The Garden of Eden is such an unique story in Genesis as it portrays the fall of mankind into sin or rebellion against God. What I find most fascinating is the common interpretation of the story, that Adam an Eve were first ignorant of good and evil. It is assumed that they lacked the ability to distinguish between bad and good. However, this distinction requires reason and intelligence in order to be performed. Understanding the story in this way presumes God created Adam in an animalistic state and his sin was actually rewarded by elevating him to a full human state. This actually goes against the idea that all of mankind started with Adam, who was created directly by, and in the image of God. When we throw in the commonly portrayed talking snake there is quite a bit to unpack in this story.
Allegory or History
When we view the book of Genesis, we need to keep in mind that it is possible that we are reading allegory or parables blended with literal history. We can assume that there really was an Adam and Eve because regarding them as complete fiction would also render the genealogies provided in the Bible as false. This would call into question all of the subsequent stories that arise out of their lineage. However, it should be noted that many theologians and Rabbis look at the story of the Garden of Eden as allegorical. While the story might use two real-life figures, it is told in a poetic way in order to teach specific lessons. This is quite like the way that Jesus taught by using real life figures/objects and placed them in fictional stories in order to help illustrate a specific point. So it would be no surprise to find that earlier divinely inspired writings may do the same thing. In fact, in the whole story of Adam and Eve, while translators take the liberty of giving Adam a name, the Hebrew is using the word אָדָ֛ם (’ā·ḏām) which means, literally, a human being. This follows very much the style of Jesus, who would refer to character in parables by their profession, or simply as “a man” or “a woman”.
In viewing Genesis as allegory first, we are able to accept the lessons it teaches as truth without questioning the reality of what we observe around us. In reading Genesis 1 as allegory, we are able to accept that God created all things but as we have already discussed, Genesis 1 displays remarkable parallels to what we now theorize about cosmology and the history of earth. In reading Genesis 2 – 3 as allegory first, we are able to learn many lessons about morality, about mankind’s nature, and about the nature of God. Of course, we are also able to note the remarkable geological and historical accuracies that the account of Adam and Eve provide us in regards to the people of early Mesopotamia.
The Talking Snake
This is typically one of the first objections to the story of Adam and Eve, so I thought I should address it at length. Eve, while in the garden, is addressed by a “nachash” or serpent. Eve is not caught off guard by this creature and there is no evidence to suggest that she is surprised that a serpent is talking. So let’s examine this for a moment. If we take the “allegory first” approach that I spoke about earlier, then it will be safe to presume that the nachash is a character meant to represent something. If we read along, we will soon see what it is as the serpent proceeds to tempt Eve into eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which she and Adam had explicitly been commanded not to do. So here, we can see that the nachash represents temptation as it is literally tempting Eve.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field that the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman answered the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat of it or touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent told her. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”Genesis 3:1-5
As we examine the nachash more closely, we should also examine the etymology of the word “nachash”. In ancient Hebrew, it is used to represent the idea of a serpent, most likely due to this very story, but it has another meaning as well. When we consult Strong’s Concordance for nachash, we are given the following definition:
Nachash – certainly, divine, enchanter, use enchantment, learn by experience, diligently observe
Now, when we take this definition into account along with the very next verse, we are given a very different perspective of the nachash character. In the following verse, Eve is observing the tree and desiring the fruit. Let’s bear this in mind and review just one of the previous verses, verse 5. I will rephrase it, but this time we will presume that the nachash in the story represents an internal dialog that Eve is having with herself regarding her own experience, observations, and desire for the fruit.
“You will not surely die,” her observations told her. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When we view the story in this way, we are able to derive that the nachash represents our internal desire. Genesis does an exquisite job of showing how we are capable of distorting the truth and project our beliefs onto others when it suits our need to pursue our own fleshly desires. The narrative goes on to reinforce this idea when God confronts Adam and Eve about their transgression. The nachash is punished by being transformed into something that is best visually represented by a snake. Here, even more parallels are drawn by this slippery, writhing, whispering creature capable of slipping into our minds and whispering a distorted version of the truth to us so that we might justify our actions, even when they go against God.