The Rise and Fall Of Adam and Eve | Quick Review & Notes

Stephen Greenblatt. The Rise and Fall Of Adam And Eve. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017. (419 pages)


This is one of the most comprehensive and eye-opening historical narratives on the subject of Adam and Eve I’ve ever read. It is not only well written with plenty of imagery, insight, erudition, and a style that moves, but it is also cohesive, drawing connections between ancient biblical texts and theologians, and medieval and modern poets and expositors. For anyone who wishes to understand how ancient mythologies and sacred texts captivate the hearts and minds of generations, read this book.


Prologue: In The House of Worship

…I have never recovered the naïve faith that led me to prepare to sacrifice my life for a vision of God. But something lives in me on the other side of lost illusions. I have been fascinated throughout my life by the stories that we humans invent in an attempt to make sense of our existence, and I have come to understand that the term “lie” is a woefully inadequate description of either the motive or the content of these stories, even at their most fantastical. (2)

This is fiction at its most fictional, a story that revels in the delights of make-believe. (3)

1. Bare Bones

…an inexhaustible original energy, as if its core were radioactive. Adam and Eve epitomize the weird, enduring power of human storytelling. (5)

…these few verses in an ancient book have served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires. (5) …a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness,… (6)

An insistence on the story’s literal truth–an actual Adam and Eve in an actual garden–became one of the cornerstones of Christian orthodoxy. This insistence lies at the center of my own fascination with the story of Adam and Eve. How does something made-up become so compellingly real? How does a stone statue begin to breathe or a wooden puppet learn to stand up on its own and to dance without strings? And what happens when fictional creatures behave as if they were alive? Are they fated, for that very reason, to begin to die? (8)

There are more species in heaven and earth than were dreamed of in the Bible. But whoever created the story thousands of years ago understood, as modern science has understood, that you can only firmly grasp the whole of a species through a single representative of it. The human of the first chapter of Genesis is in effect the holotype of humanity. (11)

When you contem-(11)plate Adam, you contemplate both a particular, individual figure and the entirety of human kind. (12)

To understand the actual nature of our kind, Genesis now insists, what is needed is not to examine a type of specimen, but rather to watch the first humans in action. We have to observe their relationship, scrutinize their choices, follow their trajectory, and ponder their history. For it is not the biological nature of humans that determined their history, but their history–the choices they made and the consequences of those choices–that determined their nature. (16)

Something happened at the beginning of time–some history of decision, action, and reaction–that led to the way we are, and if we want to understand the way we are, it is important to remember and retell this story. (17)

The garden I saw in Kashan could hardly count as a setting for the creation of Adam and Eve, but I could at least imagine how in a harsh, barren land the sound of the water bubbling through its channels and the sight of the massive trees could produce wonderment and euphoria. And for the first time I fully grasped the hyperbolic extravagance of the garden in Genesis, with the headwaters of no fewer than four great rivers. The storyteller had taken what was precious in the surrounding world and fashioned from it a landscape fit for humans at their most blessed. To be driven forth from that space into the miserable salt desert that surrounded it on all sides would have been the harshest of punishments. (19)

THE HUMAN FORMED FROM CLAy became a living creature, it was written in the Bible, when a breath of life was blown into his nostrils. There is a powerful truth encoded in that mythic scene. At some moment in an immensely distant past it was a breath that brought Adam to life, the breath of a storyteller. (20)

2. By the Waters of Babylon

The whole point about stories of creation is that no one can actually claim to have been an eyewitness or to remember it or even to be part of a chain of remembrance leading back to someone who had been there. (21)

The Torah could have begun, after all, at what would have seemed a far more obvious and secure historical juncture: the origin not of the first humans but of the first Jews. … (Gen. 12:1-2). Instead, it began with events that clearly precede any possible historical record: the creation of the cosmos and of humankind. To understand why it seemed critically important to the Jews to launch their sacred book with an account of the beginning of time, before they themselves existed, it is important to understand the disaster that had befallen them. (23)

Defeat and enslavement produced in Babylon a kind of servile cosmopolitanism. (24)

Now that the Temple had been destroyed, its desolation seemed to bear mute witness to the overwhelming fact that Yahweh had been unwilling or perhaps unable to protect his chosen people. His abject failure in 597 and again in 587 must have confirmed every subversive thought that less pious Hebrews had ever had about their tribal deity: Yahweh was a priestly fraud, a figment o the collective imagination, or perhaps simply a weakling, the god of losers. (26)

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God – Psalm 14

[via: ah, this makes sense in light of exile and destruction.]

The national disaster tapped the wellsprings not only of sadness but also of doubt an irony. Yahweh did not exist; or Yahweh did not care; or Yahweh had been bested decisively by the Babylonian god Marduk. (26)

Esagila–“the house of the raised head”

Etemenanki–“the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth.”

Nebuchadnezzar had rebuilt both temple and ziggurat in honor of the Storm God, Marduk. (27)

Enuma Elish… In the beginning, it related, there was sex: a stream of fresh water–the god Apsu–rushed into the sea, the goddess Tiamat. From this primordial intercourse, (27) all the other gods in the Babylonian pantheon were formed, like silt deposited at the mouth of a river. (28)


The conquerors may even have thought that singing one of the songs of Zion would for the conquered be an agreeable form of nostalgic remembrance. (30)

The psalm’s [137] closing words express hatred in its purest form, hatred that wells up from the seething resentment of a defeated and demoralized people. The psalm begins with a gesture of refusal–the captives have hung their harps on the willows–and then, after shifting to a lament, it gives the Babylonians a song all right, but not a song calculated to heighten their mirth. The dream of killing Babylonian babies takes the remembrance of disaster and the feeling of being vulnerable and turns them into imagined violence against those who are still more vulnerable (31)

547…the formidable Cyrus conquered the immensely wealthy Lydian king Croesus. … On October 12, 539 BCE, Babylon surrendered to the Persians. (32)

For a thousand years or more, the Hebrews had done without a single, collective sacred text. But in Babylon they had heard over and over again the Enuma Elish with its praise of Marduk, who created the first humans. The trauma of exile, along with the threatened loss of cultural memory, may well have triggered the key determination to bring together the stories and the laws with which the Hebrews defined who they were. For it is in this strange soil–a defeated and embittered people, repatriated at the whim of a foreign prince–that the Bible as we know it seems to have taken root. (33)

What do you do when warnings and denunciations are not enough? How do you eradicate old legends to which people had been long devoted or stop new cults that were constantly entering the land along the trade routes? It is one thing to pull down an altar you regard as an abomination. The act is relatively easy, particularly when the forces of monotheistic piety are in the ascendant. But the suppressed cults tend to spring up again like weeds. You can, in a frenzy of xenophobia, send away foreign wives and children, but the emotional cost must have been very high. And after a few years, there would always be more foreign wives and children, along with more alluring alien cults. How do you uproot deeply held beliefs? | You change the story. (34)

A god who wielded such absolute power–who could treat the likes of Nebuchadnezzar as his vassal–was not only the master of the universe but its creator, not only the chief among the gods but the one true god, not only the maker of the Jews but the maker of all humankind. The Hebrew Bible that was stitched together so brilliantly after the return from exile could therefore not begin with Abraham and the origins of the Hebrews. It had to begin with Adam and Eve. (38)

3. Clay Tablets

Whether we believe in the story of Adam and Eve or regard it as an absurd fiction, we have been made in its image. (39)

When the tablets could no longer be read–when they had become like the old floppy disks to which I no longer have access–the Enuma Elish, the Atrahasis, and Gilgamesh sank into a dreamless sleep. (40)

In the scriptures that they [the Hebrew slaves] compiled after their return from exile, the adherents of Yahweh had no interest in acknowledging a debt to Babylonian myths. On the contrary, they were determined to eradi-(40)cate anything that looked like a trace of an “abomination.” This eradication–a massive, collective act of forgetting–was largely successful. (41)

But by a strange twist of fate, the historical disasters that destroyed so many records of past civilizations helped to preserve these, for when in wars and invasions the great Mesopotamian cities were burned down, the sin-dried tablets in the libraries and royal archives were in effect baked into durable form. In their death-agonies, the palaces and the temples had become kilns. Even the violent floods that on rare occasion swept through the ruins could not wash away what these kilns had hardened. (42)

Ashburnipal (7th century BCE) [σαρδαναπαλυς (Sardanapalus) in Greek]

Centuries before the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt established their famous library at Alexandria, this learned ruler in what is now northern Iraq brought together under his lordly gaze the wisdom of the whole world. (43)

612 BCE, Nineveh was besieged by a coalition of enemies. (43)

Hormuzd Rassam. George Smith.

The opening of Genesis was evidently a response to what the captives heard over and over again when they sat and wept by the waters of Babylon. (44)

The sublime simplicity of the opening of Genesis was polemical. Creation for the Hebrews was not a tangle of incest, conspiracy, and intergenerational bloodletting; it was the act of Yahweh and Yahweh alone. (44)

The Hebrews were determined to distinguish themselves–from the very beginning of time–from their former captors. The Genesis storyteller was in effect burying a hated past. (45)

Atrahasis in Akkadian means “Extra Wise” (46)

In the wake of this survival, a brilliant solution–a kind of sinister bargain–was finally devised. From henceforth the great god would not try to eliminate humanity altogether. He would simply reduce the human population on a regular basis by making some women infertile and by causing large-scale infant mortality. Misery for humans, but happiness for a god who wanted his rest. (47)

To the Hebrews’ way of thinking, there had to be a moral reason that accounted for the disasters that humans encounter, something in their actions and their inner lives (“every imagination of the thoughts of his heart”). The flood was a response to human evil. (48)

This radical rewriting o the ancient Mesopotamian story was in its way a tremendous achievement. Humans–the black-headed people who reproduce and swarm noisily across the land–must not be conceived of as thoughtless nuisances. They bear moral responsibility for their actions. Even those things that seem to link them to the fate of all living creatures, such as their shared vulnerability to a disaster like the flood, are in the case of humans the consequence of their own choices, their willed decisions. (48)

Yet any rewriting of myth comes at a cost, and this particular rewriting, for all its sublimity, cost dearly. (48)

There is a lot to be said as well for a religion that regards certain gods as beneficent protectors of mankind and others as malevolent threats. (49)

The Hebrew Bible has many moments of subtle negotiation with Yahweh and of veiled protest against his divine decrees, but these all occur within an overarching understanding that Yahweh, at once just, compassionate, and wise, is the ultimate locus and arbiter of all moral value. This understanding promises a greater coherence: the Babylonian pantheon (like that of the Greeks and the Romans) seems by contrast a confused jumble of competing powers. But it opens up queasy questions of responsibility that haunt the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

| In the Genesis storyteller’s account of the Flood, the divine smiter and the divine protector are one and the same. This reduction to one supreme divinity from multiple gods, one cleverly thwarting the destructive design of the others, preserves the omnipotence of the Creator who has made all things and now, at his own will and discretion, can destroy them. But doing away with multiple gods introduces certain problems, starting with the very notion of an all-powerful, all-knowing god who nonetheless repents what he has himself created. (49)

…how could such wickedness have arisen from creatures made in God’s image? (50)


The setting of Gilgamesh is not a garden at the beginning of time, but a crowded city. (51)

Aruru; Enkidu; Ishtar; Shamhat; Shamash; Utnapishtim; Siduri

We are watching the ascent of man. (53)

The clay breaths; it lives. God has fashioned it and awakened it to life, but He is not in it. Therein lies the possibility of freedom and of alienation. (57)

For the author of Genesis 2 and 3 the garden, not the city, was the great good place, the place that Yahweh designed for the human he created.

[via: it is in many ways a contrast between the גן-אלהים and the עיר-אדם]

The term “paradise” was not used in the Hebrew Bible but was given by the Greek translators who may have dreamed of a realm of perfect leisure not imagined by the Hebrews. The dream in Genesis is not leisure but rather purposeful work–tilling and watching–that is experienced as pleasure. Labor yes, but not the hard labor that was an essential part of the Sumerian origin myth. Indeed the fact that Yahweh’s design includes a river that “went out of Eden to water the garden” (2:10) seems to lift the heavy burden of digging irrigation ditches that figured so prominently for the Babylonians. (59)

The Genesis story teller does not, as one might have expected, depict the relationship between the first man and the first woman as fundamentally hierarchical. (60)

“You have become like a god,” the temple prostitute tells Enkidu after his sexual initiation. The Genesis storyteller remembered these words and used them to depict not the rise but the ruin of the man and the woman. (63)

If the Hebrew storyteller intended to unsettle deeply held Mesopotamian beliefs, he succeeded brilliantly. He turned the ancient origin story upside down. What was a triumph in Gilgamesh is a tragedy in Genesis. (63)

4. The Life of Adam and Eve

Mohammed ‘Ali al-Summan.

Gospel of Thomas; the Apocalypse of Adam; The Testimony of Truth; The Life of Adam and Eve.

(Ancient Hebrew apparently does not have a “royal we.”) In the religion of Babylon or Rome, the plural would suggest that Yahweh was speaking to his fellow gods, as Marduk or Zeus often did. (70)

The Life of Adam and Eve provided the elaboration of the sparse Genesis account that many people craved. But for some Jews and early Christians, the expansion of the story only intensified the old, disturbing ethical questions. What was the point of it all? “Why didst thou weary thine undefiled hands and create man,” asks the visionary Sedrach in a dialogue written in the second or third century CE, “since thou didst not intend to have mercy on him?” God replies that Adam violated his explicit commandment, and “being beguiled by the devil ate of the tree.” But invoking the devil does not settle the matter. “If thou lovedst man, why didst Thou not slay the devil?” The argument continues back and forth, ending only when God shuts it down with the kind of question that silenced Job: “Tell me Sedrach, since I made the sea, how many waves arose and how many fell”? (73)

allegory, (Greek, “speaking otherwise”). (76)

The key for Philo was not to focus on the literal details of the narrative. Instead, they must be understood as symbols, “which invite allegorical interpretation through the explanation of hidden meanings.” (76)

Philo’s strategy enabled Hellenized Jews, steeped in Greek philosophy, to approach the fabulous elements of the story not with embarrassment but with the subtlety and sophistication called forth by myths like the cave i Plato’s Republic. (77)

Origen Adamantius (the “Unbreakable”); Celsus, The True Word.

The words of scripture should be treated, he wrote, precisely in the way that pagan intellectuals like Celsus treated their own classics. Why interpret Moses’s profound fables with dull literalism, while the comparable fables in Hesiod and Plato are accorded subtle readings? (79)

5. In The Bathhouse

Patricius and Monica [Augustine’s parents]

From the catacombs in Rome, one of the earliest surviving images of the Bible’s first humans. “Adam and Eve,” third century CE, fresco

The fallen Adam and Eve on the sarcophagus of a Roman Christin. “Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus” (detail), c. 359 CE

A famous problem: who is the person looking on? The Creation of Eve (detail from the Bernward Doors).

Adam blames Eve, Eve the serpent, and God all three. The Judgment of Adam and Eve by God (detail from the Bernward Doors).

The twelfth-century figure of Eve, from the portal of the Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, seems suspended between penitence and provocation. Gislebertus, The Temptation of Eve, c. 1130.

In Paradise, Dante and Beatrice see all of salvation history, from the Fall to the Annunciation to the Crucifixion. Giovanni di Paolo, The Mystery of Redemption from Paradiso Canto VII, c. 1450.

In the seventeeth century, long after they were painted, Masaccio’s Adam and Eve were given fig leaves that were only removed in the 1930s. Masaccio, The Expulsion. Masaccio emphasizes the nakedness and abject misery of Adam and Eve., 1424-1428.

Adam and Eve seem to stand in their niches as if they were fully, eerily alive. The scene above Adam depicts the offerings of Cain and Abel; that above Eve depicts the murder of Abel by Cain. Jan and Hubert van Eyck, interior of left and right wings of the Ghent Altarpieces, 1432, oil on panel, Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent.

For the Manichees, the universe was not ruled by a single omnipotent God who sent His beloved son to save mankind. Rather it was divided between the powers of light and darkness, two warring and irreconcilable worlds. Jesus was one of the avatars of light. (87)

For Augustine, by contrast, sexual desire was a constant presence, and intercourse had indeed become habitual. He could not imagine life without this intense bodily pleasure. Ambrose’s sermons, with their ardent praise of virginity, their urging of sexual continence, and their dream of an escape from the body, only seemed to mark out the abyss separating Augustine from the highest aspira-(92)tions of Christian piety. (93)

By running away from his mother, he had without realizing it embarked on a course that would fulfill and surpass her utmost dreams. (93)

Though all Christians were not under an obligation to renounce intercourse–“Better to marry than to burn,” Paul had written–Augustine’s own conversion in the garden in Milan was marked precisely by such a renunciation, one that deeply shaped his interpretation of the Garden of Eden. (94)

Through intellectual mastery, institutional cunning, and over-powering spiritual charisma, this one man managed slowly, slowly to steer the whole, vast enterprise of Western Christendom in the same direction. It is to him preeminently that our world owes the peculiarly central role that Adam and Eve came to occupy. … He insisted that the divine plan, and hence the fate of individuals and nations alike, was bound up with the reality of what had occurred in that garden. Nothing shook his faith, and at the end of his long life, with some eighty thousand Vandal warriors besieging Hippo as Roman rule in Africa collapsed, Augustine still looked for the underlying meaning of the disaster befalling his world in what Adam and Eve had done int he beginning of time. (97)

6. Original Freedom, Original Sin

[Augustine], listening with rapt attention to Ambrose’s sermons, the ground shifted. “I fell in Adam, in Adam was I expelled form Paradise, in Adam I died,” he heard Ambrose proclaim; and Christ “does not recall me unless He has found me in Adam.” But the sermon’s stirring words posed an urgent question: just what did it mean to be “in” Adam? (98)

His self-analysis led him back to the sinfulness of his father, not Patricius but rather his “first father.” Adam’s sin was still alive in Augustine, as was the punishment that an angry God justly visited upon it, and conversely Augustine was still “in Adam.” (99)

Our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden (2:4)

A few years after he wrote the Confessions, Augustine managed to find in Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit a whole litany of sins: pride, blasphemy, fornication, theft, avarice, even murder (“for he brought death upon himself”). What seemed like nothing turned out to be everything. (100)

Augustine did not want to live in a universe in which the moral reckoning would be left unpaid, in which human suffering meant nothing but the vulnerability of matter, in which wickedness would not be punished or exceptional piety received an eternal reward. It was better to believe that accounts were being kept to the last scruple by an all-seeing God, even one who was murderously angry at humanity, rather than to believe that God was indifferent or absent. (101)

The world as God made it was good, perfectly so, and it would have remained good, had it not been for the original, terrible act of human perversity. All the miseries that have followed–the endless succession of ghastly crimes, the horrors of tyranny and war, the seemingly natural disasters of earthquake, fire, and flood, and what Hamlet calls the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to–are just punishments meted out by a just God. Such is the meaning of being “in” Adam. | On the face of things, this seems insane. (102)

It is all there already int he nursery: the violence, the will to enslave others, the urgency of capricious desires. The fact that the infant is impotent–that he can merely fling his arms about and cry–does not alter what for Augustine is the hard truth: there is something morally wrong with us from birth. (104)

Pelagius and his followers were moral optimists. They believed that all human beings were born innocent. (105)

Why is it then that the great mass of mean and women are so sinful? The answer, Pelagius thought, was essentially social: we become whoever we are largely through imitation, and we develop in the course of a lifetime habits that are extremely difficult to break. (105)

We have not inherited a disposition to sin from our first parents; we have inherited a cumulative history. (105)

Human sinfulness is a sexually transmitted disease. (108)

originale peccatum, Original Sin. (109)

There is something deeply, structurally, essentially wrong with us. Our whole species is what Augustine called a massa peccati, a lump of sin. (109)

On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manichees

The Literal Meaning of Genesis

Small wonder that Augustine struggled for fifteen years to write The Literal Meaning of Genesis. It is not as if the stakes were low: it was a matter of life or death, not only for the first parents but also for all of (113) their descendants. Whenever he could put his hands on it, Augustine clung for dear life to the literal sense. (114)

Augustine came to believe that the sign of this loss, both his own and that of the first humans, was not arousal but rather its involuntary character. … If we are healthy, he wrote, we are free to move other parts of the body–eyes, lips, and tongue, hands and feet–as we wish.

But when it must come to man’s great function of the procreation of children, the members which were expressly created for this purpose will not obey the direction of the will, but lust has to (114) be waited for to set these members in motion, as if it had legal right over them. (115)

How weird it is, Augustine thought, that we cannot simply command this crucial part of the body. We become aroused, and the arousal is within us–it is in this sense fully ours–and yet it is not within the executive power of our will. The stiffening of the penis or it refusal to stiffen depends on the vagaries of a libido that seems to be law unto itself. (115)

Augustine’s experience of sexual arousal, so intense and insistent and deeply mysterious, returned him again and again to the same set of questions: Whose body is this, anyway? Where does desire come from? Why am I not in command of my flesh? (115)

They would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh,…but only the movement of peaceful will by which we command the other members of the body.

Untroubled self-command–arousal only when you will yourself to be aroused; no arousal when you do not–was for Augustine the heart of what it meant to be free. (116)

How would this have been possible, the Pelagians asked, if the bodies of Adam and Eve were substantially the same as our bodies? Just consider, Augustine replied, that even now in our current condition, some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. “Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. Others without moving the head can bring the whole scalp–all the part covered with hair, down toward the forehead and bring it back again at will.” Still others–as he personally had witnessed–could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could “produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.” Why should we not imagine then that Adam, in his uncorrupted state, could have quietly willed his penis to stiffen, just enough to enter Eve? It all would have been so calm that the seed could have been “dispatched into the womb, with no loss of the wife’s integrity, just as the menstrual flux can now be produced from the womb of a virgin without loss of maidenhead.” And for the man too there would have been “no impairment of his body’s integrity.” (117)

Along with these doctrinal purposes, Augustine’s obsessive engagement with the story of Adam and Eve spoke to something in his life. What he discovered–or, more truthfully, invented–about sex in Paradise proved to him that humans were not originally meant to feel whatever it was that he experienced as an adolescent in Thagaste. (119)

Augustine had, as best he could within the limits of his fallen condition, undone Adam’s choice. He had tried, with the help of his sainted mother, to move away from ardor, to flee from arousal. True, he still had those involuntary dreams, those unwelcome stirrings, but what he knew about Adam and Eve in their state of innocence reassured him that someday, with Jesus’s help, he would have perfect control over his own body. He would be free. (119)

7. Eve’s Murder

But if Augustine did not choose to focus on woman as the primal source of temptation and the loss of innocence, others did. By making the story of Adam and Eve the central episode in the drama of human existence, Augustine opened the floodgates to a current of misogyny that swirled for centuries around the figure of the first woman. (121)

Early Christians did not embrace the myth of Pandora, any more than they embraced the rest of the Greek and Roman pantheon. But the faithful could not help looking over their shoulders at the culture they were rejecting. (122)

[Jerome] fulminated against women “who paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyes with belladonna, whose faces are covered with powder…; whom no amount of years can convince that they are old; who heap their head with borrowed tresses; who polish up past youthfulness in spite of the wrinkles of age.” (123)

…for Jerome marriage itself was the Fall. (123)


Augustine and Jerome were at the center of a radical rethinking of spiritual life and with it a rethinking of the lives that truly pious Christian should aspire to live. Most of the faithful, they recognized, would inevitably continue to marry and to produce children; such was the way of the world. But if the highest calling were a life of chastity, ascetic renunciation, and contemplation in the company of other celibate monks or nuns, then the whole account of Adam and Eve’s ideal existence in the Garden of Eden would have to be recast. (124)

This endless harping on Eve’s sin and the defects of all of her daughters obviously suited the mental world of monks and friars who had taken vows of chastity and abjured–at least officially–the companionship of the other sex. And it suited as well those husbands who were locked in a struggle to dominate their wives and daughters. The miseries brought by Eve became a standard talking point in the battle of the sexes, a predictable and highly useful charge because it seemed to cary the authority of the Bible itself. (126)

There were occasional exceptions: daring, saintly women who challenged the routine denigration. But for the most part the dominant account held sway, even among those Christians who had displayed their indifference to the reigning social assumptions of the times. Mere social rules were one thing–they were made to be challenged or broken. Eve’s transgression was presented as something else: historical fact, anthropological truth, biological nature, religious doctrine. The miseries of human existence could all be traced back to Eve, and Eve’s daughters bore the stain. (127)

The fierce condemnation of Eve was often linked to the ardent celebration of Mary, who was represented as undoing the first (127) woman’s sin. Early on, the antithesis was worked out in detail. Eve was pulled from the flesh of the old Adam; the New Adam was born from the flesh of Mary. Encountering the virgin Eve, the serpent’s word crept into her ear; encountering the Virgin Mary, the Word of God had crept into her ear. Through Eve, the serpent’s word built the edifice of death; through Mary, the Word of God built the fabric of life. The knot of disobedience that Eve had tied by her unbelief Mary opened by her belief and her obedience. Eve gave birth to sin; Mary gave birth to grace. Eva became Ave. (128)

Since Marian devotion in the Middle Ages was often linked to anti-Jewish polemics–the Jews, after all, were said to have been responsible for the Virgin’s sorrows–depictions of Eve and Mary often extend the contrast to that between Jews and Christians. (128)

…since Mary was everything that Eve was not, setting them side-by-side often served to intensify the condemnation of the rashness, vanity, and pride that first woman had bequeathed to her offspring. Theologians seemed to compete with one another in berating women for their inherited defectiveness. Even that supremely intelligent and morally sensitive philosopher Thomas Aquinas concluded that man is more the image of God than woman. The woman, he wrote, is a vir occasionatus, a defective or mutilated man. The notion was an ancient, pagan one; Thomas took it from Aristotle. But it found a ready home in medieval thought, where it seemed to account for the belatedness of woman’s creation, for (129) her origin in what was called a crooked rib, and for her fatal succumbing to the serpent’s blandishments. (130)

Why then, Thomas asked, had God created her in the first place? She was meant to be a helpmeet, but, as Augustine had observed centuries earlier, another man would have been better for help with agricultural labor. So too, Thomas wrote, “for living together and keeping each other company, it is better for two [male] friends to be together than a man and a woman.” Her creation only made complete sense, he concluded, for the purposes of procreation. (130)

In at least some medieval Christians, particularly those living in monastic communities, misogyny reached levels that now seem to us clearly pathological. (130)

In this crazed language of loathing, the human pair in Genesis –“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them”–has morphed into something sinister. More particularly, the woman, far from being the partner of man, has become his mortal enemy. Though she too is ultimately Satan’s victim, she is also the ally of the Evil One and the principal agent of humanity’s downfall. Somewhere lurking in the saint’s mind as he sits brooding in his cell are suspicions older than Christianity, older too than the religion of the Jews. The woman is not merely Satan’s ally; she is his lover, joining her body to his in filthy rites. (131)

The woman used her sexual allure to tempt and ultimately to destroy the man. The actual victimization of women was conveniently forgotten, or rather it was seen as the fault of the women themselves, who have learned, as the daughters of Eve, to arouse male desire. (131)

Despite the heroic efforts of Arcangela Tarabotti, Isotta Nogarola, and others, it was almost impossible completely to erase the curse of Eve’s culpability from within the faith. No matter how much one assigned the greater blame to Adam or how fervently one celebrated the redemptive power of Mary, the taint of misogyny remained, like the bitter residue in a cask one can never completely scrub clean. (136)

8. Embodiments

…in the belief that the end of the world was near, Christians in this period opted for burial rather than cremation: why make resurrection more difficult, they thought, by reducing the body to ashes?? (139)

But the Adam and Eve figures here have no touch of redemption. They have every reason to be ashamed: they are the pair responsible for the death that made the catacombs necessary in the first place. (141)

The figures are androgynous, and they remain androgynous on the panels until the scene of the Fall, where Eve, luring Adam, holds the fruit directly in front of her apple-like breasts. Sexual difference is clearly part of the disgrace that is about to befall them. And that disgrace makes it impossible for medieval artists to give them naked bodies proud and unashamed. (146)

The more one looks, the more this medieval Eve at once tantalizes and resists clear resolution. She is evidently in the act of plucking the fruit, but she has not yet carried it to her mouth, and indeed, as she leans her head on her hand and looks out musingly, she seems far away from that fatal moment. Perhaps she is still innocent, and, since in that case she would not yet feel shame, the leaves that shield her private parts from our gaze are only in the right place by happy accident. The allure of her body would not therefore be a sign of her awakened sexuality; insofar as we are aroused, it is rather a sign of our fallenness. At the same time, her kneeling and her melancholy gaze suggest inescapably that she has already fallen. She must have lost her innocence after all, and the twisting of her beautiful body toward us is a deliberate provocation. She is then a siren, a mermaid, a serpent. (147)

Gislebertus was able to use the nonnaturalistic conventions of medieval art and the intellectual subtlety of medieval philosophy to create an Eve who is at once aware and unaware of sin. (148)

What is clear is that Dürer felt he could not use any body he had ever observed–his own or that of anyone else–as the life model for his Adam. He had to make Adam perfectly beautiful. Though there was beauty to be glimpsed everywhere in the world, including in the image he stared at in a mirror, that beauty was not the same as what was embodied in the first man and the first woman–the only two humans created directly by God. “Originally,” Dürer wrote, “the Creator made humans the way they ought to be.” (157)

But in the search for the true form of Adam and Eve, Dürer was committed to finding “the most beautiful human figure conceivable,” that is, the one perfect model for all humanity, in all times and in all places. “I will not advise anyone to follow me,” he wrote, “for I only do what I can, and that is not enough even to satisfy myself.” (158)

In one of his notebooks, Dürer jotted down observations about Africans he had seen. (Several powerful drawings attest to his interest.) He remarked that their shinbones were too prominent and their knees and feet too bony. But then, having listed these problems, he went on to write, “I have seen some amongst them whose whole bodies have been so well-built and handsome that I never beheld finer figures, nor can I conceive how they might be bettered, so excellent were their arms and all their limbs.” No evidence survives that Dürer used black models for all his first humans. But, as he was obsessively in search of figures among the Africans he observed, it is tempting to think that he had such excellent arms and limbs in mind when he engraved Adam and Eve. (159)

This then was how Dürer exquisitely created his Adam: a figure made up out of beautiful pieces of bodies stitched together according to an idealizing geometrical scheme drawn from a pagan idol. (161)


The sign suggests that there in the Garden at the decisive moment in the history of the world the artist was present, and not merely present but at work. It is because of Albrecht Dürer’s “making”–the work that he did in engraving the copper plate and the work that continues every time the image on the plate is reproduced–that we, in our fallen condition, have a vision of those perfect bodies that existed before time and labor and mortality began. (162)

9. Chastity and Its Discontents

If the most influential contribution to the image of Adam and Eve was made by Albrecht Dürer in 1504, the most influential contribution to their story was made almost two centuries later by the English writer John MiltonParadise Lost is–or so I and many others believe–the greatest poem in the English language. But it is something more: an unprecedented, even shocking fulfillment of Augustine’s injunction to interpret Genesis literally. (163)

The decisive event in Milton’s life…was the scant month or five weeks that he spent as a newlywed in the summer of 1642 with his young bride, Mary Powell. (163)

As a good Protestant, he embraced instead the ideal of “married chastity.” The purity he longed to protect and preserve in himself was, he believed, fully compatible with sexual intercourse, provided that this intercourse was sanctified by marriage. He must preserve his virginity until his wedding night. (167)

…what justification did Milton offer for setting himself up as the judge of those so high above his station and venting upon them what he called a “sanctified bitterness”? … His answer, in a work he published in April 1642, lay in the same deep reading and moral (172) discipline on which he hoped to found his career as a great poet. His authority and inspiration, he asserted, came not solely from his intellectual rigor but from his purity. He had never been defiled by sex out of wedlock with any woman. (173)

He was, he thought, about to enter Paradise. (174)

To believe that the bond of wedlock was principally instituted to satisfy and regulate the desires of the flesh was a fundamental error, one that collapsed humans into the category of mere beasts. The church, both Catholic and Anglican, had reduced what it meant for a man and a woman to be “one flesh” to the crude fact of ejaculation, what Milton called in one of his wilder phrases “the quintessence of an excrement.” (179)

But none of this quite accounts for why outright scoundrels often make good marriages, while those who “have spent their youth chastely” can so easily blunder into terrible ones. The answer, Milton thought, is that those who have flitted wildly from one lover to another have accumulated funds of valuable experience. But the chaste and inexperienced youth, if he makes a single fatal mistake, is told that there is nothing to be done: he must endure it for his whole life. (181)

Milton was sickened by the thought of entrapment for life in a love-less marriage. He knew that he would never turn for solace to the brothel or to adultery. But to have sex with a partner you hate–“to grind in the mill,” as he put it, “of an undelighted and servile copulation”–was a form of “forced work.” Instead of one flesh, he wrote bitterly, there were “two carcasses chained unnaturally together,” or rather “a living soul bound to a dead corpse.” Could God be such a tyrant? (182)

He would transform a private crisis into the largest possible public claim, and in doing so he would be the savior of marriage itself, someone worthy of more grateful admiration than the inventors of win and oil. (183)

10. The Politics of Paradise

Like [John] Ball, Milton reached his radical position by thinking hard about Adam and Even in Paradise:

No man who knows aught can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free, being the image and resemblance of God Himself, and were by privilege above all the creatures born to command and not to obey. (193)

As John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, a century later, fully understood, these claims were revolutionary. For Milton they followed naturally from his reading of Genesis, a reading that led to the stance he had taken in attacking the bishops: “We have the same human privilege that all men have ever had since Adam, being born free.” (193)

On April 1, 2649, [Gerrard] Winstanley led a small group of like-minded men and women to dig and plant crops on St. George’s Hill in Surrey, about twenty miles from London. They were Adam and Eve, their leader said, and together they would re-create the Garden of Eden. (194)

Paradise, Winstanley wrote, is not something that only our distant progenitors knew briefly and then lost forever. It is the life that each of us has already experienced when we were young:

Look upon a child that is new born, or till he grows up to some few years: he is innocent, harmless, humble, patient, gentle, easy to be entreated, not envious. And this is Adam (195)

The preachers who tell us that in this life we can never regain innocence are lying. We not only possess it as children but we can also recover it as adults, provided we do away with our possessiveness and our possessions:

There shall be no more buying or selling, no fairs no markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury for every man, for the earth is the Lord’s.

On St. George’s Hill, the Diggers set out to prove that this vision was not an idle dream; it was a life that could be realized here and now. (195)

11. Becoming Real

[For Milton] Everything mattered for the most fundamental of reasons. Every one of us, he believed, is the literal heir to the central figures, Adam and Eve. They were as real as we are, and their destiny directly affected our own. (205)

Milton knew then that it was possible to extract from the Old Testament’s story of Adam and Eve and the New Testament’s story of Jesus and Mary a rich and elaborate set of symbolic associations, ethical lessons, and spiritual intimations. But he was convinced that everything had to spring form and return to the literal truth of the Bible’s words. In the absence of that truth, Milton’s Christian faith and all the positions he had taken on the basis of that faith would be robed of their meaning. (205)

Milton did not want to depict Adam and Eve through a kind of mystical haze or delicately hidden from view strategically placed fig leaves. He wanted to see them–and to have his readers see them–in all the vigor of robust youth. There was nothing ethereal about them. Deeply in love, Milton thought, they must have walked hand in hand through their delicious garden, stopping often to chat and kiss and (212) indulge in “youthful dalliance” (4:338) (213)

But Milton could not accept the notion that the first humans were simply tricked by Satan into disobeying, the victims of a celestial plot. Adam and Even must be intelligent, well-informed, forewarned. They must be free, and they must be innocent. But if they are both free and innocent, then there must be something disturbing in innocence and threatening in freedom.

| What is disturbing in innocence is the impossibility of understanding evil, no matter how many warnings you receive, no matter how much you try to imagine it. What is threatening in freedom is glimpsed in the pain of Adam’s acknowledgment, as he lets Eve go: “thy stay, not free, absents thee more.” There are some things that you cannot compel, true intimacy being foremost among them. (223)

Freedom at its core is not a collective possession; it belongs to each individual (224)

| Eve, in Milton’s vision, could not have impulsively or thoughtlessly succumbed to temptation. There had to have been long exchanges between her and the serpent, and then, though she was quite hungry, she could only have made her fateful decision to eat the forbidden fruit after thinking through the implications o the serpent’s arguments. (224)

Adam, in Milton’s conception, was not deceived He understood at once that Eve had made a catastrophic mistake, but he immediately decided to share her fate. “How can I live without thee?” (225)

In Adam’s mind Eve had become indistinguishable from the hated agent of their ruin, and the sight of her–as Milton wrote in the divorce tracts–brought him only a sense of “trouble and pain of loss, in some degree like that which reprobates feel.” (226)

More than a thousand years after Augustine, Adam and Eve have finally become real. (230)

12. Men Before Adam

October 12, 1492:

All of them go around as naked as their mothers bore them; and the women also. – Columbus

For the armed European adventurers this nakedness was good news, for it meant that the inhabitants were vulnerable. But at the same time it posed a theological problem: how was it possible for a whole, immense population to be exempt from the first and most basic consequence of the Fall, namely, shame? (233)

Shame was not supposed to be a cultural acquisition; it was the inescapable, defining human condition in the wake of sin. Yet here were huge numbers of people parading around naked: Why did they not recognize their condition? And why did they not avail themselves of the means that God himself had given humans to cover their nakedness: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them”? (233)

Columbus did not believe that he would be able to enter the garden itself, at least not in this mortal life. But it made sense that in their nakedness the people he saw, living so close to eden, resembled its first inhabitants. Shame after the Fall evidently intensified with distance. It set in more deeply the further one moved from the original site of bliss. (234)

The reader may ask himself…whether these poor people would not fare far better if they were entrusted to the devils in Hell than they do at the hands of the devils of the New World who masquerade as Christians. – Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542)

La Casa’s book became a European bestseller, and not only among those whose main desire was to demonize the Spanish conquistadores or the Catholic Church. His searing indictment lies behind Montaigne’s subversive questions, questions that extended to all European Christians: Why do we think that our ways are better than their ways? Who are the genuinely civilized people and who are the barbarians? Such questions had an unnerving relation to the basic story of primal innocence, fall, and redemption through Christ. And it was not solely the viciousness of the colonists that proved so unsettling; it was the sheer number of people in a hitherto unknown part of the globe, a part of which there was no hint in the Bible. How could they possibly have gotten (1236) there? Why should anyone think that there is a single, one-size-fits-al account of the entire world? | The size of the population that the European adventurers encountered in the Americas and the range of flora and fauna were difficult to reconcile with biblical chronology. (237)

[Isaac] La Peyrère was not alone in the doubts that seized him. In exactly the period when Milton set about to make Adam and Eve more intensely and fully real than they had ever been before, the credibility of the opening chapters of Genesis was being undermined on multiple fronts. … Though thy reacted in different ways, they were registering the same seismic tremors: the vast expansion of the known world, the apparent absence of universal shame in many of tis peoples, the viciousness of religious wars, the unnerving claims of Copernicus and Galileo. (238)

The recovery by Renaissance scholars of the knowledge of Greek and the translation of Greek classics into Latin made available many other pagan origin stories. (239)

We tend to think of belief as a kind of ON/OFF switch–either you accept or you do not accept a particular story as the truth. But there are many intervening stages between blind faith and outright rejection. Like Milton, La Peyrère was an heir to Augustine’s insistence that the Bible’s account of the first humans be taken literally. Yet from childhood he had been bothered by cracks that appear as soon as one tries to treat the myth as a description of reality. Determined, whatever the risks, to patch the cracks, he thought he could do so by reducing the Genesis narrative to a single strand–the origin of the Jews–in the much larger history of humanity. (244)

What did it all amount to, this strange intellectual adventure? The Messiah failed to come, the Jews did not return to Zion, and the daring idea of the pre-Adamites, attacked from all sides, faded into oblivion. (247)

This reality–the palpable presence of Adam and Eve as sentient bodies in a particular geographical setting at the onset of historical time–forced a thoughtful obses-(247)sive like La Peyrère to try to fit them into the actual world as it had come to be known.

| It is possible that La Peyrère did something more than hit a wall. He may have contributed in his odd way to persistent questioning that ultimately led to a more critical, anthropological, and historical approach to Genesis. He was both one of the precursors of Zionism and an impassioned voice for tolerance and for the redemption of all peoples. But his great idea turned out to be hopelessly wrong, and by a peculiar irony its most significant afterlife was as a justification for racism and slavery. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, La Peyrère’s Men Before Adam, long sunk into oblivion, was revived by those who wanted to claim that the peoples of color whom they had enslaved were not in fact descendants of Adam and Eve. That La Peyrère himself did not rank on a scale of superiority the diverse populations of the globe, whether pre- or post-Adam, did not matter. His notion of multiple human origins–polygenesis, as opposed to monogenesis–gave the racists just what they needed.

But the strange fate of La Peyrère’s idea is a useful reminder of the leveling power that is always latent in the Adam and Eve story. Just as the medieval priest John Ball tapped into this power to challenge aristocratic fantasies of innate superiority–“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”–so too the slave-owners (248) sensed that a single common ancestor pair at the origin of all humanity could give them trouble. They did not all depend on polygenesis–many Jews and Christians who believed fervently in universal descent from Adam and Eve were perfectly prepared to enslave their fellow descendants–but they knew that abolitionists would use our shared humanity as one of their most powerful moral arguments. (249)

13. Falling Away

The threat of being burned at the stake–always an effective inducement to concentrate the mind–could force public recantations of skeptical propositions and unwelcome doubts. But it was not so simple. For “detestable heresies” like La Peyrère’s were not the consequence of skepticism; they were the result of thinking of Adam and Eve as real. That is, they reflected the same forces that led Renaissance explorers to chart the locations of their gardens. Renaissance chroniclers to calculate the precise number of generations since their expulsion, Renaissance painters to give them bodily reality, and Milton, the consummate Renaissance poet, to confer upon them a complex marital relationship. The collective success of all of these efforts by believers–the triumphant fulfillment of the old Augustinian dream of a literal interpretation–had an unintended and devastating consequence: the story began to die. (250)

Faced by this perceived threat, the defenders of Augustinian orthodoxy closed ranks. It was possible to read the Genesis account allegorically,… (252)

In the wake of this massive dogmatic investment, it was extremely difficult to make an about-face and return to the notion of allegory. It was all the more difficult to do so at the very time that the combined imaginative resources of Renaissance Europe were actually giving the story the life-likeness it so long had sought. The problem, as La Peyrère demonstrated, is that the life-likeness invited, even demanded, dangerous questions. (252)

For Voltaire, who ended letters to intimate firends with the injunction to “crush the infamous thing”–Écrasez l’infâme–the Adam and Eve story lay at the center of what most needed to be crushed. The story was not merely a ridiculous lie; it was the justification for some of the most hateful aspects of human actions and beliefs. (259)

…only a fool or a fanatic–could actually believe that it was literally true. (260)

By the late eighteenth century, allegory had experienced a resurgence. In the wake of the Enlightenment, there were too many contradictions in the origin story, too many violations of plausibility, too many awkward ethical questions to make it any longer comfortable to insist on a literal interpretation. Or rather what seemed at last like the real presence of Adam and Eve, in the art of the Renaissance and in Milton’s great epic, had turned on the story itself and begun to tear it apart. To many believers, even within the church, the strongest way to shore up the story of Adam and Eve was to beat a hasty retreat from the literal. Others dug in and insisted more fiercely than ever on tis unvarnished, undistorted truth. (261)

For centuries after Augustine’s doctrinal triumph, the moral paradoxes of the Genesis story seemed only to awaken more desire to reaffirm its truth and to fathom its underlying meaning. But by the time of Mark Twain, the tide of literal belief had decisively turned. The institutions that had once mobilized to suppress challenges were fatally weakened: the public library in Worcester, Massachusetts, was a far cry from the Inquisition. If Twain had (267) published his more radical pieces during this lifetime, he might have lost some of his readers, but he would not have lost his life or even his livelihood.

| This decisive change may be traced to the work that had been done, for more than two centuries, by Bayle and Voltaire and by the whole Enlightenment project that they bravely advanced. But it may be traced as well to the scientific discoveries represented by the creature that, in Twain’s fantasy, appeared just in time to delay the Fall: the pterodactyl. Dinosaurs helped to destroy the Garden of Eden. (268)

14. Darwin’s Doubts

Darwinism is not incompatible with belief in God, but it is certainly incompatible with belief in Adam and Eve. (269)

[that which was] consequent on the original sin [was rather] successful accommodations… (272)

[that which was] consequent on the transgression [was rather] necessary achievement. (272)

Genesis envisioned the early existence of the dominant species as orderly as well as easy. Even the prohibited fruit was, in its way, reassuring, for it signaled that the world had laws and a lawgiver. By contrast, Darwin’s massive data and his overarching theory confirmed the pagan intuition that our earliest ancestors had no divine guidance, no assurance that their species would endure, no God-given laws, and no innate sense of order, morality, and justice. Social life as we know it, a life governed by a dense web of rules, agreements, and mutual understandings, was not a given but a gradual achievement. (273)

Dürer’s depiction of the final moment of innocence, captured as if by a camera with a very fast shutter speed, became almost immediately famous. Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504.

In this preparatory study, Dürer plays with the idea that Adam himself plucks the fatal fruit. Sheet of studies for the hand and arm of Adam and for rocks and bushes for the engraving of Adam and Eve, 1504.

Dürer’s fascination with the nakedness of Adam and Eve extends here to his own body. Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait in the Nude, 1505.

Bosch shows Adam in contemplation of Eve, while creatures in Eden eat each other. Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Delights (detail), 1504.

While a beautiful woman–perhaps Eve–looks on, the spark of life seems to be passing from God’s finger to Adam’s. Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1508-1512.

Adam is already enervated by the fall. Jan Gossart, Adam and Eve, c. 1520.

A baffled Adam accepts the half-eaten apple from Eve. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve, 1526.

Is Adam attempting to restrain or to support Eve as she reaches for the forbidden fruit offered by a cherubic serpent? Titian, Adam and Eve, c. 1550.

The Virgin Mary and her son together crush the snake. Caravaggio, Madonna dei Palafrenieri (detail), 1605-1606.

With unnerving frankness, Rembrandt depicts the aging, all-too-human bodies of Adam and Eve. Rembrandt van Rijn, Adam and Eve, 1638.

Leli’s hyper-realistic figures of Adam and Eve were made from wax applied to human bones. Ercole Leli, Anatomical waxes of Adam and Eve, eighteenth century.

The fruit Eve seems to be offering Adam is her breast. Max Beckmann, Adam and Eve, 1917.

Based on surviving footprints, this imaginary scene of Lucy and her mate seems to invoke Adam and Eve exiled from Paradise. “Lucy” (australopithecus afarensis) and her mate, reconstruction by John Holmes under the direction of Ian Tattersall.

He who has seen a savage in his native land will not feel much shame, if forced to acknowledge that the blood of some more humble creature flows in his veins. – Charles Darwin

For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper, or from that old baboon, who descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs–as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions. – Charles Darwin

THE FALL OF ADAM AND EVE–at least among virtually the entire scientific community–signaled a shift toward a different conception of human origins. The conception called into question an entire structure of thought, a structure based upon the collective project of conferring on the figures in Genesis the vividness of real people. But the persistence of the belief in Adam and Eve’s literal existence suggests something more than the atavistic clinging to a discredited fiction. The story of Adam and Eve was the precipitate of a very long, complex creative endeavor and has been teased out, in all of its implications, for thousands of years by people who have found it thought-provoking, compelling, and morally instructive. In doing so they were guided by specialized labors of great creative artists and thinkers who invested themselves deeply in the imaginary figures. (281)

The concept of evolutionary “fitness,” form which the phrase “survival of the fittest” was derived, need have nothing to do with competition, let alone with particular economic systems or with warfare. And genetics has undone rather than underscored the whole notion of “race’ as an evolutionary principle. | But the attempts to find a narrative in evolution, however much that narrative distorts the evidence, is in large part a consequence of the unsettling absence of a plot, an aesthetic shape, in Darwin’s overarching vision. (282)

The Enlightenment has done its work, and our understanding of human origins has been freed from the grip of a once-potent delusion. The naked man and woman in the garden with the strange trees and the talking snake have returned to the sphere of the imagination from which they originally emerged. But that return does not destroy their fascination or render them worthless. Our existence would in fact be diminished without them. They remain a powerful, even indispensable, way to think about innocence, temptation, and moral choice, about cleaving to a beloved partner, about work and sex and death. They are unforgettable embodiments at once of human responsibility and of human vulnerability. They convey with exceptional vividness the possibility of deliberately choosing in the pursuit of knowledge to disobey the highest authority or, alternatively, the possibility of being seduced into making a foolish choice whose catastrophic consequences will be felt for all time. They hold open the dream of a return somehow, someday, to a bliss that has been lost. They have the life–the peculiar, intense, magical reality–of literature. (284)

Epilogue: In The Forest of Eden

Promiscuity, scientists speculate, is a survival strategy, not for the females but for their offspring. (291)

This is what it means to be shameless, or rather to exist in a world where shame does not exist. (293)

The biblical contrast is not between a life governed by a moral code and a wild, lawless life. No, the contrast in Genesis is between a life lived with knowledge of good and evil–presumably, an awareness of the symbolic categories themselves and of the difference between them–and a life lived without such knowledge. (293)

Chimpanzees are neither moral nor immoral; they are amoral. (294)

Chimpanzee sexual relations then are something like the theologian’s dream of life before the Fall. The females are dominated, but they lack any concept of domination. (295)

We should be forever grateful to them. They enable us to see for ourselves what the Genesis origin story might have actually looked like, had it been real. Closely resembling us, they show us what it is to live without the knowledge of good and evil, just as they live without shame and without understanding that they are destined to die. They are still in Paradise. (295)

The Adam and Eve story insists that our fate, at least at the beginning of time, was our own responsibility. Millions of people in the world, including many who grasp the underlying assumptions of modern science, continue to cling to the peculiar satisfaction that the ancient story provides. I do. (299)

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