So, in this story, God created Adam to tend God’s beautiful garden.
Now this garden, as you may know, had two central trees – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This Adam was told that he could eat from any tree except the latter – any tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - lest he would surely die.
In this particular creation story (remember that in the other creation story, male and female are created together as something of a grand climax to several days of work), but in this particular creation story, God caused Adam to fall asleep and fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib.
Now, our inaugural couple were in the company of a crafty serpent who encouraged Eve to eat from the forbidden tree – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - indicating that in truth, she would become like God.
So, she ate it. And she liked it. And she gave some to Adam and he ate it, too; at which point they suddenly realized they were naked. So, we might conclude that the countless pieces of artwork depicting fig leaves draped over all manner of body parts depict those moments following Eve’s temptation of Adam, and their moments of weakness.
Well, God visited the garden. And Adam and Eve hid. “Where are you, Adam,” we might imagine God calling, at which point Adam stepped forth (head held low) and fessed up, as we might say today.
When God asked Adam what happened, Adam basically pointed at Eve and said, “She did it. The woman is to blame.”
And when God asked Eve what happened, Eve basically pointed at the crafty serpent and said, “The Serpent did it. The serpent is to blame.”
And from this point, the serpent was doomed to the trappings of serpent-hood, Eve was doomed to the pains of childbirth and Adam was doomed to the demands of survival. Fashioning “suits of skin” for the naughty couple, God banished them from the garden.
Those are the highlights.
In short, our collective memory tends to summarize today’s story – whether around dinner tables or in Sunday School classes - as Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan (Satan in the form of a serpent, you understand) tempted by Satan into eating an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thereby plummeting the entirety of humanity into an inherited identity and karmic debt called original sin.
That’s what our collective memory tends to do.
Given this, let’s begin with my sometimes-startling claim that nowhere in our story do we find the tricky Satan. Nowhere in our story do we find the fabled apple. And nowhere in our story do we find the entirety of humanity plummeting into an inherited identity and karmic debt called "original sin."
The devil character doesn’t appear until the 1st century, apples don’t grow in the near east, and that original sin concept doesn’t emerge until the 2nd century (some argue as late as the 5th).
“But Eve gave Adam an apple! Everybody knows that!” I can hear the defenses arise!
So, even before we begin today’s conversation: if our collective memory is so good at inserting devils and apples and depressing, disappointing, discouraging, even debilitating suggestions into the minds of its people, I find myself wondering how many even-more insidious suggestions we might have inherited? How many even-more insidious suggestions might be informing our very lives, individually and collectively?
And I find myself wondering what is that aspect of self that would shout, “But Eve gave Adam an apple! Everybody knows that!?” even when presented with facts to the contrary?
What is that aspect of self that would defend its falsehoods rather than change its mind?
What is that aspect of self that would defend its fall rather than consider its beauty?
These seem like pertinent wonderings for today’s world.
Now, if you didn’t read my last Blog, I highly recommend that you read it, for it provides something of a frame for this series entitled Opening the Bible.
Week one suggests that in any study of the Bible, there is no authentic seeking of meaning without an authentic seeking of context.
Week one suggests that biblical content is varied - including history, prophesy, poetry, prayer, resistance literature, rudimentary science, song lyrics, code language, teaching allegory - written well over 1,000 years by various authors and included by virtue of processes influenced by politic and power.
Week one suggests that biblical content offers layers of meaning ranging from the literal-factual to the mystical-metaphorical and that some content offers more than one layer simultaneously. For those who would present this library of books as one dimensional (and you can spot them by words such as “inerrant” and “infallible;” sometimes by phrases such as, “The Bible says it, I believe it and that does it.”) for those who would present this library of books as one dimensional, week one suggests that to do so is to disrespect scripture, to limit understanding, to insult progress and to threaten the sustainability of the Judeo-Christian tradition itself.
Early in my ministry, I got myself into a bit of trouble by suggesting that if you haven’t yet read the Bible, don’t. I got myself into a bit of trouble by suggesting that you read some excellent books about the Bible first. Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Bishop John Shelby Spong come to mind. Having context will enrich and inform everything you read.
It’s like attending opera. If you read the notes first, it will enrich and inform everything you experience. It’s like wearing glasses, maybe. It will enrich and inform everything you see.
Now, of those layers of meaning, I turn first to that literal-factual end of the spectrum. And my encouragement is to consider that if the Adam and Eve narrative wasn’t written as an historical account supposing to offer some rudimentary science about the introduction of humankind, it mustn’t be read as such. Looking for a literal garden is tantamount to looking for a literal beanstalk. It was our friend Bishop John Shelby Spong who called the literalization of Hebrew teaching texts a Gentile heresy and I couldn’t agree more. It does damage. It hurts people. As I’ve said so many times before, to historicize metaphor is ridiculous and to metaphorize history is cruel.
Unity as a movement tends to favor the mystical-metaphorical end of the spectrum by suggesting a metaphysical layer of meaning. In simple terms, a metaphysical layer of meaning would interpret all situations, places, dynamics and characters as aspects of self. So, in a sense, a metaphysical layer of meaning is deeply psychological. It’s timeless, personal, universal.
A metaphysical layer of meaning would suggest that Eve and Adam and that serpent represent something in you or something in your life.
For the theologian and metaphysician Neville Goddard, Eve represents the soul and Adam the body; or, Eve the inner and Adam the outer. So, one metaphysical interpretation of Eve’s eating the fruit before Adam is that soul gives rise to body, or, inner experiences give rise to outer experiences. And the serpent represents that aspect of self that tends to forget! And in that forgetting, instead of turning within to address matters of life, we lash out. We blame the world. We try to fix everything and every person out there. Can anybody relate?
The serpent represents that aspect of self that tends to forget that life is best approached from the inside-out. Eve eats. Then, Adam eats.
For Unity Co-founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, Eve represents something of the feeling nature and Adam something of the thinking nature. So, another metaphysical interpretation might be that in any creative endeavor, feel it first. Then allow thinking to arise from that. Start with inspiration and faith and belief and vision. Then allow thinking to arise from that. Get into the spirit of the end realized. Then allow thinking to arise from that.
Maybe in both cases, the words of Goddard will ring true, and I quote, “It is not by chance that the fruit was first eaten by Eve and not by Adam. The Great Law of human nature is that one's surroundings at any time are but the outer expression or out-picturing of conscious (and subconscious) mind.”
That’s a metaphysical interpretation.
So if you haven’t already intuited this, let me be clear: I don’t believe in one correct metaphysical interpretation any more than I believe in one correct maieutic interpretation. I’m not here to give you answers so much as I’m here to encourage you to question.
Your pursuit of a metaphysical layer of meaning requires you to ask, “What aspect of self might be represented by Eve? And what aspect of self might be represented by Adam? Can I recognize that serpent as an aspect of self? And if that garden is an aspect of me, what might it mean for me to leave it?”
That’s your work. Reflect upon this text and what it might mean to you, right here and right now. That’s what it means for scripture to come alive, you see. And, for my next blog, I will give a look at those so-called 10 commandments. And I say “so-called” because I have a bit of a different interpretation. Imagine that!
Now for me, I like to think that the Adam and Eve allegory speaks to what it means to be here, to be incarnate beings. Perhaps this is why the two trees included are the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; as if the choice each of us faces is to bask in a realm without beginning and ending or to dance in realm of comparison and contrast.
I like to think that the Adam and Eve allegory describes the choice each of us made by virtue of our presence here today; the choice to launch into this earthly life from a harmonious paradise and perfect unity, knowable only by the highest, truest self of us. Introduced by loud screams, colorful words, sweaty brows and blatant threats at childbirth, each of us emerged from that harmonious paradise and perfect unity into a world of hot and cold, up and down, dark and light, here and there, you and me, male and female, beginnings and endings, pleasure and pain, republicans and democrats. Or, in the language of our story, each of us emerged into a world of good and evil.
Each of us emerged from that harmonious paradise and perfect unity into a world marked by comparison and contrast - into a world experienced as dualistic, even multiplistic. So yes, maybe it can be said that each of us surely died, as God is imagined to have promised. Maybe that’s the higher truth of us as humans: we’re not here because we were born so much as we’re here because we died; we died into this world of multiplicity and the experience we call death is simply our return to bask under the cooling boughs of the tree of life again.
If you’ve lost a loved one, be comforted: maybe they didn’t so much die. Maybe they were born. And we just have it backward.
So, while it might be a stretch for some, I like to suggest that the primal act wasn’t the single act of one woman; but that the primal act was the universal act of every human. I like to think that it’s not so much that Eve ate the fruit, as it is that we all ate th