I don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis. I just cannot get past the talking snake. They don't even have the proper anatomy to make human speech sounds. Virgin birth? I can work with that. Talking snake? Not so much. I know there are many Christians who view the snake as a symbol for Satan's temptation or deception, but that's as far outside the box of literal interpretation as some people are willing to explore. To many, Adam and Eve were very real people and their story is a factual telling of how sin entered the world.
"The story epitomizes a psychodynamic in which progressive growth, with separation and individuation, of the young is experienced as perilous—not only to them, but also correspondingly to their procreators. In the myth, the increasing psychic and physical maturation of Adam and Eve produced a crisis. Not only was divine authority flouted, but also apprehensions were aroused that God might be humbled or diminished. This threatened him, evoking his wrath and leading to the punishment by abandonment of his youthful wards." (Marvin P. Osman)
I have to tell you, I find this myth to be one of the most exciting stories in the bible. I love to read it again and again and find new interpretations for it. It fuels something deep within. I can't understand why some people are so afraid to view the garden story as myth -as if that dismisses it as just another piece of fiction. Myths are so much more than that; they are powerful narratives meant to articulate very real, very deep truths. Creation stories are the most common form of myth found throughout history and culture.
In June a fellow blogger shared some of her thoughts on the subject and I've been hungry for more discussion ever since. I mean, even from the perspective of the most common Christian interpretation, it's still a very confusing story. For starters, I have to ask: didn't the snake tell the truth and God lie? God said Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit whereas the snake told them their eyes would be opened and they would be like God, knowing good and evil. I've had it explained to me that before the forbidden fruit was eaten physical death was not a part of the human experience, but this explanation doesn't hold up when you consider God's words in verse 22: "Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!" So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden. They had not yet partaken of that fruit -they were destined for death even before eating from the Tree of Knowledge.“There is actually a historical explanation based on the coming of the Hebrew into Canaan and their subjugation of the people of Canaan. The principal divinity of the people of Canaan was the Goddess, and associated with the Goddess is the serpent. The serpent is the symbol of the mystery of life. The male-god-oriented group rejected it. In other words, there is a historical rejection of the Mother Goddess implied in the story of the Garden of Eden.” (Joseph Campbell)
It seems to me that God never intended for Adam and Eve to live forever, and yet, that is exactly what He set out to accomplish by sending Jesus to us. Wouldn't it have been much easier to just let them eat the fruit? Or going back even further, create humans as eternal beings? And like my blogger friend said, why did He put the trees there in the first place if He didn't want them to eat the fruit? These are the problems I get into when I try to interpret the Bible as the inerrant or literal word of God. I'm much more inclined to receive the Bible as a collection of stories, historical and allegorical in which man tries to explain his spiritual experiences. As a result of these stories, we are able to follow the evolution of man's relationship with God.
According to tradition Moses wrote Genesis. I wonder how he learned of the stories in Genesis that occurred long before his birth. Was it oral tradition handed down or did he receive the teachings as prophecy? I also wonder if the doctrine of the Fall of Man and original sin were always a part of Jewish teachings or if they are uniquely Christian. It's a fascinating topic I plan to continue researching.
"And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally." (Origin of Alexandria)