purports to deliver the word of god would leave out the words of god.
In the latter case, Eve’s position as skeptic becomes even easier to identify with. She’s dealing with some serious “he said He said” bullshit.
It’s also interesting for me to notice that there is never actually a passage talking about the conversation which Eve had with Adam about the fruit. It merely says that she ate of the fruit and gave it to him, who ate it also. I grew up with stories about the way that Eve persuaded Adam to disobey his creator, feminine wiles distorting the obedient and rational male mind. I’m surprised to learn that it’s simply misogyny with no biblical basis.
Let’s consider the case of the serpent briefly. He asserts that god lied to them because they certainly will not die if they eat of the fruit. This is actually true in the literal sense, because Yahweh says that they will surely die “in the day that you eat from it” (Gen 2:17). Certainly there’s an argument here that god did not lie because he condemned humans to death the day they ate the fruit, but the fact that Adam lives for another 900 years really should make one ponder who here is the trickster figure mincing words and telling half truths?
The serpent says that Yahweh doesn’t Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit because it will make them like god, knowing good and evil. The message here is, of course, that ignorance is bliss, and learning and questions will get you into deep shit with the divine authority. The moral of this whole damn chapter is that you shouldn’t trust your reason, curiosity, or intellect, because authority knows best.
The fact that Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil before eating of the tree is further evidence that this was not a moral test. They could not have known the right thing to do because they had not the requisite knowledge. This was a test of obedience.
Growing up, I’ve heard this called the “original rebellion.” This seems totally disingenuous to me. Rebellion is an act undertaken with at least the pretense of deliberate and violent rejection of a particular idea of system of governance. At most, this was a toddler’s lapse of judgement due to momentary infatuation with a shiny. To condemn them and their entire progeny to death and pain is extreme and unjust. Do you beat a toddler to death because they steal from the cookie jar?
No. You don’t.
You don’t because they don’t know any better. To do so would be cruel, unjust, and totally out of proportion with the infraction. Clearly this is an overreaction. But why so extreme? I’ll return to that…
Gen 3:7 begins the body and sexuality shaming inherent in Christianity. Once they know of the difference between good and evil, they immediately clothe themselves because there is no more present evil than that of their nakedness. If nakedness is evil, then why did Yahweh permit it while they were ignorant? Is it because they only looked upon one another with lust (a sin) after they understood nakedness? That’s just bizarre, because they’re for all intents and purposes married. Clearly it must be concluded that there’s no rational basis for this belief. Naked is just bad. Don’t do it!
It’s also been pointed out to me that the phrase “good and evil” could be a merism, which would mean that the knowledge they gained was not of morality, but of “all the things.” That opens up a whole can of speculative worms which I don’t really want to get into, but it still jives with the whole “knowledge is bad for you” or at least “undesired by god” theme.
Though clearly this could not have made Adam too intelligent if he thought it was a better idea to hide from god because he’s naked than to act as if nothing had changed to avoid punishment. Perhaps this is an argument in favor of the inherent morality of humans since he was merely ashamed and did not actually lie to Yahweh and confessed when confronted (though Adam throws Eve under the heavenly bus, who in turn tosses the serpent under).
Anyway, Yahweh is wandering through the garden (which incidentally imbues him with a physical, arguably bodily presence found nowhere else in the bible), and asks Adam a bunch of questions which he should already know the answer to, being omniscient and all. Yahweh then doles out a bunch of punishments which really sound a lot more like origin myths than a historical record. The woman must submit to the man’s authority but simultaneously desire him (kinky!) and have really painful childbirth, the men must work the land to survive, death is introduced to the world, and the snake loses it’s legs and is set eternally at odds with humanity. From an outside perspective, this really sounds more than anything else like “and coyote became trapped in the mortal realm. He howls at his lover, the Moon, because he knows he can never return to the spirit realm with her.”
I’d like to just take a moment to point out a talking snake. A talking snake! Really? Really? There’s no explanation at all for this phenomenon, nor any reprise. There’s no reason why animals no longer speak to people, no commandment from god. It wasn’t part of the punishments. One can only surmise that it is part of the cost of being expelled from Eden, but that is just baseless speculation.
And let us not forget that the modern church would have us believe that the serpent is Satan, but this is not supported anywhere in the actual text. This could certainly be explained away by some supplementary material later in the bible, as I’m beginning to suspect that the holy book makes a habit of retcon.
Yahweh then makes them some leather clothes as a way to say, “Baby I only hit you because I love you. Here’s some flowers,” and drives them from the garden for their disobedience.
Except not. God takes a healthy dose of paranoia pills and says he better banish them since they’ve “become like one of Us, knowing good and evil” This plural is damn confusing. Is Yahweh actually saying that there are more like him, and that he fears the humans becoming like them? Regardless, it is clear that he does not banish them for disobedience, but out of fear that they could eat of the tree of life and live forever.
God is afraid of them becoming his equals.
Think about that for a second.
Let’s skip past the whole “why did he put the tree of life in the garden in the first place?” business. The fact is that there exists a tree which could have given Adam and Eve immortality which Yahweh would have implicitly been powerless to remove. This is an argument supported by the fact that he explicitly says this is the reason they shall be banished.
Knowledge is dangerous because it makes you like god and threatens his power.
And to protect against his power being usurped, he places a cherubim with a flaming sword which “turns every way” to guard not the garden but the tree of life.
And I can’t help it, but the cherubim makes me think of this.