One of the textbooks for my “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” class has this quote on the moral of the Garden story in Genesis 3. It’s long, but it’s good, and I thought it was worth sharing.
Who or what is responsible for man’s expulsion from Eden? In order for man and woman to be responsible for their behavior they would have to be free both to abstain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and to understand the consequences of eating from it. Man surely was not without all knowledge before he partook of the Tree of the Knowledge. He knew enough, for instance, to name the beasts which the Lord God paraded before him. He certainly knew that the woman was “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” But did the man (and woman) understand what was entailed in taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? The logic of the story dictates that man and woman both had a choice and understood the consequences of their choice. The Lord God holds them responsible and presumably He was in a position to know whether and to what extent the first human couple was responsible. And Adam and Eve do not deny responsibility so much as they indicate that the Lord God Himself wanted them to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
If one looks at some of the details provided by the narrator it seems that man and woman make a valid point. Consider the following:
- The Lord God placed the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the garden and within man’s reach;
- the Tree of Knowledge “. . . was good for eating and a delight to the eyes . . . and the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom.”;
- moreover, it is the Lord God who decides that it is not good for man to be alone, and who extracts the woman from the man. It is, of course, the woman whom the snake approaches. And the snake’s shrewdness is traced by the narrator to God. [Gen 3:1: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”]
It would seem that the Lord God is gently nudging man toward taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. However that may be, one should not refer simply to what happens to man and woman as a result of their acquisition of the Tree of Knowledge as a “fall.” For according to the Lord God (Who, be it noted, thereby corroborates part of what the serpent had told Eve), man has become in some sense divine by virtue of having eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This godlike capacity, as we have seen, will enable man to create his destiny outside of Eden.
We can conclude that the first man and first woman, with a little help from God, found the lack of meaningful choices in Eden unendurable. Adam and Eve willingly chose the dynamism of life outside of Eden even though that choice carried with it not only the ability to create but also pain, suffering, and death.
[Jay A Holstein, The Jewish Experience (4th ed.; Boston: Pearson Custom, 2002), 88-90.]